Civil society can be understood as the "third sector" of society, distinct from government and business, and including the family and the private sphere. By other authors, civil society is used in the sense of 1) the aggregate of non-governmental organizations and institutions that advance the interests and will of citizens or 2) individuals and organizations in a society which are independent of the government.
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Sometimes the term civil society is used in the more general sense of "the elements such as freedom of speech, an independent judiciary, etc, that make up a democratic society" (Collins English Dictionary). Especially in the discussions among thinkers of Eastern and Central Europe, civil society is seen also as a normative concept of civic values.