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Rising Hostility to Democracy Support: Can It Be Countered?

International democracy support organizations (DSOs) are operating in increasingly difficult country environments. For more than a decade, the world has witnessed a creeping phenomenon of closing civic space. This trend has tightened restrictions on civil society and made it harder for democratic activists to receive support from outside actors. In many countries, the situation has deteriorated beyond the problem of closing space to the point at which external democracy support faces a fully hostile environment.

If the autocratization trend noted around the world continues, the number of countries with fully hostile environments will increase, obstructing democracy support even further. This makes it vital to draw the right lessons from existing international democracy support in such countries.

DSOs have sought to adapt to the increasingly closed civic space around the world. They have looked for ways to channel their support to less directly political entities. Many have funded informal and cultural groups as well as spaces for dialogue, rather than projects focused on political action directly against regimes’ authoritarianism. DSOs have also helped keep activists out of harm’s way.

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