U.S. Ambassador H.E. Marie L. Yovanovitch made a brilliant speech on Civil Society in Armenia at Yerevan State University today in a crowded University hall which fitted with difficulty more than a hundred prominent Civil Society representatives and journalists.
There were many great points made in the speech, but there’s one that I’d like to quote to bring to your attention, partly, because I fully agree, and in part, because these are the words of warning from the U.S. Ambassador to Armenian authorities ahead of a key pro-opposition rally:
“I think you’d all agree that the first priority of any state is to provide for the security of its citizens. A democratic state must have an effective government, to create and enforce laws, to settle disputes, to keep the peace.
But what we have seen across time and continents is that when citizens do not believe that the government is representing their interests, there cannot be genuine security.
True security is not just the absence of violence, it is the presence of opportunity. Opportunity to have a good job, but also the opportunity to participate in the political process.
Just as an economy will not flourish if government officials hold a monopoly on ideas, resources and decision-making, a country will stagnate, if government wields all the power.
Government needs civil society as a skeptic, a partner, a challenger, a training ground, and a source of innovation. Government and civil society must work in tandem, like oars on a boat. If only one oar is rowing, the boat loses direction and goes nowhere.
Modern history abounds in extreme examples of imbalance between government and civil society, from the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century, where governments tried to dominate all of their societies’ activities, to failed states of the 21st century, where the absence of an effective government left competing groups to impose their aims through violence.
Today, however, the far more common problem is excessive government restriction on, and official or unofficial retaliation against, the legitimate activities of civil society.”