Civil Society in Postcommunist Poland
I see a difference beween Anglo-Saxon and Polish understandings of ‘civil society’. The former (derived from Locke and Hume) sees civil society as involving a contract on power-sharing between society and the state. The latter (derived more from Rousseau) sees society as essentially in conflict with the state.
In Poland discussion on civil society started in the 1970s and 1980s. The idea was to build civil society as an environment parallel to the state where citizens could ‘live in truth’, with respect for each other; the context was that nobody knew how long communism was going to last. It was to be a moral but apolitical civil society. Its apogee was the Solidarity movement. This was a very particular phenomenon: it was in fact a kind of ‘negative solidarity’ in that it brought together people who had in common only the fact that they were against the state. This negative nature was later to turn out to be a disadvantage: civil society as it evolved at this time in Poland was basically negative about the state.
Communism collapsed unexpectedly, and there was no Third Way because there was no time: suddenly the only agenda was neo-liberal. Postcommunist Poland has seen the rise of NGOs, which have been set up in order to take action in areas where the state has not been doing well. They have become neo-liberal, oriented towards money, getting grants from the West. They have lost the ethos of civil society, which in Poland was conceived as moral. They have largely become professionalised and cliquish closed shops, fulfilling the programmes of those who are giving them grants.Continue reading “Civil Society in Postcommunist Poland”