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Where have all the CSOs gone? Challenges for civil society work in BiH

Despite their potential to influence democratic development, civil society organizations in BiH face multiple challenges that limit their operations.


Andrea González

Following the Dayton Peace Agreement, operating in a post-war context, civil society organizations (CSOs) in Bosnia and Herzegovina have faced multiple challenges related to funding, networking and their ability to operate independently. The Global Pluralism Monitor: Bosnia and Herzegovina report discusses in detail how these challenges have impacted CSOs’ work and visibility, rendering them vulnerable to political influence.

While the landscape for civil society has changed since the writing of the report, the engagement of civil society across the country remains uneven and limited, with poor cooperation between civil society and governments.

As the report notes, CSOs are not seen as relevant political actors that could support the democratic development of the country. This is largely due to poor domestic infrastructure in place to support CSO work and limited public awareness to CSOs roles in promoting human rights and democracy. Lack of funding and dependence on political and monetary support of foreign donors is also a key factor. For CSOs that receive funding domestically, the lack of homogenized legislation for transparent funding of CSOs also makes them vulnerable to political influence.

According to a UNDP article, cities like Bihać have sought to increase the role of CSOs in the development of the local community. In doing so, Bihać has developed mechanisms aimed at improving the transparency of the allocation of funds for CSOs which resulted in stronger partnerships between the local government and civil society operating there in late 2023.

Although lack of transparency in funding may be a long-lived challenge for CSOs in BiH, the picture may worsen due to a bill currently under parliamentary debate. The bill in question would criminalize CSOs that receive foreign funding ‘for political activities’ and give state institutions the power to shut them down. For many CSOs, this would mean further restrictions on their abilities to operate and to be vocal about democratic development, civic engagement and participation and political action.

To learn more about the landscape under which CSOs operate in BiH, including CSOs focused on LGBTQIA+ issues, take a look at the Global Pluralism Monitor: Bosnia and Herzegovina report.