Small and rural communities in Bulgaria are managed through a top-down approach, sometimes encroaching on vital local interests. But a little-known legal framework - a general assembly of the population – allows a community with up to 10,000 inhabitants to decide on any local issue and requires the local government to act on this decision. The project idea is to inform communities of this option of direct decision making, test it, and inspire others through an information and learning campaign.
The village of Chernogorovo, followed by all small settlements of the Pazardzhik district.
The project will support inhabitants of rural and small settlements to have a meaningful say in the future of their communities, addressing the following:
• A persistent top down approach by municipal administrations regarding decisions affecting small rural communities of Bulgaria.
• A trend towards the centralisation of front-line public services in large settlements, including early education (schools, kindergartens etc), undermining the sustainability of small settlements and rural communities, their economy and their way-of-life.
• The lack of a sense of agency among the residents of rural communities and a helplessness of citizens in influencing decisions.
• Very low awareness of the available laws and instruments for active citizenship and community decision-making.
We are doing this project with the inhabitants of small settlements and rural communities in the district of Pazardzhik, Bulgaria.
While the participants will be self-selecting, based on their interest, the project will also explicitly target:
• Mayors of small villages and settlements in the district;
• Leaders from community centres, school and church boards in the respective settlements;
• Non-governmental organizations and informal groups on the territory of the district;
• Informal civic leaders and activists with prominent civic behaviour and consciousness, etc.
The project will be implemented in two stages:
In the first stage, the village of Chernogorovo, Pazardzhik, has expressed interest in a direct decision-making process involving its citizens. The village has found its development initiatives increasingly frustrated by the municipality. A recent example is the municipality’s rejection to provide a formal permit for improving a recreational park with a focus on children in the village. The project will facilitate a general assembly of the population, as defined in the Law on Citizens' Participation in Government and Local Self-Government, to address this and other issues. The activity will be conducted following due process, it will be well-documented from start to finish, showing how the general assembly process can deliver results for communities based on their civic engagement.
The second stage of the project will organise an information and learning campaign for the settlements in the district of Pazardzhik. This will inspire and enable the spread of the use of the general assembly of the population for local decision-making and problem solving, raising awareness about opportunities, necessary steps and practical examples of holding assemblies. The communications campaign will identify “early adopters” from communities in the district who will be trained and mentored through their first general assembly process.
• Address the persistent issue of the municipality not taking the community’s needs and concerns into consideration in its decision-making.
• Increase the community’s capacity to influence decision-making on critical interests.
• By activating citizens’ participation, reduce preconditions for corruption and disintegration of the community.
• Inspire other communities to use the general assembly of the population to engage in and shape their future.
• Increase the capacity of members of the target groups for holding a general assembly.
• Increase the civic confidence of citizens.
• Improve the mechanism, including legislative amendment proposals for facilitating its application.
• Develop jurisprudence related to the law on citizens' participation.
The approach uses a little known and even less used legal tool to deliver results by rural communities, for rural communities. Through a general assembly of the population, a gathering relevant for communities with up to 10,000 inhabitants, citizens can decide on any issue of local importance and require the relevant local government to act on that decision. By promoting and mentoring its use, the project will engage communities in leading the necessary change for their present and future. This would create an incentive for further active citizenship and a knowledge base to help citizens achieve their goals. The growing community power will also prevent further hollowing out of communities by a state that is using efficiency criteria to cut public services outside of cities.
We have worked with local communities in the Pazardzhik district, and we have experience with supporting several villages in holding a general assembly of the population, in order to make their voices heard and protect important local resources and public services, including forests and schools. We have seen first-hand how this type of engagement is not only effective, but it also wakes up the civil spirit in communities and makes people take on bigger responsibilities for social wellbeing. We would like to promote this experience widely and help small rural communities face challenges and create opportunities together.
Funding requested from Civic Europe
Office expenses 5000 EUR
Travel and accommodation costs 4000 EUR
Personnel costs 8000 EUR
Information campaign (including phase 1 and phase 2, digital, events, workshops and publications, public relations) 13000 EUR
Advice on methodology and design for developing the information and learning materials.
Advice on tactics for sustaining social movements.