What is the next for the civil society?


(The author Yuri Novikov’s own translation of an article published on Ukrainian NGO portal Gurt)

In September 2009 I had a chance to attend Civil Society Forum in Bratislava (www.csf.ceetrust.org) held by CEE Trust. It seems time has come to sum up my impressions.

Declared aim of the Forum was to determine the state and direction of development of civil society in CEE states as seen by its actors. (CEE Trust has understanding of civil society as one including registered non-profit non-governmental organizations (NGOs), other formally and informally organized citizens, groups, coalitions, movements, representatives of the media and educational institutions, working for the advancement of the public good.) Well, I think that it was enough material for thoughts though it seemed that mostly registered NGO's, donors and mass media were presented at the Forum.

The same tendencies can be traced in the social life. We sort of know what is better for us, but practice quite different behaviour. Let's take AIDS as an example. Everybody knows about danger and ways of infection. Starting from simple logic, if we practice, let's say, Christian approach to marriage and sexual life, abstain from pre-marriage sexual contacts, don't go "on the side" and so on, this disease can be stopped. But do we do this? Instead of this we see that the state (as well as NGO's) already started teach kids how to use condoms.
At this point at the stage appear NGO's as a mean for self-organization of citizens who care. They want to change something and try to do it. But the question is: is there real self-organization in it? It is not a secret that the majority of NGO's (including so called grassroots) – is a not big team of like-minded people, often 1-2 persons. Plus, some employees. And self-organization is when some people is self-organizing themselves not being self-organized by somebody.
Then we have another questions: do we (NGO's and not only Ukrainian ones) represent at all any interests of any citizens? Some experts that presented their opinion at the Forum are inclined to think that today interests of so called average citizens are no longer represented by NGO's (as it happened to political parties). It is generalization but as to me it looks very much like reality we live in.
There is also a connected trend – professionalization of NGO's. In principle, it's about the same: an NGO works not because certain citizens want to self-organize themselves but because of some other reasons. Or a bit better case – an NGO wants to represent somebody's interests and therefore it works. Then another question: how do we choose interests that we want to represent. It is not worst situation when we are directed at least by our civic interests which then are supported by other citizens.
Because another case exists, and it is not only Ukrainian disease – donor-driven representation of interests when donors decide what is important for citizens. In the rest of Europe the same. How donors decide on that is another question. For example, we know that building democracy is not among top priorities of simple people. But it needs to be built (because it is considered that the majority just don't understand all its appeals and advantages and that's why just don't care about it). So, it appears that NGO's are just doomed to develop civil society. Well, of course, we are not forced…
In general, after the Forum I have an impression that civil society now stands on the crossroads, as they say, in the bifurcation point. Frankly, it is hard to say what to expect from the future in this aspect. I don't even know where I got this feeling from. As Americans say, there's something in the air. So, we shall see what we shall see…
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