By Dr. Anahit Mkrtchyan

Various development processes of societies showed that inevitable conflicts between the groups, having different statuses, do not exclude at all that the interests of parties, being distinct from each other, also may coincide, giving the opportunity to find out the ways for achieving the balance and agreement among such parties. It is possible by means of the open discussion, when the agreement reached among the parties is necessarily based on the common interest. These conclusions can be made on the basis of a theory by Y.Humermans, who, unlike the Marx-Durkheim theory on “priority of the society over the individual,” proposes to build up the society not on the collectivist principle, where the “absolute” idea prevails (be it the Constitutional State by G.Hehel or K.Marx’s Communism) with its “vertical” structure of the world, but on the mechanism, built “horizontally” and regulating the interests of all. The effectiveness of such a mechanism is based on the thesis that the rational solution is not only in the choice between two points of view, but quite often in the possibility, given by a third option, found out in the process of the open discussion. In this process the role players of the civil society may act both as carriers of the problem and a possible party of the discussion. Such a role and function, provided for the civil society, attaches dynamics to the social system, reducing to minimum the freedom, reaching up the anarchy, and the threat of turning back to the administrative-command regime. The more dynamic is the system, the greater is the probability that the conflicts will:

-cause innovative and creative activity;

-prevent deepening and enlargement of contradictions;

-become a real source of development;

-promote establishing a well-balanced power hierarchy in the system.

Assessing the experience of conflict resolution in the Soviet totalitarian system from this point of view, it should be noted that that society was unable to legitimize conflicts, as far as it marginalized the conflicts by suppressing them with all possible ways. Thus it gradually lost the possibility to react rapidly to the conflicts, to perceive appropriate proposals, and as a result, it collapsed.

For such societies in the period of transformation the conflict legitimization is especially reasonable, because with the help of this mechanism, participation of the population engaged into the structures of the civil society can be secured. This way the responsibility for decision making will gradually go downward, securing moderate neutrality of the authorities regarding the social, economical and spiritual processes, going on in the country and impossibility of their unilateral dictate. Creation of favorable economical, political and cultural conditions for functioning of horizontal structures in the country provides an individual or a group of individuals with schemes and instruments (non-governmental, non-profit structures and the methods of their activity) to solve each individual problem, which may be alternative or oppositional to the schemes, set up by the authorities. So for the conflict legitimization, i.e. for initiation of open discussions with participation of all parties, to find out common solutions and actors, the following conditions are necessary: availability and functioning of inter-sector link between the governmental and non-governmental structures, cooperation and quite often partnership in accordance with the established procedures. Therefore, it is apparent that the expression and assessment of alternative positions and views takes place so much as the procedures of the conflict resolution are developed and the parties of discussion are ready to it. That is why democracy is considered as “the power of procedures.” [M.Harutiunyan. Armenian Political Culture: the Problems of the Transitional Period.  In: “Armenia 2020: the Development and Security Strategy,” Yerevan, 2002, p.94. (In Armenian).]

The current acute conflict of values in the post-Soviet states, the process of democratization of the governance system, lagging in all levels,  unfavorable conditions for private entrepreneurs, lead to the following situations, typical to such societies:

-the lack of guideline toward common goals in the activity of the state political, social and economical institutes, and therefore, lead to the absence of pattern, and sometimes to inconsistency of their actions;

-expression of the inner cohesion of the economical and political elites when public resources are distributing only among themselves;

-the lack of mutual consent on the system of basic values, accepted by the majority of population as the moral basis of living and activity;

-contradiction between the professional qualification and the level of education and revenues, property and social prestige, etc.

The established situation can be characterized as a free expression of many group and personal interests without common agreement and without striving to a common vision of perspective for the country. It is a dangerous situation, as when the conflict legitimization is partial and there is a lack of a common idea, the situation is settled by those actors, who are not responsible either before the whole society, or those subjects, who have been deprived from the right to take part in the public discourse.

This situation is explained by the fact that the “collective equality” and principle of priority of the public, typical to the Soviet society, during decades had shaped up a “state citizen,” rejecting the culture of competition and now having difficulties in adaptation to the requirements of the culture of the competitive individual. Naturally, he/she even does not want to understand those models of behavior, requiring enterprise, autonomy, creative approach, i.e. the models that can be successfully realized, being engaged in the structures of the civil society. If we wish to build a democratic state, then positive shifts are possible in case if there is a subject, taking on responsibility, a subject, who:

-has a creative thinking;

-has ability to transform the socially negative conflict into a positive one;

-rejects the myth that society is fraught with conflicts;

-preserves good manners in the conflict situation (the canons of the well-mannered behavior). [See: In the Context of the Conflictology: the Problems of Communication and Managerial Consulting, Moscow, 1999, p.58. (In Russian.)]

Let us consider to what extent our civil society is ready, as a human and organizing resource, to take part in the process of the conflict legitimization. Do its actors meet the algorithm of the social activity, i.e. are they capable to apprehend the degree of dissatisfaction of the society and present proposals that would help determining the core of the problem, to propose alternative ways for its solution, define the goals and interest, choose optimal solutions, plan actions, determine supporters and the factors, promoting realization of the activity?

To answer this question, it is necessary to discuss the processes of formation of the civil society in Armenia. The first pro-governmental non-formal associations, shaped up at the pre-Perestroyka stage and in the period of Perestroyka, gave almost nothing to the social capital, and having lost the governmental support, most of them disappeared. In the post-Perestroyka period absolutely new type of organizations started to emerge, gradually integrating into international structures and establishing partner relations with them. These processes began in Armenia earlier than in other CIS states and even in many East-European states. They were imposed by the necessity of solving those problems, emerged during the struggle for independence as a result of the earthquake and the huge inflows of refugees, which led to emergence of many humanitarian organizations.  In Armenia in 1990s several strategies were aimed at development of the public organizations, and they all were carried out only by foreign organizations.

As a result, nearly 4000 public organizations have been registered in Armenia so far.

The next important component of the civil society – trade unions, which failed to continue their existence in the new reality and dissolved themselves after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Some of old trade unions and a number of new ones had been registered up to the year of 2001 as public organizations, and then after adoption of the Law “On Trade Unions,” got the opportunity to lead independent activity. However, they have been unable so far to realize their historical mission, failing to carry out functions and meet requirements of the new reality. Despite the membership in various international organizations, Armenia still lacks a trade union system, and even more it is not desirable for both – the state and private employers. Meanwhile thousands of people, working for 10-12 hours a day, deprived from their rights, working without contracts, day-offs, vacations, and sometimes in the absence of elementary working conditions, keep silence.

As for the other actors of the civil society – the groups of the community activists, their existence and activity in Armenia are situational, as far as they are created and activated by the local self-government bodies to provide candidates with personal support during elections.

Some phenomena, which have emerged in the process of formation of the horizontal system in the post-administrative-command type societies, are explained by a group of authors by the need of these countries for some time for liberation from the ideology of the past and formation of the market relations in order to perceive the civic value of horizontal ties and their financing. [See: Sandor D. Romanian Non-governmental Sector in Regulating Civil Society. Report on the International Conference For Central and Eastern Europe on Legal and Regulatory Environment for Non-Governmental Organizations. Sinaia. Romania. International Center for Not-for-Profit Law. May 11-15, 1994, p.101.]  The others characterize the process of formation and functioning of the civil society structures in the transforming societies as “simple adoptions of the Western structures in the absence of the local finance sponsors.” [See: Samson S. The Social Life of Projects: Importing Civil Society to Albania. Hann and Hann, 1996, Chapter 6, p.126.] Obviously the steps aimed at institutionalization of the civil society would have been more productive, had the authorities promoted necessary conditions for functioning and financing the horizontal structures with their appropriate activity. Such a “revolution” from above might have contributed to the change of the tax system, stimulated the readiness of the rich to provide free support to the unprotected sections of the population, as well as formation of such a phenomenon as philanthropy.

Due to the shortage of interest within the post-Soviet structures in creating horizontal ties, the chaotic introduction of some models from abroad became an ungrounded tactical step, which, according to Thomas Carothers, “retarded the process of real political reforms, evidently prolonging the agony of the previous economical and political system.” [Carothers Th. Assessing Democracy Assistance: The Case of Romania. Washington D.C., Carnegie Endowment, 1996, pp.92-94.]  Even more, the attempt to disseminate the unknown model has not been fully successful, meanwhile the striving to pull out the forces, inherited from the previous system as soon as possible, caused enmity between the elements of the civil society and authorities, which grew up to dangerous scales, impeding the process of overcoming the “provincial way of thinking.”  [See: Buchowski M. The Shifting Meanings of Civil and Civic Society in Poland. Warsaw, 1996, p.54.]

As far as the NGO sector can be considered as well-established and may be fully engaged into the process of the conflict legitimization only if it is recognized and accepted by the officials and by population, then it is also necessary to discuss the issue of its authority among the population. According to the sociological survey that was conducted in 1997 on the whole territory of the Republic of Armenia, only 3% of the population trusted public organizations. [Mkrtchyan A. Only 3% of the Population are Aware of the NGO Activity, 1998, N°4, p.8 (In Armenian.)]  In 2001 the trust to non-governmental organizations was also quite low, but 43% of the respondents considered their role in Armenia as important and necessary. [See: Carson T. Awareness and Participation of Citizens in Armenia: National Sociological Survey – 2001, Yerevan, 2001, p.22. (In Armenian.)] At the same time even those who highly evaluated the role of the NGO structures, had quite a vague idea on this institute, the possibilities of its activity within the democratic system.

The world experience shows that getting a high rating is mainly possible for public organizations in the following cases.

First, they act as a force, providing population with participation in laying the new way to consolidation of the society.

Second, public organizations have a high rating among the population only when setting up and solving the  tasks of cooperation among various sections of population and various sectors of society and consolidation of the population.

Third, the rating of public organizations is also high in those states, where they implement development programs, solve serious problems of the population in cooperation with authorities, at the same time keeping their own independence.

So all that has been mentioned above allows to conclude that the more developed is the state and the higher is its rule of law, the greater is the role of public organizations. They become a force in those countries, where they are set in motion by the middle class.

Summing up, we would like to note that public organizations are actually an additional non-state mechanism of resolution of personal and group problems, the functional loading of which is derivative from their own organization and the degree of consolidation. From the view of our task of understanding the necessity of eth conflict legitimization in Armenia and finding out the readiness of the civil society structures to initiate this mission, it is possible to state that in the Republic of Armenia:

a) the necessity of the conflict legitimization is obvious, as the conflict shows up among the vertical structures, as well as among the vertical and horizontal structures, and among the social groups, as well as between the population and governmental structures;

b) none of the sectors has not yet formulated the conflict legitimization as a task, as far as due to the weak institutional possibilities and indefiniteness in self-determination and determination of the frames of responsibility of each sector, the mentioned task, as a collective and individual need, has not been perceived by any of them yet.

However, based on the level of adoption of the imported values and skills of work, public organizations of Armenia are more than other structures able to become catalysts of changes in the society. Their relative independence and flexibility in the activity will enable them to take the burden of legitimization of the conflicts in all spheres of society. This is possible by means of demanding the open discussion of each case of the conflict meaningful for population, joint search for solutions by the parties and monitoring of implementation. So the population will be institutionally protected from the arbitrariness of the authorities and economic executives.

February 28, 2008