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March 5, 2012

Good citizenship: Not a theoretical concept… simply a “good thing”

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Written by: pdcadmin

By Ruth Sutton

“1066 and All That,” a spoof history of England, gently assists its readers through the complexities of social change by inserting the regular insightful and analytical comment: “This was a good thing.”   Looking back on this period of instability in Greece and Europe in general, I can’t help wondering if, years on, we would be able to conclude that the current crisis could have been the impetus required for the emergence of a robust civil society and a solid foundation for a culture of good citizenship.   Could this period of austerity and uncertainty turn out to be “a good thing?”

Greece never had its 1960s.  Limping out of a civil war and famine into dictatorship, the messy, exciting and largely naïve experiments  with social change that were bobbing around elsewhere were a luxury ill-suited to Greece at the time.  If you are living hand-to-mouth, debating concepts is hardly a priority.

However, social change can only really happen from the ground up and it starts with a basic accessing of human solidarity, which is often brought to the surface in times of crisis.  The people of Turkey sent assistance to the people of Greece during the famine of the ‘50s, Greece sent aid to Turkey after the earthquakes in the 1990s…not only via governments, but also individually and in non-formal groups.

Who was a citizen of where wasn’t an issue.

Being a “citizen,” as opposed to a “subject” should bring notions of rights and liberties to the fore, but all too often, seems be hijacked as a tool to divide and place people in boxes.  To say you “belong” to a country implies that “other people do not,” and however haphazardly created, the units on which the world operates are those of the nation-state.  Even in a time of unprecedented globalization of corporations, communication and transnational organizations, the nation state is still the entity of global  interaction, within which we, as individuals and groups are not only forced to find our “identity/space,” but also apply this as the filter through which we are conditioned to regard the world.

The post-feudal definitions of being a citizen should appeal to some concept of equality and some idea of “this is where I have rights,” but it also promotes the sphere of the citizen as being defined by membership of an ethnic-linguistic group (and possibly religious)congruent to a particular territory demarcated as “ours.”

Immediately an idea of ‘belonging’ creates the specter of “who doesn’t ‘belong’ here.”.

I therefore think it is time for us to all reclaim the ideal of a “citizen” as being simply “doing a good thing” that is about community and responsibility, rather than an arbitrary way to organize peoples or defining individuals by which pieces of paper they hold.

It is out of solidarity in a time of strife, that a practical, day-to-day notion of “good citizenship” arises, without the need for academic definition, any theoretical grounding or a specifically set-out ideology and un-coupled from the divisive notion that behaving as a “citizen” is linked to belonging to one country.

Now is the time for Greece to embrace its 1960s spirit and I believe that this is exactly what is starting to happen:  people are coming together in small, non-formal groups to take up where the state has left off; to make the changes that they see are needed, to support the growing numbers of people slipping through the ever widening holes in the state’s safety nets.

People are starting to help each other out more. Groups of “freecycle/skills sharing/clothes swapping” are appearing and ordinary people are setting up soup kitchens or free schools or whatever.  Maybe it is because there is no other option but to cooperate and give to the community, but it also may be that this immediate need is what can change mentalities and culture for the better.

I’m reminded of a group of courageous women in Serbia during the wars of the 1990s.  While some anti-war organizations were arguing about their theoretical underpinnings, political leanings, alliances or platforms, this group of women, without any academic arguments or conceptual entanglements, simply acted directly against violence and injustice – in the first instance, literally putting themselves between their sons and the (then-) Yugoslav army.

This is the attitude that I think we all need now.  Not heroics, but simply a day-to-day vision of doing something useful, rather than waiting for the theory to catch up to the present situation and rather than our usual mode of sitting around, complaining about what is wrong and blaming everyone else.

Let’s not only write blogs, but also act. Not only discuss and debate, but also organize and mobilize.

It doesn’t mean starting a revolution, it simply means engaging in acts of good citizenship… helping others, encouraging others, empathizing and acting as a community.

Simply put, doing a “good thing.”






One Comment


  1. Mark Stritmater

    Really nice pattern and wonderful written content, practically nothing else we want :D.



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