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SENTENTIA. European Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences

On the state and trends of development of civil society in Russia

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

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Abstract: This article analyzes the issues pertaining to participation of citizens in the work of the civil institution. Attention is given to the level of demand for various social formations among citizens, as well as motivation of people’s participation in them. A special attention is allocated to the prospects of development of various models of civil society in Russia and issues of formation of middle class, called to become the social foundation of the civil society. The statistical data on the state of the civil society in Russia testifies to the loss of influence of the formalized structures of civil society upon the citizens. This trend is further aggravated by the state’s imposition of the so-called pseudo structures of civil society, which introduce typical bureaucratic flaws of the state apparatus. There are additional independent problems in form of uncontrollability and irresponsibility that also arise. The author proposes original legal approaches towards solution of the issues of debureaucratization of the civil society and development of promising and demanded vectors of its development in Russia, which include volunteering, philanthropy, and work of socially-oriented nonprofit organizations (NPOs). Author’s separate proposals and assessments pertain to the role and importance of the informal manifestations of civil society.


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

As we know, it is the volunteering that serves as one of the main principles of citizens’ participation in the activities of the institutions of civil society. Such participation is not vital and does not cater to people’s basic needs (incorporated into the so-called consumer shopping cart that corresponds with the cost of living), which are guaranteed in the quality of conditions for a dignified life and free development of citizens in social society (Article 7 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation). Thus, according to the data from the sociological research, conducted by the Institute of Sociology RAC, almost a third (32%) of Russian citizens did not participate in any political or social activity. More than a quarter (27%) of Russians believe that “my participation with not change anything”; another 30% are simply “uninterested”; 20% refer to being too busy with work, studying, or household chores; 12% feel that “politics should be handled by professionals”; 7% openly disregard any and all politics [1]. Meanwhile, there are still many people who desire to realize themselves in social activity that does not promise money, career growth, or power. The need for people in the structures of civil society is felt from the perspective of active participation in its work, as well as from the perspective of use of these structures by people who do not participate in them, but require protection and insurance of their rights and interests by these institutions of civil society. According to specific authors, “…on one hand, the civil society represents an integral system of people’s livelihood, actually insuring the freedom and dignity of an individual, realization of individual rights, liberties, and responsibilities. On the other, a civil society is required in order for people to be able to influence the state and authority” [2, p. 35-36]. From the data of the sociological surveys we can assess the demand or preferences of the people’s participation, including in the socially-oriented NPOs’s. The primary position in this case falls on the work on protection and human rights and liberties and legal education (29%); then support of socially significant youth initiatives (24%); work in the area of education, training, and science (23%); charitable work (23%), promotion of volunteering (22%) [3, p. 55]. The key topics in 2015, with which citizens turned to the Public Chambers for example, were: utilities (26%); state, society and politics (20%); defense, security and lawfulness (24); social sphere (18%); economy (12%) [3, p. 160]. The motivation of civil participation in public formation and movements of civil society with regards to correlation between mercantile and altruistic impulses at this stage of Russian civil society seem to be not in favor of the latter. Thus, according to a local survey conducted among students of Orenburg, to the question of key stimulus for participation of students in social formations (the poll was conducted among law students on their participation in social formations associated with their future profession) 77% associate this work with gaining practical experience and knowledge; 18% are planning to make a career out of it; 5% will do it to raise their reputation in the eyes of others.

Excessive formalization of many civil structures in Russia discourages participation in them, especially among youth. In Germany, the notion “civil involvement” is mostly associated with the concept of “honorable volunteer work” (social volunteers force consists of approximately 22 million people in Germany), rather than membership in strict organized associations and agreement of people to take on long-term commitments. Churches, parties, labor unions – all of these organizations complain about the drop in numbers of their constituents, especially youth. It is always difficult to clearly distinguish between private work of citizens and civil volunteer work: this area certainly lacks application of criteria for common good, since common good can come from a pool of privet interests – writes W. Thierse. An important criterion for characterizing organization of civil society is openness of access, i.e. readiness of civil organizations to integrate the aggregate of their motives and interests [4, p. 15-16]. The level of social involvement of citizens in the issues that are solved by the structures of civil society in its active forms (the attempt to independently resolve these issues by direct involvement) thus depends on how responsively and adequately these structures react to the interests and demands of people, as well as how accessible and attractive is the form of their functionality.

One of the trends in development of civil society in Russia consists in transferring the government functions to the structures of civil society, and thus, weakening of state control with regards to these structures [5]. Considering the immaturity of the Russian civil society, these measures can cause the manifestation of either positive or negative energy of civil society, which will result in the fundamentally new wave of legal violations. The mechanism of responsibility, which was adjusted to the struggle against violations, caused by the action of public authority agencies, can fail in struggle against similar legal violations, the actors of which are the structures of civil society, because, outside the framework of legal regulation remain the questions of order and conditions of adopting the unlawful decisions by these structures. One of the directions pertaining to resolution of this issue is the process of democratization of state apparatus, as well as administrative apparatus of the structures of civil society, and creation of the transparent, humane, and just regime of relations within them. The main indicator therewith must become the interests of each separate individual and his welfare. Certainly, the state interests, expressed in strengthening of the grounds of constitutional structure, ensuring sovereignty, integrity, and security to the Russian nation, must be respected. It would seem that the potential of the function of measures of legal responsibility in civil society is significantly higher than in the area of functionality of the state authority, because besides the legal means of influence, there are involved multiple other mechanisms that are inherent exclusively in a civil society. However, in order to reveal and support such mechanisms, there is a need for a corresponding impulse from the government.

Generally assessing the prospects of realization of one or another model of civil society in Russia, it is worth noting that currently the most widespread is the paternalistic-egalitarian model. Within this model, the future directions in social development appear in restoration of state regulation of major part of the economy, and as a result, in possible significant increase in budget means designated for social programs. The alternative to paternalistic model is the liberal model. Its essence lies in the priorities of human rights and private enterprise, which are called to ensure the material and mental dignity of a person with the minimal, personifies, and targeted social support from the state. These models comprise the spatial poles of social expectations. Between them, there is a fairly narrow zone of social-democratic model. It is expected that the government would directly regulate just the certain key for the national security and wellness sectors of economy (rather than its most part, as in paternalistic model and not the liberal regime of free economy). Social support of the population should be neither completely paternalistically, nor minimally personal. The state must protect everyone who is in need the most [6, p. 212-213].

In history of Russia both models, paternalistic-egalitarian and liberal, have undergone testing. But as demonstrated by the Soviet period along with the time of rampant of democracy and market relations (1990’s), none of these models led to the desired result. It is especially bitter to realize that the liberal model, which successfully functions in the Western countries, did not meet the expectations. At the same time, the experience of so-called “post-historical” (in F. Fukuyama’s perception) countries demonstrates that many of the difficulties they faced in the late XX century, are no longer resolved through the further “exploitation” of the models of liberal state and civil society as the complementary structures. Moreover, it turns out that in many cases they were originated by the exhaustiveness of the liberal political-legal model, and its inability to respond to the challenges of modernity. The major problem of liberal societies is the erosion of morality that achieved critical proportions [6, p. 349]. This takes places due to the multiple reasons, including the low level of solidarization of society. Disunity of society, in turn, can be caused by various economic, national, religious, and other factors. It is certainly difficult to create the effective institutions of civil society in environment with the antagonist relations. Even in the developed Western countries we can observe the aggravation of the relationship issues due to, for example, multicultural policy regarding the immigrants of different religion, traditions, and approaches to life, who do not want to assimilate with the values that are the foundation of life of the native population, and thus, form their own enclaves, which become the center of tension. In Russia, along with the issues of national, religious, and ethnic relations, relevant is the problem of economic stratification of population, which does not allow solidarization of people due to the incompatibility of their financial level (welfare) and resulting from it lifestyle. The backbone of any state is the so-called middle class. Excessively poor people are lumpenized; they are not interested in anything directly associated with even with earning a living. Excessively rich people also lose their interest towards the surrounding reality and problems of common population; because namely by the virtue of their wealth, the can avoid all these problems or resolve them overseas. Therefore, the Concept of Long-term Socioeconomic Development of the Russian Federation until 2020 approved by Government Decree No. 1662-r of November 17, 2008, one of the target approach consists in increase of the milled class by 2020 to the majority of population [7]. But how realistic is this in Russia? The coefficient of correlation between the income of the 10% most rich and 10% most poor serves as an index of assessment of this situation. The lower is the coefficient, the more numerous is the middle class. So, if the coefficient of correlation between the 10% most rich and 10% most poor based on the data from 2014, in Sweden comprised 6.1, in Germany – 7.1, in Italy – 9.1, in Spain – 10.1; in Russia it was 45.1 (higher than in Honduras – 38.1, and Nigeria – 42.1) [8]. In this regard, quite strange seems the position of the legislators, who reject the initiatives on such draft bills as tax levy on luxury, introduction of the progressive scale of income taxation, but unanimously and promptly pass the laws that obligate the citizens to deposit for capital repair on housing, as well as laws that reduce social expanses on population.

What pertains to the direction associated with the involvement of structures of civil society into realization of various long-term government programs, strong doubts are caused by the directive positions of these programs, which indicate that the very emergence and increase of these attracted structures completely depends on the will of state agencies – executors of the programs. Thus, in the Concept of Long-term Socioeconomic Development of the Russian Federation until 2020 one of the goals in the area of education consists in creation within the educational organizations of the self-governing bodies (guardian, supervisory, and administrative councils). The state program “Patriotic Education of Citizens of the Russian Federation: 2016-2020” specifies to increase the portion of volunteer organizations, which realize their activity at the premises of state educational organizations of higher education in 2016 – up to 25%, in 017 – up to 35%, in 2018 – up to 45%, in 2019 – up to 55%, and in 2020 – up to 70%. It is certainly clear that the executors of these programs, i.e. representatives of state bodies and institutions, in pursuit of such indexes will use mostly their administrative resource in combination with the practice of establishment of pseudo-structures that would function only “on paper”. At the same time, under the conditions of the aggravated economic crisis and social ill-being of population, many of the public structures do real work, which makes them a significant support for the government.

As demonstrated by practice, Russian citizens in general actively respond to others in need, sending their savings to those who suffered from natural disaster or other difficult life situation, as well as participate in charitable events, volunteer work, etc. But all of these is mostly one-off events. Many of the stationary organizations like charitable foundations arouse distrust among people, because often the fraudsters work under the guise of such organizations. It is no accident that in the Federal Law of August 11, 1995 No. 135-FZ “Charitable Activity and Charitable Organizations”, special attention is given to the following questions: legal registration of charitable activity (Article 7.1); competencies of its organizations (Article 12); sources of financing (Article 15); property (Article 16); control over realization of charitable activity (Article 19); responsibility of charitable organization (Article 20) [9]. As noted by E. A. Fomin: “the government considers charity as a specific form of property relations, which are associated with the flow of assets. Therefore, the government is fairly interested in charity as a commercial activity, but absolutely unconcerned about the fact that first and foremost it is an ethical and cultural phenomenon, which encourages completely different type of values – ethical and cultural” [10, p. 28]. Seemingly, the great potential of these values, which are the foundation of civil society, is contained in the volunteer movement. In Russia, the volunteer activity is mentions in multiple legislative acts (Federal Law of January 12, 1996 “On Non-Profit Organizations; Federal Law of May 19, 1995 No. 82 “On Public Associations”; Federal Law of August 11, 1995 No. 135 “On Charitable Activity and Charitable Organizations”; Federal Law of April 12, 2010 No. 61-FZ “On Circulation of Medicines”; Federal Law of May 6, 2011 No. 100-FZ “About Voluntary Fire Protection”; Federal Law of December 1, 2007 No. 310-FZ “About the Organization and Holding the XXII Winter Olympic Games and XI Winter Paralympic Games of 2014 in the City of Sochi, the development of the city of Sochi as mountain resort and modification of separate legislative acts”, and others). However, yet there is no single act on the volunteer work in Russia. In 2013, was prepared the draft federal law “On Volunteering”, in which it was defined as altruistic, socially-oriented, and publicly valuable activity on providing services without financial gain or reward (except the cases of possible reimbursement of expenses) [11]. Thus, volunteering is the embodiment of the best human qualities, because it is realized not in voluntary-compulsory order (as for example, subbotnik or other initiated by the government community services), but rather by the call of the heart of each participant. Such type of work differs from the similar activity pertaining to particular people (family or friends) that it carries large-scale public character and addressed to an uncertain circle of those in need. Unlike the charitable activity, volunteering is not associated with financial relations (except the right to reimbursement of expenses), so is not as formalized, which attracts its participants (the common features on one hand, is benevolence and compassion; and on the other hand – protection and provision of human rights as the civic duty). To an extent, volunteering can be compared to membership in self-regulatory organizations (hobby clubs, associations of hunters and fishermen, stamp collectors, florists, etc.), because volunteers consider their activity a peculiar hobby, which is distinct in an important aspect – in its foundation lies not the personal interest or demand, but a high civic position. It is worth noting that the areas and opportunities of the volunteer movement are limitless. It is not just the elimination of natural catastrophes, but help to the deprived, volunteering in hospice care, victims of crimes, refugees and forced migrants in the fields of healthcare, education, and social protection. Volunteering can be viewed as an important part of social activity of the independent institutions of civil society (church, mass media, business communities, and others). The mechanism of volunteering is rather complicated, and thus there is a risk of bureaucratization of this essential and promising direction of the development of civil society, as well as reduce it to an obligatory set of registration and accounting events, which can deter a significant portion of its main participants – the youth that rejects any formalized relations. In reference to the aforementioned draft law, one of the stumbling stones, in our opinion, is the position on volunteering outside the Russian Federation (Article 5.1), realized in the war zones. Certainly, if such activity is performed within the international organization of “Red Cross” or concerns other humanitarian aid to the civilian victims of the armed conflict, there should be no questions to the volunteers. But there can take place conflict situations, when the volunteers defending their life of the civilians, are forced to apply coercive actions pertaining to the representatives of one of the belligerents – and these are already the questions of international politics and international relations.

There are narrower specialized directions of development of civil society parallel to the volunteer work. For example, the activity of the civil society structures on the issues of abandoned or neglected by parents children. Since 2015, there are officially no more orphanages in Russia [12]. Thus, such establishments become just a temporary sanctuary for the children before they find an adopting family. One of the main goals, as claimed in the report of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation on the status of civil society in Russia in 2015, is that the children will not reach the walls of public establishments. Which means that the specialized nonprofit organizations and funds must be involved into this activity [3, p. 144].

The problem of homeless people, whose number grows year after year, remains acute. In October of 2015, the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation held roundtable on the “Problems of Social Adaptation and Integration of Individuals without Fixed Residence”. In the course of this event, it was acknowledged that unless the measures aimed at diminishing the number of homeless are inefficient, they are usually reduced to occasional help, which is incapable of radically changing the situation: temporary placement in hospitals, organization of overnight shelters, provision of medications, food, and clothes. At the same time, there is positive experience of the separate nonprofit organizations, based on creation of labor communities. Living in communities, the individuals without fixed residency escape the alcohol and drug addition, get accustomed to honest labor, and go through social adjustment to be able to return to the normal life. They also receive medical aid and legal support, as well as help with housing and restoration of identification [3, p. 191].

The status of civil society in Russia in separate aspects of its functionality is reflected in statistical data, as well data attained from sociological surveys, particularly presented in the Report of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation on the status of civil society in Russia in 2015. Thus, among the socially-oriented nonprofit organizations, the most popular are the directions of activity in the following areas: education, enlightenment, and science (59,399 organizations); improvement of moral and psychological state of citizens and spiritual development of personality (50,858 organizations); healthcare, preventative care, health protection of the citizens (48,888 organizations); contribution into patriotic, spiritual and ethical education of the children and youth (46,748 organizations). From the perspective of the response from the work of socially-oriented NPOs, the first place take those who provide citizens with social services (over 20,000 people). A little over 5,000 people received charitable aid in form of in-kind benefits; 5,000 people received pro bono legal help; approximately 3.000 people received charitable aid in cash. One more interesting fact is the economic independence of the socially-oriented NPOs in realization of their functions, because it is one thing when the government provides financial support to NPOs, and NPOs in turn only redistributes these assets for designated purposes; and another thing whenNPOs itself either earns them or receives from other nongovernment sources. So, first place in the volume of financing of the socially-oriented NPOs belongs to the private assets of its members (53%). Then follow the receipts of funds from the commercial corporations, sponsorship (36%); donations from private parties (34%); membership and admission fees (27%); private business (21%); receipts from regional budget (14%); receipts from federal budget (10%); grants from international organizations (7%). Speaking of the state support we should keep in mind that not only the grants, subsidies, etc., but also tax deductions for building expanses, consulting support, personnel training, provision of training materials, and others. The majority of socially-oriented NPOs have positive and optimistic intentions; 59% of the organizations are willing to expand their functions. However, NPOs point out the following problems: financing (63%), cooperation with the government authorities (41%), legislation (33%), unreadiness of NPOs (21%), and public distrust towards NPOs (19%). According to the opinion of representatives of socially-oriented NPOs, the impediments for development of the third sector consist in the following: underestimation of potential of the third sector by the government and business (50%); red tape of the government agencies (39%); indifference of the government towards public requests (37%); monopolistic character of the decision-making process (30%); insufficient development of self-consciousness of the representatives of NPOs (28%); imperfect legislative base of the functionality of NPOs and nongovernmental organizations (25%), and others.

It is no secret that the majority of Russians trusts the President of the Russian Federation (78%), armed forces (62%), government (56%), and social structures are somewhere in-between of their trust (the parties are only trusted by 17% of the population). In accordance with the Article 8 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, Russian is a social state, which policy is aimed at creating conditions for a dignified life and free development of the individual. The fundamental state guarantees of social sphere of human life consist in the protection of labor and health of citizens; establishment of the guaranteed minimum wage; provision of state support to families, maternity, paternity, and childhood, as well as disabled and elderly citizens; development of the system of social services; granting state pensions, benefits, or other guarantees of social protection. It would seem that the role of civil society on this sphere is insignificant, but the practice demonstrates that the public sector of social services is incapable of meeting the demands of population as it was during the Soviet era. In such situation, the Russians are forced to change their life orientations. Thus, according to the data from sociological surveys conducted by the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences over the period of 2011-2014, the most noticeable changes lie in the citizens’ ability to survive without the state support, which in 2011 claimed by 34% of respondents, and by 2014 it increased to 44%. Support for the notion that initiative and entrepreneurship are of utmost importance was expressed by 43% in 2011, and by 2014 it increased to 56% of the respondents.

The provided data from sociological surveys is just the empirical material, which similar to the body temperature of a healthy or sick person, testifies to the presence or absence of certain symptoms of illness and the overall state of the body. Some positive results on the growth of civic self-consciousness can indicate the appropriate policy of the government on the path of development of civil society. At the same time, the low indexes of social activeness of the population indicate certain miscalculations in the sphere of legislative regulation of local self-governance, and development of civil structures in economic, social, and political life.

Civic activeness is one of the indicators of assessment of the state of civil society. Of utmost importance are the questions of what are the objects of application of this civic activeness and in which forms they will be realized. Even Western researchers doubt the longevity of the institution of civil society that have been active for the last few centuries. “Civil society can be beneficial – they reason – only in case of its reconstruction through division of territory and its subsequent reconstitution into a new whole, which would ensure maximal convergence upon the goal its set” [14, p. 95]. As the conclusion of the presented thesis, we can see that there is a need for a concept of civil society that would provide the ability to analyze new forms of collective identity, and upon them formulate positions capable of supporting the creation of more free and democratic societies [15, p. 544].

We have examined only the positive and formalized aspects of civil activity, but as it’s known, there are both, constructive and deconstructive elements in the civil society. It is a lot more difficult to talk about the trends of their development, since their manifestation can be the result of general policy of the Russian Federation (in the broad term), or the result of gaps and contradictions in the legislation (in the specific sense). It is noteworthy that a gap in the legislation is not always as evident as a contradiction, and can be covered by the general principles of the law, as well as be overcome by the analogy of the law and analogy of the right. The informal social manifestations of the civil society testify to the irregularity of certain relations from the perspective of “specific rights – specific responsibility”. But this does not dictate that such social manifestations are not under the influence of general legal principles that determine relations between the state, civil society, and the individual. These social manifestations are also situated in the legal field, and develop in certain direction, set by these legal principles. It is possible that this is indeed the natural legal environment, the only environment in which the informal manifestations of civil society can function, which could it turn be interpreted as a certain intermediate stage of establishment of formalized structure of civil society. The unnecessary involvement of legal precepts into this environment can disrupt the conception of the sprouts of the new social structures. In addition to that, many of the informal manifestations of civil society forever remain as such, since in their nature they are unable to evolve into some sort of formalized structure of the civil society. The benefit of such informal structure lies not only in the fact that they are potentially new, more advanced structure and institutions of civil society, but also in the fact that they are a sort of “flora” for feeding the further development of the civil society. Thus, the task for the legislator consists in providing favorable democratic regime for functionality of these informal structures, in some cases stimulating their manifestation and defining the path for their development that is desired and in best interests of the state and society. But the structures of civil society artificially created by the government and forced upon the civil society from “above” can only cause harm, since sooner or later they will be rejected by the civil society as a foreign body that is unable to be assimilated within it. Thus, the municipal authority’s efforts to force the model of territorial social self-governance upon the population through designation of its leaders, definition of the tasks, and introduction of the system of accountability for completed work, etc., create the perception not of the realistic territorial social self-governance, but of yet another structure of local administration of the municipal formation.

Manifestations of civil society can also carry negative character. The common economic crisis creates certain protest orientations among the population, while unemployment increases the number of marginal groups that display opposition or even antagonism towards representatives of public authority and the orders they establish. This lowers the role of the formalized social structures of civil society operating within the framework of the legislation and increases the role of elemental, chaotic manifestations of informal structures of civil society. In this situation, the state would be forced to take measures that limit certain rights and liberties of the citizens, which they realize as members of the civil society.

The strategic vector of development of civil society in Russia is no longer subject to any type of correction. It should not be affected by the economic crisis, or intensification of certain social contradictions in the society. Strengthening of the statehood and increasing efficiency of the work of the government apparatus cannot take place without strong support from the civil society structures. Temporary tactical retreats from the set course and stronger administrative levers of influence upon regulation of some types of relations are certainly possible. Social development as a social process cannot escape some contradictions and even mistakes. But we can be assured that as long as the current Constitution of the Russian Federation is upheld, which establishes and guarantees the key political, economic, and social principles of Russian state and society, the danger of returning to the authoritarian past is highly unlikely.

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