Despite the challenges of repression, Covid-19, and local wars, civil society is emerging as a stronger political actor throughout the Eurasia region. In addition to helping citizens cope with the pandemic, civil society is focusing on important transitions in Georgia and Armenia, political mobilizations in Russia and Kyrgyzstan, and new awakenings in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
In Russia, civil society has not only survived the crackdown, but emerged stronger, more unified, and more connected to the general population—in part, due to increased use of social media and grassroots organizing techniques. Throughout the region, new youth-driven and technology-enabled political movements are starting to affect their countries’ political agendas and to band together in a growing commitment to mutual solidarity. Democratic activists across Eurasia are increasingly working together to address common challenges and advance democratic values as the first post-Soviet generation comes of age. More than ever, they see their efforts against authoritarianism as a shared struggle.
The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) expanded its Eurasia regional programs in 2020 to facilitate collaboration and capacity building among civil society organizations on key issues—such as conducting and amplifying the reach of investigative journalism and using digital technology for human rights and civic activism. Russia remained the top priority: NED supported programs that channel grassroots civic energy into sustained, organized movements, as well as projects that protect activists from the repression they often face because of their work. Given the importance of independent information, NED focused on initiatives that promote a free and open Internet and the innovative use of technology for investigative journalism. NED also emphasized efforts to expose kleptocratic practices of the ruling class and to analyze the connections between corruption and human rights abuses.
Although Armenia and Georgia present opportunities for democratic transition, Covid-19, the war over Nagorno-Karabakh, and bitter political struggles in Georgia have overtaken the political agenda for much of 2020. Despite these adverse conditions, NED grantees achieved anti-corruption reform in Armenia and historic constitutional reform in Georgia, establishing a more fair and equitable electoral system. NED programs empowered citizens to participate in the political process and encouraged a culture of policy debate. Across Central Asia, NED prioritized support for independent media, free and fair elections, civil society oversight of government institutions, and the continued development of political pluralism.
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