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Saturday, December 3, 2022

Regime civil society

By: Dr Matevž Tomšič

The mouths of the new rulers are full of praises about the role and importance of civil society for the development of democracy and the general well-being of people. For this purpose, the government allocated additional funds from European funds to various non-governmental organisations. Because only in this way, i.e., with adequate financial provision, they can successfully perform their function.

It cannot be denied that civil society is an important part of the modern democratic system. The democratic functions of the civil society sphere are different. The organisations that fall under its framework help different social groups to articulate their interests. In addition, through their activities, they inform people about what is happening in the immediate and wider social environment. It is especially important to inform about the actions of those who have power and influence, about their possible mistakes and abuses. In this way, they perform the function of controlling the authorities. They also contribute to the strengthening of civic competences, as those who engage in civil society organisations acquire certain knowledge and experience necessary for active life in the community. And finally, this kind of cooperation leads to the strengthening of trust between people and willingness to cooperate with each other.

Of course, in order to perform these functions, civil society must have certain characteristics. It must be organised from the bottom up and autonomous in its operation. Such organisations must operate in accordance with democratic principles. And what is particularly important, there must be pluralism within the civil sphere, which means that there are various organisations, both left-wing and right-wing, both liberal and conservative, both religious and atheist, which participate in public life in an equal way.

After this year’s parliamentary elections, we could often hear how civil society played a very important role in the election result and the subsequent change of government. That it deserves it, so to speak. However, this involved only one segment of civil society, which is politically and ideologically very monochromatic, highly promoted in the media, and well supported financially. This is the part of civil society that has always supported left-wing politics and defended left-wing ideas; left-wing governments, in return, have always lavishly invested it with public funds. In this sense, there has always been a great disproportion towards those civil organisations that advocated more conservative ideas and were closer to the political right.

Under the previous government, this leftist civil society felt that it could lose its privileged position by withdrawing a significant part of public funding. That is why it has been so decisively engaged in activities to bring it down, from bicycle protests to a water referendum and pre-election agitation. It reckoned that the left option, if it came back to power, would repay it accordingly. And we see that this was by no means a ‘reckoning without one’s host’.

We have not seen such a corruption of ruling politics and (parts of) civil society as it is now in Slovenia since the end of the former regime. The border between them is practically blurred. Their representatives regularly smile together at press conferences. In the name of politics, civil society organisations of the March 8th type file laws, such as the one about a kind of “correction of the harmful consequences” of the previous government. There can be no question of any kind of control over the authorities in this case. Such civil society groups are about as independent from the authorities as the Chinese Red Guards were at the time of the so-called cultural revolution independent of Mao Zedong and his clique. Of course, ‘authority’ does not necessarily mean those who occupy formal positions, but (primarily) those who manage the country from behind the scenes.

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