WSIS PrepCom 2: A Bulgarian civil society perspective
By Milena Bokova, BlueLink
SOFIA, BULGARIA, 01 April 2005
From 20-24 February, Milena Bokova, executive director of the BlueLink Information Network, a digital network supporting environmentalists and civil society in Bulgaria, had the opportunity to participate in the WSIS PrepCom 2 in Geneva. She shares some reflections with APCNews as an East European civil society activist and a new participant in the WSIS process.
On the organization of the event:
PrepCom 2 took place in the ‘Palace of the Nations’ in Geneva – an imposing building. The good part was that the civil society representatives were in the same building as government representatives but it would have been better if different events were situated in halls closer to one another. You sometimes needed half an hour to get from one event to another and the internal maps of the building given to participants were not very helpful.
On fellowships for civil society representatives from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) countries:
The policy of the WSIS Secretariat was to support participation of civil society participants from the developing world, particularly from the least developed countries. As a result there were dozens of people funded coming from the same country from the developing world and no-one funded from CEE countries. The impact of this was that civil society representation from the CEE region was minimal and we were unable to lobby effectively for the interests of this part of the world.
On the organization of the civil society:
My impression was that the organization of civil society was quite loose. There are thematic and regional working groups. This method of organization might be good for those deeply involved in a particular issue (e.g. GenderIT.org. ">internetgovernance), but on the other hand, it contributed to dividing civil society. Another difficulty of the organization was that many groups met simultaneously and if you were a member of only one group it was difficult to follow the whole process and participate. There were morning and evening plenary and content and themes meetings, as well as open discussions for the whole of civil society, but this wasn’t enough to give a clear picture of the whole process.
On civil society representatives:
My impression was that there were many participants who presented themselves as civil society representatives but also as business. This might be an indicator that business is becoming closer to civil society, but it might be an indicator that the ‘real’ civil society is not very well represented in the WSIS process and it might be being replaced or used by the business associations and interests.
On the official Bulgarian position on WSIS:
It seems that there is no official Bulgarian position on WSIS and related issues. The official representatives were passive. We noticed that in most of the official WSIS papers the situation for so-called “economies in transition” (such Bulgaria and all newly accessed EU states) is not clear or is absent from texts. Bulgaria and Romania supported many of the statements of the EU delegation. This situation assumes an equal level of development of ICTs in developed countries with those of economies in transition. These two factors -lack of government positions and an absent civil society-resulted in a gap of representation of the economies in transition in the WSIS process.
On the environmental aspect and impact of ICTs:
During WSIS PrepCom 2 there was no discussion on the environmental aspects and environmental impacts of ICTs. This issue is not covered in the WSIS documents. Governmental officials, business and civil society somehow neglected to include this important aspect of ICT development in the WSIS process.
On public participation:
Civil society representatives were given time and space to present their positions in plenary to governmental officials. In many cases, official papers included suggestions coming from civil society which is an indicator of the democratic approach of the WSIS process.
On the European caucus:
The Civil Society European Caucus managed to attract the attention of the official EU delegation (several face to face meetings were held during the PrepCom) but there is still a lot of work to do to improve the coordination of the caucus.
* The participation of BlueLink Information Network at the WSIS PrepCom 2 was possible thanks to the financial support of the APC. BlueLink has been a member of APC since 2000.