These days “civil society” doesn’t really mean “society” at all. We should be quite honest and state that “civil society” is defined as NGOs, academics, dissidents and everything else that is not “State” or the “hoy polloy” that constitutes the vast majority of society.
For some reason, established international political institutions in particular, have come to think of “civil society” as representing the “hoy polloy” when their voice is not being recognised by domestic politics, despite “civil society” having no democratic mandate and therefore representative of whom and how many exactly, is sometimes difficult to identify.
It is quite easy to make a case, whether it is a strong case or not, that “civil society” in a great many cases are often no more than lobby groups with narrow interests dressed up something they are not, namely representative of the unheard voice of the masses and acting on their behalf with some form of inferred majority democratic mandate and legitimacy.
Of course there is no problem with engaging with such lobby groups, even those with extremely narrow interests, as they will continue to push domestic governments in those particular areas where the EU has common interest with theirs. Maybe my dislike for the expression “civil society” is simply based on the fact it is on occasion not civil and often not representative of much of society either. Maybe I am being pedantic relating to the label such groups are given, but in politics words and perception matters.
Anyway, Stephan Fulle gave a speech two days ago in Poland to “civil society” from the EaP nations. Such was the reach of this speech to the “hoy polloy”, that there is no mention of it in the Ukrainian press, despite the fact he didn’t mention Ukraine in a good or bad way other than acknowledging it as an EaP nation!
EU politicians criticising Ukraine are often shown on Ukrainian TV, covered in the press and of course are all over the Internet on Russian and Ukrainian websites. Ukraine has not got to the point where such things are removed from reaching the masses via State intervention. Indeed Ukraine is a long way from that point as watching any political debate programme on TV would underline. Such programmes are live, feisty, attract large national audiences and feature guests from political parties large and small debating with each other, questioned by the press and also by the live audience on occasion. One could even call it vibrant.
However, returning to Mr Fulle’s speech, whilst he quite rightly identifies Belarus as the current EaP “bad boy” and in particular draws attention to the plight of Ales Byalyatski, again quite rightly, is it not strange in a speech of this kind, he fails to mention Yulia Tymoshenko, particularly as her 51st birthday was the day before and spent in a cell that the EU say she should not be in?
Was she omitted because she is classed as a politician (despite not having held a seat in the RADA for almost 2 years)? If so then that is fair enough. She certainly doesn’t qualify as academia or an intellectual, nor NGO or dissident which seems to be the broad definition of “civil society”. One has to suppose that being the leader of a political party, whilst not being an MP herself, keeps her within the “political class” rather than being a civil activist or just another member of the hoy polloy.
He calls for more talking platforms, promises of another Euro 22 million on top of the last Euro 9 million would seem to once again be building more structures within structures within structures within the EU. Yet further promises of further funding when yet another internal EU platform is created as well.
All of this whilst he is speaking from an existing platform that managed to gather EaP “civil society” from numerous nations to Poland. So that platform obviously works! Why make it more complicated and more costly? How many platforms does there need to be to engage with “civil society” in any EaP nation? Do there need to be so many platforms that it becomes deliberately opaque? How to account fot the Euro millions then?
The EU should be quite relieved that supra-structures are not measured by Transparency International. One wonders where the EU would sit when their next report is published on 1st December if it did. Talking of said report, I will be sure to bring you news of Ukraine’s anticipated sliding down the league.
In summary, the EU EaP strategy with regard to “civil society” appears to be delivering a far more complex structure than currently exists and then throwing money at it, in broad terms as highlighted by Mr Fulle. I suppose that is at least consistent with every other EU policy.
It should be noted that the Ukrainian Tax Code initially outlined by the government was not modified due to Ukrainian political opposition or indeed a formal NGO or civil society group. Change to the proposed Code came from the biggest Ukrainian demonstration by the public since 2004 (about 10,000 people).
Such demonstrations would suggest that society as a whole has little faith in political opposition, civil society or others (EU) to change matters and that large scale bottom up peaceful protest is the best way for reform. Fortunately when Ukrainians take to the streets over something they believe in it has been both peaceful and with a narrative that provides alternative solutions.
Great song, wonderful parody, no real alternative solutions or mechanisms for any proposed reforms that are forcefully narrated. Nevertheless, the link to the video was forwarded by Bianca Jagger and obligingly I will re-post as requested although that does not necessarily infer my personal views on the matter.
Nevertheless, Mr Fulle and civil society should take note that Ukrainian politics takes note of bottom up protest that is A-political by society far more than civil society, regardless of how complex the EU makes any communications systems or the amount of cash the EU throws at civil society.
Maybe civil society should engage the Ukrainian public a lot more actively than it does? Sitting aloof from the hoy polloy and engaging with Ukrainian and EU politicians alone is no way to garner the support in the numbers necessary to avoid being easily dismissed. Despite the lack of pointed narrative the Occupy movement manages to convey, they have at least managed to gain support in huge numbers who realise that what they want to be heard is not being heard well enough by the politicians, whatever that is.