Civic potential as a differentiating factor in the development of local communities
In the last decade of the twentieth century Slovak society embarked on a set of social transformations entailing fundamental structural changes. The most significant for the purposes of this chapter was the renewal of the social, political, legal and cultural identity of communities, including the re-establishment of the sovereignty of towns and villages. The manifold problems associated with this ongoing transformation process find expression in the socio-spatial organisation of society at the macro-, meso- and micro-level. Here the focus is on the micro-level, specifically the municipality.
The dispositions of particular territorial communities – in terms of their capacity to adapt to new developmental trends, to activate and effectively utilise their potentials – are varied. In many, residual characteristics such as state paternalism and low awareness of any territorial belonging are still evident. The solution of problems typical for rural settlements requires the removal of barriers inherent in the atomisation of territorial communities, and the creation of an active local society. Extrication from marginalisation demands that local communities not only react to external processes influencing their lives, but above all that they adopt the role of an actor – an active subject oriented toward the solution of existing problems in an attempt to change the situation of the community for the better.
Such an active approach is legitimised by the expansion in the self-governing competences of territorial communities in Slovakia. A change in the legal status of local councils (the 1990 law on municipal government), along with the implementation of civic and political rights, affords each citizen of a municipality the right to participate in decision-making and projecting geared towards improving the settlement conditions of the local community. However participation is conditional on the existence of a certain potential as its source of energy. Below we will argue that the fundamental precondition for participation can be conceived of as civic potential. However we are not suggesting that other potentials (demographic, educational, economic, housing, ecological, etc.) are irrelevant as resources for the development of particular local communities.