chapter  2
16 Pages

Framing civil society: Lessons from Eastern Europe


This chapter looks at the concept of ‘civil society’ as it emerged in debates in Eastern Europe in the 1970s and evolved after the fall of communism. It reviews explanations for the fall of communism based on the rise of civil society and draws on the literature on contentious politics to redefine the concept as a ‘collective action frame’ with which movement activists sought to mobilize popular support against Leninist regimes. This grounds the concept in the actions of political actors seeking to influence change and allows comparison across countries. By contrasting Solidarity in Poland and Civic Forum and Public Against Violence in Czechoslovakia with the efforts by other alternatives, such as smaller movements and the old regimes, the chapter grounds the concept of civil society within a political explanation for transformation. Finally, this chapter will look at the ‘fate’ of the concept of civil society once new democracies had emerged. While critical for the successful mobilization of movements against the old regime, the concept had negative consequences for the development of democratic politics, rendering both countries vulnerable to populist and nationalist challenges.