Sustaining Civil Society in the Context of Multiple Crises:
Hubs of Engagement in Central and Eastern Europe and Sweden
International Project of Activist Researchers funded by the Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies
Collective action constantly striving for social change, equality and justice is essential in making our democracies strong and resilient. This especially applies to the current era, during which our democracies are challenged by numerous mutually interconnected threats and crises. Global neoliberal advancement, de-democratization, state capture, political polarisation, religious fundamentalism, distrust towards state institutions or “depolitisating” tendencies are not only deepening the multitude of existing social and environmental crises (housing, climate, pandemic, etc.), but also hinder the societal response to them and pose significant threats to collective action. At the same time, even post-welfare countries, which have been traditionally associated with strong political institutions, robust civil society and stable democracy, are now facing the effects of neoliberal capitalism on their political and economic landscapes. The unprecedented levels of street protests in 2019 nonetheless show that people worldwide are willing and able to mobilise under unfavourable conditions.
The aim of our project is to examine civil society’s resilience and resourcefulness, which we understand as the ability to sustain engagement and to work on behalf of social change under adverse conditions. We do so by comparing civic action and its dynamic development across different national contexts that were not analysed comparatively before. We include five post-socialist countries: Poland, Hungary, Romania, Serbia and Czechia, and Sweden as an example of a post-welfare country. These contrasting cases allow us to examine broader trends which threaten civil societies with different development trajectories, as well as compare how civic action is organised, sustained and encountered in different locations and contexts.
We have extended research and activist networks in the post-socialist part of Europe along with Western Europe and the Scandinavian countries, due to our previous experiences and collaborations in research projects, publications, research stays, conferences, memberships in organisations, and public engagement along with the nature of our research topics, spanning over the wide field of social movements and civil society. With the current project, we aim at bringing our knowledge, experience and collaboration to a broader and systematic stage: we plan to exchange and investigate together our regional and national contexts (Eastern and Central Europe - Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia, and Sweden); our case studies (housing and tenant movements, environmental and food sovereignty mobilisations, gender and queer rights struggles); our complementary expertise in theoretical approaches (relational approaches to social movement studies, world-system and uneven development approaches to conditions for struggles and movements, rights and de/democratisation approaches to political studies). This is a truly collaborative endeavour, reciprocally enriching, that goes beyond identifying similarities and differences: we develop a multi-sited, fine-grained, time-extended, multi-scalar, multi-disciplinary approach to the shifting conditions and traits of civic action in the pandemic/post-pandemic context, in Central and Eastern Europe and Sweden (all marked by profound changes of the social state). Our project thus brings a trifold contribution to academic debates, trans-national and inter-disciplinary collaborations, and public engagements with the ongoing economic-social-climate crisis.