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Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation

March 2013

Summary: What is the state of civil society in the Black Sea region? What is the West’s track record in supporting civil society? Why does democracy still remain at the mercy of ruling elites, while’ donors struggle to create strong citizen pressure for social transformation? This brief focuses on the quality of civil society in Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, mostly because they have a more enabling environment for civic activism, a “partly free” system of governance and enjoy substantial investments by the Western donors to develop civil society. The brief addresses general trends and similarities in civil society and points to key missing pieces of the civil society puzzle. It suggests how donors’ approaches to strengthening civil society can be recalibrated to encourage democratization more effectively. Zooming in on these three societies could offer insights about future strategies in the wider Black Sea region.

about future strategies in the wider Black Sea region. The Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation

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Black Sea Region: Missing Pieces of the Civil Society Puzzle

by Orysia Lutsevych

From the Editor In the five years since the launch of the Black Sea Trust, the Black Sea region has gone through dramatic events and major changes, which affected both individual countries and the region as a whole. The Black Sea Trust has devot- edly assisted civic groups in the nine Black Sea countries with reacting or adapting to political and social events, researching the dynamics of the region, promoting stronger relations with international community, and building bridges between societies or groups in conflict. Five years on, the Trust reflects on the current context in the region and the challenges ahead.

Introduction In the last decade, a wave of civic activism rolled over several countries in the Black Sea Region. Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova experienced “color” revolutions, which mobilized millions of citizens and led to new leaderships who were entrusted with reform of the post-Soviet system of governance. After the 2012 Duma and Presidential elections in Russia, massive civic protests erupted in a cry for dignity and for a political system free of corruption, violence, and authoritarian rule. These instances of large-scale mobilizations of citizens demanding change resonate with the belief that civil society in the post- Soviet region is strengthening and has acquired a distinct voice. It is this

voice, alongside a stronger rule of law and free and fair elections, that many European and U.S. donors see as crucial for future democratization of the region.

Today, each of these countries is a different “success” story, but all still face the challenge of consolidating democracy. The October 2012 parlia- mentary elections in Georgia proved that a peaceful transfer of power is possible, notwithstanding numerous obstacles to democratic competi- tion that occurred in the run-up to elections. In March 2012, Moldova overcame an almost three-year consti- tutional crisis and elected a new president. After President Viktor Yanu- kovych took office in 2010, Ukraine reduced the space for democracy, with imprisonment of major opposition leaders, growing media censorship, and a shrinking circle of decision- making around the presidential family. Elsewhere in the region, democracy is even under greater stress from entrenched leadership, narrow space for independent action, and growing pressure on civic activists. These trends raise the issue of preventing further democratic backsliding and ensuring that the region chooses and maintains the path to democracy.

What is the state of civil society in the region? What is the West’s track record in supporting civil society? Why does democracy still remain at the mercy of

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ruling elites, while’ donors struggle to create strong citizen pressure for social transformation?

For the states that were formerly part of the Soviet Union, the legacy of a shared totalitarian past continues to influ- ence their transition to democracy. This holds true even for those aspiring to a closer European integration, especially with regard to the role and development of civil society. Twenty years of Western democracy assistance aimed at supporting civil society in the post-Soviet states have achieved few tangible results. This brief focuses on the quality of civil society in Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, mostly because they have a more enabling environment for civic activism, a “partly free” system of governance and enjoy substantial investments by the Western donors to develop civil society. The brief addresses general trends and similarities in civil society and points to key missing pieces of the civil society puzzle. It suggests how donors’ approaches to strengthening civil society can be recalibrated to encourage democratization more effectively. Zooming in on these three societies could offer insights about future strategies in the wider Black Sea region.

Three Facets of Civil Society Civil society is defined here as a public space for citizens to engage in collective debate and self-expression, and where public opinions that influence public policy are formed. This space lies between the family and the state, is indepen- dent from the state, and is legally protected. Fundamentally, civil society is a medium, in which the social contracts between citizens and political and economic centers of power are negotiated and reproduced. 1

Civil society implies the existence of independent organiza- tions, with active communication between organizations, citizens and the state, leading ultimately to a certain degree of influence on policymaking. These citizens’ groups, which consolidate various interests, can take numerous forms such as membership organizations, charities, think-tanks, neighborhood associations, informal movements, and faith- based groups. Their key characteristic is independence from the government. All these types are equally important for a vibrant civil society as they provide more avenues for citizen engagement, which can be expressed in formal member-

1 Mary Kaldor, Global Civil Society: An Answer to War (Cambridge; Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2003).

Twenty years of Western democracy assistance aimed at supporting civil society in the post- Soviet states have achieved few tangible results.

ship, signing of petitions, participation in demonstrations, volunteering, and donations.

When thinking about the conditions for healthy and vibrant civil society, one must consider a variety of factors. The key pillars that support the foundation of civil society are preva- lence of rule of law, a clear separation of powers, an active political society, and free and independent media. This brief focuses mostly on internal factors that define the quality of civil society, such as NGO culture, the state of public space, citizens’ perceptions of democracy and activism, emerging civil movements, and their interaction with the state.

A healthy civil society is considered an integral part of any

democratic system of governance. Along with free and fair elections and accountable institutions, it ensures that the voices of citizens are included in policymaking. Different democratic traditions can lead to different pathways of ensuring this inclusion, but a democratic system must enable expression for those affected by policy decisions.

There is ample literature on the subject of civil society, which offers various approaches to the subject. The most

holistic approach would combine three facets of civil society: civil society as associational life and NGO culture, civil society as “good” society, and civil society as public space. 2 It is by taking a closer look at all these three expres- sions that we can get a more accurate picture about the state

of affairs and the quality of civil society on the ground.

Civil Society or NGO-cracy? With regard to the post-Soviet states, the West viewed the task of supporting civil society development through the narrow lens of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) by

2 Michael Edwards, Civil Society, 2004, Polity Press

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providing financial and technical support to locally regis- tered groups in order to make them active in influencing the state. These local NGOs became synonymous with civil society and de facto monopolized the civil society discourse, leaving wider society and other non-institutional forms of citizens’ engagement behind.

What kind of ecosystem did this approach create for inde- pendent civic associations in the region? The situation on the ground shows that at-large citizens are distant from formal NGOs and prefer informal engagement to formal membership in organizations. The atmosphere among NGOs is more competitive than collaborative, the capacity of these groups is developing slowly, and their influence on policymaking is limited. Despite relatively liberal legislature for NGOs, civic groups in Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova still lack systemic impact. NGOs are not game-changers and fail to offer viable alternative models of development. At the same time, particularly in Ukraine, the government is playing in the field of civil society by supporting phantom- NGOs who are ready to highjack the agenda, and Russia is projecting its soft power by financing pro-Eurasian NGOs. What are the root causes of this state of affairs?

Citizens as Passive Consumers of Democracy Assistance One of the main reasons for a feeble civil society is the fact that citizens are not at the heart of formal engagement. In all three countries, citizens are largely isolated from public deliberations about important issues because local NGOs have little ability to help them formulate opinions and influ- ence state policies that affect them. Western-funded orga- nizations are not anchored in society and constitute a form

The atmosphere among NGOs is more competitive than collaborative, the capacity of these groups is developing slowly, and their influence on policymaking is limited.

of “NGO-cracy,” a system where professional NGO leaders

use access to domestic policymakers and Western donors to influence public policies without having a constituency in society.

This means that many Western-funded organizations are

disconnected from wider society. Despite growing numbers

of registered NGOs, very few citizens participate in, volun-

teer their time for, or make donations to NGOs. The low figures for citizen engagement — 5 percent in Ukraine, 4 percent in Moldova, and 4.8 percent in Georgia — have remained unchanged for the last 20 years. 3

A survey conducted among mostly Western-funded NGOs

reveals that only 27 percent would call their organization an association of citizens. 4 They treat citizens as “benefi- ciaries” and the “target audience” for services. Only 17 percent of the groups who report having a membership in Ukraine have more than 100 members. 5 Most of their work

is focused on policy advocacy and much less on public

advocacy to change the behavior or the mindsets of the citizens. Generating a social foundation for democracy and supporting citizens’ rights ranked third and fourth, respec- tively, among NGO goals. Building trust and networks was the least undertaken function. Membership development was not perceived as a priority, and only 20 percent consid- ered that the strength of their organizations came from a membership base.

When citizens are not at the heart of these organizations, they become passive consumers of democracy develop- ment aid instead of the driving force behind democratic change. It is because citizens do not know their local NGOs that they are reluctant to contribute their time or financial resources. In Ukraine, citizens are vaguely aware only about private philanthropic and charity foundations established

3 For Ukraine: Democratic Initiatives Foundation survey, “Can civil society influence Ukrainian politics?,” October 2011.

“Behaviour in the Republic of Moldova,” December 2010, node/267. For Georgia: “Citizens’ Attitudes toward Civil Society Organizations and Civic Activism: 2011 Public Opinion Survey Results,” East-West Management Institute, 2011.

4 Author’s online survey, “Civil Society and Democratisation,” 2012, based on 77 responses form leaders of NGOs (45 from Ukraine, 16 from Georgia and 6 from Moldova)

5 Counterpart Creative Center, “Civil Society Organisations in Ukraine: State and Dynamics 2002-2011,” 2011, res.html

htm For Moldova:

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by the wealthy individuals and some local activists mostly working in their community. 6

The gap between citizens and well-established NGOs is sustained because there is little generational turnover in the sector, although this factor is less relevant in Georgia and Moldova, where NGOs leaders are often appointed to high- level state positions, creating a certain circulation between the two sectors. Continuing President Mikheil Saakashvili’s tradition, Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili’s government includes a group of deputy ministers coming from Trans- parency International, Liberal Academy Tbilisi, and Europe House Georgia. In Ukraine, the revolving door between NGO and state is blocked and the same cohort of NGO leaders continues to follow the same beaten path. They are often unable to reach out to a new generation of activists, especially in the outer regions, and use different methods of outreach.

With rare exceptions, leading think tanks and NGOs, which have been financed for over a decade by Western donors, failed to tap into the innovation offered by social media and networks, even though increasing media censorship and state-controlled content, particularly in Ukraine and Georgia, makes the spread of independent information through social media particularly important. For example, the Razumkov Center, a leading Ukrainian think tank, has only 892 followers on Facebook, whereas the Moldovan Foreign Policy Association and the Institute of Public Policy in Chisinau have no Facebook presence at all. 7

Poor media outreach weakens NGOs. Local NGOs culti- vate a mystique about their activities, which are only open to scrutiny by donors or government authorities, but this creates a negative image and tends to make the wider public suspicious. More than half of Ukrainians who are familiar with NGOs do not know what function they perform. 8 In Georgia, NGOs are the least understood of all public institutions, 9 while in Moldova, 80 percent of the population does not even know what an NGO is. 10

6 Mid-Term Evaluation of UNITER Civil Society Project, 2011, block/uniter_mid-term_evaluation_complete_report.pdf

7 As of February 28, 2013.

8 International Foundation for Electoral Systems, “Key Findings: Public Opinion in Ukraine, 2011,”

9 “Citizens’ Attitudes toward Civil Society Organizations and Civic Activism, Georgia,” East- West Management Institute, 2011

10 Every Child Moldova, December 2010.

With rare exceptions, leading think

tanks and NGOs

the innovation offered by social media and networks.

As the result groups that receive most support from the West such as advocacy, watchdogs or think tanks remain largely unknown. 11 Subsequently citizens avoid NGOs and prefer informal type of civic engagement. They mostly donate money to fellow citizens in need, supporting churches, monasteries, beggars and victims of natural disas- ters. Donations to NGOs in Moldova are ten times lower than to churches. 12 In Georgia, 83 percent of NGOs report that they have never received an individual donation. The low levels of NGO membership are reflected in the volun- teering numbers: only one-third of NGOs in Georgia report having even one or two volunteers. 13

failed to tap into

Missing Collaborative Mind Set Much evidence today suggests that in the course of the post- Soviet transitions, a rather elitist non-profit organization sector emerged, which focuses on professional consulting and service provision. With strong competition for Western funding, local NGOs remain organization-centered rather than joining forces in coalitions and networks around issues. These features are present in all three countries where many NGOs sprang up in response to the supply of Western funding or as spin-offs of various technical assis- tance programs.

Sporadic evidence shows that collaborative action could lead to a more forceful NGO presence. There are few posi- tive examples in the region that demonstrate the power of collective civic action. In December 2012, a civic anti- tobacco coalition successfully advocated for new legislature to rid Ukraine of tobacco smoke. The coalition united over 40 NGOs as well as leading doctors, celebrities, businesses

11 Mid-Term Evaluation of UNITER Civil Society Project, 2011, block/uniter_mid-term_evaluation_complete_report.pdf

12 “Philanthropic Behaviour in the Republic of Moldova,” 2010, Every Child Moldova,

13 CIVICUS, “2011 State of Civil Society Report, Georgia Country Profile,” http://socs.

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and public health institutions. The new law was passed in the Parliament banning smoking in public places. 14 Today the group continues to monitor the implementation of new law and works to promote healthy life style free of smoking.

In October 2011, a new citizens’ initiative that unites about

50 NGOs from the regions and Kyiv launched a public

information campaign called “Chesno” (Fair) to monitor the quality of party candidates for the October 2012 parliamen- tary elections. Chesno polled the public about what quali- ties it wanted from members of parliament and published the results on their website. These qualities included a good parliamentary attendance record, respect for human rights, declaration of income, and no record of corrup- tion. Activists monitored party lists for “compliance” and regularly communicated findings on websites and in press conferences. 15 As a result of an extensive PR campaign, all major political parties agreed to cooperate with the move- ment during the October elections — with the exception of the ruling Party of Regions. Chesno successfully used social media to build the collective power of the movement. Its Facebook page has over 6,000 followers. All of these movements were non-political, non-violent, and organized by grassroots associations and activists, aiming to protect citizens’ rights.

Despite these few cases, the degree of participation in coali- tions and networks for Ukrainian NGOs is below average and has significantly decreased when compared to 2009. 16 The elitist and competitive nature of NGOs is largely attrib- utable to the fact that their main sources of funding are foreign. Western money allows NGOs to attract talent, but their full-time employees are more comfortable networking with Western embassies and various state agencies than holding town hall consultations, engaging with citizens, or building coalitions. Reliance on foreign financing has not decreased over the years: 95 percent of Georgian NGOs have never received support from local businesses, and the situation is similar in Moldova. In Ukraine, however, about

50 percent of financing now comes from membership fees,

government, citizens, and business contributions. 17

14 Ukrainian Coalition Free of Tabaco

15 Chesno Campaign web site,

16 “Civil Society Organizations in Ukraine: the State and Dymanics,” Counterpart Creative Center, 2011

17 Lyubov Palyvoda and Sophia Golota, Civil Society Organisations in Ukraine: State and Dynamics 2002–2010 (Kyiv: Kupol Publishing, 2010).

Reliance on foreign financing has not decreased over the years.

Both large private foundations and local businesses find it too risky to expose themselves as supporters of civic initia- tives that may alienate the state. They steer clear of fighting such issues as corruption, human rights violations, or media censorship. Two of the largest private foundations in Ukraine, Development of Ukraine and the Victor Pinchuk Foundation, prefer to focus on softer issues such as health- care, education, and culture, providing direct financial assistance to state institutions or individuals. They do not operate as grant-making foundations and often implement programs themselves.

The scale of collaborative NGO movements in Georgia and Moldova is smaller. A rare exception was a new public initiative, “This affects you too!,” in Georgia, designed to amend the law on political unions to preclude possible intimidation on a wider range of civic organizations. This first major non-partisan public advocacy campaign since the Rose Revolution united more than 80 advocacy groups and media outlets, and mobilized around 3,000 supporters on Facebook. On the eve of the October 2012 parliamentary elections in Georgia, “This affects you too!” also demanded that the authorities ensure that all Georgian television chan- nels with a valid license be allowed to broadcast with no restrictions during and after the elections. 18 Up till now the National Communications Commission failed to deliver on this public demand but remained under constant pressure from both local and international actors. 19

Narrow Public Space: Unrestrained States Post-Soviet governments often fake dialog with their soci- eties or limit their role. Ruling elites, especially in Ukraine, maneuver around public pressure and became skilled in the rhetoric of civil society while paying only lip-service to it. They adopt civil society development strategies, invite independent experts for consultations, hold public councils,

18 “This Affects You Too!” Appeal, September 9, 2012, Democracy and Freedom Watch,

19 “Georgia Communication Watchdog Sabotaging Must Carry,” Democracy and Freedom Watch, September 19, 2012,

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and respond to public inquiries. Then they do what they had intended to do all along.

What is striking is how governments in all three countries adopt major policy decisions without real public debate. Controversial education reforms in Moldova, a new tax code in Ukraine, the extension of the Russian Black Sea Fleet facilities in the Crimea, and Saakashvili’s government plan to build the new port-city of Lazi are just a few exam- ples of crucial decisions taken without wider consultations. Citizens are not satisfied with this approach. For instance, 68 percent of Georgians say they wish that the decision on Lazi had been taken after public discussion. 20

The elitist, competitive, and distant approach of leading NGOs leads to a weak impact on policy. The assumption of Western donors that a small group of well-managed and pro-reform minded groups can influence national poli- cies fails to deliver on the ground. NGO leaders themselves express concern about their marginal impact, with 70 percent of these in Georgia saying that their policy impact is minimal and that they can only achieve success in areas that do not challenge the political or economic power of the state. 21 In Ukraine, a leading think-tank describes the situa- tion in the following way: “The expertise and recommenda- tions that have been proposed to the government by leading think-tanks are more often than not simply ignored. Lack of political will may be the only explanation for the current state of affairs.” 22

To further complicate public space, there is a trend to create parallel civil society controlled by the state. Post- Soviet governments are masters at playing with civil society by either taming some groups through funding or by high-jacking initiatives through phantom NGO groups and government-organized non-governmental organiza- tions (GONGOs). Similar trends already exist in Russia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan and recently emerged also in Ukraine. Because Ukraine still remains largely a contested ground for the future path of development, pro-Western civil society will increasingly face competition from pro- Russian and pro-Eurasian groups. These groups are often better at outreach and try to work on the grass-root level. In

20 National Democratic Institute, “Public Attitudes in Georgia,” February 2012.

21 CIVICUS, “2011 State of Civil Society Report, Georgia Country Profile,” http://socs.

22 International Center for Policy Studies, Regional Integration, 2011

The elitist, competitive, and distant approach of leading NGOs leads to a weak impact on policy.

2012, Victor Medvedchuk, former head of President Kuch- ma’s administration re-emerged as a civic activist promoting the “Ukrainian Choice” initiative, which advocates for direct democracy, integration with the Eurasian Union, and federalization of Ukraine. The initiative unites over 150 regional groups in the movement and has over 26,000 followers on Facebook. Another cluster of non-Western civil society are groups actively cooperating with Russian youth groups close to the Russian government, such as the Russian Youth Public Council [Molodiozhnaja Obshchest- vennaja Palata]. Some receive funding from the Russian Gorchakov Foundation established under the “patronage” of Kremlin with the engagement of high-ranking Russian government officials on the board. Such groups that are active in Ukraine include Hammer of Truth, Young Eurasia, and Youth Public Council.

Another control that variable governments have over civil society is money. In resource-rich Ukraine, state funding is a way of co-opting civil groups. This is used to create a loyal civil society, especially if money is disbursed on a non- transparent and clientelist basis, which is often the case. In Ukraine, compared to Georgia and Moldova, the level of such financing is high. The 2013 national budget indicated almost $25 million for various associations. 23 Most of this funding is allocated without any competitive process to sports, arts, and youth groups; organizations serving people with various disabilities; and veterans’ associations. Many regional party leaders “own” sports associations, which allows both clients and patrons to gain advantage from each other. For example, the state uses financing for sports federations in exchange for membership of or loyalty to the ruling Party of Regions. 24 No state funding is available for human rights, environmental, or advocacy NGOs.

23 Anastasia Krasnosilska, Money of Civil Society, 2013,,

24 Victor Bobyrenko, “Civil society. Thimble game.” 2011,, http://www.

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The picture is similar in Moldova, where most social benefit associations receive annual state funding. Minor support is competitively awarded to projects and cultural programs organized by public associations. The funding is decen- tralized, and ministries have special funds for promoting certain activities, e.g. the environment ministry’s Ecological Fund.

The former government of Mikheil Saakashvili chose a different approach. A Civil Institutional Development Fund was established in 2009 with an annual budget of just over $360,000. It runs open competitions for NGOs and finances around 100 projects annually. This is a marginal amount compared with Western grants to Georgian NGOs, which in 2011 amounted to about $15 million. 25 But the model of an independent institution managing state financing of NGOs is worth replicating in other countries, as it is more in line with the standards of open and accountable governance.

Independent NGOs aimed at influencing public poli- cies would often participate in the public councils. These councils are aimed at ensuring inclusion and citizen engage- ment in policymaking. In Georgia and Moldova, where there is more cooperation between the government and local NGOs than in Ukraine, such councils provide expert advice and ensure transparency. The Moldovan authorities are more open to dialogue through the National Participa- tory Council. Created in 2010, it is well organized, meets regularly, and has advisory status to the cabinet. At this stage of democratic transformation, new Georgian govern- ment is also trying to open up national and local agencies to public scrutiny. Delivering on the promise to tackle elitist corruption in Georgia, Defense Minister Irakli Alasania established a new public council to monitor public procure- ment at the ministry, which was infamous for its cases of corruption.

In Ukraine, which has a longer tradition of public councils, analysis shows, however, that they are inefficient as a tool for public consultations. Simply put, public hearings and councils are used to legitimize decisions that have already been adopted. 26 Despite poor efficiency of the councils, the government would like to have them under control. In February 2013, three new public councils had flawed elec-

25 East-West Management G-PAC project website, “2011 Schedule of Donors’ Grants,”

26 “State of Civil Society Development in Ukraine,” National Institute of Strategic Studies, 2012.

The model of an independent institution managing state financing of NGOs is worth replicating in other countries.

tions to ensure control by the groups closed to the govern- ment, many of which only exist on paper. 27 At present, the public council at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs consists of loyal “pocket” groups and excludes many independent NGOs experienced dealing with foreign policy. 28 If this trend continues, NGO/state dialogue will further margin- alize and many Western-funded groups will solely remain a resource for foreign embassies to interpret Ukrainian political establishment.

How Civil are these Societies? The third crucial facet of civil society discourse is the quality of the society as a whole. In contrast to the Western notion of civility in society, where citizens have broad respect for one another based on trust and security, soci- eties in Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine have “uncivil” traits with instances of repression of citizens’ will. Post-Soviet societies, exhausted by tiresome and incomplete democratic transition, suffer from modern violence such as dramatic wealth disparities, corruption, and extensive citizen reliance on informal clientelist networks to find their ways around the dysfunctional system.

Citizens are reluctant to take public initiatives and engage in collective action. With very little formal associative life, citizens rely on informal and kinship networks. The connection between these and often invisible and corrupt networks breeds a culture of closed values and dependency. In Georgia, 47 percent of citizens say that connections are the most important factor in getting a job. This contrasts with 22 percent who see education as the main factor. 29 In

27 “Falsifications at the Founding Meeting of Civil Society Council at the Ministry of Interior,” 2013, Gurt Resource Center

28 “Civil Society YESman- New Invention of Government,” Democratic Initiatives Foundation, 2013,

29 Caucasus Research and Resource Centers, “An Assessment of Social Capital in Georgia,” 2011, p. 18.

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Ukraine, 43 percent of students declared that they needed connections for any kind of success. 30

Another “uncivil” characteristic of these societies is corrup- tion. Citizens rely mainly on informal networks to deal with the state and protect their rights. This is more visible in countries with higher levels of corruption, notably Ukraine and Moldova, where around 30 percent of citizens said they offered bribes in 2010. 31 The casual corruption and indi- vidual approaches to getting services from the state deprives these societies of the participatory spirit needed to propose systemic solutions to reform sectors such as healthcare, education, and law enforcement. Citizens acquiesce to corruption in order to receive services from the state and accept these practices because they feel powerless to change the system.

The limited space for public discourse in all three countries is often dominated by political and religious actors. The power of the Orthodox Church on non-religious matter is most evident in Georgia and Moldova. Religious leaders there dominate the public discourse on various issues in ways that are deemed unacceptable in Western secular societies but considered normal in those countries. The religious discourse often pushes citizens toward intolerant rhetoric and promotes closed societies. Statements by the Georgian Patriarch Ilia II range from covering the “harm” caused by Western education 32 to the “danger” of religious minorities, and carry considerable weight in society. One of the largest demonstrations in recent years in Georgia was a protest march in Tbilisi by thousands of people, led by the priesthood, against the law on religious minorities. 33

Such declarations fall on fertile ground as all three soci- eties manifest a lack of tolerance. These societies, which are not exposed to diversity and are mostly homogeneous, have negative and often intolerant attitudes toward people of different race, religion, or sexual orientation. Homo- sexuality, in particular, is widely condemned. In recent

30 Gorshenin Institute, “Students: An Image of the Future,” 2011, Ukraine http://

31 Transparency International, Global Corruption Barometer, 2010/2011, http://gcb.

32 “Patriarch: ‘Refrain from Sending Kids Abroad for Education’,”, October 3, 2010,

33 The Georgian Parliament amended the civil code to allow religious minorities to be registered as legal entities, following a suggestion by the Council of Europe that legal protection of religious denominations other than the Orthodox Church should be enhanced.


the system.

surveys, 93 percent of respondents in Georgia, 71 percent in Moldova, and 59 percent in Ukraine said they would not like to have homosexuals as neighbors. 34

Another barrier to a more vibrant civil society is the citizen priority valuing order and stability over a the state of affairs where citizen have more say. The World Value Survey clearly shows an emphasis on survival values in the region and ambivalent support to democracy as the most desired system of governance. In Ukraine, only 35 percent of citizens see it a preferred form of governance. 35 In Georgia, support for democracy is slightly higher, with 49 percent believing that Georgia is already a democracy. What is lacking in the region is a prevalence of the principle of a participatory democratic society. As Karl Popper pointed out, “Democracy may help to preserve freedom but it can never create it if the individual citizen does not care for it.” 36 Helping citizens in the post-Soviet space to cherish freedom and embrace their responsibilities in a democratic system of governance is the next crucial step.


powerless to change

New Civil Voices Challenging State Power New trends of informal citizen engagement and self-expres- sion could offer insights on advancing civil society in the region. The protests following recent allegedly fraudulent elections in Russia show that, even in a more repressive political system, citizens with a more acute awareness of their political rights can emerge. Whether joining specific campaigns, protesting against the destruction of heritage sites, volunteering for environmental causes, or demanding justice for human rights abuses, the empowered part of society will give a new boost to democratization. Citizens capable of critical thinking about state affairs who are willing to express their views publicly and even challenge the state will be the main agents of change. Both in Ukraine and Georgia, studies show that citizens are willing to engage

34 World Value Survey 2005-2008,

35 IFES Public Opinion Survey 2011.

36 Cited in I. Jarvie and S. Pralong (eds), Popper’s Open Society after 50 years: The Continuing Relevance of Karl Popper, London; New York: Routledge, 1999) p.44.

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in public life and they are often motivated by a desire to improve their community. 37

The number of citizens willing to participate in political demonstrations and those who have signed petitions or appealed to the authorities is increasing. Around 20 percent of Moldovans and Georgians appealed to the authorities in regard to public services, political rights, and environmental protection. 38 Around 52 percent of Ukrainians say they would protest in the event of price rises, high unemploy- ment, or job cuts. 39 These non-violent actions are important expressions of civil energy.

In 2010 and 2011, Ukraine witnessed an awakening of civil movements that had seemed dormant since the Orange Revolution. The most vivid examples were the protest movements of 2010 Tax Maidan-II, 40 Chernobyl and Afghan War veterans to demand welfare payments, human rights protest to demand justice for victims of police abuse, student marches against proposed reform in higher education. Smaller but equally successful were regional demonstrations to stop the destruction of the historic center and green public spaces in Kyiv, the Ukrainian Commu- nity Advisory Board protests against revoking licenses to imported medications, and social media community “Ukryama” fighting the poor quality of Ukrainian roads.

The scale of state-challenging movements in Georgia and Moldova is smaller. Attempts to mobilize publics around common issues include protests to save historic places such as Gudiashvili Square in Tbilisi or a historic post office in the center of Chisinau.

These peaceful protests and expressions of civil engagement are becoming a part of everyday public life and, especially in the case of Ukraine, are expected to grow. At present these protests are the only way to counter-balance the state and defend the rights of citizens. This growing drive for

37 For Georgia: “Citizens’ Attitudes toward Civil Society Organizations and Civic Activism” East-West Management Institute, 2011 Citizens-Attitudes-Toward-CSOs-and-Civic-Activism-2011-g-pac-eng. For Ukraine: “Life Values, Priorities and Problems of Ukrainians, June 2012, People First Foundation, UKRAINIANS_UK.pdf

38 “Citizens’ Attitudes toward Civil Society Organizations and Civic Activism” East-West Management Institute, 2011

39 Razumkov Center, “Public Opinion Summary of 2011,”

40 Maidan I referred to the Orange Revolution Protests in October 2004.

self-expression provides a window of opportunity for civil society activists, encouraging them to talk to citizens and act as platforms for their opinions. Unfortunately, NGOs are largely disconnected from this civic movement, and only 16 percent reported participation in any protest since 2009. Citizens mostly organized themselves informally to defend the rights of interest groups and professions: journalists, small- and medium-sized businesses, students, or urban communities.

Western Donors: Need for New Policy Thrust Western donors have invested substantial resources in strengthening civil society in the wider Black Sea Region. Most try to promote equality and diversity, to strengthen good governance at the national and local levels by empowering citizens to participate in decision-making, and to develop NGO capacity. Through the NGO projects they fund, U.S. and European public and private donors contribute to the dynamics in the public space around train- ings, conferences, and study trips.

However, there are questions about the effectiveness of Western aid. This brief points to three key missing puzzles of civil society assistance: a weak link between Western assistance and wider society, a belief in the NGO elite as a transformative power, and a narrow approach to civil society through an NGO lens.

It is high time that both donors and local NGO leaders embrace the fact that in order to reinforce the transforma- tive power of civil society, wider citizen engagement is needed. New EU instruments to support civil society should set new benchmarks to revitalize civil society assistance. These could include switching from a top-down approach, whereby local NGOs are forced to work with the govern- ment, to a bottom-up one that would include Western European grassroots organizations in program design and

This growing drive for self- expression provides a window of opportunity for civil society activists.

Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation

decision-making. The EU should move beyond hiring professional consulting companies and invite high-impact non-profits to share their know-how in community orga- nizing, digital mobilization, membership development, and cooperation with business that could inspire new generation of civic leadership in the region.

The EU and other donors could also consider supporting not just English-speaking Western-oriented NGOs and shift its attention to a grassroots level. NGO-cracy flourishes when donors are reluctant to support deliberations around “real” issues and focus instead on building the internal capacity of NGOs. Non-conventional actors such as youth groups, students’ associations and universities, citizens’ initiative groups, intellectual circles, schools, and religious organizations that pursue charitable and community goals should be included in the game. Donors need to consider incorporating conditionality in their support for NGOs, based on criteria including connections with citizens, connectivity with other groups, and buy-in from local communities.

Donors should refocus the civil society capacity debate from building professionally managed NGO to achieving high- impact organizations. This calls for a clear strategy to design models that would change the system either by changing policies or public behavior. It is not obvious what it takes to have a high level of impact in the region, but Western case studies point to such factors of success as collaborative culture, use of market forces, shared leadership, develop- ment of constituency, and a combination of advocacy with service. 41

This would require long-term donor commitment as neither democracy nor civil society is an instant coffee. It takes time for new behavior to take root. Donors should stick to priori- ties and instruments aimed at enabling active citizenship, such as access to information, participatory councils, rural community centers, neighborhood associations, and moni- toring of public spending. They should be supported until they produce a tipping point in empowering civil society.

To reinvent democracy support in the Black Sea region, there is a need to return to the fundamental principle of a participatory democratic society and move away from supporting NGO-cracy to nurturing DEMO-cracy. It is best

41 Leslie R.Crutchfield, Heather McLoed Grant, “Forces for Good. The Six Practices of High- Impact Nonprofits,” 2008, Jossey-Bass,

About the Author

Orysia Lutsevych is currently a consultant for the EU-Russia Centre to develop the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum and advises the Westmin- ster Foundation for Democracy on citizen engagement in Ukraine. Mrs. Lutsevych holds master’s degrees in international relations from Lviv State University and in public administration from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

About GMF

The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) strengthens transatlantic cooperation on regional, national, and global challenges and opportunities in the spirit of the Marshall Plan. GMF does this by supporting individuals and institutions working in the transatlantic sphere, by convening leaders and members of the policy and business communities, by contributing research and analysis on transatlantic topics, and by providing exchange opportunities to foster renewed commitment to the transatlantic relationship. In addition, GMF supports a number of initiatives to strengthen democracies. Founded in 1972 as a non-partisan, non-profit organization through a gift from Germany as a permanent memorial to Marshall Plan assistance, GMF maintains a strong presence on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition to its headquarters in Washington, DC, GMF has offices in Berlin, Paris, Brussels, Belgrade, Ankara, Bucharest, Warsaw, and Tunis. GMF also has smaller representations in Bratislava, Turin, and Stockholm.

About the On Wider Europe Series

This series is designed to focus in on key intellectual and policy debates regarding Western policy toward Wider Europe that other- wise might receive insufficient attention. The views presented in these papers are the personal views of the authors and not those of the institutions they represent or The German Marshall Fund of the United States.

to remember a brilliant expression of Pericles that “even if only a few of us are capable of devising a policy and putting it into practice, all of us are capable of judging it.” 42 It is precisely the role of civil society to help citizen judge poli- cies and serve as a highway where information, pressure, and accountability travel. And it will be up to these societies to become transformative powers and lead future change.

42 Karl Popper, The Lesson for this Century. With two Talks on Freedom and Democratic State, 2003, Routledge, Taylor, and Francis Group