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Russian Civil Society
Journal Article

For those concerned with democratization in the communist world, the final years of the Soviet Union were a truly exhilarating time. At the end of the Gorbachev era, the Soviet Union experienced an explosion of grassroots nongovernmental activity. For the first time in nearly a century, civic groups, trade unions, political parties, and newspapers organized and operated independent of the state. 1 In the final year preceding the collapse of the USSR, these newly formed organizations also cooperated with each other, forming horizontal links in their shared quest to challenge the Soviet system. Most impressive were the miner's strikes in 1989 and again in 1991, as well as the mass demonstrations on Manezh Square in downtown Moscow that occurred repeatedly throughout fall 1990 and spring 1991. At times, hundreds of thousands filled the expansive square. Russian society was politicized, organized, and mobilized. The Soviet state had to respond. Occurring in the shadow of decades of totalitarian rule in the Soviet Union, this kind of social activity was remarkable. The proliferation of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and exponential rise in citizen participation in these groups fueled hope that a proto-civil society was taking root--one capable of strengthening Russia's young and tenuous democracy.

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