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Monday, November 28, 2022

Importance of civil society (to win elections)

By: Dr Matevž Tomšič

Nowadays, civil society in Slovenia is associated almost exclusively with the left-wing part of politics and with left-wing ideological currents. On the left, they are happily explaining how civil society succeeded in mobilising citizens and convincing them to dismiss the ‘backward’ government in the elections and pave the way for ‘advanced’ forces to power. On the right, however, they complain about how various left-wing non-governmental organisations, financed by taxpayers’ money, helped to return to power a political option with which they are closely connected, with a campaign of unjustified accusations against the successful Janša’s government.

One and the other therefore attribute great importance to civil society (although they value its role in practice differently). It seems, however, that it is politically and graphically completely monochromatic. That it is not on the right at all. Or at least not present in the public (i.e., in the media) or those organisations that support right-wing parties and defend conservative ideas are hardly noticeable there. This is also why the left side of Slovenian politics has a considerable advantage.

But it was not always like that. Let’s remember how the intensive civil society engagement of many individuals and groups paved the way for the victory of the centre-right DEMOS coalition in the first democratic elections in 1990 and, as a result, the successful implementation of the independence project. Or later, when the establishment of the Assembly for the Republic meant the unification of the forces to the right of the centre, which significantly contributed to the victory of the so-called ‘Party of the Slovenian Spring’ in the 2004 elections and the formation of Janša’s first government.

The current state of affairs in this area is by no means ‘natural’. It is not true that people who are left leaning are inherently more ‘inclined’ to engage in public engagement. That is why the lamentations that ‘nothing can be done’, which is not so rare to hear on the right, especially in the atmosphere of despondency after the recent electoral defeat, are not only unjustified, but also counterproductive.

It is true that the leftists have a great advantage, as they have significantly more channels and resources available to maintain “their” civil society. They control budgetary financial resources, with which they abundantly supply selected non-governmental organisations. And these resources will concretely increase with the new government. They control most of the companies and institutions in public (state or municipal) ownership, in which they offer various ‘sinecures’ (comfortable and well-paid jobs) to their civil society activists, usually in the role of various consultants or publicists. In this way, the latter are effectively paid to practice political-ideological activism (often during their working hours). Meanwhile, right-wing civil society organisations are severely undernourished financially. Most of them work on a pro bono basis. And the people who engage in them do so exclusively in their free time.

Nevertheless, it is appropriate to note that the right has greatly neglected work in this area in recent years. This became particularly clear during this year’s election campaign when right-wing civil society was extremely passive. As such, it could not match the intense and often aggressive agitation of the leftists. In this way, the impression was created that ‘everyone is against Janša’s government anyway’ and that such a pose is the only ‘cool’ one. And voters without strong convictions – who more than likely decide every election – fell for it.

Right-wing politics must establish its civil society background, because without it, it will be difficult to win the next election. However, in this area (as in political parties) both ideological and personnel refreshment will be needed. Only in this way will it be possible to address those segments of voters who either do not take part in the elections or at the last moment “are led up the garden path” of every new face.

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