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Civil society in the West is in a crisis

Famous British historian, the academician of Royal Academy of Great Britain, professor of the London University Geoffrey Hosking is the recognized expert of the Russian history. Not incidentally he is honourable doctor of the Institute of Russian History of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Professor Hosking often acts in Russia with various lectures about our history, but this time considered necessary to tell about crisis of modern western society at a seminar of the Moscow school of civil education:
- Recently the respected political analyst Andrew Rawnsley wrote in the Observer newspaper that the British public lost trust to bankers, police officers, doctors, bishops, newspapers and mass media, the BBC, supermarkets, the national intelligence and first of all to politicians. In recent years the trust to the last one fell catastrophically. Now, when I left England, new hearings went that in 80 — the 90th years the circle of deputies of our parliament systematically corrupted children. Of course, it is huge scandal, but earlier hardly someone would believe in it and now the public is inclined to trust such hearings therefore the government is compelled to appoint official investigation.
It is a strong indication of crisis in our civil society. Let’s look what necessary living conditions of civil society exist and in what state they are now. The first basis is the law. The legal system gives us confidence that the conflicts can be resolved peacefully and it is necessary for society. The key role in providing a law and order is played by the state.
Is it necessary to trust the state? I think yes. But even in the most faultless democracy it is impossible to trust it for hundred percent. It is possible for ninety percent only. After all the government consists of normal people, they are inclined to mistakes and to striving for own benefit and to belittle others therefore some share of mistrust to it is necessary. Therefore the first pillar of a law and order in the constitutional state is the parliament which has to watch the government and warns society if the government works not in its interests. The second pillar is judicial system. The third is mass media.
One of bases of the constitutional state is the effective taxes. Civil society depends on the fiscal contract: all of us make a contribution to the state by the opportunities and we receive on the needs. There is such concept as a tax shelter which helps major companies to evade from taxes — the offshore. To my shame, many of them are in London or in residual colonies of the British Empire: on the Cayman Islands, on the Virgin Islands, etc.
In 2013 one of the main British banks Barclays got profit in 1,4 billion dollars in Luxembourg and paid taxes 20 million dollars there — less than 2%. Offshore firms allow not only to evade the taxes, but also to mask criminal operations, for example drug traffic or sale the terrorism weapon. And it is very difficult to get to know something about it.
If banks go bankrupt, the state will help them and they know it. And the account for rescue the state gives to us, taxpayers. For example, the government reduced social benefits and many families were compelled to be moved from the cities where there is a high rent. They move to the cities where there is less work and thus the unemployment grows.
Earlier there was an opportunity for such poor people to appeal to court if they considered that officials managed with them unfairly. It is too expensive for poor and the people of middle-income because lawyers are dear. But until recently the state provided them a benefit that the person in case of need could employ the lawyer. As a result of cut in public expenditure this grant is reduced too and criteria for its receiving are narrowed.
Now many whether don’t appeal to courts or do it independently and quite ineptly. Quality of justice worsens. It especially strikes on women who apply for the alimony, on those who suffers from discrimination at work, immigrants.
Recently many are revolted by a so-called tax on a bedroom — it is a new tax which families pay if local authorities consider that they have too much area, simply speaking, an excess bedroom. And this measure especially painfully strikes on disabled people to whom this bedroom is necessary for the person who looks after them. They should whether to move to cheaper areas or to look for means to pay this tax. You see that now this condition of an equality before the law is undermined by the government.
Fifty years ago two main parties of Great Britain had about 3 million members and now they have only 250 thousand members. The sum of membership dues decreased respectively and election campaigns demand huge expenses. Parties fill this gap, receiving money from very rich people. From 2001 to 2010 40% of the income of our parties proceeded from 60 individuals or firms which gave very large sums. And when these parties appear in power, they seek to grant desires of these individuals and the companies. The budget is reduced by social benefits, poor lose the necessary and principal bankers receive not only a generous salary, but also bonus for the modest progress and even failures.
Intermediaries between rich and politicians are the lobbist firms. They are irresponsible, uncontrollable neither to government, nor to public, they carry on the dialogues with ministers and influential employees strictly in a shadow and it is very difficult to get to know something about these contacts. Lobbyists don’t give direct bribes, but they secretly influence the decisions of ministers and parliament. When some offer for parliament prepares, these firms help public servants to collect information, to make recommendations. They extend the facts and ideas favourable to their clients in mass media, they finance groups of scientific advisers who write the reports favourable to clients and stir publications of the unprofitable facts. If it is necessary, they blacken opponents of the clients.
Influence of lobbyists is visible in many aspects of present policy where the government arrives not in interests of voters, but in interests of the companies from which they receive financing.
Last year the conservatives suited a solemn dinner for the people ready to make a contribution to party. Entrance tickets for this banquet cost from 400 to 1000 pounds. The list invited was confidential, but journalists managed to receive it and it appeared that there were 10 representatives of the oil and gas companies, 19 — from PR firms, 47 — from retail trade and realtors, 73 — from financiers and bankers.
Within the next year the guests of this banquet presented to conservatives 5 million pounds sterling. Labourists and liberals can’t compete with such generosity. Classical example of influence of lobbyists is the tobacco companies. In the 50th the medical research in Britain showed with high degree of probability that smoking is connected with lung cancer and scientists made recommendations to limit sale of cigarettes or their advertising, at least. The tobacco companies, naturally, fought against it through lobbist firms which challenged results of scientific researches, said that they certain don’t prove anything, claimed that buyers are adults and they need to give freedom. When they absolutely had no place to go, they recognized that smoking really causes a cancer in certain cases, but it is atypical.
This fight proceeded 50 years and it had a semi-happy end. In 1998 46 American states filed a lawsuit against reimbursement for treatment and care of lung cancer patients. All large tobacco companies were forced to pay off about 200 billion dollars — the highest penalty in financial history. And as a result of this victory tobacco is on sale now only in ordinary-looking packages on which it is written: «Smoking is extremely dangerous». Advertising of tobacco is forbidden in any kind: smoking in public places and in transport is forbidden so it is a victory.
What lessons can be learned from this story? It is possible to win against lobbyists, but it will be persistent and long fight and it is possible to conduct it only if you have sources of wealth and, whenever possible, support of the authorities and mass media. The victory won’t be without it. Civil society is not simply the aim, but it is a process and the fight for fair society never comes to an end.

Viewed : 2369   Commented: 1

Author: Vladimir Kuzmenkin

Publication date : 10 January 2015 22:25

Source: The world and we

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