But when is disobedience legitimate? How can the conflict between the civil and the state be analyzed? writes Vsevolod Lukashenok. Photo: Takner, Flickr


Can civil society reclaim space?

Civil society operates in an increasingly shrinking space, state reports from CIVICUS, Forum Syd and Concord. In Russia, Turkey, Israel, Uganda and China, among others, freedom of expression, assembly and organization has been restricted. In order to conduct business in cases where the state monopoly on violence also becomes a monopoly of opinion, activists are forced to use civil disobedience - to break laws and formal decisions without violence in order to bring about social change. In many cases, a state has such restrictive laws that the mere existence of some people is a case of civil disobedience - like the situation of LGBTQ + people in Russia or Kurds in Turkey.

In countries like Sweden, which are usually spared from this, civil disobedience occurs as a form of commitment, activism and organization. Greta Thunberg's call for a Friday strike for a more progressive environmental policy is already a modern classic in civil disobedience. The success of the climate strike shows how effective the method can be. It clarifies how sensitive the boundaries set by the state and its laws are.

But when is disobedience legitimate? How can the conflict between the civil and the state be analyzed? It is between accepting a state's image of reality or supporting movements created out of the will to have control over their lives and their surroundings.

Civil society should always strive to question and nuance the way in which formal power, the state and politics formulate reality. Civil disobedience does just that, by challenging the boundaries of what, according to one state, is possible to do. It raises the issue of legitimacy and the right to legal and physical space. The occupation of the physical space by the state power elite is more noticeable when the formal power hardens and the limitations of the laws are tightened.

To distance oneself from all forms of civil disobedience would be to legitimize boundaries that have been set by someone other than civil society and also someone other than the country's population. Positions against civil disobedience are therefore a matter of power. Swedish organizations must not take on the power to decide what is justified to work towards. They must continue to safeguard the ability of civil society to self-determine. When civil disobedience is a matter of life and death, the situation should also be analyzed on that basis. The neoliberal way of driving change - through consumption and economic power - should be challenged. Civil disobedience must be seen as an alternative to that.

This is a chronicle. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

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