Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Civil Society and Social Capital in Upper Silesia, a Region on Its Way to the European Union (1)

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Civil Society and Social Capital in Upper Silesia, a Region on Its Way to the European Union (1)

Article excerpt


In the opinion of the Polish Ombudsman Andrzej Zoll the Polish are very poor as citizens. It is visible in the lack of awareness of human rights and participation in communities and political life. The consequence of this situation is a decrease in security in the state. "As long as we fail to improve this aspect of life out of responsibility for other human beings, we cannot feel safe"--he said (Zoll 2001).

There are two very important points which arise from this quotation. Firstly, responsibility has become one of the crucial civic virtues and secondly the limitation of freedom should characterise not only citizens but also the government.

Civic virtues should be a basic element of civil society in Central Eastern European countries and the aim of finishing transition. It could be realised not only by the creation of formal rules in the country, but also by establishing informal rules and relations among citizens. According to de Tocqueville the important thing is creating the 'habits of hearts.'

The goal of this article is to analyse the (re)building of civil society and the special example of social capital in one of the regions in Central Eastern Europe--Upper Silesia (which belongs to the Silesian Voivodship in Poland). Poland's accession to the EU is the next step in the transition, which stressed the role of civil society defined as a bottom-up activity of inhabitants and regional elite in regions and local communities with the aim of self-organising and creating conditions of life independent from the central government (in Warsaw or Brussels).

This article consists of seven parts. The first is about the theoretical framework of social capital and civil society. Among many definitions and concepts I have chosen the most useful for this paper. The second section is about civil society in Poland, especially during the transition. The third part concerns the civil society model in Upper Silesia in the historical perspective and in the fourth I describe the role of civil society in building regional identity in the region. The fifth section is about activity in the region (more the Silesian Voivodship than Upper Silesia, therefore the administrative region, not the cultural region), with particular focus on the activity of NGOs. The next two parts are based on sociological research made in the Silesian Voivodship and one city in Upper Silesia--Tychy in the field of civil society.

Social Capital and Civil Society--A Theoretical Framework

Liberal democracy and the free market economy in Western European countries are closely connected with civil society. As Barber said: "Strong democracy needs citizens and citizens need civil society. Civil society requires cement, which would not be connected with a policy of identity. This cement could be democracy" (Barber 1997: 373). Civil society and democracy are connected with each other. There is a complementary relationship between these two structures. The role of the cement is played by the citizens, human beings who are characterised by thinking, emotions, having values, norm and interests.

Both democracy and civil society have changed their forms during history. This model has no single frame. According to Bryant, this model depends on citizens and their patterns of behaviours, activities and cooperation (Bryant 1997: 213). Each period in history has created its own model of civic culture. In Central European countries there had been a model of civil society based on Austrian-Hungary Monarchy with multicultural and self-organising societies under a central government.

After the collapse of communism the rebuilding of civil society was also the aim in Poland. As Dahrendorf has mentioned, civil society should be the aim of our life because of our freedom (Dahrendorf 1994: 235).

The notion of civil society has its own history and many definitions. My aim here is not to analyse these various definitions. …

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