News 23 Jan 13

Grassroots Civic Activists Grab Reins in Albania

As foreign funds for civil society organizations shrink, local activists and artists are combining and discovering new ways to tackle Albania’s many social ills.

Besar Likmeta
Mumja Club in Tirana

Three young artists will stage a charity music and visual art event in a Tirana club on Friday, to collect funds for an orphanage. Their motto is, "Do your part."

 “We are not part of an organization or institution, we are just individuals… aware of the problems that surround us and trying to do something about them,” Rezart Cenaj, a.k.a DJ Ne-On, an organizer of the event, said.

Together with two others friends, Eralda Asllani and Fjorda Koromani, Cenaj will stage an evening of music and visual performances at the Mumja Club to collect funds for the "Zyber Hallulli" orphanage.

The event will include a visual performance by Italian artist Gianfranco Maiullari, which was created specifically for the occasion.

From collecting trash from Albania's heavily littered but once idyllic coastline to housing the packs of stray dogs that roam the streets, activists involved in social problems are increasingly spurning structured NGOs.

The rise in grassroots actions underscores the crisis that Albania’s NGO sector is undergoing, as foreign donors withdraw amid the economic downturn.

According to USAID's 2011 civil society sustainability index, published in June, Albanian NGOs are increasingly shut out of the corridors of power and have little means of influencing public policy.

Although nearly 1,600 such organizations operate in Albania, they remain structurally weak and are increasingly marginalized on Tirana’s polarized political scene.

Blendi Kajsiu, a political science professor at the European University of Tirana, says Albania’s civil society sector remains dominated by the priorities of donors, creating an unresponsive-looking sector.

“In Albania, civil society speaks with the voice of EU bureaucrats rather than with the language of civic revolt,” he said at the presentation of the report.

This institutionalization of NGOs has alienated many young people who now are finding new ways to combine and organize.

In a post distributed through social networks, Cenaj said: “‘Civil society' is not only an organization with a VAT number and a court decision, but is also represented by socially conscious individuals, who, through their actions, provide a moral and practical example of civic engagement.”

Cenaj told Balkan Insight that art is another medium for social activism, although it is sparsely used as such in Albania.

“Art has usually been a way to withdraw from the many social problems that our society has, but we have decided to combine them,” he said.  

“We are not gone save those kids [in the orphanage], but we hope at least to raise awareness and have as many people join us to make a difference,” he concluded.    

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