Civil society activism in traditional non-governmental organizations (NGOs) is seen as one of the cornerstones of a vibrant participatory liberal democracy in many Western democratic states. Latvia already declared its intention to build a Western-like democracy 17 years ago, but after an initial peak of civil society activism connected with the struggle for liberation from the Soviet Union, very low levels of civil society activism are now found in the country.
“If we want to encourage a larger number of the inhabitants to engage in civil society activism, it is useful to understand who the existing core activists are in post-Soviet Latvia today”, says Tove Lindén.
Even though scholars have explored this question from a variety of perspectives in different Western countries, only limited research on this topic has been carried out in a post-Soviet context before. In her thesis Tove Lindén has addressed this question in a study comparing the characteristics of civil society core activists and non-activists in present-day Latvia.
The study presents unique survey data, which indicate that many of the factors proven to be important when explaining civil society core activism in Western contexts also have explanatory power in post-Soviet Latvia. A majority of the core activists are highly educated Latvian citizens, who have the perception that they understand Latvian politics. They also have a high empathic ability and had people close to them who acted as activist role models and gave positive support the first time they became active in a non-communist organization.
Gender is another important factor, but unlike in Western countries women dominate the civil society sector in Latvia. This domination grows stronger the further away from the capital we look.
Two important factors are introduced and tested for the first time when researching civil society core activism: Organizational competence, i.e. the perception that one has the ability to organize civil society activity, and prior organizational leadership experience.
“It is the first time survey data have linked an individual’s perceived organizational competence and prior organizational leadership experience with civil society core activism”, says Tove Lindén.
Another innovative aspect of this study is the introduction of different types of core activists which are based on gender, motive for activism, intensity of political/charity/recreational activity, as well as position in their organization.
Name of the thesis: Explaining Civil Society Core Activism in Post-Soviet Latvia.
The thesis may be downloaded in PDF-form at…
The dissertation will be publicly defended on 21 April at 13.00 in room MB 505, Moas Båge, Södertörn University College (Södertörns högskola), Stockholm. The opponent is Associate Professor Lars Johannsen, Department of Political Science, Aarhus University in Denmark.