Civil Society

René Nyberg RAND Business Leaders Forum

MoscowOctober 11-12, 2019

45th Plenary Session

Civil society is without exaggeration the heart of Western societies. Parliamentary democracy and the system of political parties are based on the activity of citizens. Parties are founded on political principles not around political personalities, except on the fringes of the society.

Civil society is the voluntary expression of citizens’ activity that enjoys the protection of rule of law. Checks and balances, the separation of powers and the role of media as the fourth estate are fundamental attributes of the society, which have proven their resilience. Nobody is above the law and the trust of government, courts and police remains robust.

The Western democracies are of course not homogenous but to illustrate the importance of trust I would refer to the basic constituent of the Nordic/Scandinavian societies, municipal self-government. It reflects centuries old traditions of a society of free peasants. Trust between people remains high and characterizes Western societies, especially in the case of Scandinavia.

As Ambassador in Moscow I often used to refer to the fact that the number of police and prisoners per capita in Finland was the lowest in Europe. Times are changing and even the Scandinavian societies have not been spared drug related criminality or even terrorist attacks, but the trust of the population in the police is unwavering.

The idea, even the theoretical idea, of using armed forces for internal purposes is alien. In the case of Finland it reminds us of the Russian period when the Governors of the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland could call on Cossacks to handle disturbances etc. Swedish army troops were used in the early 1930s to break a strike (Ådalen 1931) with traumatic consequences.

Greta Thunberg is the latest example of how the civil society ticks and how it self-organizes. Aleksey Navalny published a video clip last week where he explains why the Russian society from Putin to Julia Latynina cannot stand Greta. She, a sixteen year old school girl, reminds them of Soviet abuse of children for propaganda purposes. For them Greta cannot be genuine, there must be somebody behind her etc. This is an aspect nobody in the West comprehends. Of course many in the generation of gray haired gentlemen, called “uncles”, are annoyed by this vocal and very exceptional young girl, but that is normal. The civil society will carry her and her ideas as far as they go. And if there is somebody behind her, that will ultimately be revealed. Attitudes will be influenced and probably even changed, but decisions are made in Government and Parliament.

To add a personal note; we will celebrate the first birth day of our youngest grandson next February — in Berlin. Now our thirteen year old grandson has put his foot down. He doesn’t want to fly; he does not eat meat either. The grandmother and I respect the young man’s choice and leave the sorting out of the family travel plans to his able mother, our oldest daughter.

Governments come and go. In 2002 I received as the Ambassador the new Prime-Minister Ms. Anneli Jäätteenmäki in Moscow. She was the first women to head a Finnish Government. She met PM Mikhail Kasjanov and we walked with her across the Red Square. Two weeks later she had to resign. The Russian officials were stunned and queried me about what had happed. I told them that the PM had misled Parliament. The reaction was telling – I thsto? A new PM was appointed and political life continued in Finland. Democracies are able to manage transition. +++

Written by René Nyberg