ECAS in Central and Eastern Europe: from the Region for the Region
Cautious of some specific challenges, at the end of 2021, ECAS established its first branch office in Bulgaria with the aim of implementing tailored initiatives in Central and Eastern Europe to tackle negative tendencies related to democratic deficiencies, such as spread of disinformation and populist narratives, backsliding of the rule of law and narrowing of civic space.
The branch is also developing specific technical expertise in innovative online tools for citizen engagement, such as crowdsourcing digital platforms and digital dashboards for ethical social listening.
Anti-disinformation alliances in CEE
In the period 2022 – 2024, ECAS is supporting civil society organisations (CSOs) in Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Poland to form anti-disinformation alliances to combat false narratives and implement impactful campaigns. Thus, CSOs in CEE would be able to react to disinformation attacks and build resilience among their target groups with effective and proactive communication. As disadvantaged groups within CEE societies are particularly prone to disinformation, being also targets of such narratives, the inclusion of CSOs representing such groups and/or based in rural areas is instrumental for making an impact.
Bulgaria: Both because of the large numbers of people fleeing the war in Ukraine and due to the ease with which false narratives spread in Bulgaria, the anti-disinformation campaign in Bulgaria is focusing on countering the narratives surrounding Ukrainian refugees and is under the coordination of the Citizen Participation Forum (CPF) – a network of more than 100 Bulgarian CSOs united by the mission to increase citizen engagement in politics and decision-making.
Slovenia: As 2022 is election year in Slovenia, CSOs will ensure that the public is engaged in the democratic process and representatives follow up on their promises. The campaign is targeting elections-related disinformation, while aiming to increase voter turnout and provide useful information to citizens, including those in rural areas. It is coordinated by the Youth Trade Union (Sindikat Mladi Plus) as part of the broader civil society network Voice of the People (Glas Ljudstva), composed of more than a 100 organisations with the mission to hold political actors accountable.
Hungary: Despite government’s claims, segregation in the Hungarian education system is deeply rooted and biased against children from disadvantaged backgrounds, especially those of Roma parentage. The campaign is countering this disinformation narrative using the momentum of the public debate resulting from the current teachers’ strikes. Coordinated by the Civil College Foundation, CSOs are producing short videos on several central themes of government disinformation, an interactive online game as well in-person workshops with Roma parents and teachers.
Promoting EU Values in Bulgaria
During 2023 – 2025, ECAS will be implementing as part of a partnership led by the Open Society Institute – Sofia the ProEUvaluesBG initiative in order to raise public awareness on EU values at national, regional and local level in Bulgaria, and to provide capacity building and financial support to Bulgarian CSOs in order to enhance their role as key messengers in promoting these values.
ECAS’s branch in Bulgaria will provide targeted capacity building support to CSOs to promote and uphold EU values. National-level CSOs will be strategic allies in reaching out to citizens, while grassroots CSOs will learn by doing how to promote EU values in their work. All project activities cater to the creation of a community of practice for the promotion of the Union Values among citizens across Bulgaria.