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East European Civil Societies in the 90s: A Legacy of Solidarnosc (Solidarity) or Completely Different Historical Paths?

By Dr François Bafoil, Head of Research, CNRS CERI, Sciences Po

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In the nascent years of post-communism, the systemic changes in Central and Eastern European countries were accompanied by a revival in civil society. The picture going into the later years of the first decade since the collapse of the Soviet Union is remarkably different. Most studies asserted that civil society in Eastern Europe was weak, inspite of the progress and stability of democratic polities. This working paper proposes that the interconnect between democratic order, modernisation (progress) and civil society maybe an assumption of western literature. The author presents and examines key findings on the different evolutions and profiles of civil society in the differing East European countries and the unique confluence of historical factors behind the ‘decline’ of civil society. The paper asks if the ‘non-political’, informal and private networks that had existed even before the fall of communism could be a hybrid or alternative to the organisational capacity and social ties associated with western civil sphere. In its journey, the paper examines the effectiveness of the EU’s intervention in Eastern Europe, specifically in regionalisation policy and euroregion building. You will also be presented an overview of the theories and functions of civil society from philosophical and sociological traditions.


This March 2010 publication, reproduced here with the permission of the author, is from the “Governance and Globalization Working Paper Series 18” published by Sciences Po.