When government fails us: Trust in post-socialist civil organizations

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The research for this article was motivated by a noticeable discrepancy between levels of participation and trust in post-socialist civil organizations. While civic participation in Central and Eastern Europe is almost nonexistent, levels of trust in post-socialist civil organizations compare favourably to those in Western Europe. The first aim of this article is to understand why citizens place relatively high trust in post-socialist civil organizations. The political context, within which civil organizations operate, reveals one explanation for the high levels of trust in civil organizations: government corruption dissuades citizens from relying on state institutions and creates a void that is filled by informal networks of association and civil organizations. Empirical evidence demonstrates that trust in civil organizations focused on socioeconomic and political development is higher among citizens who express concern about corruption in their country. The second aim of this article is to understand the discrepancy between levels of trust and civic participation. A novel interpretation of past findings suggests that civil organizations' effectiveness, professionalization, transactional capacity and orientation toward service provision may garner citizens' trust while parallel neglect of grassroots mobilization leaves civil organizations short of capitalizing on that trust. Civil organizations' limited focus on interest aggregation, mobilization and representation raises doubts as to whether observers of civil society in the region should look to these organizations as its core component.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)160-183
Number of pages24
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jan 2011


  • Civil society
  • Nongovernmental organizations
  • Organizational membership
  • Post-socialist europe
  • Trust


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