Scholars and NGOs have been raising alarms about the increasing political restraints that civil society organizations face globally. In this paper, we argue that closure is in fact a selective mechanism: governments attempt to reorganize civic space through a dual process of selective in- and exclusion of civil society organizations. Civil society organizations identified as critical of or even anti-government face obstruction and restraints, whereas simultaneously the space and state support for organizations identified as pro-government is expanded. Governments instrumentalize certain civil society organizations to their own benefit: they are sponsored and used to influence the realm of civil society in ways that directly legitimize state power and maintain an appearance of democracy. We illustrate our claims by discussing the reorganization of civic space in some countries of Central and Eastern Europe through the case of women’s rights activism.
- International monitoring of democracy performance should pay attention not only to the availability of consultation platforms but also to what specific groups are included in those platforms.
- Foreign donors for civil society (including EU funding) should avoid channeling funding through governmental agencies.
- In the absence of state funding for civil society foreign funders should strive to move beyond project funding and allocate institutional funding for critical civil society actors.
- Gender aspects should be mainstreamed in monitoring civil society inclusion and participation.
- Women’s rights groups inclusion in relevant policy processes should be seen as an element of democracy and monitored as such.