Materials of an International Seminar
Civil society and social development


In my presentation, I will try to demonstrate a bottom-up attempt to create civil society. I agree with Mr. Lecomt that it is a construct based on what civil society thinks about itself. To make things clear we can mention two trends of perception of civil society. On the one hand, civil society can be viewed as a group of institutions that operate between the private sector and the state. The other definition of civil society describes it as a movement. Those who have spoken today about civil society in Russia have mentioned philosophical and political theories and philosophers. At the same time many western scientists are talking about the renovation of the existing concepts of civil society basing on the collective experience of what we call a 'new social movement', meaning, among other things, dissident movements in Europe and Russia. There are points of contact between the definitions. This is my personal opinion but I think this is a fruitful way that can allow us to move forward.
So, the preconditions of the genesis of civil society as a movement bring about some problems, meaning relations between the power and public organizations. What we see in Russia is a gap between the people and the power. These relations are not being built. The population is a passive on-looker. Social life is organized at local groups level that are of great interest for a scientist. One can think there is confusion as to the treatment of civil society.
After 70 years of communism everything is politicised in Russia. On the dawn of perestroika Russian society believed that a relevant policy could change the state of affairs. However, disappointment came very quickly. Russian analysts call the relations with the state a 'negative consensus'. Society and the state live as if in parallel worlds, they do not interact.
To my mind, it is hard for civil society to develop in such conditions. The past decade has seen a wide range of civil movements in Russia, including geographical ones. Unfortunately, there are no representatives of such organisations here, except the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers. All that is done at local government's level makes neighbours unite. When you talk to them, you realise they believe they are part of civil society, of what is called democracy in Russia. In other words, the situation here reminds of the that in France. I think we should pay more attention to this experience.
Another question I would like to dwell on is the ability of a society (French, American, Russian, etc.) to consider itself in terms of crisis and do so with no fear whatsoever. This phenomenon can be referred to as a conflict with the state. This is quite normal. It does not mean than one should be at war with the state. At the same time, being in conflict with the state is absolutely all right. Also expedient is seeking various forms of cooperation with other movements and organisations including both foreign and transnational ones. I noticed that this kind of fear does exist in Russia. There is also a strong desire to idealise civil society, which, supposedly, is called upon to aspire at a social consensus. This is not quite so. It must not necessarily be so. Neither the West, nor the East will ever has such an ideal society.
In conclusion, I would like to add that creating a civil society is often regarded as a slow and painstaking process. Along with this evolutionary approach, civil society must be viewed as a never-ending process progressing together with the country's political and economic institutions. It is within the context of these transformations that a civil society must try and find appropriate ways of existing and building its relationship with the state. Thank you.