On July 16, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton participated in a “coffee break” in Istanbul, Turkey hosted by CNN-Turk. Secretary Clinton took questions from the audience on broad topics ranging from women’s issues to social issues and politics. ICNL’s Vice Chairman of the Board Filiz Bikmen was invited to participate in this event and used this opportunity to both commend Secretary Clinton for her work in the field of legal reform for civil society, and to question her on how best to promote an enabling environment in other countries. Secretary Clinton presents the case for reform by emphasizing the importance of civil society and encouraging governments “not to be afraid of civil society.”
Excerpt from the exchange::
QUESTION: Secretary, my name is [Filiz Bikmen] and I work for [Sabanci F]oundation in Turkey. I am also the vice chair of an organization I think you know well, ICNL that work on nonprofit law reform.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
MS. BIKMEN: And we commend your leadership on legal reform for civil society in the region and in the world, and I would like to ask you – you talked about Turkey being a good example. Turkey did undergo such reforms two years ago – I was honored to work on some of them – in which we now have much more democratic laws for civil society. And I wanted to know what’s the case that you could make to governments in the region and elsewhere in the world in which we could make the case for a more legally enabling environment for civil society. Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, thank you for your work. And I view society as being like a three-legged stool, where you need an honest, effective, accountable, transparent government that delivers results for people within a democratic structure; where you need a free market economy that unleashes people’s entrepreneurial energies and provides enough of a protective framework so that people are not exploited when they deliver their labor for an honest day’s paycheck; but the third leg of that stool is civil society. It’s where we live most of our lives. It’s how we associate with each other. It’s volunteer activities. It’s religious and expressive activities. And so I believe strongly that as democracy develops, strengthening civil society is essential to protecting the other two legs of the stool. And what you’ve done with the changes you’ve made in Turkey is a very strong case for that.
I think we always have to be monitoring to assure that civil society is given the room, the space it needs, to operate. But I really respect the changes that you have made. Now I would like other countries, other societies, to look to see the importance of civil society, and for governments not to be afraid of civil society. I think that’s such an important lesson that we all have to learn. I’ve been in both sides. I’ve been in civil society for many years of my life as an advocate for women and children, and I’ve been in government. And when I’m in government, I sometimes get annoyed at my friends in civil society because they’re criticizing what I do or they’re publishing reports that say that we’re not doing enough. But then I remember I used to be there. And if I hadn’t been there, we wouldn’t have made the changes that actually help the people that we care about.
So it has to be a partnership. And oftentimes, there’s tension in it because if you are in civil society, you’re going to be pushing the government to do more, and you’re going to be pushing the economy to do more. That’s the way it should be. That’s a good balance.