Svetlana Makovetskaya, Director at the GRANI Centre of Civic Analysis and Independent Research (Perm, Russia), shared with the Working Group “Social Issues and Civic Participation” results of researches by the NGO on how to achieve social justice. Please note that the contents of this opinion are sole responsibility of the author and don’t necessarily reflect the views of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum as a whole:

The current situation in Russia and other European countries, including the EU member states, proves the need to identify and publicly discuss the status and prospects for the establishment of institutions, which will enable to manage conflicts on the local level and help resolve these conflicts, as well as the need of active dissemination and implementation of best practices.

Conflicts and disagreements are integral parts of a dynamic organisation, community, and society as a whole. They make it possible to overcome the status quo and move forward. Any attempts to resolve conflicts and disagreements before they happen might be counterproductive. However, in recent years, the conflicts have increased in complexity, expanded, and radicalised. This process affected towns and villages, local communities, information and public space, social institutions as well as urban and city planning policies. It proves the need for the authorities, local governments, community organisations, and residents of the communities to maintain the variety of practices and institutions (as well as create the new ones) – the rules and organisations, which can and should be used in the management and resolution of conflicts in a productive way.

The attention of public and professional community shall be focused on institutions, which accompany the resolution of the latest public conflicts, especially on the local level. These include multi-ethnic, socio-cultural, and urban conflicts, disputes in the production and provision of public, municipal and social services as well as conflicts between institutions, public authorities, citizens’ groups, and individual citizens, local government administrative disputes between them, etc.

In assessing the state of conflict management institutions, we need to be aware that the largest contribution to the overall framework of local sources of conflict can be made to the side of very “technical” processes. Thus, since 2009 in Perm, especially in recent years, urban conflicts in urban planning practices and urban development strategies have increased. At the same time, the public and decision-makers must acknowledge that the efficiency of mechanisms of harmonisation of interests and conflict management in this area is extremely limited.

Multi-ethnic and cultural conflicts increasingly fall into the scope of public attention, especially in a modern city. Everywhere urbanisation and migration processes are accompanied by the growth of deviant behaviour and conflicts within communities. New people in the community, including those of other nationalities, cultures, and religions, often reject values established in a city and local community in an open way. Furthermore, according to some studies, the duration of residence in a city does not make in some cases radicals tolerant with respect to other behavioural norms. Institutional conflicts on how to define the “performance framework” of regulatory models and codes of behaviour increase. The latter occurs at the interface between the processes of traditionalisation of modern standards and de-centralisation of values and behavioural norms of urban migrants, which occur simultaneously. The need to resolve such conflicts exists in most modern countries, including Russia. Therefore, it is important to determine, theoretically as well as virtually, how the resolution of institutional conflicts in urban multi-ethnic and culturally diverse environment occurs (or should occur).

Changes in the social field have repeatedly fallen into the centre of public attention and public debate. There is a growing need for finding adequate mechanisms of conflict management in the process of production and distribution of social services (social welfare) and approaches to address the problem of conflict generating inequalities on the local level. The very scope of the social benefits or education should supposedly compensate the shortcomings associated with inequality and poverty of some representatives of local communities. In this respect, there is nothing to argue about. However, in practice the conflicts are more diverse. One thing is the dispute about the alleged arbitrariness of the officials, and another thing is, for instance, argument about the formats of provision of preschool education. Very often, especially on the local level, it appears absolutely clear that further progress without the acceptation of existing differences and recognition of existing inequalities is impossible. Binding decisions can be achieved only by negotiations rather than through regulations or hierarchical order.

Regarding this problem, the key issues are the availability and capacity of necessary and useful rules, services, disinterested negotiators as well as platforms and procedures for dealing with disputes. The latter is, on the one hand, necessary and useful for generating mutually acceptable agreement between parties to a conflict. On the other hand, the availability of these conditions can prevent severe consequences of psychological trauma as well as radicalisation of the conflict and its transformation into an irreconcilable opposition; furthermore, they can ensure the viability of the decision that was taken.