Civil Society: A Core Component of Democratic Accountability
An active civil society is a key foundation for establishing solid democracy in the post-Soviet countries. Civil societies perform the crucial task of providing external analysis of domestic and regional political developments, including relations with neighboring states and the status of human rights in society. The scope of civil society analysis needs to be expanded and deepened with aim of keeping governments in check and stimulating democratic transition.
An active civil society is one of the key elements of democracy. One can hardly imagine a democratic state without a developed civil sector. It was also well-informed civil society that managed to break down Soviet authoritarian regimes and move towards democracy. We understand civil society as non-governmental organizations, think tanks, movements, civil actions. It is the section of society that can have a balancing power on the government by making the latter accountable to the people.
Nowadays the post-Soviet countries in Eastern Europe, which are included in the Eastern Partnership program, are on their way towards democratic transition. Some states manage to do this step by step, however some are acting slower the process has simply frozen. It is important to note that civil society plays an important role here. And it is not by chance that the EU's Eastern Partnership program which includes six Eastern European countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Belarus and Ukraine, includes cooperation not only with the governments of those countries but also with civil society.
One of the problems of the post-Soviet countries is that newly elected authorities quickly forget and lose ties with the people. We can see this in all the post-Soviet countries. After the electoral campaigns and being elected, the authorities do not follow up on its promises and often do the minimum of what it could be doing.
We, at the Analytical Centre on Globalization and Regional Cooperation believe that civil society plays a huge role in pushing post-Soviet countries towards democracy. Being from Armenia and following the developments in political life and civil sector, I can state that civil society is developing in Armenia and is becoming more and more active. If we compare the present situation in Armenia with the situation five years ago, more and more civil society organizations (CSOs) are being registered. However the civil society in Armenia needs to continue its development and deeper involvement.
It is obvious that our authorities do not have the capacity to fulfill the broad range of tasks in society; they are mainly preoccupied with solving everyday tactical issues. Hence NGOs and think tanks should perform analysis on the important issues related to their country (human rights issues, internal problems, international relations, relations with neighboring countries and etc)
Our organization for instance, analyzes Armenian foreign policy agenda, by looking at the main directions of foreign policy of Armenia towards its neighbors and the key actors in the South Caucasus region. Our analysis includes Armenia's relations with Russia, Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the EU and NATO and also covers energy security. We have also analysis on conflict issues: Armenian-Turkish and Armenian-Azerbaijani relations. These are the main areas of Armenian foreign policy, which impacts on internal issues as well.
Publications on human rights can be also very useful. An analysis of the status of freedom of speech, violations during parliamentary and presidential elections is performed by different CSOs in Armenia.
The following steps can strengthen the impact of civil society analysis:
- by widening the analysis in Armenia
- by meeting with Armenian decision-makers and main actors with the concrete issues and presenting them with analytical publications
- by holding press-conferences and other debates on the analysis.
- by providing the analysis to the opposition. Equipping the opposition in the Parliament with the performed analysis would allow them to be more strongly and comprehensively prepared on different issues during Parliamentary sessions.
CSOs are important to make the monitoring and see the level of reforms and what the authorities have done and in reality how much progress the authorities have performed in this sense.
Through these steps, the role of the civil society on the decision-making bodies grows. Obviously, the conditions that are favorable for development of civil society are democracies or regimes that strive to be democratic and have the goal to become such. In authoritarian or totalitarian regimes, development of civil societies is greatly hindered, or new civil bodies are simply banned from functioning. Conversely, we think that it is also the role of the civil society that leads to the breakdown of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes. The modern example is Ukraine where it was the active and well-informed civil society in Euromaidan that played the main role in the struggle against the corrupt regime.
In conclusion, developed and strong civil society is one of the guarantees of democracies. Through its active participation, following the work undertaken by the authorities, performing analysis and participating in the everyday issues of the country, civil society assists the authorities in pushing for reforms and makes the steps needed for full democracy and to be accountable to its people.
Hasmik Grigoryan is a program manager at Analytical Centre on Globalization and Regional Cooperation and a student at the Graduate School for Social Research of the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences.
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