Civil Society Weakness in Post-Communist Europe: A Preliminary Assessment
During the last two decades, scholars from a variety of disciplines have argued that civil society is structurally deficient in post-communist countries. The picture that arises from the literature is one of ‘democracies without citizens,’ where political elites have succeeded in protecting basic civic rights and implementing democratic procedures, but failed to enhance voluntary activity or civic engagement at the grassroots level. This paper, by contrast, challenges the ‘weakness of post-communist civil society’ consensus by using a wide range of data from various available sources. Tracing the stages of civil society transformations, we show that civil societies in Central and Eastern European countries are not as feeble as is often assumed. Some post-communist countries possess vigorous public spheres and active civil society organizations strongly connected to transnational civic networks and able to shape domestic policies. We suggest that existing studies have focused excessively on voluntary membership and survey data in assessing the strength of civil society at the expense of other equally if not more important factors.