In 2017, the negative trends of the last several years in the Eurasia region continued to intensify, making democracy support work increasingly difficult and dangerous; from the closure of political space to the aggressive spread of authoritarian and illiberal messages, the necessity of the work conducted by NED grantees is more vital than ever.
Many countries continued to experience serious economic problems, stemming partly from the low price of oil and partly from the ripple effects of Russia’s economic downturn. As the recession in Russia led to budget cuts and social discontent at home, the downturn also had regional implications. Almost everywhere in Eurasia, there was a pessimistic atmosphere, continued repression of civil society, and the possibility of civil unrest, or armed conflict. The Kyrgyz Republic’s democratic gains since 2010 were partly reversed; in Tajikistan, the government banned the only moderate Islamic political party in the post-Soviet space and labeled it an extremist terrorist organization, while simultaneously increasing pressure on civil society and independent media. Even in the Caucasus, Russian disinformation won support among some segments of the population, while recruitment for ISIS grew among others. In this environment, the work of civil society was more critical than ever as a bulwark against repression, radicalization, and instability.
The Endowment prioritized countries in Eurasia that faced the greatest democratic deficits and where NED was positioned to have the greatest impact. Building upon its strategy from previous years, NED continued to concentrate on key countries within each sub-region that faced significant and systemic challenges to democratization – Russia, Georgia in the South Caucasus, and the Kyrgyz Republic in Central Asia. Elsewhere, NED continued to support activists and organizations facing significant pressure and persecution, including in Russia, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. Finally, NED targeted resources in countries where new developments presented opportunities for democratic gains, such as Armenia and Uzbekistan.
While the environment for civil society remains very difficult throughout Eurasia, the Endowment’s priority is to sustain and support our partners through this critical period, allowing them to plan and prepare to take greatest advantage of any future openings.
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