Charity Law

Country Reports: Central and Eastern Europe

The International Journal
of Not-for-Profit Law

Volume 3, Issue 1, September 2000


Seminar for University Law Professors in Central and Eastern Europe[1] Budapest, Hungary: September 8-9, 2000

By Sanja Baric

An old Chinese proverb states: “Do not give fish to an indigent man, rather teach him how to fish. By doing the latter you’ll satisfy his hunger for a life-time, not only for a day.”  ICNL’s regional office in Budapest, Hungary went further: it assembled those who teach in order to improve their teaching  skills and techniques, enabling them to discuss day-to-day issues that emerge in their educating a new population of lawyers familiar with the fundamentals of NGO Law. Fulfilling its primary task of aiding the development of a legal environment for the healthy and productive growth of the NGO sector in Central and Eastern Europe, this two-day seminar was a major success. Far from being too scholarly and boring event, it welcomed the participants with great organization, a well know friendliness and efficiency of Budapest staff.  At the same time, a vivid sense of commitment  flourished during working hours, proving that not only members of NGOs but law professors as well, can be dedicated to the third sector.

The agenda offered various discussion points: why should NGO law courses be taught at the School of Law; what are different approaches to teaching NGO Law; what should be the content of NGO Law course; what teaching methodologies are to be used; and what are methods for university cooperation and integration?

The first day was dedicated to a presentation of four different ways NGO Law courses can be taught: as an overview, interdisciplinary, clinical and simulative clinics, and as a comparative course. These categories are obviously oversimplified since, according to what was heard, each of the courses necessarily includes at least some comparative elements and interdisciplinary references. Nevertheless, the scheme was a useful working model.

The overview course at University of Liverpool, UK (taught by Debra Morris) contains specific common law features focusing on charity law, a traditional form of regulating NGOs with emphasis on what activities are to be deemed “charitable”. On the contrary, NGO Law courses in the countries of civil law tradition rely more on the right of association as an international human right, presenting and comparing the current legal status of NGOs in their countries with existing human rights standards (mostly under the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms). Most courses are taught as elective courses for students in their final year (Masaryk University, Czech Republic; University of Rijeka, Croatia; University of Liverpool, UK), although certain mandatory courses in previous years of study include NGO-relevant issues (e.g., Law of Trusts, or Administrative science). The importance of interdisciplinary approach was stressed by both professor Henryk Cioch (Catholic University and Maria Cure Skodlowska University in Lubin) and professor Tsvetana Kamenova (University of Plovdiv, Bulgaria). Plovdiv University offers a very interesting clinical course that, apart from legal real-life cases, includes sessions with a psychologist, and classes on conflict resolution and managing skills. It was pointed out that when designing a clinical NGO Law course one must keep in mind a different time orientation of legal logic. Namely, NGO Law specialists must solve future, potential problems that are predicted and often prevented before actually taking place. In contrast, “usual” legal reasoning is based on an exploration of past events and their legal consequences.

Another important clinical course, attended by students from a wide range of Central and Eastern European countries, is taught at the Central European University in Budapest (Jean Garland). It is almost exclusively based on take-home assignments and work in small groups. It is worth mentioning that, as a result of class 1999/2000, a group of international students founded a new association, obtained funding and now work in the NGO Law field (“Human Rights Students’ Initiative”).

The percentage of students taking NGO Law courses, approximately 15-20%, tends to be the same in both Western (UK, Netherlands) and CEE Countries. It seems that the interest for NGO Law is increasing and the practice area is growing (e.g., in the UK, the latest directory of all legal practitioners lists 10 barristers chambers and 50 solicitors firms that specialize in charity law).

The second day discussion was focused on practical implications, classwork, students’ participation, evaluation, feedback from students on teaching methodology, and shifting teaching methodologies. Six distinct problems were identified and addressed.

First, present NGO courses are almost exclusively linked to the individual who is teaching them. In other words, the lack of skilled law professors has as a consequence that a particular NGO Law course would most probably “move” with the professor to whatever other university he/she might choose to go. Thus, the need for “raising a succeeding generation” was pointed out. Recruitment is possible from among best NGO Law course students, or other interested legal specialist in the field.

Second, students are faced with an ever increasing number of elective courses. It is difficult to attract students to NGO Law course, especially considering their future career choices. Some of the solutions consist of placing a notice board with up-to-date and interesting materials on the course and NGO sector in general, establishing wider Law School support, and the creation of attractive syllabus. In that respect, a third issue of specific NGO Law course curriculum was discussed. Namely, the course should be both informative and interesting, flexible and interactive. It is pointed out that traditional ex cathedra lectures do not meet students’ interests and needs. Furthermore, it is advisable to persuade other professors to include in their curricula (e.g., Revenue Law, Administrative Law, International Public Law, etc.) basic issues connected with NGO Law. Here, the fourth issue emerged, namely, the need for constant follow-up with students as well as feedback on what the students actually got from the course in relation to what they expected to learn. This could be a further means of improving the performance of NGO Law teachers.

Fifth, and exclusively in relation to CEE countries, the lack of teaching materials in the native languages was a significant problem in the beginning of establishing an NGO Law course. Having in mind the fact that, in most of cases, courses have only been given in the last several years, the need for comprehensive study materials is still acute. This is, again, a field in which ICNL plays continuously important role by providing organizational and financial help.

Last but not least, the importance of networking among universities has been widely recognized. Miklos Kralik (Hungary) presented a recent survey regarding the third sector university-level study network. A summary of the survey points out main development directions, concluding that most of the universities are interested in the area but the lack of teaching materials and funding are the most urging problems. At the end, Derek Aitken (ICNL, Washington, D.C.) presented ICNL’s web page, and clarified several points on accessing information and databases.

Finally, this seminar was an opportunity to say goodbye to Jean Garland, former director of ICNL’s Budapest office, and to officially welcome  Eugene Sullivan, a new director of Budapest office as of summer 2000. All the best with their future work to both of them!

[1] The collection of seminar materials and full list of participants (with position and addresses) is available on the NGOLAW.ORG website.

Legal Framework for NGOs in the Arts and Culture Fields

The Journal of Arts, Management, Law, and Society recently published a symposium issue devoted to Arts and Culture in Post-Socialist States (Vol. 30, No. 1, Spring 2000). The issue was edited by Kevin Mulcahy, Executive Editor of the Journal and Special Editor, Stefan Toepler, of Johns Hopkins University. This is a particularly valuable resource for those interested in the special legal and fiscal issues facing NGOs in the regions of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

The authors include, in addition to Stefan Toepler (on “The Arts and the Nonprofit Sector in Central and Eastern Europe”), Lev Jakobson, Elena Koushtanina, and Brois Rudnick (on “The Emergence of the Nonprofit Sector in the Sphere of Culture in Russia”); Laura L. Adams (on “Cultural Policy in Uzebkistan”); Vesna Copic and Gregor Tome (on “Slovenian Cultural Policy in Transition”); Dorota Ilczuk and Anna Wieczorek (on “The Development of Cultural Industries in Post-Communist Poland”), and Rupert Strachwitz (on “Reunification and Cultural Change in Germany”).

For further information about the issue, please contact Stefan Toepler at


New NGO Law Enacted

The National Assembly of Bulgaria has enacted a new Law on Legal Persons with Non-Profit Purposes, which will govern the establishment of legal status of non-governmental organizations in Bulgaria. This new law represents the culmination of a several years’ effort on behalf of Bulgarian civil society to reform these procedures, headed by several leading Bulgarian lawyers, the community of civil society organizations, and parliamentarians. Technical assistance was furnished by international experts (including ICNL), supported by USAID and the EU.

Notably, parliamentarians from parties across the political spectrum supported enactment of the new law, in recognition of the importance of civil society in the development of modern Bulgaria.

Among the new law’s innovative and important provisions are the following:

  • it identifies and provides a central registry for a distinct category of organizations, “Public Benefit” organizations, which are those entities that, because of their purpose in serving identified public needs, may receive tax and other direct and indirect benefits from the state;
  • it provides an opportunity for NGOs to engage in certain kinds of economic activities to sustain themselves;
  • it clarifies for the first time that civil society organizations are distinct from profit-making enterprises because such organizations are intentionally “not-for-profit” and do not distribute profits among their owners, employees, or directors;
  • it provides rules for internal governance; and
  • it strictly limits state powers over dissolution of the organization.

A working group comprised of representatives of the legal community, civil society organizations, and the Ministry of Justice is developing implementation procedures to assure a smooth administrative transition.