The Conditions of Civil Society in Central And Eastern Europe Thirty Years After: A Comparative Perspective, 2019-

Research project “The Conditions of Civil Society in Central And Eastern Europe Thirty Years After: A Comparative Perspective” is financed by National Science Centre (NCN) in Poland and led by Dorota Pietrzyk-Reeves, Department of Political Philosophy, Institute of Political Sciences and International Relations at Jagiellonian University in Krakow.

In collaboration with:

  • Patrice McMahon (University of Nebraska-Lincoln, US)
  • Paula Pickering (College of William and Mary, US)
  • Lisa Sundstrom (University of British Columbia, Canada)
  • Paulina Pospieszna (Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland)

The project will challenge the thesis of the ‘weakness of civil society in CEE’ (Howard 2003) by presenting viable theoretical and methodological tools to assess ‘weakness’ or strength of civic development in the region. In order to achieve this, we will focus on the conditions of civil society in three respects: 1) its political and advocacy role and, more broadly, its impact upon democratization and democratic consolidation in CEE countries; 2) varied forms and levels of civic participation, the spheres of civic activity, civic empowerment; and 3) the attitudes of citizens across CEE towards civil society organizations and civic activities. At the time of writing, not much scholarship has yet focused on the role of public opinion or popular attitudes toward civil society in Central and Eastern Europe. The research that does exist, however, suggests that at least some elements of the public are disappointed, disinterested, if not downright dissatisfied with civil society organizations. What explains this level of distrust and these attitudes? Is the distrust due to the same factors in various countries or different ones?

The project will look at CEE countries which have different relationships with the European Union and different stages of democratization and democratic consolidation. We will examine in-depth some of the current challenges to civil society development which will include not only new governmental/legal restrictions, but also the under-studied popular perceptions of civil society throughout the region that have been influenced by, and which in turn influence, political culture, levels of participation, social capital and political education. A key goal of the project is to use new theoretical conceptions and novel, rich and cross-national evidence to try to reconceptualise the relationship between civil society, democracy and democratization. This goal is furthered by the study’s diverse cases, which highlight dynamics in three different groups of societies in the region.