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Reawakening of Civil Society


Civil society is a concept that goes deep below the mechanisms of government into the culture and traditions of society at a more private or group level. It gained immense popularity in the 1980s and 1990s as an important conceptual tool to an understanding of relations between the modern state and modern society, especially those undergoing transformation.  

Boris Yeltsin addressing a mass rally in May 1989, during Gorbachev's perestroika

According to Gellner, civil society is that set of diverse nongovernmental institutions, which is strong enough to counterbalance the state and, whilst not preventing the state from fulfilling its role of keeper of the peace and arbitrator between major interests, can nevertheless prevent the state from dominating and atomizing society.

Cohen and Arato offer a more detailed definition of civil society as a sphere of social interaction between the economy and state, composed above all of the intimate sphere (especially the family), the sphere of associations (especially voluntary associations), social movements, and forms of public communication. Modern civil society is created through self-constitution and self-mobilization. It is institutionalized and generalized through laws. In the long run both independent action and institutionalization are necessary for the reproduction of civil society.

A civil society is one in which interest groups can assert themselves and can make the state respect their rights. An environment conducive to the reawakening of civil society was first created by the public debate of Gorbachevs glasnost era. The introduction of glasnost led to the broadening struggle of the independent movement against the administrative system.

Civil society soon revealed many aspects and represented many independent groupings and interests, including the nascent entrepreneurial class, freedom of expression, religious freedom, and a multitude of other forces that were suppressed after October 1917. In the more liberal atmosphere of glasnost these diverse interests revived, signaling a growing autonomy of society from party-state structures.

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