CIVIL SOCIETY, POLITICS, SOLIDARITY:
THE CONTRIBUTION OF THE SOCIAL SCIENCES
The Institute for the Study of Societies and Knowledge (ISSK) at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, with the financial and logistic support of the Konrad Ade-nauer Foundation, organized a conference in Sofia, aimed at presenting the results of ongoing or recently completed projects of researchers from the Institute, and at conducting an open discussion with prominent representatives of the German academic community, with practical experts, with MPs, representatives of government and business. The goal of this meeting was to highlight how the social sciences are contributing to the solution of important public problems related to the development of Bulgarian society. From February 2013 and until the very beginning of this conference on October 28–29, 2013 in Sofia, citizens’ protests (against two consecutive governments) were at the centre of public attention and interest in Bulgaria. Bulgarian and foreign scientists, researchers and civic organization activists have tried to explain the emergence of the protests, the public energy that drives them, and their role in building a stable civil society in the country. Therefore, the conference topic, „Civil Society, Politics, Solidarity“, appeared naturally in the preliminary conversations between the Director of the ISSK, Prof. Rumiana Stoilova, and the Director of the Konrad Adenauer Office in Sofia, Dr. Marco Arndt.
This special issue of the journal Sociological Problems contains selected conference contributions. Its aim is to continue the discussion on the new and old forms of social movements, on solidarity and civil engagement, on the process of the establishment of a stable and pro-active democratic public in the post-communist societies. Civic organizations are important for the implementation and functioning of an all-embracing democratic public order. Hence, the question as to the quality of civil society becomes paramount, since it is the civic organizations that make problems publicly visible, that demand responsibility from the empowered, and that expand the circle of people having the right to make decisions on certain problems or problem fields in a given society.
The debate on civil society has been situated in the presented papers in the context of a broader discussion regarding „the common good“. The question of the withdrawal of the state from most public spheres and activities has long dominated the theoretical debate on civil society. But today more than ever, it is clear that the re-activated „citizens“ are those who must contribute to a more effective and efficient redistribution of public tasks, and who can reinforce the foundations of the social community and extend the scope of social solidarity. Issues that are becoming important include how to stimulate willingness for voluntary work, unpaid civic commitment to the interests of others, the social responsibility of business and entrepreneurs, of the Church and other social institutions. Voluntary work and participation are imperative for the proper functioning of modern society and must be practiced in addition to, and as a compensation for, the shortcomings of the existing state systems and institutions. The social responsibility of business, the assuming of social commitments by entrepreneurs and their firms, especially in the green sector and by the firms operating with the new energy sources, are an important measure of the maturity of a civil society; they contribute to increasing solidarity and compensate, to some degree, for the deficit of justice and equity for certain groups and/or communities.
The clear distinction between civil society and the state is considered to be an essential characteristic of modernity. Together with this, however, Anthony Giddens (1997) has criticized this division, and pointed out that „civil society has never simply been an aggregate of institutions outside the state“. The state cannot be an institution by itself, for it encompasses numerous public institutions and performs – including through its support for civic organizations and associations – functions that are of public interest and benefit. Hence, contemporary civil society is naturally open to, and interacts intensively with, other spheres and organizations; as a result, conflicts between them tend to arise far more often. The capacity to provoke and resolve conflicts is a very important feature of civil society; this capacity has become manifest in new forms of public protest (including through the Internet and the social networks) and in diverging social movement with an implicitly high degree of autonomy.
In the context of these views, the thematic issue discusses the following dimensions of the connection between civil society, politics, and solidarity:
Civil society and political institutions; changes and challenges arising as a result of post-communist transformation and European integration; the quality and functioning of the democratic public order under post-communist conditions; civic participation and/or alienation; social inequalities and their reproduction: Eckhard Dittrich „Post-Communism and Civil Society – Some General Conside-rations“; Pepka Boyadjieva and Petya Ilieva-Trichkova „Towards Understanding Higher Education as a Public Good: Inequalities in Access to Higher Education and Trust in a Comparative Perspective“; Rumiana Zheleva „Economic Crisis and Democratic Deficits: What Are the Perspectives for the European Integration of the Western Balkans?“
Civil society and solidarity; economic dimensions and practices of social responsibility and civic commitment; socially responsible entrepreneurship; production of green energy and the response of the NGOs: Svetla Koleva, Tanya Nedelcheva, Diana Nenkova, and Dimitrina Popilieva „Citizens in Everyday Life“; Dona Pickard, Galina Koleva, and Slavka Karakusheva „The Potential Role of Civil Society in the Social Integration of Children Residing in Homes for Children without Parental Care“; Martin J. Ivanov „Renewable Energy Industry in Bulga-ria: Challenges to Its Development“
Sustainable development; the potential of civic organizations and political formations; new and old protest movements; the capacity for achieving consensus in the name of an intelligent and inclusive development: Rumiana Stoilova „Civic Participation in Environmental Protection in Bulgaria“; Yvanka B. Raynova „Civil Society and ‘Women’s Movements’ in Post-Communist Europe. Main Trends and Results 25 Years after the Fall of Communism“; Valeri Lichev „Bulgarian Political Crisis – from Nihilism to Disorganization“; Petar Cholakov „Contemporary Ethnopolitical Conflicts in Bulgaria: Legal Dimensions“; Krassimira Trendafilova „Civil Society and the Media in the Whirlwind of Endless Changes“; Vyara Gancheva „State-Citizen Information Asymmetry and Sustainable (Non)Development. 25 Years since the Start of the Bulgarian Transition“.
Sincere gratitude to the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS) – Sofia, and personally to its Director Dr. Marco Arndt, for the provided financial support and the excellent collaboration in organizing the conference on „Civil society, Politics, and Solidarity“, as well as for the preparation of the current publication. Many thanks to all the scholars of the ISSK who were kind to participate in the peer review process, to Vladimir Vladov for the translation and language proofreading, to Plamen Ivanov for the technical edition, and to Nadezhda Krandeva (ISSK) and Marga Bileva (KAS) for their effective contribution to budgeting and financial matters. To all those mentioned above as well as to all the authors of the current issue, I would like to express my sincere gratitude for their excellent work and professional engagement!