Non-governmental organizations in the grip of the economy and state pressure

Last week, the lawsuits for the closure of the We Will Stop Femicide platform, which fights in the field of violence against women, and the Tarlabaşı community center, which carries out activities for disadvantaged groups in Istanbul Tarlabaşı, brought the situation of civil society in Turkey to the agenda. The exposure of civil society organizations to such pressures are concrete situations that show that alternative demands, pluralism and democracy in general are under threat. To consider these cases as isolated cases would be to ignore the structural dynamics that threaten democracy and civil rights. Therefore, to understand the conditions of civil society, it is necessary to properly analyze the political and economic framework.

The relationship between the state and civil society has always been one of the main topics of discussion in political science. The democratic conditions, the structure of the public sphere and the opportunities that this structure offers for the representation of interests, negotiation and coexistence are indicators of the opening of space by the state approach of civil society. On the other hand, the structure of social movements, less structural, flexible formations and sometimes brutal explosions as opposed to corporatist and organized models, the material resources of civil society and the link it forges with the base or the elites also show how and to what extent society is mobilized. At the point where we are today, one of the two main factors determining the relationship between the state and civil society is neoliberalism and the other is the growing authoritarianism in the political arena. For civil society, which is increasingly commodified and exposed to market dynamics, and which the state chooses to repress through pressure instead of negotiation, it is increasingly difficult to speak of a process that represents the interests of civilian populations, expresses their demands, and is the result of upward social mobility.


Neoliberal principles, which have pioneered political and economic transformation since the 1970s, have manifested themselves in the form of market deregulation, privatization and the regression of social policies. As states became members of the global market, international organizations, regional integration and signed international agreements, they shared their sovereignty with different components. As popular sovereignty has been replaced by global governance, states have also abdicated their policy-making responsibilities, such as upholding the social contract, promoting the public interest, and realizing social rights. within the framework of citizenship.

The loss of the capacity of the neoliberal state to develop policies in different areas, both in terms of resources and capacity, causes the vacuum to be filled by other actors. The state, which lacks the capacity to formulate and implement policies with its own capacities in the areas of education, health, social policy and many other areas, receives support market players through public-private partnerships and non-governmental organizations with project-based projects. studies. According to the neoliberal perspective, this individualization of politics and the generation of ad hoc solutions to social problems with special projects instead of structural reforms prevent clumsiness and waste of resources in central government decision-making processes and in practice. However, viewed critically, these projects are often inefficient, inconsistent and reach a limited number of beneficiaries in terms of human resources, funds transferred, target audience and associated practices. When the fundamental rights that the state should ensure are respected by civil society, private donors, international organizations and the conditions they put forward come into play.


At the point where we are today, civil society has become an economic sector organized around projects. International organizations open funds for certain thematic areas and groups for use by non-governmental organizations through appeals. Groups with the right organizational infrastructure, experience and expertise often carry out small-scale research, training, empowerment and organizing at the local level using these funds. However, the use of funds is also distributed according to a certain hierarchy; The biggest imbalance here is that the share of experts who make the funds operational is greater than that of the beneficiaries in the field that is the subject of the fund. Therefore, while aiming for agricultural development, women’s empowerment and refugee education, what is really happening is the self-reliance of civil society. The process of turning funds into projects requires some technical skill and infrastructural knowledge. Although those who hold these jobs are often described as project developers or civil society supporters, those who hold these jobs have no job definition and their employment conditions are flexible, irregular and sometimes precarious. according to neoliberal principles. Many university students who want to gain work-oriented experience are employed in this field as volunteers or interns, right from their college years. Although this sounds like an investment in human capital for the future, it is actually the starting point for precarious employment. Thus, civil society, simultaneously a pool of employment, producer of services and market, becomes a social space where neoliberal principles are impregnated.


Beyond the neoliberal transformations described so far, the transformation of the state has also created another problem for civil society. In the neoliberal order, as the state lost its raison d’être in the economic domain, it created a new one by emphasizing security concerns, social conflicts and by using the monopoly of power in the political arena. In this equation, civil society was defined as legitimate as long as it was with the state, and as a threat as long as it was against it. The organizing state, defined by the civil and autonomous struggle and the claim of rights, mobilized to express the demands of the masses, inhabitants and disadvantaged groups against the state, has evolved from a legitimate component of the process of negotiation democracy to an enemy who threatens social order and consent obtained through oppression. In addition, the tendency of authoritarian politics to use non-governmental organizations as a propaganda tool, the pressures on civil rights and the failure of democracy have also made non-governmental organizations targets. While authoritarian regimes create space for non-governmental organizations close to them to grow and benefit from international funds, they also suppress and, if possible, eliminate those who do not conform to their worldview, highlight their own political shortcomings and make the administration look bad. For this, they use the legal and institutional arrangements in their hands in accordance with their own ideological frameworks.

The coexistence of neoliberal principles with an authoritarian regime creates a paradox both for the state and for civil society. The state not only needs neoliberal actors, their funds, studies and experts for policy-making and solving social problems, but it also intervenes with authority to protect its own position and reason. to be. Civil society, on the other hand, tries to create a space where it can connect with the masses and fulfill its social function, independently of both the conditions imposed by the neoliberal framework and the authoritarian pressure of the state. This struggle for power, resources and authority increasingly distances the question from the social.

As a result, commodification on the one hand, and authoritarianism on the other, have instrumentalized the link that civil society has established with civil society, both economically and politically. While non-governmental organizations fight for the rights of their beneficiaries, they also struggle against economic hardship and political pressure. It is becoming increasingly difficult to articulate fundamental rights demands, to propose policy options to solve problems and to negotiate changing social conditions and new dynamics with institutions. All kinds of collective action, cooperation and solidarity create a desire for control and a perception of threat in the state. However, the mobilization of human resources and innovative activities from the grassroots create opportunities for the state to face social change and adapt to new dynamics.

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