Materials of an International Seminar
Civil society and social development


I would like to depart from the declared subject. Conversation about what is civil society has been dragging on for quite a while. It is high time now we switched over to highlighting some conceptual blocks that could be used in practice. From my point of view, interpretation of civil society in modern Russian works is much too politicised and narrow to work in practice.
What are the roots of civil society in Russia? I am talking about the past fifteen years. It was a kind of reaction to the process called perestroika. It was part of a political program of some party bureaucrats that decided to take revenge for the events of the mid-1980s. In Russia, civil society has always been a pro-western phenomenon. Russians have never looked at civil society from the viewpoint of their fontal values. The period of perestroika can be characterised by the appearance of sporadic sprouts of civil society and is associated with some formal democratisation processes. The idea of civil society in Russia was purely formal. The West, in this connection, was perceived as a gigantic puppeteer and moneybags. Thus, formation of civil society should be viewed as a prerequisite for western money inflow and activation of potential.
The Yeltsin regime was extremely volatile politicaliy and economically. First, more or less well-founded works on civil society as well as public organisations with 'civil society' in their name began to appear.
This year has witnessed a period of stabilization of political relations. With it comes a more clear-cut realization of what civil society is. Unfortunately, today we perceive civil society as a sphere with no state institutions at all. This is a narrow approach. I prefer to base on the theory of a two-stage cognition of society. According to the theory, contemporary society is bi-sided. On the one hand, there is a life zone, while on the other hand, there is a system world (state, market economy, formal law, etc.). The life zone contains mutual understanding and accord. The system world is rationally organized and strictly hierarchised. These two sides are antagonistic. One could speak of dictatorship of either side depending on interrelation between the elements. To my mind, civil society stems from interplay and coordination of the two worlds and, consequently, elaboration of a totally new ideology free from labels we usually stick to the notion.
I dare say Russia reminds of a child that is ready to say what the grown-ups cannot. The child's reaction is more impetuous. So, if the time has come to create civil society the child agrees with it.
I would like to dwell on the conditions necessary for civil society formation. They usually mention democracy in this respect. In Russia it is not necessary. It has its own way. Russia's current regime can be dubbed authoritarian and bureaucratic. It's a long way from the western understanding of democracy. But does it mean there can't be civil society in Russia? Rather! Russia can have another form of civil society.
The second feature is market economy. In Russia we witness black market with civilized market being something of an ideal. Indeed, some market institutions are being established. But I would say we are moving towards a mixed-type economy with state property domineering. That is why the second prerequisite for the functioning of civil society differs from the western models.
Thirdly, civil 'activism' in the West is a sort of protest of minor business in an attempt to gain equal chances with the other, to gain certain freedom. In Russia, the middle class is not a prerequisite. We don't have a mature social structure for the middle class to exist, but civil society is appearing. Its exponent is the intelligentsia. It is a typically Russian phenomenon for there is no such notion in the West.
I could go on speaking about the conditions necessary to create civil society in Russia that are different from the western ones. But let me touch upon two moments that, I believe, are closely connected. Today, our president and his team are concerned about strengthening the vertical component of the state power. Together with it goes the process of formation of municipal structures. Since the vertical component consists of state elements, then local governments make up the horizontal component. What we have is a cross with weak horizontal arms. The state determines the face of civil society in Russia.
And now a few words about the army. The army is demoralized, it needs help from emerging civil society. Today we witness not a nationalistic drive in Russian society, but rather formation of a totally new model of patriotism, civil patriotism. It is on this basis that recruits, officers, and civilians should be brought up. Thank you.

About the author:
Yuri REZNIK, director of the Independent Institute of Civil Society.