Democracy Research News February 2021

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February 2021

news from the network of Democracy research institutes (NDRI)

Political Capital (Hungary) collaborated with another NDRI member, the Institute for Public Affairs (Slovakia), to track authoritarian influence among the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) elected in May 2019. The report, entitled “Authoritarian Shadows in the European Union,” written by Péter Krekó, Patrik Szicherle and Csaba Molnár, used qualitative and quantitative methods to build an accurate picture of the foreign policy-related work and views of incumbent MEPs from the Visegrad 4 (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia), Austria, Bulgaria, and Romania.




The International Forum for Democratic Studies (United States) released three new reports in the Sharp Power and Democratic Resilience series. The first, entitled “Deals in the Dark: Russian Corrosive Capital in Latin America” by Ruslan Stefanov and Martin Vladimirov, analyzes Russian strategic corruption efforts in two Latin American democracies—Argentina and Bolivia—that experience recurring governance challenges similar to other states in the region. The second report written by Nadège Rolland entitled “Commanding Ideas: Think Tanks as Platforms for Authoritarian Influence,” describes the ways in which authoritarian countries seek to use think tanks as instruments of sharp power, focusing specifically on why and how authoritarian powers target foreign private organizations dedicated to policy-related research. Finally, Sarah Cook describes the Chinese Communist Party’s sharp power efforts to shape media content around the world in “China’s Global Media Footprint: Democratic Responses to Expanding Authoritarian Influence.” The report also documents how nongovernmental actors contribute to a growing accumulation of activities aimed at countering Beijing’s media influence while protecting democratic institutions.

A new resource from the Center for International Private Enterprise (United States), by Kim Eric Bettcher, Anna Kompanek, Adam Sachs, and Louisa Tomar and entitled “How-To Guide for Economic Think Tanks: Lessons in Policy Influence and Organizational Vitality,” presents insights from the Center for International Private Enterprise and ten of its leading think tank partners from around the globe. The guide details best practices and offers guidance to new global think tanks by providing examples of organizations that distinguished themselves in challenging political and economic environments, and highlighting important lessons learned from these experiences.

The Journal of Democracy (United States) released the January 2021 issue that features several essays on mainstream political parties in crisis, as well as an article on the political situation in India and a piece reflecting on the Arab Spring.

The Center for International Media Assistance (United States) published a report by Craig Matasick entitled “The Wisdom of the Crowd: Promoting Media Development through Deliberative Initiatives,” which examines five case studies that shed light on how deliberative democracy practices can be employed in both media development and democracy assistance efforts, particularly in the Global South.

The National Endowment for Democracy, in collaboration with the Embassy of Canada to the United States, held the 2020 Seymour Martin Lipset Lecture on Democracy in the World, featuring Dr. Minxin Pei, who spoke of “Totalitarianism’s Long Dark Shadow Over China.” Watch the lecture and check out related materials from the International Forum.



The Centre for Democracy and Development (Nigeria) released several publications, including one entitled “Polls in Peril? West Africa 2020 Elections” by Idayat Hassan, Jessica Moody, Wendyam Hervé Lankoandé, George M. Bob-Milliar, and Halimatou Hima. The publication gives a regional overview of the state of democracy in West Africa and emphasizes the threat constitutional crises and military coups pose to regional stability. It also stresses the need for renewed regional resolve to uphold democratic values. In addition, Idayat Hassan and Jamie Hitchen published a report entitled “Forums of Debate? WhatsApp and The Gambia’s Political Transition” that examines how social media is shaping The Gambia’s post-Jammeh political transition, and assesses the role it might play in presidential elections scheduled for the second half of 2021.

The Centre for Development and Enterprise (South Africa) issued a new series entitled “COVID-19: Are We Asking the Right Questions About…” It considers how South Africa may tackle its most important constraints to growth, employment, and skills in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis.



The Centre for Strategic and International Studies (Indonesia) released commentary by Puspa Delima Amri and Rocky Intan entitled “Are Democracies Equipped to Handle Fast-Moving Economic Crises? Challenges and Opportunities for Indonesia during COVID-19.” The authors argue that while democratic institutions have characteristics that can both mitigate and worsen crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, democracies work better when there is a well-informed and open society.

Jinnah Institute (Pakistan) organized the Post-COVID Futures Roundtable series, which included events on “Upgrading Social Governance” and “Can Technology Build an Architecture for Democratic Governance?” The series discussed how the pandemic will affect governance, human rights, and economic security across the continent. In addition, the Jinnah Institute released a special report entitled “Asia and the World After COVID” with essays from Barnett Rubin, Rajmohan Gandhi, Peter Frankopan, and Parag Khanna.

INCITEGov (Philippines) published the first two reports in a three-part series on populism in the Philippines. The first report, entitled “Women Under Siege: Manifestations of Populism and its Impact on Gender Equality in the Philippines” by Teresita Quintos Deles, examines the impact of populism on gender equality, specifically under President Rodrigo Duterte. The second report, entitled “Populism and Philippine Civil Society: Views from Labor, Urban Poor, and Development NGOs” by Margarita Lopa Perez, analyzes the threat President Duterte poses to civil society. INCITEGov, with Eleanor R. Dionisio, also released accounts from 19 women whose spouses or other family members fell victim to Duterte’s extrajudicial drug wars, entitled “Women and the Duterte Anti-Drug Carnage: Grieving, Healing, Breaking Through.”

A discussion paper from the Centre for Policy Alternatives (Sri Lanka) on “The Right to Privacy in Sri Lanka” features analysis from Charya Samarakoon and Bhavani Fonseka, in which they argue the right to privacy is essential for individuals to lead their lives without public scrutiny. The authors write that there must be a justiciable right to privacy enshrined in the Constitution on Fundamental Rights and sufficient access to other legal remedies and frameworks.



The Belarusian Institute for Security Studies (Belarus) published an article entitled “50 Days of Protests” by Vadim Mojeiko that examines the strength of the demonstrations in Belarus sparked by the country’s flawed elections in August. The protests drew attention to Belarussian state-sponsored repression and reinvigorated citizen engagement at local levels across the country.

The Democratic Initiatives Foundation (Ukraine) conducted a nationwide opinion poll to study how Ukrainian citizens feel toward the media, assess the level of media literacy in the country, and determine Ukrainians’ susceptibility to malign propaganda. The report, written by Petro Burkovskiy and entitled “Popular Perception of the Russian Propaganda Messages and Social Factors That Shape It,” argues that there is a strong connection between respondents’ self-identification as native Russian speakers and their susceptibility to Russian propaganda messages.



The Prague Security Studies Institute (Czech Republic) introduced a new series entitled “PSSI Perspectives.” The first article in the series, written by Barbora Chrzová and Petr Čermák, and entitled “China, Pandemic, and the Western Balkans – Lessons for the EU?” reviews Chinese efforts to expand its influence and footprint in the Western Balkans. The second PSSI Perspective piece, written by Jonáš Syrovátka and Šimon Pinkas, and entitled “What Has the COVID-19 Infodemic Told Us About the Czech Disinformation Ecosystem?” describes various modus operandi of websites spreading disinformation in the Czech information space.

A report from Ivana Karásková at the Association for International Affairs (Czech Republic) entitled “China’s Propaganda and Disinformation Campaigns in Central Europe” analyzes how audiences in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia are increasingly direct targets of not only “mask diplomacy,” but more complex propaganda efforts designed to strain transatlantic relations, promote a positive image of China, and plainly attempt to rewrite narratives around sensitive issues.

The Varieties of Democracy Institute (V-Dem, Sweden) published a paper entitled “Worth the Sacrifice? Illiberal and Authoritarian Practices during COVID-19” by Seraphine F. Maerz, Anna Lührmann, Jean Lachapelle, and Amanda B. Edgell. The paper examines how the excessive use of emergency powers and limitations of media freedoms raise concerns that COVID-19 threatens democratic norms. The authors argued that violations of democratic standards during the COVID-19 pandemic need to be carefully observed because they could be signs of increased authoritarian influence.

Filip Jirouš from Sinopsis (Czech Republic) details Czech academic ties with high-risk PRC defense universities, in his report entitled “Nothing of Interest in a Small Country? Czech-Chinese Academic Exchange in the Age of Military-Civil Fusion.” He argues that this academic exchange highlights the risk of knowledge and technology transfer to the People’s Liberation Army.

The European Stability Initiative (Turkey) issued a report entitled “An Article 19 Mechanism – The Need for a Robust Defense of EU Rule of Law” that examines three major crises that the EU faces today: a public health crisis, an economic and social crisis, and a crisis of core values. The European Council began funding efforts to address the first two problems, which the ESI hopes will strengthen the values that connect Europeans, not undermine them.



The Sivis Institute (Brazil) published a report in Portuguese entitled “Valores em Crise (Values in Crisis)” by Christian Welzel and the World Values Survey Association, which assesses the impact of the COVID-19 on peoples’ values. The report will be comprised of three waves of data collection. The Sivis Institute also developed the Local Democracy Index project to measure the quality of democracy in Brazil’s cities and communities, which was featured in Teoria & Pesquisa (Theory & Research).

The Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America (CADAL, Argentina) published an article entitled “Democracy Day in the Time of the Pandemic” by Greg Ross which argues that the International Day of Democracy seemed to raise global awareness of democratic principles. This development was especially relevant as the COVID-19 pandemic underscores both the fragility of democratic institutions and their importance in addressing the economic, political, and public health crises facing the world. CADAL also published a report on “Cuba’s Voting Pattern During Its 12 Years at the UN Human Rights Council,” in which Brian Schapira and Roxana Perel describe that over the twelve years during which Cuba had a seat at the UN Human Rights Council, the regime was complicit in grave human rights violations perpetrated in other parts of the world and sided with autocratic governments.

A recent Spanish-language report from the Fundar Center of Analysis and Research (Mexico) entitled “Informe Saber Más: El Impacto de la Pandemia de COVID-19 Sobre el Derecho de Acceso a la Información” (Learn More Report: The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Right of Access to Information) argues the right of access to information is a key element to mitigate the harmful effects of the pandemic, and that it is essential to have reliable information flows and protection of personal information as part of the pandemic response.



The Lebanese Center for Policy Studies (Lebanon) published an article entitled “Lebanon Needs an Independent Cabinet with Legislative Authority” that examines the circumstances that led to the resignation of Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s cabinet. Ziad Abu-Rish, Sami Atallah, Mounir Mahmalat, and Wassim Maktabi argue that the national unity government favored by major political elites will be insufficient to pass reforms. They add that such reforms are badly needed in Lebanon, a country rocked by protests calling for a transition toward a more accountable, transparent, and responsive political and economic system.


Democracy Research News is the digital newsletter of the Network of Democracy Research Institutes (NDRI), a membership association of institutions that conduct and publish research on democracy and democratic development. To submit comments or to inquire about joining the Network, please write to Melissa Aten at

The views expressed in this newsletter represent the opinions and analysis of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for Democracy or its staff.


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