Sunday 29 December 2019

Two resignations in protest over disgraceful situation at SEEDIG

Two members of the executive committee of the South-Eastern European Dialogue on Internet Governance (SEEDIG) resigned last week in protest over recent developments in the regional internet governance initiative. Sasho Dimitrijoski, director of the Agency for Electronic Communications of the Republic of Macedonia, resigned due to “absolutely unacceptable” situation at SEEDIG. He wanted to resign already in September, a few months before his term would have ended, but since then the situation got worse. In my resignation statement, I explained the deteriorating situation at SEEDIG, which led to our resignation. The text is summarised in a separate blog post — Reasons behind resignations from SEEDIG executive committee — and provides more insight into the situation.

Several colleagues from the wider internet governance community and also SEEDIG members have called me or written to me in support, expressing dissatisfaction with the developments at SEEDIG and disagreements with the way it is currently led. Together, we have been considering several options for the way forward. With all manipulations — described in my earlier blog post, and in my resignation statement — and being run as a private club with inner circle followers tied mostly to conference-going benefits, SEEDIG is no longer a space that enjoys our support.

In my recent reflections on two years at SEEDIG, I wrote that we should bring back trust, collaboration, and openness to the community. However, after the latest disgraceful events, which resulted in two resignations from the executive committee, trust into SEEDIG has been gravely undermined throughout the region. Consequently, national internet governance initiatives and regional stakeholders from South-Eastern Europe may withdraw their support to SEEDIG.

As some of the international stakeholders supported hierarchical and top-down decision making, and bypassing the executive committee, it is very unlikely that trust into the SEEDIG processes can be restored at all, especially as the most eloquent defenders of the status quo in the community do not recognise this interference of international organisations as one of the key problems SEEDIG is facing. On the other hand, new loyal advocates, who have recently been invited into the inner circle, create only an illusion of SEEDIG’s openness and inclusiveness.

Restoring trust would require profound changes in leadership, governance, and in relation to supporting organisations. The role of sponsors and international organisations has to be limited and balanced, and the governance model needs to change radically in order to prevent future manipulations by the SEEDIG inner circle. SEEDIG is supposed to be a multistakeholder entity and that needs to be reflected also in its governance model. Every stakeholder group must have a voice, which at the moment is not the case.

The current governance model is neither democratic nor multistakeholder. Moreover, its legitimacy is questionable due to (i) prevalence of the inner circle in all activities, decision making, and voting, (ii) the lack of participation of the silent majority, and (iii) low representation of regional stakeholders. It is entirely unacceptable that the benefits led (manipulated) inner circle and otherwise passive or “anonymous” mailing list members, belonging to one or two prevailing stakeholder groups, decide for the whole community that is supposed to be multistakeholder. As such, SEEDIG does not have any legitimacy to be a regional voice in the international internet governance community.

It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. (Quote attribution)

I have hoped to shed some light on current difficult and unpleasant challenges ahead of SEEDIG, and I am still available to address any further questions in relation to its future. However, after recent events even profound changes may not restore SEEDIG’s legitimacy which has been gravely compromised.

After the resignation of two members of the executive committee, several members reacted with additional questions and comments on the current crisis. They would like to understand why SEEDIG is repeatedly facing problems that cannot be resolved within the executive committee? Moreover, some of the stakeholders refuse to give legitimacy to SEEDIG — captured by the inner circle — until the issues are clear.

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