Skip to main content

Web Content Display Web Content Display

Skip banner

Web Content Display Web Content Display


Dorota Pietrzyk-Reeves & Aleksandra Samonek (2023). Measuring civil society: Lessons from Central and Eastern Europe. Communist and Post-Communist Studies, 56(1), 152–165.

Abstract: One of the main motivations for measuring the weakness or strength of civil society is to obtain a reliable basis for understanding the dynamics of its development as well as its social and political potential. In this article, we argue that the paradox of the “weakness of civil society” in Central and Eastern Europe can be explained by insufficient methodologies involved in what we call the static approach to the strength (or weakness) of civil society. We present a more appropriate alternative, called the dynamic approach, in which weakness or strength is not an inherent property of a civil society and consequently cannot be measured by a set of indicators collected for a single point in time. Moreover, in a dynamic approach, the weakness or strength of civil society is a derivative of the dynamics of its development over time along multiple axes of indicators. In other words, we propose that the weakness or strength of civil society ought to be conceived of as the ratio of its development over time and that it must be evaluated inside a data-rich environment where comparison over time is possible.

Dorota Pietrzyk-Reeves & Patrice McMahon (Eds.) (2022), Civic activism thirty years after: The changing realities of civil society in Central and Eastern Europe [Special section]. East European Politics and Societies, 36(4).

Abstract: This special section re-examines theoretical assumptions and builds upon new empirical findings on civic participation and civil society development in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). Civil society activism today, thirty years after the collapse of the communist rule in the region, is not what scholars, donors, or activists from the region expected. In this special section, we seek to examine: how people are organizing, the issues around which they are mobilizing, the micro- and macro-level motivations for civic participation, including citizenship norms, as well as how these activities impact democratization, and the political effects of this activism on the varying regime types across the region. A key contribution of our multi-country, multi-method research is its study of issues, forms, and impacts of civic action that move beyond the expectations of scholars and donors supporting liberal democratic action. We argue that civil society development in CEE needs to be analyzed from the perspective of actors--activists and citizens--as well as actions driven by specific concerns that mobilize civic engagement. Our comparative analysis presents unique features of CEE activism, but also similarities to the kinds of activism evident in Western Europe and North America, especially the marked polarization of groups. Throughout CEE, there are vibrant and progressive advocacy groups that exist alongside a growing number of self-empowerment centers and charities that work with vulnerable groups, as well as conservative or traditional civil society organizations.

Dorota Pietrzyk-Reeves and Patrice McMahon (2022), Civic activism in Central and Eastern Europe thirty years after communism’s demise. East European Politics and Societies, 36(4), 1315-1334.

Abstract: Thirty years ago, many credited civil society for communism’s sudden and mostly peaceful demise in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). In the decades since, scholars have debated the definition, structure, impact, and strength of civil societies in this region. This article introduces a special section that provides theoretical, methodological, and empirical considerations of civil society activism in CEE thirty years after the end of communist regimes in the region. Based on our new multi-country survey instrument and extensive field research, we contend that despite important differences in civil society and democracy’s trajectories within the region, there are commonalities emerging, with new forms of civic activism which are more informal, more dynamic, and ad hoc, often focused on “everyday issues” that average people identify as important and worthy of engagement. Unlike much previous research that focused on formal organizations and institutional conditions, we argue that civil society development in CEE needs to be analyzed from the perspective of actors—activists and citizens—and the concrete concerns that motivate the varied forms of their civic activism.

Dorota Pietrzyk-Reeves (2022) Rethinking theoretical approaches to civil society in Central and Eastern Europe: Towards a dynamic approach. East European Politics and Societies, 36(4), 1335-1354. Open access.

Abstract: The developments that took place in Central and Easter Europe (CEE) over the last three decades have consequences for how researchers define and understand the concept of civil society. This article revisits four major approaches to civil society that were developed after 1989 and provides reasons for a reconceptualization in light of new research and empirical data. It argues that civil society in CEE needs to be studied not as an outcome or a facilitator of democratization and democratic consolidation, but as a phenomenon in its own right. The article also supports an earlier claim of scholars that the static liberal approach to civil society has limited explanatory potential in the CEE context and advocates a dynamic approach, which is guided less by normative assumptions and more by the actual experience of societies practicing various forms of social self-organization. Four criteria of the dynamic model that are proposed include a broad understanding of civic activism as the key dimension of civil society, a clear focus on its potential, a better understanding of the normative content of civic activism, and a recognition of a value-related aspect of civil society activism.

Patrice McMahon & Lukasz Niparko (2022). Shrinking, shifting, and strengthening: The dynamics and diversity of civic activism in Poland. East European Politics and Societies, 36(4), 1355–1376.

Abstract: Thirty years after communism’s demise, Polish civil society is, decidedly, self-sustaining, and wide-ranging, with activism focused on various issues, from the natural environment to education reform to reproductive rights. This paper uses data from interviews and a nationally representative survey to explore the evolution of activism in Poland and specifically the claim that Polish citizens are more likely to engage in civic action when these efforts concern everyday social problems, rather than abstract political ideals. We argue that since 2015, the Polish government is, indeed, attempting to direct civil society’s growth and development, thereby shrinking the space for activism, especially for liberal, progressive organizations. Yet, this is only a part of a more complex and interesting picture of activism that is also shifting, with individuals focusing on new issues and mobilization tactics, and strengthening through the creation of networks, and groups that work on different sectors but join forces. Thus, although some citizens are mobilizing around local, social concerns, intangible, political issues remain important, with Poles participating in activities online and in person to defend the rule of law and judicial freedom. Polish citizens are also regularly protesting limitations on reproductive rights and in support of gay rights. Thirty years of change and democracy in Poland have produced a dynamic and diverse civil society that is, simultaneously, shrinking, shifting, and strengthening.

Lisa M. Sundstrom, Laura M. Henry & Valerie Sperling (2022). The evolution of civic activism in contemporary Russia. East European politics and societies, 36(4), 1377–1399.

Abstract: This article examines Russian citizens’ support for and participation in civic activism today, nearly three decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Specifically, we consider how activism has evolved over time in two key issue sectors—environmentalism and women’s rights. We draw on a recent nationally representative survey that challenges existing stereotypes of Russians as apathetic and/or fearful of participating in civic activism, showing, to the contrary, that Russians are willing and interested in engaging in public activities. Data from field interviews with environmental and feminist activists, along with the authors’ past twenty-five years of research in these areas of Russian civic activism, allow us to identify an ongoing shift from professionalization and formalization of NGOs in the 1990s and early 2000s, to informal organizing, often assisted by social media platforms, today. We argue that the three major social and political drivers of this change in Russian civic activism are the contraction of political freedoms, the decline in foreign funding, and the availability of web-based communication and fundraising technologies.

Paula M. Pickering (2022) Civic engagement and its disparate goals in Bosnia-Herzegovina. East European Politics and Societies, 36(4), 1400–1421.

Abstract: Qualitative studies featuring in-depth research have recently pushed back against characterizations of citizens in post-conflict Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) as passive. After mobilizations in 2014, how do citizens in BiH engage in public action, and what factors explain their public participation? This article uses data from an original, nationally representative survey to depict civic engagement and investigate the proposition that citizens engage in civic action when these efforts address their primary concerns—everyday social problems, rather than abstract political ideals. In addition, this article draws on interviews to probe whether civic activists incorporate citizens’ priority concerns in developing strategies for increasing public participation in their work. It finds that most citizens cite their motivation for civic action as tackling concrete everyday problems and helping those in need. Statistical analysis indicates that while the segment of the population that supports civic engagement on conservative values is small, this portion is more likely than the larger portion supporting civic engagement on intractable socio-economic problems to take action. Interviews with civic activists point not only to their efforts to engage citizens by acknowledging their concerns but also to challenges in connecting with citizens. This systematic investigation depicts the nuances of and contradictions in citizen participation in BiH. Citizens engage at modest levels and are often motivated by the norm of helping those vulnerable and addressing everyday problems. However, the small segment of the population concerned about conservative values is more effectively mobilized than a large segment prioritizing socio-economic concerns.

Paulina Pospieszna & Katerina Vráblíková (2022). Cultural liberal and conservative mobilizing potential and political participation in post-Communist countries. East European Politics and Societies, 36(4), 1422–1448.

Abstract: While the social-cultural conflict has been examined at the level of sociopolitical actors, less is known about how this division operates at the level of ordinary citizens and their participation in politics. Using originally collected nationally representative public opinion surveys, this study connects the ideological cultural dimension of politics and citizens’ political participation in five post-communist countries: Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Czech Republic, Poland, Russia, and Ukraine. Specifically, the article (1) maps the mobilizing potential for culturally liberal and conservative issues; (2) examines the profile of people (sociodemographic characteristics, political attitudes, democratic norms, and membership in organizations) in these two camps; and (3) demonstrates how the mobilizing potential of the two ideological camps translates into actual types of political participation (voting; protesting; petition signing; and Internet activism). The analysis shows relatively high mobilizing potential for culturally liberal issues in five post-communist countries and a relatively weak link between culturally conservative mobilizing potential and civil society engagement.

Paulina Pospieszna & Dorota Pietrzyk-Reeves (2022) Responses of Polish NGOs engaged in democracy promotion to shrinking civic space. Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 35(4), 523-544.

Abstract: This article examines a new phase in democracy promotion in Central and Eastern European countries that recently have faced the process of shrinking civic space and democratic backsliding. In our case study, we analyse systematically the voices and strategies of Polish NGOs involved in democracy promotion at home and abroad as a response to these new challenges. Our empirical findings suggest that advocacy NGOs devoted to democratic quality and sustainability can continue their mission and promote or defend democracy, albeit with new incentives, strategies and goals that also depend on the existing political opportunity structures. The threat of shrinking civic space, paradoxically, has mobilized NGOs in Poland to strengthen their mission and resources, and seek wider support in society. This was possible due to new response strategies in three major areas of their operation: access, funding and networking. Understanding these actions has immediate policy implications, as it can help actors who are seeking to support democracy figure out how to play a more supportive role.

Paulina Pospieszna,  Agnieszka Vetulani-Cęgiel, A. Polish interest groups facing democratic backsliding. Int Groups Adv 10, 158–180 (2021). Open access.

Abstract: Democratic backsliding in Central and Eastern European countries is on the rise. Independent judiciaries, other institutions of liberal democracy, as well as civil liberties and media freedom are being undermined, coupled with the human rights and dignity of certain groups being curtailed or even violated. In these difficult political and legal circumstances, non-state actors, such as interest groups, face many challenges. The goal of this research is to explore how interest groups in Poland perceive their position, what tactics they use in order to influence public policies and decision-makers, and whether they search for networking strategies in order to strengthen their position vis-à-vis the government. By placing our research in the Polish context, we fill the gap in the current literature on the situation of interest groups that face democratic backsliding. We base our analyses on new survey data collected from Polish interest groups in 2017–2018, conducted within the Comparative Interest Group Survey.