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Civil Society Faces an Uphill Struggle to Defend Democracy

October 31, 2022
Marianne Dahl, Sirianne Dahlum, et al


In analysis for Political Violence At A Glance, an IGCC-supported blog dedicated to political violence and its alternatives, Marianne Dahl, a senior researcher at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), Sirianne Dahlum, associate professor in Political Science at the University of Oslo, Hanne Fjelde, a professor in Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, and Ida Rudolfsen, a senior researcher at PRIO, analyze the targeting of civil society in authoritarian regimes.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize jointly to Belarusian human rights advocate Ales Bialiatski, the Ukrainian human rights organization Center for Civil Liberties, and the Russian human rights organization Memorial for their promotion of “the right to criticize power and protect the fundamental rights of citizens.”

This year’s prize constitutes an important and timely recognition of the critical work of civil society in introducing and defending human rights, civil liberties, and democracy in a time when these actors are faced with historically challenging circumstances. With the number of liberal democracies in the world declining and autocratization affecting even established democracies such as Poland, Hungary, and India, the repression of civil society has reached new levels. The deliberate targeting of civil society by regimes with authoritarian aspirations reflects the critical role that these voluntary organizations play in monitoring, constraining, and checking the abuse of power by state officials, and protecting democratic freedoms.

Non-violent mass mobilization has played a crucial role in bringing down some of the world’s most brutal regimes. The success stories range from the overthrow of Ceausescu in Romania in 1989 to the ousting of Milosevic in 2000 to the more recent removal of the al-Bashir regime in Sudan in 2019. When sticking to non-violent tactics, civil resistance movements not only bring down autocratic regimes, but also introduce democracy. Moreover, democracies installed through non-violent mass mobilization are more likely to be of higher quality and consolidate compared to others.

Yet, the effectiveness of civil resistance movements has deteriorated in recent years. A historical mapping of major protest movements indicates that their ability to remove incumbent leaders from power declined dramatically after 2010.

Read the full blog post at Political Violence At A Glance.