It is almost trivial to observe that civil society matters - particularly in a process of democratisation. However for some countries such as Ukraine or Russia conventional wisdom told us, that since these countries managed quite well to hold down the political opposition, change will not come through elections, particularly if one considered the weakness of civil society and the political opposition. Then came the “orange revolution” in Kiev, and with it a negotiated regime change. This “cunning of the history” reminded scholars once again that social and political change occurs very often when you expect it the least. The events in Georgia, and in Ukraine pointed to the fact that civil society can under certain conditions also be mobilized in countries with stalled transformation processes and semi-authoritarian regimes - if certain conditions are fulfilled. True, Ukraine is not Russia, and one may consider the fact that since the Orange Revolution succeeded in Ukraine, the Kremlin seems to be determined to pre-empt any civic initiative - particularly on the eve of the next presidential elections, the “problem 2008”. On the other hand, however, it is also clear that democracy moves eastwards. Societies are not “dead-locked” by their own Communist legacy.A halted democratisation process can start again. In Russia this will be more difficult. But even here, in the context of a broadly accepted semi-authoritarian regime the pressure on the regime increases on a series of policy issues but also on the level of the “power vertical”.
Opportunities for change and new developments are likely to be found on the sub-national, regional level.
This is why this study wishes to examine the following questions in three different regions with each showing a specific profile on socio-economic and the political level:
- The project examines first obstacles and promoting factors in the development of civil society in Russia
- It aims at examining the various functions of public organisations and evaluates them in terms of its political functions in western societies:to build up trust and to function as a natural opposition force in society
- To what extent actors of civil society in Russia could build up the necessary capacities in order to become agents of change
- To what extent public organizations of regional civil societies may be able to contribute to the building up of trust and to the reinforcement of networks of cooperation and democratic citizenship?