Skip to content

Sustaining Civic Activism under Shrinking Spaces

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

Governments exploiting the cover of stricter anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism legislations stigmatize civil society organizations (CSOs) receiving funding from legitimate sources abroad. Political campaigns organized not only by radical, but often mainstream parties intimidate civic activists raising their voices for the rights of vulnerable groups, ethnic minorities, and the LGBTQ+ community. And politically biased redistribution of state funding threatens the independence of CSOs already suffering under the economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, including the decrease in private charity. Shrinking spaces have many faces, but ultimately one outcome: a weakened civic sphere hampered in fulfilling their mission to watch out for democracy.

Civic activists continuously invent new tools and approaches to respond and adapt to the challenges posed by increasingly suppressive political environments even in NATO and EU Member States and the sharing of best practices is a crucial way to make civic spheres more resilient. However, increasingly suppressive environments also inevitably infringe on civic activism, pushing democracies toward authoritarian development paths.

Drawing on the experience of Central and Eastern European civic activists, the panel discusses the sustainability and future perspectives of civil society in autocratizing and unstable democratic environments, formulating clear recommendations to European, Transatlantic and global partners how to respond to shrinking spaces – both domestically and at the international stage.

This interactive event will be streamed online and open to the public.

  • Panelists
  • Adam Bodnár – Dean, University of Social Sciences and Humanities (SWPS)
  • Louisa Slavkova – Executive Director, Sofia Platform
  • Márta Pardavi – Co-Chair, Hungarian Helsinki Committee
  • Melissa Hooper – Senior Advisor, USAID
  • Daniel Hegedus – Senior Fellow, German Marshall Fund


For more information: