Complex civil society in Tatarstan
(University of Manitoba)
This paper will explore the diversity of the local civil society sector in the Republic of Tatarstan (Russia). It is often assumed that civil society in Tatarstan, and Russia in general, plays a marginal role in the public sphere. In addition to the authoritarian historic tradition, the new legislation has put limitations on the NGO registration and funding sources to facilitate government control over this form of civic activity. Significant limitations to civic action in the region also come from the apathy of the population. I argue that despite these limitations, civil society in Tatarstan is alive and striving to communicate the local knowledge to the policy-makers. I will further argue that civil society in Tatarstan operates in three different realms: 'socially-oriented' NGOs, organizations with political or human rights agenda and independent groups of activists. The latter is becoming a more prominent form of civic activity due to their focus on the localized issues rather than on a comprehensive political transformation; they have also been successful in the tactical use of the social media. 'Socially-oriented' NGOs remain the biggest segment of civil society in Tatarstan, whereas the organizations with political agenda represent a relatively small segment of the civic activity. All the three types of civil society activists have their unique features, success and failures, and target very different groups of the population. At the same, collaboration across the three sectors is often ineffective. The paper is based on the qualitative interviews conducted with the civil society activists in Tatarstan in September - December 2017. The research utilizes the theories of civil society and the theory of conflict transformation, which focuses on the role of middle-level leadership in social change. This research is relevant to the Peace and Conflict scholarly literature, as well as to the civil society literature, as it provides ideas on the role of local civil society in connecting the bottom level with the elites and in transforming authoritarian political regimes.
Autonomy, Civil Society, Participation