In case you’re wondering what the connection is between Slovakia and Libya, it turns out there are several – both have small populations (Slovakia about 5 milllion; Libya about 6 million), both experienced forty years of one-party, dictatorial rule (the Slovaks under Communism; the Libyans under Qadhafi and his Green Book), and both had revolutions which started on the 17th (of November 1989 in Slovakia; of February 2011 in Libya).
Pavol Demes came to Libya to share his experiences of the Slovak revolution and to pass on the lessons he and his compatriots learnt during their transition to democracy.
As the former head of the Slovak civil society resource centre and a former Minister in the Slovak interim government of 1991-1992, he was well placed to talk about some of the challenges Libyan facing civil society, and to offer advice to Libyan activists and the Ministry for Culture and Civil Society.
Pavol met over 100 Libyan activists in Tripoli, Misurata and Benghazi for a day-long workshop in each city. He talked with them about the kind of skills they would need to develop in order to run successful NGOs and create a strong civil society in Libya: managerial skills, communications skills, planning skills and fundraising skills.
He reminded them that civil society could and should have real influence on the political processes – by helping to inform the public about what is happening, lobbying the government to adopt certain policies, encouraging people to vote in the elections – but to do so civil society activists need to make sure they understand how politics works.
He explained that NGOs would need to learn how to fund raise and write applications for money, and that most NGOs would probably want to start paying permanent and professional staff to work full time. He also emphasised that NGOs need to work together and coordinate their efforts to have the biggest impact.
The people who participated in the workshops seemed interested in Pavol’s experience in Slovakia. They asked how the Slovaks had felt about foreign donors; Pavol said that some people had been suspicious of foreigners, but overall they had learnt that people outside did genuinely want to help them and Slovakia had benefitted from that help.
Overall I hope the Libyan participants were encouraged to see that other countries have gone through similar periods of transition and come out the other side as stable, prosperous, democratic nations. And I hope they are now enthused and motivated to turn their passion and good intentions into professionally managed, effective NGOs to create a strong and dynamic civil society in Libya.