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If we look at from very simplistic perspective, nearly all people are citizens of at least one country in the world. That gives the certain rights, and obligations. Furthermore, people can have ‘multiply or dual citizenship’, meaning that they are citizens of two or more nations. However, being a citizen is lot more than being inhabitant of some country or region in the world, and that should not be forgotten.
Due to the recent conflict in Balkan region, specifically in former Yugoslavian states, discussion of citizenship concept is inevitable for the future development of the region in whole. Essential is understanding of citizenship, citizens’ rights and virtues together with duties.
Through this essay we will try to explore historical perspective of citizenship, some of definitions, as well as its implications in Balkan region. Conclusion will be presented at the end of this written piece of work.
If we return back in centuries to a Greek state we would see that women and slaves were not seen as citizens. Just privileged people had a status of citizens. Greek terms ‘ethnos’ and ‘demos’ have same connotation in Balkan countries and they represent people. It is important to distinguish that term citizenship is coming from word demos, which represents ‘common people of an ancient Greek state’- like the Latin plebs, whereas ethnos represents nation. In ancient Greece, man over 18 years old acquired civil status and rights.
During Roman Empire, citizenship was acquired by the birth or granted by generals or emperors. The value of the voting right was closely connected to wealth and property.
In addition, French Declaration of Rights of the Man and the Citizen adopted 26th August 1789 by the France’s National Assembly during French revolution had significant influence on politics and social democracy through adopting articles about citizens’ freedom and equality.
More recently, when talking about citizenship in European context, significant lies in the “Final Declaration” passed on the Second Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the Member States of the Council of Europe in October 1997, where in its Action Plan is stated importance of Education for Democratic Citizenship.
Citizenship is very broad term and it can be seen from numerous perspectives. Till today, there is no one common definition and understanding of citizenship. Often is seen as range of civil, political and social rights and obligation towards the State. That represents legal citizenship and in great deal can be connected to patriotism on the subject of nation-state identity.
However, Karen O’Hara presents new concept of citizenship where term citizen is described as “a person co-existing in the society”. This means that there was a need to develop a more holistic view of the concept, pointing that idea of citizen is no longer just focused on State and authority. Instead of this, community became place that embraces local, regional, national and international context that human beings live in.
Being an active citizen does not mean just to participate in voting and choosing your representatives. It comes to lot more that that. It should embrace whole range of activities that in some way or another influence life of individuals.
T.H. Marshall suggested that citizenship could only be effective when it ensures access to three main types of rights. In this way, he identifies three components of citizenship:
Citizenship is based on the law, which means that is abstract as law it self. However, we should not forget cultural dimension of citizenship. Even more, active participation of citizens regarding social matters should be promoted rather then passive acceptance of everything that is offered. In that way civil duties and civil virtues would be emphasised as a way of promoting human rights in pluralist societies.
In recent times, the question is how to attach concept of citizenship to a society and not predominantly to the State. The shift from state citizenship to social citizenship requires positive inclusion of identity. The new role should not glorify nation-state, but to promote complex social formation where there is as space for larger number of identities that are not in conflict.  As a consequence, we would reach more social solidarity and tolerance where personal and citizen identities are valued.
Crucial part of democratic citizenship lies in ideas of equality, diversity and social justice. In order to realize it, vital is to have good contact between people and policy makers. People needs and individual freedoms, as well as common good should be respected and defined through policies that are, if not satisfactory to all, at least reasonable for time being.
Historically, Europe is a continent where conflict and cultural exchange have been so closely interlinked and bound together that it is difficult to distinguish where one ends and other begins. Cultural exchanges are themselves a source of tension if not open conflict.
With disintegration of former Yugoslavia and recent wars, concept of citizenship was changed for majority of people. Consequently, problems arise in all three components of citizenship; civil, political and social. Individual freedoms were violated, political power was assigned to majority, living standard was very low and definitely, equality regarding health, education and housing did not exist. Moreover, problem occurred in ability to respect and live with other cultures.
‘Ordinary people’ see the cause of inequality in drastically changed status of some citizens. Those citizens did not know where they fit in any more since they became minority over night-time, either in nationality terms either on way of thinking. Their dual citizenships were not acceptable immediately.
As mention above, glorifying of nation-state should be isolated in Balkan region. By creating strong national identities among citizens of Balkan countries, we will divide them strongly and that seems to be main goal of today’s majority of political parties. Joined national identity should refer to common history, language and feeling of belonging. Unfortunately, this feeling is impossible to reach among Balkan citizens.
Democratic societies are not always what they represent themselves for. Even today in so called democratic societies as in Balkan countries very often majority is responsible for tyranny over minority groups. Minorities should not have just formal citizenship where their rights are violated in different ways. Example of mainly formal citizenship of Roma population can be seen in all Balkan states. Other examples can be connected to citizen status of refugees in Serbia and Montenegro. Their rights were often violated regarding many issues, from housing to minimal income. In order to get full citizenship of the State, those people lost their refugee status and together with it significant social care. The question is where is the State’s responsibility in this case?
Civil society is the one who should fight against these implications, for example through organising pluralist collective civil associations. In that way differences would be valued and everyone’s opinion would get a chance to be heard. Thus ‘the policies of inclusion and exclusion are great theme of political everydayness.’
A recent problem of democratic citizenship was to include people in active and meaningful participation in society. Importance lies in strong civil society. Civil society should advocate for diversity of identities where civil identity plays crucial roll. It should be focused on civil values rather then only on religion or ethnical identity.
One of the main roles of active citizenship is to monitor and in some way control State and transparency of its decisions. Therefore, we should have in mind that civil values should stand higher from all virtues. Only in that way Balkan countries will achieve to transform into societies where all citizens will have a duty and responsibility to respect and protect human rights.
Trust issue should not be neglected and forgotten. In order to attain satisfying democracy level in Balkan societies, imperative is to re-establish trust between all citizens.
Being a citizen means more then having identification or permit recognised by the law of one country. It represents range of activities that influence life of individuals and it involves issues like rights, virtues, duties, justice, diversity and equality.
Aim of citizenship is not to eliminate cultural differences but to meet common interests, accommodate differences and preserve people’s dignity.
It is essential to try to remove boundaries that exist between citizens of Balkan region. State borders should be more porous in order to accomplish dialog and mobility.
The only way of doing it is through promoting citizenship, intercultural dialog, participation and strengthening civil society. In that way Balkan would become a place where everyone are able to express their opinion, where human rights are respected and where civil identity has advantage in relation to religion or national identity. Differences should be celebrated and embraced in our communities and in our hearts.
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