THE BUILD OF CIVIL SOCIETY IN RUSSIA
The Civil Society Foundation I am representing here works in three major areas. Firstly, it provides information support for political and economic reform. Secondly, it deals with monitoring, analysing and opposing politically extremist organisations in Russia. Thirdly, the foundation serves as an 'incubator' for other non-commercial organisations providing legal, organisational and financial support.
As far as my view of civil society in Russia is concerned, I believe it is the third sector confronting the state and big business represented by powerful tycoons and oligarchs. This confrontation is not absolute in nature, since the said sector has to coordinate its actions both with the state and capitalist structures. Moreover, it can successfully tackle problems at hand only in close cooperation with them.
Another thing to mention when defining civil society is that it relies on a certain system of values and correlates its activities with the goals to be achieved. Strictly speaking any form of self-organisation can be regarded as an element of civil society. Mind you, in the past ten years organised crime has been the most powerful and rapidly growing sector of civil society in Russia.
As to definitions, I would like to take note of one more thing. A great many organisations, believed to be non-commercial and independent, are in fact used as a tool by business communities, political parties and state bodies. Say, various charitable foundations are often used to cover organised crime, get tax concessions, etc.
Be it as it may, the idea of civil society is gaining ground in Russia. To my mind, Russia has seen a rapid growth in the number of various professional associations (associations of lawyers, journalists, estate agents, professional dealers in financial markets, etc.). There are a lot of veterans' organisations rapidly developing and successfully operating in Russia. Apparently, this has something to do with perfect organisational skills of retired officers. Another powerful organisation worth mentioning is the Consumers' Protection Confederation. We should also take note of the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers protecting the interests of various segments of population, independent trade unions (for example, the miners' trade union), etc.
However, we should not cherish illusions here. It will take Russia decades to build civil society. And today we have no required conditions whatsoever for this process to speed up.
What are the main problems we have got to confront today? First and foremost, it is our Soviet legacy. The matter is that all public organisations that existed before totally depended on the state. Or almost all of them. This seriously undermined the population's ability to self-organise, prompted nihilism as regards any from of social activity and made people think that all sorts of social activity must be dictated from above. I believe that it led to the atrophy of the self-organisation instinct. As a result of such legacy, our state machine has become riddled with corruption and does not take into account any arguments put forward by society, with all decisions taken by an exclusive circle.
In the course of primitive capital accumulation we had to go from one extreme to the other. Russia was torn apart by instability. We withdrew into ourselves possessed by a cult of individual. We became motivated by material well-being, and this, in turn, draws on capital formation and earnings. All other things turned out to be too insufficient a motive to act. So, on the one hand, we have powerful business structures further engaged in capital accumulation, and, on the other hand, people at large hardly making both ends meet. Thus, many a value today finds no place in public consciousness.
Here too, we must take note of yet another factor dealing with the build of civil society in Russia. The influence of the West. Huge sums have been invested in establishing NGOs in Russia and supporting various projects within the NGO concept. However, none of them turned out to be viable enough to implement. There are two reasons for it. Firstly, with all charitable organisations pursuing their own interests, they lacked any sort of coordination to successfully operate in the new environment. Secondly, at present, Russia has no required economic conditions to ensure that civil society elements be self-sustained. The charity factor does not work, since any act of charity is motivated commercially. The tax law gives no benefits to NGOs whatever.
However, to my mind, the build of civil society in Russia will continue. For the process to be successful we must meet three conditions. Firstly, we must change the NGOs' tax status. Secondly, we must have free access to information. Thirdly, state agencies must be financially responsible when causing material damage to citizens (for example, damage as a result of ecological calamities).
In conclusion, I would like to note that in Russia there are three areas where civil society can develop most effectively. They are trade unions and industries' associations, local government, and non-commercial organisations. Participation in the said organisations can considerably speed up the development of the third sector in Russia. Thank you.
Tatyana LEBEDEVA. Local Government and Its Role in Building Civil Society.
The Foundation Assistance in Local Government was established at a public meeting attended by over 200 representatives of Russia's cities. It is tasked to ensure cooperation with federal authorities responsible for regional policy, as well as with organisations represented at the State Duma. The foundation's board is made up of city mayors, a representative of the Presidential Administration, and a representative of the Moscow Government. We work with the Greens, left- and right-wing organisations - we are all serving the common cause. Working with non-commercial organisations is our priority.
We believe that the establishment of local government is one of the major achievements of the period of reform. In accordance with the Constitution, Russia's public authority has three levels. The people's authority is exercised at the local government level. The Constitution specifies what areas fall within the jurisdiction of local government. They are the administration of municipal property, maintaining public order, ensuring civil rights to housing, medical aid, free-for-all education, etc. So, this kind of government is the closest to the ordinary man. It is the foundation of the people's authority. However, lack of clear-cut state policy as far as local government is concerned makes it work hard to keep body and soul together. Local authorities often witness attempts on the part of regional ones to curb their rights and powers, which, in fact, can be viewed as an effort to revise the existing constitutional norms and undermine one of the fundamental principles of society. Incidentally, this runs counter to international laws, too.
We should also take note of the fact that it is local government that often has to be the first to tackle and diffuse social tension and unrest. Owing to local government, a lot of problems and conflicts are resolved at the local level without reaching federal government or the president. At this level, a great deal of the heavy burden of the federal budget is shifted to the local one. Mind, it is local authorities that have to cope with all sorts of separatist trends.
What is the main problem here? First of all, the problem is that the federal centre and regional authorities often discredit local government. They prefer to take the bulk of decisions themselves, while shifting the responsibility for implementing those decisions to local authorities. This, in turn, arouses righteous indignation on the part of the voters. What do we need a mayor with no real power for?
Notwithstanding foreign experience and recommendations, which have been worked out especially for Russia, there is still no capable system ensuring effective cooperation between federal and regional authorities and local government. There is no distinct distribution of powers. Regional elites prefer to take an administrative approach when building their relations with municipal bodies, instead of relying on political, legal and economic means. All that is in spite of the fact that they use good mottos. During the meeting of local government representatives with President Vladimir Putin held in Nizhny Novgorod in March 2000, a banner in the main street of the city said: "Mayors! Russia is in Your Hands."
And what is a city? It is a centre of business and cultural activity. It is a place harbouring leading industries and high technologies. That is where existing cadre potential is concentrated. However, living in a city entails an array of all sorts of problems. And that is what local government bodies are called upon to do. In doing so, they can rely on various civil associations both in Russia and abroad.
Back to the foundation I am representing here, I must take note of the fact that we have to work not at the best of times. We constantly feel pressure on the part of some powerful structures trying to crush us. However, we are committed to our goal and shall continue the struggle for our place in civil society in Russia. Thank you.