Civil society - do we mean the same?

Author: Silvena Garelova


Because the European does not know his own unconscious,

he does not understand the East and projects it into everything he fears and despises in himself

Carl Gustav Jung


Well, that’s interesting – my German colleague exclaimed after being asked how the youth seminar on civic engagement in the Caucasus felt like from her point of view, as a trainer – the group was noticeable – she went on – you could not keep them on the exact topic for a minute, they were not able to concentrate and deeply analyze the problems, but just kept on thinking “in general”. They cannot be critical at all. Moreover, they were never able to work longer than planned – they just needed to stop because of a lack of concentration abilities. And we had a huge problem with the group always being late – no matter what you said; they just came at least 10 minutes late and stayed relaxed as if nothing had happened. And, if our training group was not a purely female one, I am afraid, we would have had another problem – the participants would have only considered important what the male-trainers said. But, as we were only women-trainers, it was OK – the group just had no chance to ignore us. But still, within the group, you could feel that some women give more respect to men than to other women. Actually – no wonder that the Caucasus region today is one of unsolved conflicts – if you look at the folk dances of these people, you just see fighting men, who do not even fight for a woman, but to show other men they are stronger.  What about gender – just look at the national dresses women used to wear there – anything womanly should be covered…

She was talking about a training we held together. I was just listening, seeking for the eyes of the others – one colleague form Croatia, two others from Germany and one Russian. Nobody made a comment on what she said – she was experienced. Drawing this “complete” picture of the society in Caucasus, she was proud to have prepared the new trainers to train youth there, for the problems in the Caucasus, which the West should solve at any price – punctuality, ability of being critical, gender equality – this should be achieved there, as soon as possible, it would be even better if we could change the participants and their society through a single training in 10 days, and it would be perfect if this training would be that one that we can provide.

That the group in  Caucasus was so enthusiastic that we didn’t need to motivate it; that the young ladies and gentlemen we had to teach were so grateful, that we felt almost loved there; that they were open-minded and so ready to change and develop themselves; that they were inborn experts in conflict management because of their own background; that they were flexible and caring, friendly and ready to overcome prejudice, helpful and kind – more than any other group one can experience as a trainer in western Europe – all this remained unsaid. And it was a lot – as much as the other side of a coin. You cannot just ignore one side and only present that one you are able to perceive, that one fitting into your own clichés. It is unfair.

During that seminar I was only hoping these young people will never lose their huge, warm hearts. They were rich. The situation made me think a lot about my own society – the Bulgarian one. Not very different, though. What do we have? What do we miss? What do we fear and strive for in my own country? I am not yet sure if I have found the answers, but one thing is for sure – we do not need to throw away everything we have had over hundreds of years only to replace it with something new, something, that the wealthy West prescribes us.

And what if this prescribed medicine only heals their “diseases”, but not ours? What if we, the people of the East, also have something, which the West can learn from? Nowadays we are accustomed to believe that the wealthier, the economically stronger and the mightier is the better one, forgetting about all those things that cannot be measured – the values. Who can judge which values are better? And who has the right to say “that is the right way” and everything should be done like this?

The young people in Bulgaria – my generation – we were brought up, listening again and again to our parents desperately repeating that we, Bulgarians, we are nothing. We do not know how things “should be done”. In “normal” countries everything is normal, not like in ours. We learned to respect a western European just because he or she comes from a “normal” country. We learned that we just have criminals, while the “normal” West has learned to deal with every problem of society. But, what is worse, we also learned, that we are not able to change this status quo, because, we in the East, we are just not as good as the West Europeans. The sooner you learn this, the more easily you are accepted in your society, and, of course, the less difficulties you will have fitting into the “whole”.

I grew up and started to see things from my own point of view, which I tried to create through gathered experience, and not through what I have heard somebody else saying. I have experienced smart people both in Bulgaria and in Germany, poor people both in Georgia and Belgium, criminals both at home and abroad. So I started to ask myself whether it is true that we are born worse than the people from the West.

Today it is clear to anybody, that building a real, functioning democracy inevitably goes through building a strong civil society. In order to do so we invite to my country “missionaries” from all over developed Europe to help us strengthen our civil society, believing that it cannot be done in a different way – we are the pupils and they are the teachers.

But what actually happens, is just a transfer of a western European model, which simply does not fit everywhere, which we are not ready for. Maybe our own path is simply in a different direction. 

Another problem is that those “teachers” are mostly very good at criticizing what we should change here, but once they have the chance to benefit from some low imperfectness, or from a certain custom they have just spoken against, they would not let themselves pass that chance. This is also unfair and I would call it implementation of the so called “double moral standards” rather than supporting a society on its developing way.

I think we in the East should be more self-confident and realize that we have something valuable, and the West – something else. We do not have to completely forget what we used to be and what we are in order to adopt a completely new lifestyle that nobody can prove is the better one. The healthy connection between the West and the East does not consist in a one-way knowledge transfer, which is cultural imperialism, but in a balanced exchange from both sides – both should give and take.

There is no point in blaming the West for being superior and looking down on each society, whose women still enjoy being the “weaker sex”, tradition does play a role and the whole is more important than the individual – it is a matter of a choice. And in general – there is no point in losing constructive energy in blaming something that does not depend on you.

It is much more effective to look for what could be done, rather than for “whose fault it was”. So I will stay concentrated on my society, on the environment I have here every day, and think about what could be done. It is us that have chosen not to like what we have, not to like what we are, but complaining and admiring the others, without even knowing that they also have their own “diseases”.

In my opinion, the biggest, impossible to overcome differences between East and West exist only in our minds. A common European civil society has no future until the West – East dialogue becomes one of equal parties, sharing different values of equal importance.  



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