A description and the contents of civil societyAaro Harju
Finnish civil society consists of the following actors and operations:
- Civic activities
- Organizational activities
- Churches and religious organizations
- Trade union movement
- Political parties
- Small-scale cooperation
- Non-formal adult education
Civic activities can be described as activities which are directed outwards, in cooperation with other people, and aim at the public good (Harju 2003, 10–12). To count as a civic activity, the activity must have the following characteristics: Firstly, those involved are active citizens engaged in concrete actions, and secondly, the activity is directed outside the person’s familiar social network. The familiar social network is here considered to include the family and the work community of an individual. Activities within the familiar social network do not count as civic activities, even if they manifest the activeness of the person. These kinds of activities are meant to improve one’s own life, the conditions of one’s family or work community, and in this last case the person concerned also receives financial compensation for the activity. Through civic activities people seek to improve the conditions of the community, acting together with other people for the public good. The communal dimension is always present in the concept of civic activities.
In Finland the most central part of civic activities takes place in civic organizations. An association or an organization is defined as a group of people who have joined their forces to pursue a common goal, value or interest (Siisiäinen 1996a, 13).
In addition to the registered associations, there are plenty of active unregistered groups, clubs and societies, and other alliances of people. These are spontaneous alliances of citizens.
Religious organizations in Finland have special national characteristics. The state and the church are officially separate. However, the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Orthodox Church have their own law, the Church Code, and a legal right to collect parish taxes from the private members of the Church and community taxes from the private enterprises that are members of the Church. The Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Orthodox Church are called State churches in Finland. For this reason their extensive parish work is not included in Finnish civil society, even though many of the parish operations, for example voluntary welfare work, are exactly the kind of activities which would be typical of civil society. Other churches, such as the Pentecostal congregation, the Free Church, the Mormons, Jehovah ’s Witnesses, etc. are included in the sphere of civil society. Their activities are organized mainly as in associations. Similarly, civil society includes the operations of the various Christian organizations, such as children and youth organizations, missions, the sea farers ’mission, and the revivalist movements within the Church.
Trade union activities are not considered a part of civil society in every country. In Finland, too, the categorization is controversial, because the trade union movement has a central role in shaping Finnish legislation. The movement is also involved in the collective labour agreements and the incomes policy negotiations with the employers ’organizations and the government. These agreements regulate the wages, taxes and the social security. Thus the trade union movement has a unique position among the actors of the civil society. Despite this, the movement can be seen as a part of civil society, since it is constituted of the trade unions with their local divisions and members. Their organizational structure is similar to that of other Finnish associations. They, like other organizations, have members and voluntary activities.
Political parties are excluded from the definition of civil society in many countries. This would obviously be justifiable in the Finnish context as well, considering the special position political parties hold in the parliamentary system. The parties field candidates in elections and form the government, as well as appoint their representatives for positions of trust on the municipal and the national level. Parties do not, however, have a monopoly on putting up candidates. According to the Finnish legislation, all constituency associations set up by citizens can put up candidates in the municipal, parliamentary and presidential elections. People who are not members of any party can be, and are, nominated to positions of trust. Although the parties have registers on the national level, their local and provincial divisions have the same organizational structure as other associations. Their operations are also regulated by the Associations Act. On these grounds political parties can be included in civil society. They represent its political dimension.
In many countries co-operative systems and mutual corporations are included within the scope of civil society. In Finland the delineation is stricter. The operations of large-scale co-operative systems and mutual corporations are in practice identical to those of limited companies. They are commercial businesses, in which the traditional values of cooperation are not apparent, despite the customer ownership. Thus the scope of civil society includes only such small-scale co-operative systems which are not primarily profit-making enterprises and in whose activities the characteristics of civil society are visible.
Foundations are a natural part of civil society. The same is true of non-formal adult education which is a typical form of informal education and learning in Finland.
The ensemble of Finnish society can be divided into three main sectors: the public sector run by the State, the private sector consisting of private enterprises, and civil society.