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The rise of illiberal civil society in the former Soviet Union?

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This publication examines the growing influence of illiberal, anti-Western and socially conservative civil society groups, popular movements and political forces in five post-Soviet states: Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and Moldova. It finds that illiberal social attitudes remain prevalent across the region, particularly in relation to LGBTI rights, and they are increasingly used as the focus of political and public mobilisation within these societies, particularly against EU-backed equalities legislation. While there have been attempts to create illiberal civil society groups that mirror liberal NGOs or think-tanks, they remain significantly less influential than the organisations linked to the dominant religions in these countries such as the Orthodox Church, or political factions with influence over state resources.

However, it is clear, particularly in Ukraine and Georgia, that there has been a significant rise in far-right and nationalist street movements, as well as among smaller but active homophobic gangs. These ‘uncivil rights movements’ still lack broad public support but their political energy and rate of growth are influencing the wider politics of the region. The publication examines the role of both Russia and US evangelicals in influencing the ‘traditional values’ agenda across the region, identifying cases where they are believed to directly support groups but arguing that, while important, the Russian dimension should not obscure the primary role of local religious organisations and local political forces in driving the illiberal agenda in these countries.

Authors contributing essays to this collection include: Mihaela Ajder; Eka Chitanava and Katie Sartania (Tolerance and Diversity Institute- Georgia); Nata Dzvelishvili (Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics); Adam Hug (Foreign Policy Centre); Volodymyr Ishchenko (Kiev Polytechnic Institute-Ukraine); Dr Eric Mcglinchey (George Mason University); Anna Pambukchyan (Union of Informed Citizens- Armenia); Dumitru Sliusarenco and Ion Foltea (PromoLex-Moldova); Ryskeldi Satke; Dr Kristina Stoeckl (University of Innsbruck) and Mariam Ubari (Foreign Policy Centre). The publication was kindly supported by the Open Society Foundations.

The publication makes a number of recommendations:

The Governments of Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan should:

• Take urgent measures to tackle corruption and improve transparency;
• Investigate attacks on minorities and scrap any partnerships with nationalist groups involved;
• Protect the ability of civil society groups promoting equal rights to operate freely without intimidation;
• Disband any armed militias affiliated to political parties or extremist groups.

The international community should:

• Increase political pressure and sanctions on the activities of ostensible ‘pro-European’ or ‘liberal’ allies whose corruption or malpractice brings such principles into disrepute;
• Insist on action to tackle hate crimes and offer greater support and resources to do so if political willingness to act can be ensured;
• Look for opportunities for diplomatic dialogue with the dominant religious institutions;
• Continue to refine and improve ‘myth-busting’ and anti-propaganda responses;
• Support efforts to improve survey and research data about illiberal civil society attitudes;
• Work with liberal-minded NGOs to find new ways to engage the ‘movable middle’.

Listen to audio recording of the launch on 17 July 2018 at the House of Commons.


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