<< The Body Politic

A quest for democratic citizenship

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

We covered the first part of Leon Aron’s look into Russian civic society in November; the follow-up report, “Following One’s Conscience, part 2: A Quest for Democratic Citizenship”, is now available at AEI.

The report comes from a trip Aron took last July to Russia, in which he interviewed the leaders of six grassroots organizations and movements. The nearly forty hours of interviews have convinced Aron that “lasting Russian liberalization will come not from violent revolution or a great rupture imposed from above but from a mature civil society with the courage to control the executive.” The grassroots leaders he interviewed emphasized the need to create “real citizens” who responsibly participate in society. Aron writes:

No matter what their daily activities and short-term goals, the respondents see inculcating a new mentality as the essence of their effort and its ultimate moral justification. [As one leader said,] “Our struggle is a struggle for people’s minds…We are making (real) citizens out of citizens, which is why we publish newspapers, blanket the town with leaflets…This is more important than any seizure of power, because this is the foundation for serious and long-term changes in the country.”

The new civic mentality was defined, first and foremost, as a self-respect and personal responsibility–whether for one’s neighborhood or for the entire country. Among several strategies to promote these attitudes, our interviewees judged self-organization and self-help to be the most effective. “Self” was the operational term. All were vehemently opposed to what [one leader] described as “dragging people along” toward any political or social order, no matter how progressive. Instead, they were determined to inculcate active, democratic citizenship through actual participation. Above and beyond any advance in their organizational agenda, this citizenship by action and by example was their ever-present objective.

Read the whole thing here.