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12/04/2020 09:20

Civil Society Resists Pressure Even in Repressive Regimes

Matthias Fejes Pressestelle und Crossmedia-Redaktion
Technische Universität Chemnitz

    Chemnitz protest researcher Dr. Piotr Kocyba is editor of a special issue with international research contributions on shrinking spaces for civil society - published by De Gruyter

    It is a worrying trend: authoritarian and illiberal regimes are putting increasing pressure on civil societies. In particular, activists that advocate a liberal and open society are being targeted. "Without doubt, a global trend can be observed, according to which the scope for civil society engagement is melting," emphasizes Dr. Piotr Kocyba, research associate at the Professorship for Central and Eastern European Studies (Prof. Dr. Stefan Garsztecki) at Chemnitz University of Technology. Examples of this are the poison attack on the Russian opposition leader Alexei Nawalny, the stigmatization of civil society organizations in Hungary or state-controlled smear campaigns against sexual minorities such as in Poland. Kocyba is well placed to assess these developments, because together with his colleague Dr. Aleksandra Lewicki, Associate Professor at the University of Sussex (UK), he has published the current special issue “Soziale Bewegungen” (social movements) called “Shrinking Spaces für die Zivilgesellschaft. Aktivismus unter illiberalen Vorzeichen" (“Shrinking Spaces for Civil Society. Activism in Illiberal Times”), which is published by De Gruyter. It brings together contributions from international experts who conduct research on civil society mobilization, social movements, and illiberal regimes. In addition to the editorial, Kocyba himself contributed a research article to this issue entitled "Lethargy, Civil Society in Turmoil and Shrinking Spaces. Social Movement Studies in East Central Europe."

    Together with Dr. Dániel Mikecz he comes to the conclusion that Poland and Hungary, for example, are not only an exciting and unexplored subject for movement studies, but that meanwhile also colleagues need support and solidarity - namely, where civil societies are under pressure, critical academics are exposed to an increasingly hostile state as well.

    Alarming developments also in the so-called Western democracies – the case of Campact

    Kocyba and other contributors note, among other things, that even in established democracies the legal, social, or political framework conditions for civic engagement are not always ideal. According to an overview by Civicus, an international NGO for strengthening civil society and supporting civic engagement, only three percent of the world's population live in states where civil society can develop freely.

    The issue also shows that in Western countries there is often no active repression, but rather a neglection of civil society, which is not always intended. In consequence, the growing reform backlog has a negative impact on the freedom of civil society organizations. In the Federal Republic of Germany, the outdated tax ordinance and the resulting withdrawal of non-profit status for actors like Campact is an illustrative example of this development.

    No fundamental shrinkage of civil society despite repression

    A further insight from the contributions: Restricting the scope for civic engagement rarely causes civil society to shrink. Even where authoritarian rulers take tough action against independent civil society actors, resistance and the repertoire of civil society activities currently appears to be growing. This can be observed in Poland, Russia, and Turkey. Neither Nawalny and his team nor the Polish or Turkish women's movement have lost supporters or reduced their activities. On the contrary: "There is a laborious dispute about the right of civil society actors to organize themselves freely and unencumbered by state repression," says Kocyba.

    Background: Research on pressing social issues on an international scale

    After his participation in two large-scale international studies on the Fridays for Future movement, another of Kocyba's contribution is now available, which sheds light on relevant and urgent socio-political developments on an international scale. Kocyba's research is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) with about 350,000 Euros as part of the “Unrest in Polish Civil Society” project (11/2018-10/2021).

    Contact for scientific information:

    Dr. Piotr Kocyba, Phone +49 371 531-38521, E-mail

    Original publication:

    Piotr Kocyba and Dániel Mikecz: Lethargie, zivilgesellschaftlicher Aufruhr und Shrinking Spaces – Protest- und Bewegungsforschung in Ostmitteleuropa. in: Forschungsjournal Soziale Bewegungen. Volume 33: Issue 3.


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    Criteria of this press release:
    Journalists, all interested persons
    Cultural sciences, Politics, Social studies
    transregional, national
    Research results


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