The future of Greece lies in the rise of a new civil society

Excerpted from a longer article by Yannis Theocharis .

The full and original article has many links to p2p and civil society initiatives, and a longer discussion on the vital role of trust bonds.

Yannis Theocharis:

“A light breeze of transformation seems to have started blowing silently in Greece. The younger generation has inspired a wave of voluntary initiatives and actions targeted at resolving collective problems in the last couple of years. The recent manifestations are numerous and exciting: voluntary-based events that encourage structured debate and spreading new ideas, such as those organised by Intelligence Squared and TEDxAthens; urban regeneration actions such as Imagine the City; network-building platforms for volunteers such as Human Grid, #Tutorpool and Citizens 2.0 that encourage collaborative action between citizens and a rethinking of the institutional status quo; social contribution-oriented crowdfunding platforms such as Up Greek Tourism; Groopio, Greece Debt Free and community projects such as the Swapping Bookshelf; and even state-organised events for young people directed at spreading ideas about voluntarism, education and innovation, such as Meet Greece 2.0.

All these initiatives have enormous value. Each one of them carries a tiny dose of the medicine that can help cure the social pathologies that preceded the economic malaise currently traumatising the country (and that will surely succeed this crisis too, if not drastically tackled now).

The medicine – which the citizenry itself seems to be administering to Greek society – is the sum of all the bonds of collaboration, trustworthiness, solidarity and mutual aid that are developed during collective (mainly voluntary) initiatives. These bonds enable people to work together, learn from each other and build what is known as social capital. According to Robert Putnam’s widely quoted description, social capital refers to ‘the connections among individuals – social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them’ and is the fundamental ingredient of a healthy civil society.

In the last decade, Greek civil society has been repeatedly characterised as ‘underdeveloped’, ‘poorly organised’, ‘with few and weak civil society organisations’, subject to a ‘dominant central government’ and, overall, as having a ‘limited impact on society at large’ (although some have argued that a rather stronger ‘informal’ civil society exists too). What this means is that, compared with other European countries, until recently very few citizens were likely to engage in voluntary or non-voluntary collective actions aimed at the general welfare, or to donate money for such purposes. Although such findings are occasionally reported in the mainstream press, little attention is paid to what it really means to lack the societal benefits of a healthy civil society.

Civil society is an irreplaceable democratic institution and represents a formal or informal societal element that is beyond, independent, and not directed by states, governments, political parties or markets. It allows citizens to form social networks of trust, cooperation and action to achieve collective aims and resolve common problems.

A healthy civil society encourages the formation of groups composed of people who neither know one another nor share a common background, but who can facilitate a rise in a society’s stock of social capital. A strong current of social science research has long conceded that citizen interactions under the auspices of a healthy civil society (and through voluntary community work) constitute an inherently democratic process because they allow citizens to develop civic skills (more on this below) and social capital.”

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