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SENTENTIA. European Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences

On the state of civil society in Russia and the tendencies of its development

Uvarov Aleksandr Anatol'evich

Doctor of Law

Head of the Department of Constitutional and Municipal Law, Orenburg State Agricultural University, Law School.

460014, Russia, Orenburgskaya oblast', g. Orenburg, ul. Leninskaya, 65, kv. 66

Other publications by this author








Abstract: On the state and trends of development of civil society in Russia This article analyzed the questions associated with citizens’ participation in the work of civil society institutions. The author turns attention to the level of citizens’ demand for different types of social institutions, as well as motivation for participation in them. Particular attention is given to the prospects of development of various models of civil society in Russia alongside the problems of formation of middle class, which is called to become a backbone of civil society. Statistical data on the state of civil society in Russia testify to the loss of influence upon the citizens of formalized structures of civil society. Such trend is further aggravated by government imposition of the so-called pseudo-structures of civil society, which introduce the typical bureaucratic flaws of state apparatus. Lack of control and irresponsibility cause the additional problems in civil society. The author suggests the original legal approaches towards resolution of the problems of debureaucratization of civil society, advancement of the promising and relevant directions of its development in Russia, which consists in volunteering, charity, and work of the nonprofit socially oriented organizations. Separate proposition and assessment of the author pertain to the role of the informal manifestations of civil society.


development, problems, prospects, civil, society, social, activity, nonprofit, organizations, Russia

It is commonly known that one of the main principles of citizen participation in the work of civil society institutions is the principle of voluntariness. Such participation is not vital for a person in terms of satisfaction of primary needs (included in a so-called consumer goods basket fitting the minimum subsistence level) guaranteed by a welfare state as the preconditions of decent life and free development of a person (article 7 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation). According to the results of a sociological survey, conducted by the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, one third of Russian citizens (32%) haven’t been involved in any forms of political or social activity. More than a quarter of Russians (27%) are sure that their “participation will not change anything”; other 30% are simply not interested in it; 20% say they are too busy with their work, study or household chores; 12% think that “politics should be performed by professionals”; 7% openly refuse of any political activity [1]. At the same time, many people try to fulfil their potential in social activity, which doesn’t offer any opportunities for benefit, career growth or power. The very need for civil society organizations can be expressed in the form of active involvement in their work, and in the form of using such institutions for the protection of citizens’ rights and interests. Some scholars believe that “on the one hand, civil society is an integral system of life activities, which actually ensure personal freedom and dignity, performance of individual rights, freedoms and duties. On the other hand, through civil society, a person can influence the government and the authorities” [2, p. 35-36]. Based on the sociological surveys, we can evaluate the relevance, i.e. citizens’ preferences in socially-oriented NGOs. The most popular are the activities aimed at the protection of human and civil rights and freedoms and legal education (29%); the support for socially important youth initiatives (24%); activities in the spheres of education and science (23%); the same share of respondents chose charity, and 22% - volunteering [3, p. 55]. In their turn, the key topics of citizens’ appeals to, particularly, the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation, in 2015 were “housing services and utilities” (26% of appeals), “state, society, politics” (20%), “defense, security and legality” (24%), “social sphere” (18%), and “economics” (12%) [3, p. 160]. As judged by the state of civil society in our country, in the correlation of materialistic and altruistic motives of citizens’ participation in social institutions and civil society organizations, the former ones prevail. 77% of Orenburg law students say they participate in social activities, connected with their future profession, in order to obtain practical experience and knowledge, 18% hope to build their career in this sphere, and 5% want to improve their public image.

Over-formalization of many civil structures in Russia put many young people off their activities. Conversely, in Germany, the concept of “civil engagement” is connected with the idea of a “prestigious work on a voluntary basis”, unpaid work (about 22 million people are involved in such unpaid work in Germany), rather than with the membership of strictly organized structures and long-term obligations. Churches, parties, labor unions – all these organizations suffer from the reduction in the number of members, especially from among the youth. It is always hard to differentiate between the private activities of citizens and civil activities on voluntary basis: the application of the common good criteria is not enough here, since common good can derive from the sum of private interests, according to V. Tirze. An important feature of a civil society organization is open access, i.e. the readiness of civil organizations to integrate the set of their motives and interests [4, p. 15-16]. The level of social involvement of citizens in the problems solved via civil society institutions in its active form (attempts to solve these problems personally via direct participation in civil society institutions) depends, therefore, on the ability of such structures to promptly and adequately respond to the interests and needs of people, and on the level of their accessibility and attractiveness of their form of functioning.

One of the tendencies of Russian civil society is the tendency of delegation of state functions to civil society structures and reduction of government control over such structures [5]. With account for immaturity of Russian civil society, such measures can provoke not only positive, but also negative energy of civil society, which can give rise to fundamentally new delinquencies. The responsibility mechanism, which has been adapted to the struggle against the infringements of public authorities, can fail in the struggle against analogous infringements committed by civil society structures, since the issues of the procedure and the conditions of illegal decision making in such structures are beyond the legal regulation system. One of the ways to solve this problem is the democratization of not only the state machinery, but also the administrative machinery of civil society structures; creation of a transparent, humane and fair system of relations within such structures. The interests of every particular person and his or her wellbeing should serve as the main indicator. Naturally, state interests should also be respected in this case, consisting in guaranteeing sovereignty and integrity of the Russian state and its security. We believe, the potential of legal liability measures in civil society is much higher than in the sphere of public authority functioning, because together with legal leverage, many other mechanisms, typical for civil society, are involved in this process. But to reveal and support these mechanisms, an appropriate state impetus should be given.

Evaluating the general prospects of realization of any civil society model in Russia, it is important to note that the most popular model nowadays is the paternalist-egalitarian model. In the context of this model, social development prospects consist in the restoration of government regulation of the biggest part of the economic sector and, consequently, in the assumed significant growth of budgetary funds allocated for social programs. The alternative to the paternalist model is the liberal model. It is about the priority of personal rights and free entrepreneurship serving to ensure material and mental dignity of a person using minimum personified and targeted social support of the state. These models are on the poles of the social expectation space. Between them, a narrow zone of the social-democratic model is located. Within this model, the state is expected to regulate directly only particular sectors of the economy, key for the country’s security and wellbeing, unlike the overall regulation of the paternalist model, and the liberal free economy regime. Social support of the population shouldn’t be paternalistically total or personally minimal. The state must protect all the most needed individuals [6, p. 212 - 213].

In its history, Russia has already tested both the paternalist-egalitarian and liberal models. And, judging by the Soviet period and the rampant democracy of the 1990s, they were not successful. It is especially hard to realize that the liberal model hasn’t met the expectations, though it is successfully functioning in Western countries. At the same time, the experience of the so-called “post-historical” (in Fukuyama’s interpretation) countries shows that many of difficulties they’ve faced in the late 20th century can’t be overcome via further exploitation of the models of a liberal state and civil society as complementary structures. More than that, in practice they are often caused by the exhaustiveness of the liberal political and legal model and its inability to respond to the modern challenges. The main problem the modern liberal societies are facing is the erosion of morality, which has reached dangerous proportions [6, p. 349]. It is caused by many reasons, including the low level of solidarization of society. It its turn, the disconnection of society can be caused by various economic, national, religious and other factors. Obviously, it’s very difficult to create effective civil society institutions in a society with antagonistic relations. Problems of relations within a society can be aggravated even in the developed Western countries, in the result of, for example, multicultural policy towards immigrants of other religious faith, traditions, and attitudes towards life, who don’t want to assimilate with the fundamental values of native population and create enclaves, which become trouble zones. In Russia, together with national, religious, and ethnic relations, the problem of economic stratification of the population is also urgent; it hampers the solidarization of people due to the differences of their material prosperity levels and lifestyles. A so-called middle-class is the basis of any state. Very poor people turn into lumpens; they are not interested in things, which are not about breadwinning. Too rich people also tire of the reality and the problems of common people, because owing to their wealth they can avoid these problems or solve them abroad. Even the Concept of long-term socio-economic development of the Russian Federation until 2020, adopted by the decree of the Government of the Russian Federation of 17 November 2008 № 1662-p, considers the growth of middle-class by 2020 to more than a half of the population as one of the key objectives [7]. But how possible is it to achieve this goal in Russia? This situation is evaluated with the help of the correlation index of the incomes of 10% of the richest and 10% of the poorest population. The less this index, the larger the middle-class. So, while this correlation index in 2014 was 6.1 in Sweden, 7.1 in Germany, 9.1 in Italy, 10.1 in Spain, in Russia it was 45.1 (higher than in Honduras – 38.1 and in Nigeria – 42.1) [8]. In this context, the position of lawmakers looks quite odd; out of hand they reject the initiatives of such draft laws as the introduction of a wealth tax or progressive individual income taxation, but willingly and quickly adopt the laws obliging the citizens to contribute to total renovation funds and the laws reducing social expenditures.

As to the direction, connected with the involvement of civil society structures in the implementation of various long-term government programs, the prescriptive provisions of these programs cause concerns that the very creation and growth of these involved structures totally depends on the will of the authorities, which are the realizers of these programs. The Concept of long-term socio-economic development of the Russian Federation until 2020 contains the list of objectives in the sphere of education. One of them is the establishment of self-governing bodies (boards of guardians, supervisory and governing councils). The government program “Patriotic Education of the Citizens of the Russian Federation for 2016-2020” prescribes to increase the portion of volunteer organizations based on state organizations of higher education in 2016 to 25%, in 2017 – to 35%, in 2018 – to 45%, in 2019 – to 55%, in 2020 – to 70%. It’s obvious that the realizers of these programs, i.e. the representatives of public authorities and institutions, in attempts to achieve these numbers, will use mainly administrative pressure together with the practice of creation of pseudo-structures, which will function only on paper. At the same time, in the context of the sharpened economic crisis and social ill-being of the population, many social organizations are involved in real activities and are a great help for the government.

As practice shows, Russian citizens are very responsive to others’ grief; they send help to those affected by natural disasters and other hardships, take part in charity events, volunteering, etc. But these are mainly one-time actions. Whereas many permanent organizations such as charity funds arouse mistrust, because they often cover fraudsters. Not without reason the Federal law of 11 August 1995 № 135 “On charity and charity organizations” gives much attention to the issues of legal registration of charity activities (article 7.1.); competences of charity organizations (article 12); sources of financing (article 15); property (article 16); control over charities (article 19); responsibility of charity organizations (article 20) [9]. E. A. Fomin notes in this context: “Generally, for the state, charity is a special form of property relations connected with the movement of material resources. That’s why it is interested in charity as economic activity, and absolutely indifferent to the fact that charity is first of all an ethic and cultural phenomenon triggering off other values – ethic and cultural” [10, p. 28]. We believe that the large potential of these values, which, in fact, form the basis of civil society, is contained in volunteer movement. In Russia, volunteer activities are mentioned in many pieces of legislation (Federal Law of 12 January 1996 “On non-profit organizations”, Federal Law of 19 May 1995 № 82 “On public associations”, Federal Law of 11 August 1995 № 135 “On charity and charity organizations”, Federal Law of 12 April 2010 № 61 “On drug circulation”, Federal Law of 6 May 2011 № 100 “On voluntary fire guard”, Federal Law of 1 December 2007 № 310 “On organization and holding of the 22nd Winter Olympic Games and 11th 2014 Paralympic Games in Sochi, the development of Sochi as a mountain resort and amending particular legislative acts”, and others). However, there’s still no specific unified legislative act about volunteering in Russia. In 2013, a draft federal law “On volunteering” was prepared, which defined volunteering as voluntary, socially oriented and socially useful activity aimed at delivery of work or services without financial or material reward (except for the cases of reimbursement of expenditures on volunteer activity) performed by private persons [11]. So, volunteering manifests the best traits of character of a person, because it is not voluntary-compulsory (like, for example, community work days or other mass events initiated by the authorities), but answers the call of hearts. Such activity differs from the alike activities in the interest of certain people (relatives or friends) in its mass public character and orientation to an undefined set of people needing help. Unlike charity, volunteering is not connected with material relations (except for the right to reimbursement of expenditures), therefore it is not so formalized and more attractive for its participants. The common feature is the motivation – on the one hand, it’s mercy and compassion, on the other hand – protection and guaranteeing of human rights as a civil duty. To some extent, volunteering can be compared with the participation in public amateur activities (clubs, associations of hunters and fishers, philatelists, flower growers, etc.), since for volunteers, their work is also a sort of hobby, which has a very important peculiarity – volunteering is based not on a personal interest or need, but is an active civic position. We have to note that the spheres and opportunities of volunteering are limitless. They include not only natural disasters’ damage control, but also care for deprived and seriously ill (volunteering in hospices), support for victims of crimes, refugees and displaced persons in the spheres of medical care, education and social protection. Volunteering can be considered also as an important part of social activity of independent institutions of civil society (church, mass media, business communities, etc.). The mechanism of volunteering is quite complicated, and there is a risk to bureaucratize this important and promising direction of civil society development, reduce it to the set of compulsory registration actions and frighten off most of its participants – young people rejecting any formalized relations.

As to the abovementioned draft law, one of its stumbling blocks is the provision about volunteering outside the territory of the Russian Federation (article 5.1), in the scenes of fighting. Of course, if this activity is performed under the umbrella of the “Red Cross” organization or connected with other form of humanitarian aid to civilians, volunteering should not cause any questions. But there are also conflict situations when volunteers have to use violence to the representatives of one of the parties to the conflict to protect themselves or civilians, and these cases are regulated within international policy and international relations.

Together with volunteering, there are more specified directions of civil society development, for example the work of civil society structures aimed at the protection of rights of abandoned or unparented children. Since 2015, officially there are no orphan asylums in Russia [12]. Orphanages are only interim asylums for children before foster families. As it is stated in the report of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation about the state of civil society for 2015, one of the key objectives is to prevent children from getting to public institutions. It is necessary to involve the designated NGOs and funds in this work [3, p. 144].

The problem of homeless people also remains urgent, with their number growing year by year. In October 2015 the Civic Chamber of Russia held a round-table “Problems of Social Adaptation and Integration of Persons of no Fixed Abode”; the participants stated that the measures to prevent the growth of the number of homeless peoples had been ineffective and limited to occasional help, which can’t change the situation: temporary hospitalization, organization of night shelters, supply with medicines, food and clothes. At the same time, there’s a successful experience of particular non-profit organizations, based on the organization of labor communities. Living in communities, homeless people get rid of alcohol and drug addiction, get used to honest work and undergo social adaptation to resume normal existence. They get assistance in finding accommodation, reissuing identification documents, get medical help and legal support [3, p. 191].

The state of civil society in Russia and its particular components can be evaluated on the base of statistical and sociological data contained in the 2015 Civic Chamber’s report on the state of civil society in the Russian Federation. According to it, the most popular spheres of NGOs’ activities are education and science (59399 organizations); activities aimed at the improvement of moral and psychological condition of citizens and spiritual development of a person (50858 organizations); culture and art (48919); healthcare, prevention of diseases and health protection (48888); promotion of patriotic and moral education of children and youth (46748).

It’s not a secret that the majority of Russian citizens have trust in the President (78%), the Armed Forces (62%), and the Government (56%), while public structures are somewhere on the periphery (particularly, only 17% have trust in political parties). According to the article 7 of the Constitution, Russia is a welfare state, whose policy is aimed at the provision of the conditions ensuring decent life and free personal development. The protection of labor and health, the guaranteeing of minimum wage, the support for family, maternity, paternity and childhood, people with disabilities and older people, the development of social services, the guaranteeing of state pensions, social benefits and other means of social protection are the most important state guarantees of the social sphere. One might think that the role of civil society in these spheres is insignificant, but practice shows that the state sector of social services can’t meet all the needs of people as it used to be in the Soviet period. In this situation, people have to change their approaches to life. According to sociological researches of the Institute of Sociology of the RAS for the period of 2011 – 2014, citizens’ views of the following issues had significantly changed: possibility to live without the government’s assistance – in 2011, 34% supported this idea, and in 2014 – 44%; in 2011 43% believed that the most important traits of character were proactivity and go-aheadedness, and in 2014 – 56% [13].

The presented data are merely empirical materials, which, like the body temperature demonstrates the presence or the absence of the symptoms of a disease, speak for the condition of society. Some positive results, showing the growth of civic consciousness, can speak for a correct policy of the state aimed at the development of civil society. At the same time, law rates of social activity of the population demonstrate particular shortcomings of legislative regulation of local government and the development of civic structures in economic, social and political spheres.

Civic engagement is one of the indexes of the state of civil society. First of all, it’s important to define the objects of this civic activity and the forms of its realization. Even Western scholars are doubtful about the vitality of civil society institutions, which have been functioning for several centuries. They believe that the category of civil society can be used only after its reconstruction, i. e. “taking a theory apart and putting it back together again in a new form in order to attain more fully the goal it has set for itself” [14, p. 95]. Consequently, there’s a need for such a concept of civil society, which would provide the opportunity to analyze the new forms of collective identity and formulate the provisions, which can contribute to freer, more democratic societies [15, p. 544].

So far we have considered only positive and formalized aspects of civic engagement, but, as it is known, there are also non-formal manifestations of both constructive and destructive nature. It is more difficult to speak about the tendencies of their development, because they can result from the policy of the state generally, and the gaps and shortcomings of the legislation specifically. It must be noted that legislative gaps are not always as obvious as contradictions, and can be replenished by the general legislative principles and the analogy of statute and the analogy of law. Non-formal manifestations of civil society speak for the lack of regulation of certain relations in the light of “particular rights – particular duties”. But it doesn’t mean that such public manifestations are not influenced by the general legal principles determining interrelations of state, civil society and person. Such public manifestations are also a part of the legal field, and develop in a particular direction determined by these legal principles. Probably, it is natural legal environment, the only environment non-formal manifestations of civil society can function in. In their turn, such non-formal manifestations of civil society can be considered as a particular interim stage of formalized civic structures formation. Excessive interference of legal regulations in this environment can ruin the arising beginnings of new social structures. At the same time, many non-formal manifestations of civil society remain non-formal, because in their nature they are not able to develop into any formalized structures. But they are still useful, because they can serve as brand new and more perfect structures and institutions of civil society, and as a “breeding ground” for further development of civil society. In this context, the legislator should create a favorable democratic regime for these non-formal structures, sometimes stimulating their appearance and defining the desirable for the state and the society direction of their development. But the imposed and artificial civil society structures can only harm, because, sooner or later, civil society will reject them as foreign objects. For example, the local officials’ attempts to impose the model of territorial self-management, appointing its head-officials and objectives and introducing the system of progress reports, give the impression of another body of local municipal administration, but not real municipal self-management.

Civil society manifestations can be not only positive. The general economic crisis provokes protest sentiments of the population, unemployment leads to the increase of the number of opposition-minded marginal groups, which can even be hostile to the representatives of public authorities and their rules. In this situation, the role of formalized civil society structures, acting within the legislation, decreases, and the role of spontaneous and chaotic manifestation of non-formal structures of civil society increases. In this context, the government will have to restrict particular rights and freedoms of citizens as civil society members.

The strategic direction of development of civil society in Russia shouldn’t be changed under the influence of the economic crisis and the contradictions within the society. Russia’s statehood can’t be strengthened, and the state machinery’s effectiveness can’t be improved without the support of civil society structures. Of course, temporary tactical deviations from the chosen direction and strengthening of administrative pressure on some spheres of social relations are possible. Social development as a social process can’t avoid contradictions or even mistakes. But as long as the provisions of the Constitution, establishing and guaranteeing the key political, economic and social principles of our state and society, are observed, the danger of reversion to the authoritarian past is hardly probable.

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