Good Civilian - Bad Civilian, Narratives Around Civility, What is a Civilian, Why Does a Civilian Engage/Not Engage in Politics (Civil Identity in an Authoritarian Environment) - How the Narrative of Civility and Pseudo-Civility Can Influence the Representation of Our Issues, Alliances, and the Success of Our Programs

First, we must clarify that we will not determine for any given organization who is a civilian and who is a pseudo-civilian, who is a genuine, constructive civilian and who is a suspicious one serving someone else’s interests. Who serves the public interest, who serves a loud minority, and who is just looking out for their own interests. Who is a volunteer, who is doing it for a living, who is evading taxes, and so on. It is easy to label an organization, but such conclusions can only be drawn after thorough, detailed investigation, research, and a real understanding of their activities.

We write about the phenomenon – that the above-mentioned narratives framing civil organizations do exist to varying degrees, in various forms and aspects – because they influence the impact of civil organizations' work, their relationships with other members of society, and their communication from multiple angles.

In order for the results of civil organizations' work to be as beneficial as possible to society, it is crucial for civil organizations to be known and recognized, for their social base to grow, for their communication to improve, and for their connection with society to strengthen.

No matter how organizations develop their communication skills, it must be acknowledged that their opportunities are not solely determined by their abilities, messages, capacities, cleverness, etc., but also by numerous external factors influencing communication. A significant one of these is how society, public opinion, and its key elements perceive civil organizations.

We see that there are many different perspectives on them.

Here are a few examples of narratives we have encountered in recent years tied to political sides, which can often be contradictory:

- True civil organizations are those that complement state activities and do not engage in politics.

- True civil organizations are those that engage in advocacy, even against the state/government.

- Government-opposing organizations defending the interests of specific groups are traitorous NGOs serving foreign interests with foreign funding.

- Organizations that regularly receive state support or echo the opinions of the current government are not civilians but extended arms of the government, spreading its propaganda.

Other Narratives:

- Civilians do not understand what they are doing; they are amateurs, not professionals.

- Those who work in civil organizations do it as a hobby, which is not real work.

- Many civil organizations are more like businesses trying to evade taxes.

- Civil organizations consist only of volunteers. If they employ paid staff, they are not true civil organizations but companies or pseudo-civilians working under a false name.

- True civil organizations are charitable organizations.

- If there are any other existing narratives, we welcome them in the editorial office!

None of these statements are true, as generalizations cannot be made this way. Some claims are specifically driven by political disinformation, while most opinions belong to some experiential or opinion bubble. We do not want to argue with any other created narrative (you can check our materials here on how a civil organization can build its own narrative); instead, we aim to show what we consider a civil organization, i.e., based on what "definition" we conduct our work in developing the civil sector.

In our article What is a Civil Organization?, we detail what makes an organization civil (e.g., non-governmental, independent from state and business entities, not-for-profit, self-governed, engaging in public benefit activities, formed voluntarily, etc.) and what it means for an organization not to engage in political activities.

From the definition of civil organizations, it follows that influencing public life is a fundamental function of civil organizations. Many civil organizations engage in public policy activities, which should not be confused with direct political activities or party politics.

Although professional and legal definitions exist, thinking about civil organizations is much more influenced by the narratives appearing in the media and public discourse.

When communicating as a civil organization, it is essential to consider the presumed narrative of the chosen target group not only about our own organization but about civilians in general. It may happen that our narrative and our target group’s narrative are in complete harmony (hooray!), but it can also conflict (e.g., as an organization working with paid staff, we must address people who have only encountered community, volunteer activities, or as a civil organization critical of certain government activities/significantly supported by the government, we want to address people independently of party politics). In such cases, we must design our message and communication tools with an awareness of the narratives influencing our target group.

A scandal or attack (whether justified or not) affecting individual organizations strongly impacts the perception of other civil organizations since groups of organizations often appear generalized in public discourse and the media under the label "civilians."

In the following article, we present two initiatives that highlight civil organizations in general, increasing their visibility and recognition: The Role of Recognition in the Life of Civil Organizations: the Civil Award.