Materials of an International Seminar
Civil society and social development


As is demonstrated by historic experience, the build and development of civil society in different countries have always been determined by specific social conditions. Russia cannot be regarded as an exception here.
In the West, the creation of civil society commenced in the XII-XIII century. Proceeding by trial and error, it has gone a long way. It was based on traditional institutions, the latter forced to adapt to satisfy new needs and meet new requirements of changing society in the course a complicated evolution process. Besides, civil society there grew from Ancient-Christian Cultures, including Roman law and powerful influence of Protestantism.
In Russia, civil society is being shaped in a different environment. First of all, it must be noted that historically, the state has always played a dominant role in the life of society. It is determined by existing geographical, historical and geopolitical conditions. The state has always been traditionally tasked with solving major problems.
At the same time, any initiative from below was suppressed. The independence of the lower classes was limited. Society was forced to give the state both surplus produce and part of products it needed itself. This resulted in underdeveloped business structures, poor trade, slow development of cities, unprotected rights, freedoms and private property, etc.
The delayed abolition of serfdom that took place in 1861 also had a negative effect, since by that time Europe had already gone through the stage of bourgeois revolutions. Later, Russia's upper classes and bourgeoisie failed to ensure smooth transition to bourgeois democracy.
The advent of the communist era led to the totalitarian rule and Stalinism. Personality and its creative nature were confronted by a powerful system of suppression.
However, I believe that the judgement that etatism and its traditions are extremely powerful in Russia would be premature. In our opinion, the state machinery intended to suppress lower classes and the whole society in their aspiration to

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as to the overextended nature regarding the development of civil society in Russia and its historic remoteness from the ultimate goal hold no water. The shaping of civil society in Western Europe, the United States and the East took several centuries, with the process accompanied by public and political commotion, raging terror, nazi and totalitarian regimes. The world historic process has never been of simple 'linear' form. It features extreme diversity and each scenario depends on a variety of factors typical of a certain historic period. It means that consequences for a certain country in a given period of time may vary.
As to the specific nature of building civil society in Russia, we should take note of its peculiar structure and institutions that form it.
First and foremost, it is noteworthy that the development of civil society in Russia takes place along with the transition to market economy and democracy. The institutions and organisations that used to exist during the totalitarian rule cannot provide a basis for the establishment of new gainfully employed organisations. New public organisations have to rely on personal initiative, gainfully employed citizens and groups of citizens.
The structure of such organisations, their composition, goals, forms, methods and techniques are quite original. Taking into account poor economic conditions, many of them are forced to concentrate on streamlining business activities, ensuring favourable conditions for the development of small and middle business, consumer right protection, etc. At the same time, public organisations increasingly focus on protecting human rights and freedoms against arbitrariness of the state and bureaucracy.
In Russia, civil society is called upon to play a special role in the country's transition to democracy and the civilised market. Should the state be strengthened only from above with lack of organised and deliberate control from below, this will inevitably lead to the authoritarian rule, stagnation of Russia's historic development, 'archaic' and extortionate market. Civil society must be used as a 'motor' in modernising Russia. Despite its relative weakness, it is civil society that must come up with major democratic initiatives. Elaborating on civil society, we somehow sidestepped the role played by the state. On the other hand, we dwelt in greater detail on civil society's role in protecting people form the arbitrariness of the state. Civil society is called upon to encourage people to self-improve and participate in all kinds of activities in different spheres and fields. Moreover, it must lead people to the understanding of the power and capabilities of a collective and teach them to rely on it.
Along with preventing the arbitrariness of the state, it should nip in the bud negative intentions on the part of citizens, since as world history shows this might entail rather devastating consequences.

About the author
G. Demin, Ph.D., Professor