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Tahrir, Maidan, Taksim: what is a “domino effect” phenomenon and what should civil society change?

09.10.2015  |  Society   |  Alena Barel,  EuroBelarus
Tahrir, Maidan, Taksim: what is a “domino effect” phenomenon and what should civil society change? photo by “EuroBelarus” Information Service

A scientific discussion about the change of paradigm of civil society in its development took place within the frames of the 5th Congress of Belarusan Studies in Kaunas.

Scientists from Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia gathered to discuss “Civil society in development: the change of paradigm” in order to raise problematic issues civil society faces in a number of European countries. Scientific discussion within the frames of the 5th Congress of Belarusan Studies in Kaunas in Kaunas enriched the speeches of Gabriele Freitag, commercial director of the German Association for East European Studies (Berlin) and Antonella Valmorbida, director of ALDA (Association of Local Democracy Agencies) that is working in three European countries.

Ulad Vialichka, the head of the International Consortium “EuroBelarus”, moderated the presentation.

It seemed very important for us to continue such topic for discussion, - informed the moderator. – I think that all those people, who are working in the frames of the civil society somehow face the question: where is civil society now, from where and where is it going?”

We observed the active process of civil initiatives in late 80s-early 90s. After that the aims were changed; from the mid 90s the work with the notion “an organized civil society” started, marked Ulad Vialichka.

Alongside with it a phenomenon of global civil society has been observed that is now growing. “Civil society is becoming a worldwide phenomenon and takes the form of mutually related organisms in the frames of the third sector. It becomes most apparent in some topics, such as ecology and human rights”, - emphasized the leader of the “EuroBelarus”.

According to him, organized civil society fits well in the mechanisms of development policy. But, however strange it may seem, in today’s conditions it no longer provides the development of other processes of social transformation.

To which degree can the organized civil society influence the mechanisms of social transformation? Is it only the instrument for supporting the “status-quo” in the society, support of acting systems, not the motive force of social transformations? These questions Ulad Vialichka suggested for consideration in the course of the discussion.

According to the moderator, over the last five years we have become the participants of a new wave of spontaneous forms of mass civic activity. They have different names – Tahrir, Maidan, Taksim, Puerta del Sol, and other squares.

As researchers and experts of the civil society, today we are facing the fact that the global development cooperation is not able to grasp these new forms of society’s existence, which for some reason is living beyond the frames of these organization forms”, - told Ulad Vialichka.

Do we really face the new phenomenon of manifestation of civil society? Or do we observe the same we observed in the 80-90s but in slightly different forms, so we don’t need to worry and change paradigms too much?

On the other hand, can the NGO forms and the third sector that have already been settled be converted into some activity aimed at public transformation? Does global development policy need a change of paradigm? And, finally, the issue of development cooperation.

The role of the third sector in Belarus was explained by Andrei Yahorau, political scientist, the Director of the Center for European Transformation (CET), co-chair of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum.

Since the 90s civil society is believed to be the permanent and even the main actor of the development cooperation that is invited for discussing the global policy at one table with the state-donors, noted the analyst, exemplifying his words with the participation of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum in discussion and formulation of European policy.

In the research of civil society in Belarus CET often faces the problem of little effectiveness the policy that this civil society is based on has.

A person inside these [institutional] spheres wears a uniform, - explained the analyst. – The person performs a function, assigned for him by the place in this hierarchical structure. And that’s why it is impossible to criticize, for example, church, while being inside the church”.

One can only be critical towards the sphere and influence it if one changes the sphere, emphasized the leader of CET.

Why is civil society today stopping to perform the developing function? That’s because institutionalization is happening; it is already finished. Civil society is no longer a free sphere of life, where people meet each other and, using their intellect, publicly discuss the problems of social development.

As a unity of NGOs the third sector becomes a sphere just as any other institutional sphere – state service, business, and so on. I.e. civil society as a unity of NGOs falls into the structure of social relations and helps supporting the sustainability of any social system, regardless of whether it is democratic or authoritarian.

In this case, NGOs just perform a number of social services that the modern state cannot provide. Up to 20% of people in developed countries is working in the third sector, which is more than in agriculture. Just like other spheres, NGOs provide people with jobs and careers. But still, according to the tradition, the third sector is believed to be a self-organized area that doesn’t function according to accepted standards.

Is Maidan and today’s voluntary movement a form that exceeds usual institutional third sector that Andrei Yahorau was talking about? These and many other aspects of research done into the life of Ukrainian civil society were discussed in the report of Natalia Kharchenko, the executive director of the Kiev International Institute of Sociology (KIIS).

What challenges do Ukraine and its society face today? Those, who were at Maidan have survived a certain catharsis, noted the researcher. They got a chance to influence the life of their country and voice their protest. All the following events didn’t wipe off he importance of this moment.

According to Ukrainians, judging from the social polls, the main decisive factor of Maidan was the dissatisfaction with the corrupted regime of Yanukovich and the protest against tough suppression of students. Of course, there are very huge regional differences in this issue; but the main reason remains unchangeable.

KIIS employees have conducted three social polls during the Maidan events.

“We have singled out three stages in Maidan’s development: “Maidan-demonstration”, a spontaneous gathering of people; “Maidan-camp”, more solidary groups, and “Maidan-Slashing”, when people organized themselves in squadrons”, - reported Natalia Kharchenko.

According to the head of the institute, only an insignificant amount of respondents told that protests at Maidan were organized by some political or public organizations.

More than 90% of people at Maidan told us that they were there on their own initiative”, - emphasized the researcher.

What challenges has Ukrainian society faced after these fateful events? Ukraine is traditionally referred to the countries with low level of trust to authorities. Low level of income and political trust are closely related, noted the researcher.

Kharchenko presented a chart of trust dynamics to Ukraine leaders of the post-Soviet period. A curve of confidence indicator of absolutely all presidents inevitably tends down after several years in power, including Petro Poroshenko.

“Unfortunately, the scenario repeats itself to a fantastic degree each time ”, - commented the Ukrainian expert.

Traditionally, church is among the institutions that the Ukrainian society trusts. It has always had a positive trust balance, noted Natalia Kharchenko. Trust balance towards the armed forces has risen very much; it has been observed for several years already. NGOs also have a positive balance. Ukrainian media are also in the zone of certain trust on the part of the population.

All the remaining political actors – financial sector, politicians, and law enforcement officials have a negative trust balance. The situation doesn’t change with years.

As to the well-being of people in Ukraine, those, who don’t have enough money even for food are now more than 20%. It is the worst situation in the last ten years, and it’s only becoming worse.

It also influences what people are ready to do and to what extend they are ready to take part in the public life”, - noted Kharchenko.

The chart of attitude Ukrainians have towards the Russians suggests “undivided love to Russia”, she informed. Ukrainians have always treated Russians better than vice versa.

The most amazing thing is that the chart didn’t change much even after the start of the military conflict in May 2014”, - the researcher informed.

Now, after the conflict has switched to the stage of resolution and after prolonged difference the data coincided: the positions of Ukrainians have started equaling Russian positions. The common trend is to share attitude to Russians, Russia, and Russian management, with the worst attitude for the latter. The attitude towards Russians is the most positive.

As to the way Ukrainians feel towards Putin, he used to be popular in Ukraine and the attitude towards him was better than towards the Ukrainian leaders. Only Yushchenko managed to break a popularity record after the Orange Revolution.

About 90% of Ukrainians now support independence of their country and see Ukraine as an independent state. A hidden store of population that supports separatists makes 22% in Ukraine.

Voluntary movement in Ukraine has become mass. More than a half of citizens were talking about help to the army and people, who suffered from the war. But at the same time they need support themselves and their enthusiasm cannot be eternal, especially in situation of an economic crisis, reformation of the state, and fixing their lives anew.

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