Civil Society

Civil society has been the focal point of Olga’s research and consultancy. An in-depth knowledge of what civil society is and how it works in an international arena is shared in the doctoral thesis Struggling for Civility. The Idea and the Reality of Civil Society. An Interdisciplinary Study with a Focus on Russia. The intercultural comparative perspective on how politics, civil society and business interact is continued in the proposal for meeting between two different countries - Russia and the Netherlands - during the bilateral year 2013. Partnership and trust is the key for a successful interaction model.

Struggling for Civility.
The Idea and the Reality of Civil Society.

An Interdisciplinary Study with a Focus on Russia

Doctoral dissertation, defended on 30 May 2012 by Olga Hoppe-Kondrikova (MA Intercultural Theology), at the Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

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This interdisciplinary study revises the rise and development of civil society in post-Soviet Russia from an ethical and intercultural perspective. The author conceives of civil society both as an idea and as a reality. This distinction clarifies the gap between the normative vision of liberal democratic society and the practice of democracy. The problematic relationship between the idea and the reality of civil society in the West constitutes an interesting pole of comparison when placed in an intercultural perspective. Analyzing the failures and achievements of the democratic project in post-Soviet Russia, the author reveals deep-lying cultural and moral causes of the actual problems. A particular problem of Russian civil society relates to the lack of a strong public sphere and, accordingly, of a developed self-conception of society as an independent, full-pledged body entitled to participate in the political process on the par with the state. The study provides a complex picture of how Russian society, liberated from the restraints of the Soviet system, has been struggling for civility.

Although the aim of the present study has not been to offer an antidote for overcoming the revealed problems, the author hopes to contribute to the realization that civil society is vitally important for the future of Russia’s democratic project. Civil society is an indispensable condition for a thriving democracy not only because it creates a network of public organizations, but also because it provides the democratic system with legitimacy and public trust.

That is why our understanding of civil society should not be confined exclusively to an empirical dimension. Civil society is more embracing than a social reality, as it also embodies a comprehensive ethical vision of social order. Thus, civil society creates both normative and real possibilities for citizens’ engagement with their government and with the corporate sector. It allows citizens to express their opinions on issues of public concern, realize their rights to freedom of thought and belief, and construe a society according to their understanding of the right balance between solidarity and individual autonomy. At the structural level, civil society accommodates diverse civic initiatives by institutionalizing the processes of pluralization and differentiation of social interests. Thereby, civil society is also able to propose a qualified and tolerant way to integrate religion in the public sphere.

To cut a long story short, the establishment of civil society implies for new democratic regimes the society’s struggle for the ideal of an open, tolerant, and civil society. It involves an inevitable struggle for civility.


Politics, Civil society and Business:
On the Way to Partnership and Trust.

Benchmarking research on the Netherlands and Russia

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These three factors determine the guideline of the benchmarking research:

  1. NGOs and human rights
  2. Corporate Social Responsibility
  3. Religion and the public sphere

In modern democratic regimes, such as the Netherlands and Russia, civil society has become an important player in democratic governance alongside government and business. Business corporations, governmental institutions and civil society organizations are involved in a relationship of dynamic mutual influence. They control, restrict and thereby help each other. Such values as public accountability, trust and corporate responsibility prevent the crisis of political and corporate legitimacy as they provide space for participation, mobility and sustainable growth.

Partnership and trust between politics, civil society and business greatly depends on three factors: effective communication between the democratic government and civil society, corporate social responsibility and smart usage of alternative inspiration sources for society's integration.

1. NGOs and human rights

Civil society and the democratic state participate in a mutually reinforcing interaction. The democratic state needs civil society because civil society provides legitimacy to the democratic system as it allows citizens to announce their political standpoints and to elect their governments in a democratic way. Civil society needs democratic state because the state provides rational-legal principles and guarantees the rule of law, and the constitutional protection of citizens’ rights.
What are the problems that the state encounters when building such a legal framework for civil society organizations? How to integrate particular interests of individual citizens in the system of state governance? How to find the right power-sharing practice between civil society and political power?

2. Corporate Social Responsibility

The core dilemma for contemporary business corporations is how to invoke the sense of social responsibility in the face of self-interest. There is a growing moral intuition that profit should be considered in relation to people and planet. That is a good sign for the future of responsible business, but the actual question is how to implement this universal moral intuition.
Which problems and opportunities have Russian and Dutch companies encountered when developing a CSR policy? How do Russian and Dutch (senior) executives evaluate CSR efforts of their companies? Which leadership values and managerial skills are encouraged by responsible business practices?

3. Religion and the public sphere

How to constitute a sense of community between social actors who understand themselves as autonomous and free individuals? How to reassert the sense of shared community in the face of individualism? To solve these problems civil society needs new sources of inspiration. Religious associations and beliefs can provide rich ideas for community-building and cohesion.