Civil Society and Democratisation in the Eastern Partnership Countries: A Shrinking Space Index

Opusculum 134 | 01.05.2020 | Analysis by Karen Ayvazyan on shrinking space, democratisation and measures of repression in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine


‘’Protecting space for civil society and citizenry is particularly critical in a world marked by rising political and economic inequality.’’-Winnie Byanyima

Civil society has been a subject of studies of many philosophers for ages. Many authors define it as a part of human nature, others look at it from the cultural and social perspectives and there are some philosophers who view it as a part of governance and politics. In general terms, this means that civil society has had a big role in the social, cultural, economic and political life of people even centuries ago.

Though society went through the process of civilization and changed a lot during the time, the conception of civil society remains the same and it involves all aspects of people’s lives. It is to ensure the commonwealth of all the society members. Civil society does not have a single domain, but it evolves social, cultural, economic and political spheres and contributes to the development of individuals, communities, and states. However, alongside its development civil society also encounters challenges and repression from state and nonstate parties who try to reduce the political or civic space where they operate. The CIVICUS defines civic space as “the respect in policy and practice for the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression” (CIVICUS 2018, 1). Those are the fundamental freedoms, which each state has as an obligation to protect and ensure the full enjoyment of them by people.

Within the increasing popularity of civil society and its influence on policies and governments in recent years, the trend of repression of civil society organisations is striking. Governments create legal and administrative barriers to make it more difficult for civil society organisations to operate. This phenomenon is commonly called “Shrinking Space,” which, according to the many civil society experts, is defined as a framework or a concept capturing “a dynamic relationship between repressive methods and political struggle” (Hayes et al. 2017, 3). The main value of this framework is to understand the common trends of repression.

This research aims to analyse the magnitude of impact of the civil society score in the overall democracy index. It introduces a new methodology for calculation of shrinking space growth index in the Eastern Partnership countries. Moreover, it identifies the repressive measure imposed on civil society by the government of the six Eastern Partnership countries:

The research indicates three major hypotheses:

H1: Level of democracy depends on the level of development and independence of civil society;

H2: The high civil society score in the democracy index does not guarantee low shrinking space score;

H3: The repressive measures depend on the level of the democracy in the countries.

The methodological approach taken combines a comprehensive secondary analysis of existing quantitative and qualitative data on the issue of shrinking space and expert consultations with the civil society representatives working on the topic.

The secondary analysis included previous research, publications, articles, literature as well as democracy and civil society indices. The peer review/expert consultation has involved experts/civil society representatives in Europe who have extensive knowledge and experience working on the topic in the region. The Democracy score has been analysed through simple linear regression to predict the level of impact of civil society in democracy. Moreover, the Shrinking Space score and Shrinking Space Growth Index have been developed using the data of the Eastern Partnership Index for 2015–2016 and 2017. As a sample for assessments of democracy level and civic space, Eastern Partnership countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine) have been taken. The sample has been chosen considering the diversity and dynamics of democratic changes (improvements and deteriorations) in the region.