Friday, 23 October 2020

E Editorial

Ambiguous situation of civil society

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In the media and public debates, issues of civil society have become more frequently discussed. Well-known human rights activists speak on public platforms with a sharp position, sometimes using inappropriate vocabulary and labeling, and there are already cases of physical violence. There were no similar incidents before, human rights activists went about their business, environmentalists about theirs and so on. The mission of human rights defenders and, in general, representatives of civil society is the protection of the rights and dignity of the individual. What is happening and what has changed in the life of civil society since May last year?

The answer seems obvious: the relationship between civil society and the government has changed or, more precisely, part of an active civil society has become part of the government, and a significant part has become an ideological and functional partner of the authorities. This is a transformation of the relations of power and civil society. In the framework of international law, a non-governmental organization (NGO) is defined as “non-profit” or “non-governmental,” which emphasizes its independence status. Naturally, these organizations can have different missions and specialize in different areas, but the term “non-governmental” is their main essence. This is the key idea.

The main mission of civil society, as mentioned above, is to protect human rights that are actually violated by the state. It turns out that it is necessary to protect human rights from power, or, more precisely, from the atrocities of the latter. International human rights treaties are signed by the state and it itself is obliged to protect them. In this case, civil society in Armenia must protect human rights from the government, of which it already is a part. This is the whole absurdity of today's Armenia and the main contradiction of civil society.

In a new situation, civil society can become a partner of the government for global changes: changes that are key to human rights and democratic reforms. However, such reforms were not promulgated by the authorities, on the contrary, the current government refused a number of “revolutionary” promises - establishing a balance of power, adopting a new law on political parties, implementing judicial reforms, and so on.

NGOs do not condemn hate propaganda and the intervention of the executive in the work of the judiciary. Moreover, sometimes they become participants and supporters of all this. This does not remind the actions of civil society, but of direct participation in the struggle for power - in the worst sense of the word.

A well-known experiment at Stanford University in 1971, during which volunteers were divided into two groups — prisoners and prison guards — showed that status brings in certain psychological changes in a person's mind. If the former authorities and the former opposition change places, which is what happened in Armenia, there is a danger that their psychology also changes. It was an expected transformation, since it is impossible to be both advocates for rights and the ones responsible for these rights.

Civil society cannot be on either side of the barricade. This is an institutional crisis, discussions about which should not be avoided.

The Armenian Center for National and International Studies

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Yerevan, Armenia


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