Civil Society, Public Participation, and Religious Affiliation. Exploratory Investigations in the Livezile-Rimetea Area (Apuseni Mountains, Romania)

Article excerpt

The present work approaches a series of wide exploratory investigations in the Romanian rural area, most recently in Livezile-Rimetea micro-region (Apuseni Mountains). Within the civil society and public participation debate context, the study focuses on the variable of religious affiliation (orthodox, non-orthodox), which differentiates the real potential public participation at the population level in the studied area. The immediate conclusion to be drawn is that in the differences in religious affiliation induce variations in expressing the civic activism and in the real or the potential public participation. At the end of our study, the paradox of public participation as diminishing factor of the civil society role is taken into account and this concerns new reflections and investigations on the subject.

Key Words:

civil society, public participation, trust, participation in development projects.

Civil society and public participation

The origins of the concept of civil society can be traced to the 19th century politics and ideology tightly related to liberalism and democratisation.1 The interest in recent redefinitions of the concept has been resuscitated by the global socio-political transformations and by the failures of both the state and the markets in adequately responding to some of the human needs.

As the civil society is both a philosophical and a political practice concept it has been often criticised as being vague, slippery, and lacking conceptual accuracy at a philosophical level. Through social and political theory debate attempts are being made to reduce some of these weaknesses.

John Keane defines the civil society as a Weberian idealtype, which looks at the complex of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in relation to both themselves and the state institutions. NGOs show a tendency for non-violence and are self-organized and self-reflexive. They find themselves in a continuous state of tension both between themselves as well as in relation to state institutions that frame, constrain and, at the same time, empower them.

The use of a contrasting term may put things into perspective. Keane for instance, points out the concept of nationalism as being an example of the uncivil society. Compared to nationalism, the civil society fosters tolerance and support for diversity and opposes monistic and barbarian tendencies that attack core values of civilisation and of civilised behaviour.2

Jeffrey Alexander3 envisions the civil society as being an autonomous sphere of social solidarity, that is empirically and analytically distinct from other spheres such as the political, economical, religious, or the family ones. The resources of the civil society according to Alexander can be found in other of the society's subsystems such as in the independent, rational, and self-controlled behaviour encouraged by the market economy.

From a normative perspective, Heins sees the civil society as a counterbalancing force between two negative aspects of the political world: the excessive state power on one hand and the undesirable social phenomena such as social disintegration, violence, and religious fanaticism on the other.

In the contemporary political debates, the notion of civil society has become a stronghold against the type of totalitarianism specific to the former communist countries in the Eastern and Central Europe5.

Krishan Kumar also states that the concept of civil society is related to the transformations that happened in the Eastern and Central European countries after the communism's fall. He points out the notion's broad usage by the scientists of 1989 revolution and warns the intellectual elite about unrealistic expectations regarding the reconstruction programmes of the civil society. The combination of a democratic pluralism and a continuation of the state regulatory role, as an antithesis or alternative to state-party, is considered both attractive and risky in clearing the aim for which the concept of civil society is being used. …