Academic journal article CEU Political Science Journal

The Role of External Actors in Civil Society Building: The Case of the Republic of Macedonia

Academic journal article CEU Political Science Journal

The Role of External Actors in Civil Society Building: The Case of the Republic of Macedonia

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

In the beginning of the 1990s, civil society building was considered part of a successful blueprint for democratization; nevertheless, the advancement of transition has shown that the establishment of effective civil society in the conditions of post-communism is a complex process of societal transformation. (42)

The key factor behind these developments is the progress of transition, which pointed out that there is no predetermined modus operandi for democratization, questioning previously established models. It has become clear that civil society as an element of democratization is a context specific process, which necessitates the examination of individual countries separately in relation to the factors which influence civil society building. (43) In the conditions of non-existent civil society in the beginning of the 1990s, external actors such as international organizations and foundations have exerted formative influence upon the rise of civil society organizations (hereinafter CSOs) in post-communist countries.

In relation, this research examines the impact of external actors such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the European Union (EU), the United Nations (UN) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on the development of civil society in Macedonia since independence. The study analyzes the development of civil society as an integral element of democratization. Since the 1990s, predominantly through the involvement of foreign donors and organizations, the Macedonian civil society has been marked by the creation of a dense network of civil society organizations (CSOs). The focus of this study is the impact of the external actors on the defining features of the Macedonian civil society sector: the financing of CSOs, their origin and manner of establishment, the manner in which CSOs set their agenda, the level of public trust they enjoy, and their division upon ethnic lines. The study employs qualitative methodology and relies on empirical data from open-ended interviews. On the basis of its findings, the study argues that external actors have facilitated the development of civil society in the case of Macedonia, but their success has been conditioned upon contextual knowledge and local support.

2. Civil society, democratization and democratic consolidation

Despite the extensive research on the transition process in Latin America, Southeastern Europe and the USSR, a general compromise on the meaning of the term civil society is still lacking. (44) In post-communism, it has been associated with two definitions. The first one identifies civil society with the economic revolution and liberalization i.e. Burgerlichegesselschaft. (45) The second term is completely divorced from the market economy and is largely identified with the so-called third sector--CSOs. (46) The latter view of civil society distinct from both the state and the market is used in this study. In relation to specific terminology, the research closely relates to Ernest Gellner's understanding of civil society, according to whom civil society denotes "a set of diverse non-governmental institutions strong enough to counterbalance the state and, while not preventing the state from fulfilling its role of keeper of the peace and arbitrator between major interests, can nevertheless prevent it from dominating and atomizing the rest of society." (47) Thus, the main feature of civil society is its independence from the government, "wherever the distinction between civil society and government is marked, however, there must always exist a boundary between them, because each is defined in opposition to the other." (48)

Though abandoned through most of the twentieth century, the concept of civil society was rediscovered by the dissident writers in Central and Eastern Europe in the 1980s. Writers such as Havel and Michnik revived the concept by arguing that civil society is built in opposition to the government and depends on mutually reinforcing patterns of responsibility and interconnectedness. …

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