Monday, 7 April 2008

On Civil Society in Post-Soviet Countries

This is a foreword written by Bakar Berekashvili for March Issue of A Different View, IAPSS Monthly Magazine.


Foreword: In Memory of Merab Mamardashvili
by Bakar Berekashvili

“Truth is higher than nation”

Merab Mamardashvili
Dear friends,

I am especially happy to see another issue of A Different View which aims to discuss and evaluate development of civil society in post-soviet countries, to seek and analyze several key mistakes and achievements which we face now in this area. And I am very excited that this issue of ADV is dedicated in memory of Merab Mamardashvili, outstanding Georgian philosopher and public intellectual who gave his brilliant contribution in promotion of civic and democratic values in former soviet countries, including Georgia.

Merab Mamardashvili spent most part of his life in Russia where he graduated philosophy from Moscow State University and he deeply believed that it was his mistake to study in Russia. He studied in the country where soviet tyranny and oppressive regime of soviet system was awfully reflected and where academic freedom and right for free thinking among the scholars and intellectuals merely did not exist due to so-called political correctness. And even within such terrible conditions which Mamardashvili faced in Russia he remained faithful towards his values and principles which were reflected with his compassion of democratic state based on strong free civil society. Mamardashvili strongly promoted the idea of civic participation and need for civil society for any state and he delivered his lectures with such visions and views during Soviet era and despite high pressure from state bureaucracy he never joined large group of conformists which existed in academic community of USSR.

Despite high criticism of Soviet Union by Mamardashvili, this is a great mistake to say that Mamardashvili disliked Socialism, in contrast, Mamardashvili had his sympathies towards philosophical and conceptual basis of Socialism and he thought that Socialism was great European idea. And his critical reflections towards Soviet Union was relevantly accurate because Soviet Union did not manage establishing of real Socialism where social justice and solidarity should be guaranteed, instead of this Soviet Union and its Bolshevik founders established great tyranny and managed to close minds for majority of its citizens.

Citizens and civic groups were central for Mamardashvili in formation of state. He deeply trusted that citizens and society in general should emancipate their minds from such stereotypes, biases and prejudices which can disturb democracy and civil harmony in country. In late 1980s Mamardashvili returned in Georgia and worked for the Institute of Philosophy of the Academy of Sciences of Georgia and he also delivered number of lectures in philosophy at Tbilisi State University. This was time while in Georgia there was large scale promotion of nationalistic discourse from opposition political forces who soon took power in Georgia and also from large part of society there was active propaganda of nationalistic ideology. Mamardashvili strongly confronted with such nationalistic discourse and criticized those people who were in favor of such way of thinking Many people during this time did not like Mamardashvili because they thought that cosmopolite nature of Mamardashvili’s thinking was damaging for Georgia and he was especially discriminated by Zviad Gamsakhurdia, famous Georgian Nazi politician whose political team gradually started growing the power and finally it took state power in Georgia by the end of 1990s and in Spring of 1991 Gamsakhurdia became president of Georgia.

Merab Mamardashvili died by heart attack in November 1990. By that time he was on the peak of popularity in the groups of European intellectuals and philosophers, his writings are very valuable in contemporary Europe but unfortunately in Georgia still Mamardashvili is not respected and not many people know about his brilliant intellectual life.

One year later from the death of great Georgian philosopher, Soviet Union formally destroyed and this happened in December 1991. All member states of Soviet Union remained alone towards new challenges and initiatives. Some managed successfully to develop in progressive ways and some could not do it because of weak and powerless society.

Civil society is a very dangerous word for many governments in majority of former soviet countries. For example, this word “Civil Society” has cruel essence for the governments in Russia, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Uzbekistan and etc. Deaths and murders of journalists, human rights defenders and civil society activists in these countries show high level of dictatorship and totalitarianism which is established in these countries by their political leaders. Formation of civil society eventually means opening of the minds of citizens and their active civic participation which of course will be defeating phenomenon for corrupted political regimes in post-soviet countries and that’s why they brutally attack idea of civil society.

However, in terms of development of civil society in post soviet countries there are still some progress together with regress. For example in Georgia we have thousands of NGOs, civic groups and associations of citizens who strive to promote and advance democracy in Georgia; however regress is that many such institutions and associations are controlled by the government and lost real significance of civil society organizations. Also, universities which are central actors of civil society are totally controlled by the ideological mechanisms created by state authority.

This is an achievement for civil society development in former soviet countries while we see brave life of Gari Kasparov in Russia against government, while we see how Kasparov and his group struggle for protection of human rights and solidarity in Russia, and this achievement is caused by small part of citizens in Russia who wish to bring down totalitarianism and to replace it with democratic order.

I hope this issue of ADV will give clear landscape and basic trends of development of civil society in post-soviet countries and will give its modest contribution to promotion of the idea of civil society in former soviet countries. This issue also includes links on the topic of the month where you can learn more about civil society in former USSR and countries of Eastern Europe. I am really very thankful to all persons who contributed to this issue of A Different View.

Best regards,

Bakar Berekashvili

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