About this event

A strong and vibrant civil society is an essential prerequisite for pluralist liberal democracy. Despite their central role in protecting, maintaining, and renewing democracy, civic activists face increasing legal, political, and economic burdens, globally and in Central Europe.

Using anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism campaigns as a pretext, governments stigmatize civil society organizations (CSOs) receiving funding from legitimate sources abroad. Political campaigns organized not only by radical but also often mainstream parties intimidate civic activists raising their voices for the rights of vulnerable groups, ethnic minorities, and the LGBTQ+ community. Politically biased redistribution of state funding threatens the independence of CSOs already suffering from the economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, including a decrease in private charity. Shrinking spaces are multifaceted but they ultimately have one outcome: a weakened civic sphere hampered in fulfilling its mission to protect and strengthen democracy.

Civic activists continuously invent new tools and approaches to respond and adapt to the challenges posed by increasingly shrinking spaces, even in NATO and EU countries. The sharing of best practices among them is a crucial way to make civic spheres more resilient. However, repressive governments also increasingly infringe on civic activism, pushing democracies down authoritarian development paths.

Drawing on the experience of Central and Eastern European civic activists, this panel will discuss the sustainability and future perspectives of civil society in autocratizing and unstable democratic environments, and formulate clear recommendations to European, transatlantic, and global partners for responding to shrinking spaces domestically and at the international level.