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Dan Berbecel
Government 98gs
Prof. Pharr
May 3, 2010
At the Mercy of the State: the Case of Civil Society in Russia
After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia along with the rest of the
countries of the former Eastern Bloc commenced a process of democratization. Despite the fall
of Communism, the state has continued to play a heavy, intrusive role in Russian society and has
created a hostile environment for the emergence of civil society. While numerous scholars have
written papers on the weakness of civil society in Russia, relatively few studies examine which
organizations were in fact able to flourish. Throughout this research paper, I will attempt to solve
this puzzle, and by the end I shall reveal not only what components of civil society were able to
emerge, but also why they were successful. I have divided this paper into four sections.
Throughout Section I, I will characterize the mechanism through which the state hinders the
development of voluntary organizations. I will include both the direct legal means through which
it exerts control as well as the indirect, off the books methods. Throughout Section II, I will
describe case studies representing two contrasting outcomes for civil society in Russia: the first
case studies involve organizations that failed to develop as a result of the restrictions described in
Section I, while the second set of case studies discusses those that were able to take off.
Throughout Section III, I will use these case studies as the basis to formulate a theory on the
broad types of civil society organizations that were able to emerge; and I will formulate an
explanation as to what particular characteristics of these associations allowed them to be
successful. Finally, throughout Section IV, I will end by discussing the future potential for civil

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society in Russia, and in particular I will emphasize how the successful emergence of NGOs is
contingent on political liberalization.
By civil society I mean voluntary associations independent of both the state and private
units of production and reproduction (Schmitter 1997; 240), such as families and firms. These
organizations form around collective interests/goals, and even if they attempt to criticize or
change a set of policies, they do not intend to replace either the state or private units of

Section I: The intrusive state and the mechanisms which it uses to control civil society
The historical role of the state
In order to analyze the role of the state in the post-Soviet development of civil society, it
is essential to briefly describe the historical state-society relationship in Russia. During the
Tsarist period, the relationship between the government and voluntary organizations was highly
intertwined. In many cases, the objectives of these associations were closely related to the goals
of the government, and one salient example of this is learned societies such as the Russian
Geographical Society and the Russian Technical society, whose purpose was to disseminate
knowledge. The Russian state directly supported these organizations, and according to Joseph
Bradley, in many ways Russian civil society was the creation of the statethe state patronized
the learned societies and granted them certain privilegesMost Russian associations, and
certainly the august learned societies, saw their role as collaborating with the authorities and
assisting the state in the achievement of mutual objectives (Bradley 2009; 14). While civil
society organizations were allowed to manage their own internal affairs, the state was
nevertheless clearly intrusive, especially since all voluntary organizations were required to

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officially register with the government. The state reserved the right to approve the charter by
which these associations abided, as well as the right to closely monitor the activities of these
organizations (oftentimes, state officials were even on the governing boards). According to Mary
Conroy, it is true that civil society in Imperial Russia had more obstacles to overcome than civil
society in contemporary America. The Imperial Russian government was domineering and
intrusive and sometimes moved at a glacial pace (Conroy 2006; 12). From this analysis, one
important aspect regarding Russian society that can clearly be observed is the historically
overbearing role of the state which has persisted in the post-Soviet era.

The role of the state in post-Soviet Russia

The legacy of an intrusive state has continued to this day, and in a State of the Union
Address in 2004, former president Vladimir Putin expressed his deep skepticism regarding
Russian civil society. He claimed that not all organizations are oriented toward standing up for
the real interests of the people. The priority for some is to receive financing from influential
foreign organizations. Others serve dubious group and commercial interests. Since the election
of Putin, the relationship between the state and civil society has been especially strained, and one
of the most direct methods through which the Russian state hinders the development of voluntary
organizations is through draconian tax laws.

Tax laws for NGOs

There are two mechanisms through which tax laws can impact the development of civil
society organizations, namely (1) exempting their income from taxation and (2) making
donations to non-profit organizations tax deductable. In 2002 under Putin, Russia underwent

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changes in its tax code which negatively impacted nonprofit organizations. In terms of
mechanism (2), the reforms ended tax exemptions for corporate charitable donations (which had
previously been 100% tax deductable). This change not only affects charities by reducing their
base of donors, but also by reducing the sum of money that each donor is willing to contribute.
Probably the most direct means through which the state controls the types of
organizations that can flourish is through mechanism (1), exempting income from taxation.
Many civil society organizations have to pay taxes on most of the income that they earn. For
example, grants are taxed at 24%; with exceptions only being given to associations operating in
certain state approved fields such as culture, education, environmental protection and research
(note the similarities to the types of organizations sponsored by the Tsarist state such as cultural
associations). Foreign grants face significantly more restrictions, and in almost all cases Russian
charities must pay the 24% tax on funds received abroad. The only mechanism through which
foreign grants can become tax exempt is if the foreign organization is included in a list of
approved donors published by the Federal Government. This list is only sporadically updated,
and the mechanism through which a foreign association earns inclusion on this list is unknown to
the public. According to Leslie Lutz:
A large part of nonprofit tax law serves primarily to control and inhibit the nonprofit
sector... The Putin administration has clearly sought to extend its control over private
businesses, local governments, and the once-independent media; it is logical that the
administration would seek to extend its control over the nonprofit sector as well. One
Russian activist has described this process as a strengthening of vertical power, which
subjects the civic sector to attacks launched by the power structures against its
autonomy. (Lutz 2005)
By restricting donations from private entities the government is effectively reducing the
autonomy of civil society organizations in Russia since now they depend more on domestic
institutions and have a diminished capacity to pursue goals independent of those of the state.

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Registration laws
Another mechanism used by the Russian state to control civil society is registration laws.
While in theory the Russian Constitution does not require organizations to register with the
government, in practice registration is critical to the functioning of almost any voluntary
association. A 1995 law titled, On Public Associations dictated that only through registration
can an organization obtain rights such as being able to hire employees and open a bank account;
thus precluding all but small organizations dedicated to hobbies from not registering. In addition,
On Public Associations also required organizations registered prior to the enactment of the law
to reregister by June 30, 1999. Failure to reregister could be grounds for a court-ordered
liquidation of the association and its assets. In theory, while reregistration could only be denied
under extraordinary circumstances such as national security grounds, in practice the state used
this law to deny status to non-governmental organizations which opposed its policies. According
to Squier, the reregistration provision appears to have provided various officials with an
opportunity to rid themselves of troublesome organizationsparticularly trade unions and
ecological and human rights organizationsthat were too openly critical of the officials or their
policies (Squier 2002; 171).
The result of this new law was a sharp decline in registered organizations: for example of
1332 public associations that had been registered before June 30, 1999, only 770 completed the
reregistration process, effectively allowing the state to eliminate the remaining 562 associations.
Of the organizations that went through with the reregistration process, Squier points out that
many had their reregistration either delayed or denied outright on basis of official demands
demands contradictory to Russian lawrelating to their name, structure, statutory goals, and

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activities (171). Grounds for formally denying reregistration even bordered on the ludicrous,
including incorrect font size. (Squier 2002)

State regulation
Even if organizations pass the draconian registration or reregistration requirements
outlined above, they face stiff regulation from the state. According to Squier, one of the more
subtle approaches to the development of state controls over civil society that has arisen over the
course of the past three years is legislation intended to regulate NGOs and their activities (173).
For example, laws are in place that oblige associations to provide the state with whatever
information it seeks, effectively wiping out a groups right to privacy. As well, the state has the
right to inspect any organization without a court warrant.
Russian law also makes use of intentional ambiguities to give it the right to regulate civil
society. For example, one law entitled On the Noncommercial Society requires all nonprofit
organization to have socially useful goals. The ambiguity of this phrase gives the state the
discretion to close down any organization that opposes it. As well, laws are in place that allow
the Ministry of Justice to immediately liquidate NGOs which it deems to be involved in
extremist activities without a court order. It also has the right to revoke the registration of
media sources which it deems to distribute extremist materials. While in theory a court must
subsequently confirm the decision by the Ministry of Justice to shut down the organization, in
practice the tribunal process is so lengthy that even if the decision of the Ministry of Justice were
overturned, so much time will have passed that it would be virtually impossible to resurrect the

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In addition to imposing restrictions, the Russian state has also attempted to control civil
society through cooptation. The most palpable example is the 2001 Civic Forum organized by
Vladimir Putin, where for the first time since the disintegration of the Soviet Union,
representatives from the government and 5000 emissaries from the largest NGOs would meet to
discuss together the state of civil society in the country. Despite the ostensible intentions
expressed by Putin to strengthen the relationship between the state and civil society, many view
the Civic Forum with skepticism as an attempt by the Russian government to co-opt voluntary
associations. According to Weigle, many saw the Civic Forum as just another attempt to co-opt
civil society organizations into a vertical hierarchy of state power and to bring them to heel under
the watchful eye of Putins increasingly authoritarian state (Weigle 2002; 131). At this
conference, Putin attempted to organize the different civil society groups under a corporatist
structure where NGOs would forgo their independence in order to gain institutionalized
consultation of their interests and a share of the benefits allocated by the state (Evans 2002;
The plan of the Kremlin to use the forum to co-opt civil society largely failed, since as
Uhlin describes, this plan was rejected by civil society activists who established their own rules
for participation in the Civic Forum (Uhlin 2006; 93). While some voluntary associations
including human rights groups outright refused to attend the conference, many organizations
under the Peoples Assembly (an umbrella group of voluntary associations) decided to attend the
conference in order to promote dialogue with the state, yet refused to enact any resolutions or
vote on any matters including the establishment of formal ties to government organs. According

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to Weigle, the representatives from NGOs wanted no presidium at the Forum, no voting on any
issues, and no general resolutions (135).

The Russian state also attempts to control and monitor NGOs through the establishment
of GONGOs (Government-Organized NGOs). One prominent example of a GONGO is the
organization, Walking Together which is a youth movement. Despite its claim of being an
independent NGO which operates in over thirty regions and whose membership is over ten
thousand, its primary role is to harness support for Vladimir Putin and his ruling party. Another
prominent GONGO, ironically called, Civil Society was responsible for determining who
would be the participants at the 2001 Civic Forum. Although it is debatable whether the concept
of state-sponsored NGOs is itself an oxymoron; it is clear that the Russian state has used
GONGOs as a means to insidiously penetrate the realm of civil society and over time promote
organizations that serve its interests while marginalizing those that oppose its policies. This
concept is neatly summarized by Nikitin and Buchanan, when they write:
Altogether, through the creation of pseudo-NGOsthe administrations strategy seemed
to involve consolidation of a cadre of loyal NGOs that could ultimately outmaneuver
more problematic opposition and activist groups on both the domestic and the
international scene. NGOs and civic leaders would then be neatly divided into two
camps: trustworthy and uncooperative, with the latter potentially marginalized into
obscurity over time. (160)

Other control tactics

Another tactic which the Russian government uses to control organizations that oppose it
is harassment by tax authorities. Tax officials in Russia regularly bully organizations such as
environmental activists, who are often subject to intrusive inspections by the tax police and even

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the Federal Security Service (the successor to the KGB). As well, the government illegally
monitors the activities of NGOs which it deems politically threatening (such as human rights
groups) by tapping their phones and monitoring emails. However, this form of monitoring is the
exception rather than the norm, and organizations such as womens groups which are deemed
less politically threatening are not subject to these harsh measures.

Section II: How did these state restrictions impact civil society?
Cases where the state crushed voluntary associations
Trade unions
One of the most heavily repressed types of NGOs in Russia is trade unions. The state has
attempted to control the labor movement through its relationship with the FNPR (the Federation
of Independent Trade Unions of Russia), which is a GONGO and is the successor of the Sovietera All-Union Central Committee of Trade Unions. According to Sue Davis, under President
Vladimir Putin, the FNPR has been hewing a line much closer to state interests [than workers
interests] as Putin labors to bring control back to Russia[and] the independence of the FNPR
will be ever more limited as Putin constructs his vertikal of power and tightens control by the
state organs (Davis 2002; 204). Oftentimes, membership to the FNPR is mandatory, and as
Kubicek describes, membership for most is perfunctory, not a conscious choice of a worker but
a result of inertia, habit or even perhaps threats to the worker (Kubicek 2002; 608).
In terms of direct legal means used to control civil society, the Russian state tries to
substantially weaken the independent labor movement through the 2001 Labor Code. The code
sets out the conditions under which unions may form; and one of the regulations states that in
order to be legally recognized, a union must have a membership rate of over 50% of a firms

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workers (this effectively makes it very difficult for small unions to emerge). Equally problematic
is the sheer size and strength of the FNPR. Approximately 60% of the entire labor force belongs
to the FNPR, and even in instances where membership is not imposed, it is extremely difficult to
leave the union in order to join an alternative independent one. According to Davis, numerous
perks are controlled by the FNPR including access to mortgages and vacation housing; and while
the union does not directly control social insurance funds, it still wields significant power over
them. As a result, it is often close to impossible to persuade workers to leave the FNPR to join a
newly-formed independent union.
Additionally, the state imposes numerous legal hurdles in organizing a strike under the
new 2001 Labor Code. In order to strike, workers must agree on a specific duration in advance.
As well, strikes can only deal with specific issues within the firm and cannot for example be used
to demand union recognition or attempt to protest against government policies. In addition to the
legal challenges that unions must overcome, strike leaders face a plethora of repercussions.
According to a Freedom House report, strike leaders are often harassed by the government (as
occurred after a 2007 Avtovaz strike where a union leader named Anton Vechkunin was
arrested). There have also been numerous incidents of strikers who lost their jobs, as happened to
two workers involved in a postal strike in St. Petersburg. (Freedom House 2008) The impact that
these policies have had on the number of strikes in Russia is described by Stephen Crowley when
he claims that the number of strikes in Russia dropped from 17,000 in 1997 to less than 300
during the first 9 months of 2001 (Crowley 2002; 246).
The overall effect of the war between organized labor and the Russian state has been to
cripple independent unions throughout Russia. Lacking adequate membership because of the
competition with the government-favored FNPR and possessing a dearth of bargaining tools

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(strikes), labor-oriented civil society has been thrust into near-oblivion. While certain
organizations such as the Independent Union of Miners have been able to form, overall it is
estimated that total membership in all of the independent unions combined is only 300,000600,000 (less than one percent of the total labor force of 64.6 million). This figure pales when
compared to the 38 million members registered with the FNPR. (Davis 2002; 203)

Media groups
Another instance where the state and civil society have run into conflict is in the case of
media groups. While in theory freedom of the press is guaranteed by the Russian constitution
under article 29 which decrees that the freedom of mass communication shall be
guaranteed...[and] censorship shall be banned (Sakwa 2008; 483) in practice this is hardly the
case. For example, in the year 2009, the Press Freedom Index ranked Russia 153rd out of 175
countries. What is unique to media organizations is the nature through which the state constrains
their development. Unlike trade unions, media associations face practically no legal obstacles
(such as the law requiring a membership of at least 50%). The state controls the press mostly
through off the books means such as the harassment of journalists by government officials, a
subtle takeover of independent media organizations, and intentionally ambiguous laws.
One of the strongest blows to freedom of speech in Russia was a law passed in July of
2006 which broadened the definition of extremism under Russian law to include any
allegations involving government officials, or in legal terms, slander directed toward figures
fulfilling the state duties of the Russian Federation. For example, in 2008 the Russian
government closed down the newspaper of two journalists, Viktor Shmakov and Airat
Dilmukhametov, who wrote articles criticizing corruption among political figures. (CPJ 2007)

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The Russian government also accused the English daily in Moscow, eXile, of extremism, and
as a result it too was forced to shut down. Numerous high-profile journalists were also expelled,
including Jane Armstrong, a Canadian journalist covering the human rights abuses taking place
in Chechnya. According to Freedom House, authorities have used extremism charges against a
number of government critics, including journalists...[and] journalists remained unable to cover
the news freely, particularly with regard to contentious topics like human rights abuses in the
North Caucasus, government corruption, organized crime, and police torture (Freedom House
As described earlier, the Russian legal code makes use of a significant number of
ambiguities. A salient example of this which has negatively affected media organizations has
been a law passed in January of 2007 whereby Putin gave the Ministry of Justice the authority to
close down any organization whose policies run counter to the political independence of the
Russian Federation. For example, the government wielded this law to shut down the RussianChechen Friendship Society which attempted to document human rights abuses throughout
Chechnya. (CPJ 2007)
While the tactics described above fall into the category of soft coercion, the
government also utilizes various forms of hard coercion toward media-related civil society.
For example, through Putins term up until 2006, there had been a total of 13 assassinations of
high-profile reporters, including Anna Politkovskaya who documented human rights abuses by
the government. She was assassinated by an unidentified murderer while in the elevator of her
apartment. Another example includes the assassination of Russian-American journalist Paul
Klebnikov who was the editor of the magazine, Forbes Russia. (CPJ 2006)

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Russian TV media must also go through the bureaucratic process of obtaining a

broadcasting license. Unfortunately, there is significant red tape, and oftentimes obtaining a
license is contingent on providing significant coverage for political parties. Conversely, the state
can also easily revoke a license, and as Markus Soldner describes, the operation of broadcasting
media in the Russian Federation is completely dependent on the control of the executive branch
While the state attempts to directly control media through various forms of soft and
hard coercion, just as in the case of trade unions it also seeks to achieve this goal through a
gradual, insidious takeover of the industry. Right now, the state owns two out of the fourteen
national newspapers, sixty percent of the local print news sources, all national television stations
as well as two national radio stations. (Freedom House 2009) According to Freedom House, this
allowed the government to ensure that the press was filled with pro-Kremlin propaganda,
particularly ahead of the flawed March [2008] presidential election.
One particularly salient example of tactics used by the Russian state to control news
organizations includes the takeover of NTV, which was the only independent broadcasting media
association. Because of large debts to the state-owned gas company, Gazprom, in what the CPJ
describes as a boardroom coup the government effectively took control of the company away
from its owner, Vladimir Gusinsky. While Gazprom claims that this action was purely businessrelated; it is clear that the takeover had a largely ideological basis, especially due to the strong
anti-government rhetoric broadcast on the channel. For example, NTV routinely criticized the
wars in Chechnya and exposed several corruption scandals. Similar takeovers by the Russian
government include Media-Most (which was also requested by Gazprom to immediately pay
its outstanding debts), the channel ORT, as well as the magazines Itogi and Segodnya.

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Cases of civil society that emerged despite state controls

Despite the restrictions imposed by the state, several types of civil society organizations
were nevertheless able to emerge. Throughout this section, I will discuss how rural
organizations, womens associations, as well as church groups were successful.

Soldiers mothers organizations

The first example of a womens organization that not only attained mass membership but
was also able to influence policy was the Union of the Committees of Soldiers Mothers of
Russia (UCSMR). The UCSMR was formed in 1989 as the Soviet Union was disintegrating to
protest the abuses that were taking place in the Russian army. Unlike trade unions and media
organizations, this group was not only able to make its voice heard to the government, but also
successfully helped enact policy changes. Its victories include persuading the government to
enact legislation dismantling military units such as the construction battalions that were infamous
for their substandard conditions, granting amnesty to soldiers who deserted the army because of
abuse, and providing the families of deceased soldiers with social security benefits. Throughout
Russia, the UCSMR is currently lobbying to assure that soldiers receive proper treatment
including adequate food, clothing, etc. Membership has also steadily grown, and today there are
more than 300 member committees throughout the country. (McIntosh 2006; 181)

Crisis centers
In addition to soldiers mothers organizations, a second type of womens civil society
association that was able to emerge has been crisis centers. Although they were virtually
inexistent throughout the Soviet period, crisis centers have proliferated throughout the nation in

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the 1990s, especially in large cities. Starting from 2 crisis centers founded in Moscow and St.
Petersburg in 1993, the movement has spread to include over 120 across the nation (Johnson
2006; 268). As well, the Russian Association for Crisis Centers for Women was formed, which is
an umbrella organization for all of the crisis centers in the Russian Federation. Services provided
by these NGOs include confidential hotlines, legal advice, shelters, etc. According to Janet
Johnson, non-governmental crisis centers for women have proliferated across Russia. They
provide real psychological and legal aid to woman battery victims and make claims upon the
state that all woman battery must be punished (Johnson 2001; 153).

Rural groups
Throughout rural Russia, another type of civil society that was able to emerge has been
the rural club, or Klubok in Russian. They provide a wide range of amenities to residents, which
is especially important considering the poverty and lack of material resources throughout the
countryside. According to Kliucharev and Morgan, they are the sole place for communal
activities for locals, providing very basic amenities, from simple opportunities for company and
conversation to reading and television, public heating in the cold winters and folk singing on
public holidays (64). Oftentimes, these clubs serve as vehicles for the dissemination of culture,
and provide many educational opportunities especially for youth. Although their exact number is
unknown, these organizations have proliferated in recent years as a response to the dismantling
of previous Soviet-era associations including womens councils, sports teams, book clubs, etc.
(White 2006; 288)

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Religious organizations
Notwithstanding the heavy repression that church groups faced under the Soviet
dictatorship, the church has far from died out and two-thirds of the population identify
themselves as believers. Among the religious groups, the Christian Orthodox faith is the most
widespread, with 60% of the Russian population adhering to it.
Although largely obsolete throughout the communist period, today the Orthodox Church
has 30,142 parishes, 28,434 priests, and 788 monasteries. (Patriarchate of Russia 2010) While
the Orthodox Church has clearly experienced a revival since the Soviet period, other religious
groups have also proliferated, including Protestant groups. For example, although in 1990 there
were only 900 protestant organizations, in 2001 there were 4509. (Wallace 2006; 186)
Despite maintaining close ties to the Russian government, it is erroneous to believe that
the Orthodox Church was coopted and has become part of the state. Firstly, the Russian
constitution clearly establishes a secular state and ascertains that there is no official state
religion. Several of Putins actions support this notion, including a January 2001 Kremlin
ceremony where he awarded state medals not only to Orthodox priests, but also to priests of
other religions. As well, in a statement Putin claimed that we must not tell religious figures
what to do, who to choose, and how to form associations (119). The Russian patriarch
expressed a similar opinion that the church must be separate from the state (118). Edwin
Bacon agrees with the separation of the church and the state in Russia and claims that although
the relationship between the church and state is mutually beneficial, neither the church nor the
state wishes to see a more formal linkage. From this point of view, the Russian Orthodox Church
defends its official separation from the state (117).

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Section III: Summing upwhat types of civil society were able to emerge in Russia and
what characteristics did they possess that allowed them to flourish in spite of heavy state

The importance of cooperation with the state

One common theme that can be observed throughout both the successful and the
unsuccessful cases of civil society in Russia is the importance of cooperating with the state. It
can be concluded with near certainty that although direct support from the state is not a necessary
condition for the development of civil society in Russia, direct confrontation and opposition to
the state will destroy a civil society movement. This statement is illustrated by the different case
studies I have discussed, and although organizations such as the UCSMR never received direct
state support and clearly evolved in a bottom up manner, they never directly attacked the state.
In fact, rather than shunning the government and refusing to collaborate with it (like media
organizations such as NTV), these associations have consistently maintained ties to state officials
in the presidential administration, the Ministry of Defense, etc. According to McIntosh, the
organizations that have experienced the greatest successthe soldiers mothers organizations
are the ones that have been most willing to cooperate with the state (190).
As well, the success of crisis centers can be linked to the ability of these organizations to
work with state institutions such as law enforcement. Throughout his article, Law Enforcement
and Civil Society in Russia, Brian Taylor discusses how in many parts of Russia, law
enforcement officials are beginning to work with crisis centers to end domestic violence, as
demonstrated through a case study in the city of Yekateriburg. Throughout this city, he describes
that the Yekaterina Crisis Centre, a domestic violence NGO, has had moderate success in

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working with the local police[and] a cooperation agreement between the police and the centre
was signed in 2001 (206). By working with the state and educating law enforcement officials
about their cause, crisis centers have been able to accomplish their goals more easily, and this
has laid the groundwork for the proliferation of these organizations.
In terms of rural organizations such as clubs, a large portion of their ability to grow was
related to their connection with the state. The government often provided salaries for club leaders
as well as real estate. Despite this aid from the government, they nevertheless maintained their
independence (government officials are not involved in the direct management of these
associations) and can thus still be considered civil society.
In a similar way, faith-based organizations and especially the Orthodox Church were able
to evolve by building a cooperative relationship with the government. After Putin took office, he
wanted to build closer ties with the church as a mechanism to achieve national unity. According
to a statistic, the Church is one of the most trusted institutions in Russia, and if, as recent
research has shown, mistrust in organizations has been a key factor inhibiting the growth of civil
society in the postcommunist world, then the relatively high levels of trust in the Orthodox
Church may indicate that it starts from a privileged position in establishing itself as a key
element of Russian civil society (Bacon 2006; 115). Church leaders were often invited to state
events, an example being the Patriarchs invitation to Putins inauguration.

The broad categories of civil society that were able to emerge and the importance of not being
seen as a threat by the state
Throughout this paper, the successful civil society organizations can be fundamentally
grouped into two categories: service-providing organizations and those that promote

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cultural/nationalistic ideals. The womens groups fall into the former category, while church and
rural groups fall into the latter.
In the case of the service-providing organizations, I would like to suggest that their
success is due largely to the fact that the state never perceived them as a threat, thus making
cooperation possible. Service-providing organizations are successful since they are generally
non-controversial and are viewed in a favorable light by the majority of the public. This
statement is supported by Alfred Evans, who describes that social organizations that perform
services of valuemay gradually win greater trust from the majority of the people (335).
Unlike civil society such as the media and trade unions which could mobilize people against
state institutions and often campaigned for general rights and principles, the state never feels
threatened by non-controversial NGOs which provide specific material services.
In discussing womens organizations, Uhlin agrees that because they did not attempt to
lobby for sweeping changes to government policy, womens NGOs have not suffered the same
form of harassment that many human rights and environmental NGOs have been victims of.
(92). The UCSMRs activities were largely related to fighting against direct military abuses,
enhancing conditions for military personnel, etc. rather than making claims about broad policy
issues such as the rights of soldiers. For example, when it was first founded, the UCSMR did not
voice opposition to wars themselves, but rather strictly toward the treatment of soldiers.
Although recently organizations such as the UCSMR have taken a more confrontational attitude
toward the government, it was their willingness to cooperate with the state and their focus on
concrete material benefits that allowed them to grow. Conversely, as McIntosh describes, other
soldiers rights groups such as the ATA and EMAV use the language of human rights and rights
of citizens in a democracy more centrally in their work; yet, as noted earlier, their work has

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achieved very little organizational growth, public resonance, or policy success (192). Because
they did not fundamentally challenge the Russian government policy and simply resorted to
demands such as an end to abuse, the state was able to work more closely with organizations
such as the UCSMR and never viewed them as a threat.
In addition, just like the soldiers mothers organizations, crisis centers focus on specific
material objectives as opposed to trying to enact sweeping policy reforms. Instead of using
human rights rhetoric to change government policy on domestic abuse at a national level,
successful domestic violence NGOs attempt to provide concrete benefits such counseling
services, legal aid, etc. As a result, they are not perceived as a threat to government policies, and
the state thus does not actively attempt to shut them down.
The second type of civil society that I discovered was able to flourish in Russia is the
case of cultural and nationalist-oriented groups. By cultural/nationalistic ideals, I mean those that
help generate a sense of national identity and unity. The clear examples of this are the church,
rural groups, etc. Not only did the government view these organizations as innocuous, but it
directly supported and provided aid to them. Part of this has to do with the government wanting
to strengthen national unity, which was at an all-time low after the disintegration of the Soviet
Union. In the case of rural groups, the government viewed them in a favorable light since they
helped bring together and create bonds among people in countryside communities, and often
promoted Russian culture. As well, in the case of church groups, according to Daniel Wallace:
Putin knew that he needed the church, and not for reasons of personal faith but for
reasons of state. The church offered a bridge to the rebuilding of national unity, as the
guardian of national values and religious traditions. The time of disunity is over,
Patriarch Aleksi II announced in December 1999, in supporting the unification of Russia
and Belarus. In January 2000, he stated, the Church has preserved its unity at the end of
a decade when regional authorities had proclaimed their independence and centrifugal
forces threatened the disintegration of the former Soviet UnionThe church would

Berbecel 21

provide the civic values and the moral center that Russia lacked and greatly needed in
order to restore its identity (72).
Despite the success of the aforementioned groups, when the state does feel threatened by
civil society, and particularly in the case of organizations such as human rights, the media,
environmental groups, trade unions, etc, cooperation is impossible. In particular, the state finds
these organizations threatening because they are groups that often directly criticize government
policy and have the potential to rally large groups of people. In this case, the state will use the
elaborate set of mechanisms described throughout Section I to hinder their development and in
extreme cases even shut down the organizations.
The diagram below that summarizes the information presented in this section provides a
visual representation of how the interaction between the state and civil society affects which
categories of organizations were be able to emerge in Russia.
Figure 1: A graphical representation of how the state affected different sectors of civil
An organization attempts to form

If the state feels threatened by the organization

then the state will destroy the
organization using both legal tactics as well
as off the books methods described in
Section I of this paper.
e.g. media, trade unions

If the state does not feel threatened by the organization

and if the state is

indifferent (neither opposes
nor directly aides the
e.g. womens groups

and if the state

views the organization
favorably and provides
aid (i.e. subsidies,
favorable laws)
e.g. church groups,
rural groups

Then cooperation is possible and civil society

can flourish

Berbecel 22

The assertion that the main sectors of civil society that exist in Russia today are serviceproviding organizations and nationalistic/cultural associations is supported by data collected
from the Russian Government (see figure below). Throughout this study of 303,187
organizations, 51% were social and religious organizations and over 25% were either consumer
cooperatives or other service-based NGOs such as cultural, health and educational associations.
Conversely, organizations such as unions and bodies of public initiatives represent less than 10%
of all total organizations. While this study does not represent the full spectrum of civil society in
Russia (the Russian government only publishes a breakdown of about 60% of voluntary
organizations), it nevertheless provides a foundation from which to analyze the composition of
the civil society sector in the country:
Figure 2: A Breakdown of 303,187 civil society organizations in Russia

Source: Government of Russia

Berbecel 23

Section IV: What is the potential of civil society to flourish in the future?
In terms of how voluntary organizations will evolve in the future, I am fairly optimistic
since Russia has the fundamentals for a strong civil society. If we consider that there are four
factors that determine how civil society will evolvethe state, civic legacy, the economy and the
international contextRussia has all three of the latter components. In terms of civic legacy,
throughout his article, James Gibson describes the strong social networks that are present in
Russia. Because civil society was heavily repressed under communist rule, citizens began
forming their own individual networks as a response. These networks are characterized by a high
degree of trust, and according to Gibson this is crucial to the development of a vibrant civil
society. He describes that the task of building social organizations is greatly facilitated by the
ease with which Russians interact with each other[and] Russian social networks have a variety
of characteristics that my allow them to serve as important building blocks for the development
of a vibrant civil society (60). In addition to civic legacy, Russia is relatively prosperous with a
GDP per capita of about $15,000 and a poverty rate of 16% (roughly the same as in the US).
Finally, Russian civil society enjoys a favorable international context, as many outside
organizations including USAID strive to make donations to support grassroots movements. As
discussed throughout this paper, the critical factor that many organizations in Russia lack is a
cooperative state. Therefore, it is my belief that the development of a striving civil society will
ultimately be contingent on the degree to which Russia undergoes political liberalization.
One method to analyze the potential of Russian civil society to develop in the future is to
compare the strength of civil society in Russia to the strength of civil society in the other nations
of the former Soviet Union. Therefore, I have performed a study where I attempt to find the
relationship between the number of international NGOs per 100,000 inhabitants and the level of

Berbecel 24

state control in the country. In order to measure the degree of state control, I have used the Press
Freedom Index and have obtained information on the number of international NGOs in each
nation from the Yearbook of International Organizations.
Figure 3: The correlation between level of freedom and the number of international NGOs

Source: Yearbook of International Organizations and Reporters Without Borders

Note: Decreasing numerical values imply greater freedom of press.

Although this study does not directly establish causality, it is nevertheless plausible that
the independent variable is state control; since as I have attempted to show throughout this paper,
the state can use its power to significantly affect the development of civil society. In the former
Soviet Union, the nations most successful at establishing a thriving civil society were the Baltic
Republics, where arguably the state has let go. In contrast to Russia, throughout Latvia, all
NGOs are tax-exempt and individual and corporate donations to these associations are tax
deductable. In addition, according to USAID, the registration procedure is simple and relatively

Berbecel 25

inexpensive (USAID 2007) and it is impossible for the government to close down NGOs at its
will, even if the NGO does not abide by its charter. Therefore from this study I would like to
conclude that the future development of civil society in Russia is contingent on the level of
freedom that the state allows throughout the nation. If the government agrees to liberalize, then
Russian NGOs will be able to multiply just like their counterparts throughout Baltic nations,
Moldova, Armenia, etc. Although Russian NGOs do not need direct state support to thrive, the
end of the current authoritarian system of government would effectively eliminate the hostile
environment which has crippled many civil society organizations.
The implications of an intrusive state on the development of civil society can also clearly
be seen in another study on the relationship between the legal environment in which NGOs must
operate and overall NGO sustainability. Once again using the countries of the former Soviet
Union as the sample, this study reveals that as the legal environment of a nation becomes more
accommodating, NGO sustainability increases. While this study does not establish causality, it
demonstrates that the legal environment created by the state is strongly linked to the viability of
the development of grassroots organizations. As can be seen, nations with permissive laws (i.e.
Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania) were able to develop the most permissive environments for civil
society, whereas the nations with the most stringent legal codes scored the worst on NGO
sustainability. I want to suggest that this study provides a basis for optimism, since it can be
inferred that if Russia were to adopt laws favorable toward NGOs, it has the potential to develop
a thriving civil society similar to that of the Baltic nations. As well, unlike aspects such as civic
legacy, economic development and international support, the legal system established by the
state can be changed in a very short time frame.

Berbecel 26

Figure 4: the relationship between the legal environment of a nation and overall NGO

Source: USAID
Note: The NGO sustainability Index is published once a year by USAID to determine how accomodating the overall
environment of a nation is to the development of NGOs. Decreasing numerical values imply a more permissive legal
environment and a rise in NGO sustainability.

In conclusion, the initial puzzle guiding this essay was what civil society organizations
were able to flourish despite harsh state controls and why? The two categories of civil society
that have been successful which I identify are service-providing organizations as well as
cultural/nationalistic groups. The organizations that have failed however, are notably those that
directly confront the state and challenge it on issues like human rights; as well as those that can
potentially mobilize large groups such as trade unions. I also conclude that in order for civil
society to be successful, while it is not necessary for organizations to receive direct support from
the state, at a minimum cooperation is a necessary condition. Throughout my analysis, all
successful groups including womens organizations maintain a relationship with state actors such

Berbecel 27

as politicians and the police. However, when NGOs refuse to work with the state and/or fully
oppose it on issues such as human rights, the state will automatically view them as threatening
and will use the coercive apparatus that this paper outlines to shut them down. Although many
scholars take a pessimistic stance toward the future of Russian civil society, this paper would like
to end on an optimistic tone. Russia not only has a strong civic legacy, but also high levels of
economic development and a supportive international environment. While it is true that the state
in contemporary Russian society has severely hindered the development of a vibrant civil society
in areas such as trade unions and the media; when the state relaxed its controls as in the case of
womens groups, voluntary associations were able to flourish. Therefore, I would like to suggest
that the future of civil society in Russia largely depends on the extent of future democratization
and the willingness of political actors to relinquish control. While political liberalization in
Russia is beyond the scope of this paper, I agree with Robert Dahl that this will occur when the
costs of suppression become greater than the costs of tolerance. When full democracy does
eventually take root however, and the state refrains from hampering the growth of civil society,
voluntary associations will proliferate and have the potential to reach the same levels as in other
developed countries such as the United States.

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