Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

No civil society here, thank you

In the Soviet Union (and Tsarist Russia before it) any organization, from stamp collectors to football players, from knitters to gardeners, was run by the government (or the Communist Party in the USSR). In the People's Republic of China, any organization outside the Party or the government is suspect and likely to be persecuted.

Independent civil society is a threat to the power and control of the powers that be. In Putin's Russia, as surveillance, nationalism, obedience, and official religion are becoming more and more important, uncontrolled civil society organizations are less and less welcome.

In Russia, volunteers step up
A country doctor, a tiny, dilapidated village hospital, an indifferent health bureaucracy — and now, coming to the rescue, volunteers from distant Moscow, bringing furniture, equipment, money and, maybe most important, good cheer.

In the background, though, is the parliament — weighing a law to bring any volunteer activity under the purview of the state, on the theory that people who organize themselves to do good work are a threat to the state’s power.

The past year or so has seen an upwelling of a trend unprecedented in Russia — people getting together on their own to help others in need. Personal initiative, always suspect here, is suddenly taking off…

The rapid emergence of volunteer efforts, fueled in large part by social media, coincides with the eruption of public political protest — and that’s not by happenstance. There is an overlap between the political opposition and those who have become fed up with a corrupt government that delivers little and who have decided to take matters into their own hands.

Legislation to regulate volunteers has been introduced in the State Duma, or lower house of parliament, by President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party. Backers say it will ensure that volunteer activity conforms to the government’s priorities and doesn’t conflict with Kremlin policy.

Officials aren’t the only ones hostile to volunteerism. Russia’s Soviet past, when the government controlled all aspects of life, has left it with a population that is accustomed to the idea that the government should provide for its citizens and that is suspicious of volunteer organizations. A 2012 poll found that more than half the population disapproves of them... 
See also:

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