MEET OUR MEMBER: BlueLink - 20 years of networking, coordinating, researching and informing in public interest
A pioneering civil society e-network, launched in Bulgaria in 1998, today BlueLink is a well established hub of coordination, exchange of information and information technology innovation among environmental civil society organisations (CSOs) and groups. Some of Bulgaria’s most active and reputable environmental groups are among BlueLink’s founders. International organisations, such as the Aarhus Convention Secretariat at UNECE and the Regional Environmental Center for CEE, state authorities, such as the Ministry of Environment and Water and the Forestry Agency, municipalities and countless NGOs have partnered with BlueLink.
BlueLink operates from Bulgaria across Central and Eastern Europe, the EU, Southeastern Europe, the former USSR, and globally as a member of the Association for Progressive Communications. It is also a member of other coalitions, platforms and initiatives across Europe and Bulgaria.
BlueLink entered 2018 with two decades of unique regional experience in supporting e-networking and free information exchange to foster civil society, democracy, environmental sustainability and progressive European values. We are now equipped with sufficient knowledge to analytically understand today’s challenges for our mission, substantial expertise to face them, and an international operational team to carry out the effort in the coming years. BlueLink is implementing a new midterm strategy entitled "Supporting Voice".
BlueLink 's main fields of activity are the following:
- maintaining the BlueLink Civic Action Network - a networking, coordination and information exchange hub at www.bluelink.net;
- supporting civil society participation, access to information and justice, and stakeholder engagement through strategic use of internet and other activities;
- operating a virtual newsroom to publish Evromegdan (in Bulgarian) and BlueLink Stories (in English, for Central and Eastern Europe) as e-magazines for ethical journalism in the public interest;
- fostering research and analysis of internet freedom, technological and social change, civil society, democracy and sustainable development, and shaping policies that foster them.
What are the highlights of your organization in recent years?
We have been successfully running the BlueLink Virtual Newsroom for independent journalism, investigating issues of public interest concerning nature protection, human rights, women’s and gender rights, corruption, good governance, failures of environmental law enforcement and public participation, in partnership with Climate News Network, UK. BlueLink publishes Evromegdan.bg - the e-magazine for journalism in the public interest in Bulgaria, and BlueLink Stories - a regional e-magazine for Central and Eastern Europe. Our aim is to contribute to enhancing journalism in the public interest and freedom of speech – strengthening professional skills and promoting high professional and ethical norms of responsible journalism, facilitating journalists’ cooperation and engagement with civil society and social movements, use of independent expertise and interactive IT tools for quality reporting and storytelling.
The second success was the Civic Days Forum in Sofia co-organized by BlueLink in May 2018 with support of Justice and Environment network and some of its members - EELC, Estonia and Zelena Akcjia, Croatia. We were able, firstly, to integrate the civil society agenda into the official programme of the Bulgarian EU Presidency and, secondly, to bring to the top of the agenda the environmental rights as defined in international, EU and Bulgarian legislation; together with NGOs upholding them, such legislation is under pressure in many EU countries.
Building on the success and carrying forward the legacy of civil society forums in countries holding the EU presidencies over the last ten years, BlueLink joined forces with the Citizen Participation Forum - Bulgaria, the European Civic Forum, and the European Citizen Action Service to organize a European conference, “Citizenship – Participation – Policies: Building Europe from Grassroots up” on 29-31 May in Sofia. Participants from all over Europe discussed the current state of democracy and civic space in Europe and brought up encouraging examples of civic engagement and co-decision in policy-making, placing civic participation in the broader context of European democracy with growing demands from citizens to have a real say in shaping their future in common.
What is the one major change you are striving for right now?
We, at BlueLink, have been striving to be at the forefront of the defence of environmental and human rights through the media and by applying networking and legal tools. There is no other choice in these times. We all know that democracy is under threat; people and NGOs who stand for it are also under fire. The pressing problems that need to be addressed are interconnected: they do not affect only Bulgaria or the post-socialist countries of Europe. Even the ability of the EU to retain its global leadership in progressive social development is at stake. Unsustainable economic and social models impose commercialism - mass consumption - and legitimize greed and profit-making at all cost.
That is why BlueLink is committed to voicing the concerns of civil society and showing the real picture on the ground – a picture of successes and failures in this struggle. We have invested creative energy and resources in an exemplary project: Remembering Europe - Civil Society Under Pressure Again, with support from the Europe for Citizens programme of the European Union. It contributes to enhancing citizens' understanding of the Union, its history and diversity; to fostering European citizenship and to improve conditions for civic and democratic participation at Union level. The specific objectives accomplished included raising awareness of remembrance, common history and values, and emphasizing the Union's aim while offering a practical response to the challenges faced by CEE civil society.
A workshop to help implement the project was held at The Central European University, Budapest, on December 7-9, 2017, gathering civil society representatives, journalists and political/social scientists from Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, and other CEE countries. The goal: to bring attention to the memory, knowledge, and analyses of these historical legacies, and to generate ideas for effective practical and policy responses to today’s growing pressure against critical and independent civil society and media voices that uphold Europe’s human rights, environmental and democratic values.
The focus of the research presented at the workshop was on mapping pre-EU practices of ostracism and loss of citizenship, and civil society’s responses to them in Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, and other CEE members of the EU. Position papers and multimedia/oral presentations from scholars in multiple academic fields, civil society representatives, journalists and policymakers from EU member states in CEE were chosen based on the open call for papers/presentations. The workshop's programme can be viewed here: http://www.bluelink.net/en/remembering-europe-civil-society-under-pressure-again.html
How does Justice and Environment contribute to achieving the objectives of your national organisation?
We joined J&E In March 2016, after the Annual General Meeting in Bratislava. A key area of Blue Link’s work is to support civil society participation, access to information and justice, and stakeholder engagement through strategic use of various instruments; it was a logical and wise step to join Justice and Environment – a network which aims for a stronger environmental legislation and implementation on both the national and European Union stages to protect the environment, people and nature. In this way, we gained access to a knowledge-based environment upholding good practices; we found it refreshing to reinforce our activities with legal tools, e.g. on implementation of the Aarhus Convention and EU environmental assessment Directives.
One example, of our on the ground impact is the workshop in September 2017 in Sofia for representatives of the NGOs and environmental lawyers. Discussions included ways of overcoming the legislative and institutional pressure on the public participation in decision-making and access to justice. The strategic meeting took place in Sofia's Soho Co-working space. BlueLink presented its activities in our partnership with the J&E network for 2017 under the LIFE + Programme of the European Union, addressing analysis and improvement of the appropriate assessment practice in the Member States and at EU level as well as work on the implementation of the Aarhus Convention. Special attention was given to problems regarding access to justice in Bulgaria and in other Parties to the Convention.