GONG took its first action exactly 15 years ago – it was observing the local self-government elections held on April 13 1997. Before that, for the purposes of independent and unbiased supervision over the election process, which was made impossible during the 1990ties, and at the initiative of the activists gathered under the Coordination of 13 organisations for protection and promotion of human rights, an initiative for self-organisation of nongovernmental organisations and citizens was started under the name of “GONG – Citizens Organised to Monitor Elections“. Following GONG’s campaign and the Constitutional Court Decision allowing a non-partisan election monitoring, the 1999 Electoral Act was finally amended by the so-called “orange” amendment.
Along with enabling the citizens to take part in the election process as non-partisan observers, the results of their work contributed to an increase of credibility and integrity of political system. So far, over 21,000 GONG observers monitored the total of 15 elections and one state-level referendum, numerous local elections, as well as elections held in other countries in transition. Together with the simultaneous education of tens of thousands of high-school graduates informing them about voting rights, public advocacy methods and the exercise of their rights, GONG made a contribution to the increase in professionalism of the State Election Commission, to the disclosure of manipulations involving the electoral rolls in the 2005 presidential elections, and it kept warning about the lack of legal framework and supervision over the financing activities of parties and campaigns.
However, the mission of GONG is much broader than that – it was initiated in order to promote and improve human and citizen rights, aiming to encourage the citizens to take active part in the society.
The contribution to exercising of the citizen right of access to information is visible in the fact that this value has been incorporated into the Constitution, but it was also demonstrated in practice – by organising a successful civil disobedience action, GONG managed to ensure a free access to the content of the Official Gazette, which the State was about to charge, and encouraged the Government to publish the agendas of their closed sessions. Fight for a transparent performance of institutions lead to opening of the Parliament to the citizens. GONG enabled thousands of high-school graduates and citizens to meet their MP’s, while the students were provided with an opportunity to gain their first working experience through an Internship Programme in the Parliament and the Government. Although the requirements for timely publishing of complete and accurate information about the course and results of the accession negotiations between the Republic of Croatia and the European Union failed to achieve the set goals, owing to GONG and its partner organisations, the local and international public received an independent source of information on meeting the requirements arising from Chapter 23 – Judiciary and fundamental rights by means of the “shadow report”.
Even though there is a lot of improvement potential with regard to including the civil society in the political decision-making processes, GONG has successfully initiated the practice of including the civil society representatives in the work of the majority of the parliamentary committees, as external members. Other valuable joint initiatives taken by GONG and its partner organisations include the initiative entitled “22% less valuable”, taken in 2004, which resulted in the unanimous rejection of an immoral offer, made by the Ministry of Finance, to abolish the VAT on international grants only to selected associations. Only collaboration among associations could result in revoking the corruptive Act on Golf Courses, as well as in the expectation to be granted the right to public assembly by opening the St. Mark’s square to public protestors. Last year, Platform 112 was initiated in order to promote the 112 specific requests addressed to the government, aiming to ensure the rule of law in Croatia. The Platform 112 is supported by 60 civil society organisations.
GONG’s strategic guidelines for the next three-year period represent the follow-up work on earlier programmes, including adjustments necessary to meet the changes in the context. Therefore, the programme entitled The Electoral System remains focused on achieving the highest democratic standards with regard to the Croatian electoral system, while the programme entitled Good Governance aims to achieve the highest governance standards and reach the high level of political culture and accountability of the government officials, as well as the efficient state and local government. Through the programme entitled Active Citizens and Civil Society, GONG continues to work on strengthening the roles of citizens and civil society organisations and encouraging them in taking active role in the political decision-making processes, while the programme entitled Croatia and EU, was devised to improve the capacity for participation in the decision-making processes at the EU level and to monitor the work of the Croatian institutions in the EU environment. Considering the special role of the media, which is mediatory, but also relating to social and political processes, the focus on increasing their accountability and credibility spreads horizontally through all of the four programmes.
The methods of implementation of these four programmes have been set out in details in the three types of interrelating activities: research conducted by the Research Centre, the results of which are used in advocacy activities aiming to instigate positive social changes, and education conducted by the Edu-centre.
We thank everybody who gave their support to the mission of GONG in different ways over the last 15 years, and we promise not to give up, but to use your support to become better and louder.
Let the voice of citizens be heard!