Russian Guests

Russians2Les and me enjoying a lively conversation with our guests

In the early 19th century French intellectual and early social scientist, Alexis de Tocqueville, travel around the United States studying the U.S.’s maturing democratic order and in 1835 he published Democracy in America, which details his observations. While the book deals extensively with the application of liberty and equality, Tocqueville’s most prescient reflections surround the existence and role of civil society in the United States. It is surprisingly difficult to find a concise and consistent definition for civil society, but for the purposes of this informal forum, let’s define CS as the whole of organizations and institutions which represent the desires, concerns, and interests of citizens and whose operations are independent of government. This realm of collective action is voluntary and persuasive (Galston, 2000). Included in civil society are churches, charities, community and civic groups, academia, policy institutes, non-profit organizations, etc.

Why am I talking about this…? Back in May, Les Marsden, President of the Arts Council’s Board, and I had the opportunity to meet with a group of young Russian delegates who were here in the United States (more specifically, Mariposa) to learn about the relationship between local government and non profit organizations.  We talked a great deal about the growth of civil society in Russia and how in both Russia and the United States civil society plays a very vital role representing and tending to the interests of both countries’ citizens. I was struck by the parallels, and it drove home to me how all over the world people naturally come together in support of the things they feel are important.  And it was very easy for my new Russian friends to see just how vibrant, dynamic and important civic groups, nonprofits, and churches are in Mariposa. A quick search revealed that Mariposa has over 150 registered public charities, private foundations, churches, and non profits all working to serve our local community  — that’s quite impressive for a county with a population of less than 20,000!

What in the 19th century Tocqueville recognized as distinctly American has become global. And as civil society grows and flourishes around the world, the varied interests and desires of people everywhere begin to be represented on the political stage, be it at the local, state, federal, or international level. How cool to be a part of this in some small way.

A big thank you to our wonderful Russian guests, Anna Malysheva, Ivan Krisanov, Danila Bedyaev, Andrey Vasenev, and Svetlana Devyanina, for sharing their brilliant insights and time with us. It was a honor to meet with you!

Anna Malysheva, Ivan Krisanov, Danila Bedyaev, Andrey Vasenev, and Svetlana Devyanina’s visit was facilitated by the Open World Leadership Center and sponsored by the Mariposa Rotary Club.


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