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Bridging the troubled waters | Civic Europe

Bridging the troubled waters shortlist

Mediation of popular local referenda in distanced regions of the Czech Republic in 2021 as a powerful way to ensure educated democratic solution for grass-rooted dividing civic and social issues.


Who is behind this?

Jana Stehnová

ASTRA - Asociace pro transparentnost / ASsotiation for TRAnsparency

Czech Republic

Who is joining forces?

Transparency International Czech Republic / Transparency International Česká republika, o.p.s. NGO

Czech Republic

Transparency International national Czech chapter (TI CZ) runs so called ALAC - Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre, which holds remarkable expertise and experience in respective field.


Idea pitch

Local referenda (LR) are common tool for participatory decision making on sensitive issues, affecting everyday life of communities in Czechia. In order to be legally binding and soothing, these crucially need (but lack) mediation: Our network of civic expert ambassadors will bring together different locally rooted groups, mediate the dialog, consult legal parameters and guide the community actors to decisive solution-bringing referenda in disadvantaged regions throughout election year 2021.

Where will your project idea take place?

Socially excluded localities in regions as Ústecký, Moravskoslezský or Karlovarský, Sudeten.

What is the specific societal challenge faced by this region?

The Czech Republic is divided into many municipalities (over 6000) with their own administrative status and executive powers entitled to solve the community problems at even the smallest level. LR is popular and common tool for that. Yet in regions named above the referenda are usually held about sensitive and divisive topics:
- accessibility of health care (referenda on town’s ownership of hospital etc.),
- self-sufficiency of energy (referenda on renting out the wind power plants etc.),
- commons (local development projects, leisure projects) etc.
LR usually become a last chance of one group to raise their voice against the other, social tensions are usually tailored inside those and come out as a side effect of dispute. If unmanaged, it brings more damage than harmony.

Who are you doing it for?

We will provide with guidance the representatives of the municipalities and citizens, who stand on opposite sides of certain locally rooted issue, typically civically engaged group against the non-engaged majority, active citizens against local politicians etc. Our target groups are thus: local politicians and representatives, active citizens and agile community actors, underrepresented local groups. In the end, beneficiaries are all the citizens affected by the result of LR. We will include the whole range of opinions on the issue by co-organizing educational pre-referendum events, workshops, debates; always several events before each targeted referendum. (See blw.)

How do you plan to get there?

We will make a list of planned LR from state registry (mandatory) and collect e-mail requests for support from ALAC TI ČR (already functioning model). Our ambassadors’ teams (lawyer+mediator) will make 1. visit to respective communities and hold preparatory events: debate, legal workshop, Q&As – mainly to acquire a proper picture of the dispute. They will delegate “liaisons officers”, one in Preparatory Committee, one in opposition. We will prepare legal and organizational road-map for each LR together with respective parties and serve with expertise during the whole process via e-mails/calls. 2. visit: presenting the legal framework and necessities + open public debate on the issue; suggestion on the referendum question. Our 3. visit during the LR itself in the role of observers.

What are the expected results?

Success: By the end of 2021 we will have at least 10 (min.) successfully moderated local referenda = decisive and legally binding. These referenda will make end of local pains and leave the communities with open prospects of their future and clear image of the common will. Local players will be empowered with experience of the reinforcing of grass-rooted initiatives by the legal means of LR. Local communities will be interconnected with common experience of democratic participatory decision making. The “liasons officers” and actors of LR will be encouraged to use opportunities and disseminate their experience to representatives of other regional communities.

How does your idea strengthen active citizenship at a local and community level?

Local referendum from its definition injects high “dosage” of democracy to the community with its pros and cons within. It is applied – as a participatory decision-making procedure – to the issues which affect the everyday life of local community in the most tangible way. While it ends by popular vote for “yes” or “no” to issues which naturally divide the community into two opposite parties of dispute, its success stands and falls with citizens’ participation and care. It is the dialogic path what makes LR a hands-on lecture of democracy in progress. Turnout is (legally) necessary for LR to even be decisive, yet it is not the sufficient condition: it takes a lot of engagemen, legal education, public discussions, local activism and dialogic persuasion to implement successful referendum.

Why is this idea important to you?

ASTRA holds unique experience with mediating of LRs since 2013, yet our voluntary capacities (cca 2 LRs/year) are far from the demand for supporting up to 40 local referenda happening in election year. We acknowledge how demanding the process of LR is and how enriching for the awareness of justice and democracy within local communities it is at the same time. In 2021 there will be general election which is usually an impulse for more LR to be held together, so we expect even higher need for incubating and mediation. It will be the year of supposed impact of corona-crisis too: it might be used for political deteriorating of democratic rule in CZ, therefore LRs will send strong signal of people’s need for democracy throughout the nation. We want to efficiently support this voice.

€ 53100,-

Total budget

€ 50000,-

Funding requested from Civic Europe

Major expenses

Personal costs, expert fees: 21700EUR

Rents, accomodation, local events, office expenses: 16000EUR

IT services, webdesign: 1200EUR

Travel costs: 12000EUR

Editorial, proofreading, graphics: 1200EUR

PR: 1000EUR

Total: 53100EUR

Co-financing: we will apply co-financing of expenses up to 3100EUR using the granting of Ministry of Justice of Czech Republic which is already secured.

What do you need from the Civic Europe community?

Are the local referenda known, popular and un/successful in your country? Is there a legal framework for them? Do you think local referenda would work as a tool for participatory decision making in your country?


Jana Stehnová

Idea created on May 25, 2020
Last edit on Aug. 3, 2020

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