An example of this is the development of the co-operative movement and social economy in Central Europe, which has a “long, rich and turbulent history. Especially all four Visegrad countries share similarities and common experiences and have recently walked similar paths of economic transformation”. As this project focuses mainly in this region of Europe – in connection with the experience of a wide pan-European and worldwide SSE movement – it is fundamental to examine its development in this specific context, where the culture of co-op-eration, equality and solidarity have been deeply challenged by history. “The memories about the co-operative system forced on people by the communist regime have resulted in the negative connotation that the word ‘co-operative’ bears nowadays. The negative undertone is connected to the whole co-operativism as a phenomenon despite the fact that around the World, and especially in Southern and Western Europe, co-operativism is a progressive, modern economic and social model that has gone through an organic and deep development process”. The advent of capitalist market economy in these countries has also marked a negative reaction against collective forms of management and ownership of enterprises, leading to their privatisation or “inclusion” in the market economy or confining them to social and professional reintegration.

Moreover, in Central and Eastern Europe, “70 per cent of third sector employment takes the form of direct volunteering. By contrast, employment in NPIs (Non-Profit Institutions) – both paid and volunteer – accounts for a much smaller 23.7 per cent.

This contrasts sharply with Northern Europe, where 73 per cent of the TS (Third sector) employment is in NPIs, much of it in paid positions, while employment in coops accounts for under 6 per cent and direct volunteering a relatively small 21.5 per cent”. New generations in the formerly Soviet-dominated territories are gradually changing this, shifting also the perception of both public support (both legal and financial, at State and European Union levels) and public opinion, looking with interest at examples from Southern Europe, where there is “an exceptionally high 14.5 per cent of TS employment in co-operatives, a similarly quite high 33 per cent in direct volunteering”.


The economy is a political construct, and is everyone’s business. Rather than the ‘invisible hand of the market’, we prefer to con-centrate on the democratic construction of a new social contract that takes the Commons into account, is based on Solidarity as the starting point and not as a process of redistribution, and aims at both individual and collective well-being. We want to move from an extractive and destructive economy to a resilient and regenerative economy, where nature and its limits are actually taken into account.”

And as Jean-Luis Laville (one of the key authors on SSE in the last 30 years) puts it, “the future is all about solidarity, but it can take two forms. The first is self-organized solidarity by the people concerned; it is based on mutual help, mutual aid, proximity and reciprocity. The latter is organised by the public authorities and is also necessary so that forms of equalisation and large-scale redistribution can ensure that equality between social groups and between territories is respected. The challenge for tomorrow is to combine the two forms of democratic solidarity, the one based on self-organisation and the one structured by public authorities. What we need is a new public action that emanates from the co-construction between associative initiatives and public authorities. This cooperation will not be obvious, it will even be conflictual in some respects, but it can put solidarity back at the centre of our social contract and thus make democ-racy more alive.”

This is why we need a deep cultural change, starting with the promotion of the culture of co-operation and collaboration from an early age (peer and co-operative learning in schools) to youth and professional education in the workplace and in our everyday lives. However as we are well aware, neither solidarity nor co-operation can or should be imposed, nor can they be state-led.Democratising the economy lies at the core of this transition: empowering ourselves by doing, not waiting for something to happen. Do it yourself, but not by yourself or for yourself. Working with others and deciding together through active participation. By doing this, we also create a deep change in the political culture, one that requires us to rethink the role of the State and public authorities, and the relationship with citizens, as “enablers” and “partners”.

Finally, the convivial dimension is a fundamental part of building the sense community, as Ivan Illych pointed out: “To formulate a theory about a future society both very modern and not domi-nated by industry, it will be necessary to recognize natural scales and limits. We must come to admit that only within limits can machines take the place of slaves; beyond these limits they lead to a new kind of serfdom. (...) Once these limits are recognized, it becomes possible to articulate the triadic relationship between persons, tools, and a new collectivity. Such a society, in which modern technologies serve politically interrelated individuals rather than managers, I will call ‘convivial’.” This is in clear oppo-sition to the imposed culture of “austerity” and market growth that has been imposed on European people in many countries over the last decade, especially in Central East-ern Europe, and that they have been led to consider as inevitable. This value and practice of conviviality lies at the core of the SSE.

In other words, an SSE culture fully recognizes the existing limits and turns them into a shared Commons: it takes effort to achieve it, but it can be fun.

Last modified: Wednesday, 28 April 2021, 11:56 AM