‘A Democracy’s Guide to Foiling Autocrats: How Democratic States Can Effectively Support Pro-Democracy Movements’ offers a curated and comprehensive list of tools for democracies and their representatives to conduct an effective assistance program to nonviolent pro-democracy movements.
It is important to demonstrate to those who take up the beacon of freedom in the unfree society that they are not alone in their struggle. This guide shows how democratic countries can extend their solidarity with those fighting nonviolently in tangible and timely ways. pg 16
It took more than a month of nonviolent pro-democracy protests by Belarusians— met consistently with vicious repression by the Lukashenko government—before some democratic countries selectively imposed sanctions on key perpetrators of the regime. Two months after the emergence of the national movement amid rigged elections and regime violence, the European Union, as a block, imposed sanctions on the top members of the Belarusian regime, adding to its sanction list its ruler Alexander Lukashenko a few days later.
In addition to sanctions on individuals (at a time of this writing entities enabling the regime were not yet sanctioned), a number of democracies also rejected the “official” election results (Lithuania went so far as to recognize opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, as the legitimate president), provided shelter to forcefully exiled Belarusian oppositionists—including Tikhanovskaya—and showed international solidarity by having diplomats visit the home of Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich, who subsequently fled Belarus.
Yet despite these efforts, it is hard to conclude that democratic countries were adequate in their bid to support democracy. With more preparation and political will, comprehensive sanctions against Belarus’s autocratic regime could have been put in place in a coordinated manner soon after the August 9, 2020 elections, which were predictably marred by major voting irregularities followed by brutal repression of protesters. Instead, external support for the pro-democracy movement was often late, remained reactive to the actions of the regime, and relied on limited tools.
This case provides an important point of reference for considering how democracies can improve their repertoire of actions in support of people who are nonviolently fighting for their human rights and democracy in other countries.
Currently, democracies lack a developed toolkit of steps and actions for supporting pro-democracy movements that they could routinely consult as part of their daily political, bureaucratic, and diplomatic work and deploy them rapidly when the need arises.
If devised beforehand, a wide-ranging toolkit of actions will help democracies quickly operationalize and implement various initiatives supportive of people even prior to their mass mobilization against an autocrat and before they face predictable repression.
Without such an operational toolkit, democracies are left on the defensive when an authoritarian regime initiates a crackdown on its resisting population.
This guide offers a toolkit that democratic states can use to provide more effective support for pro-democracy movements in countries ruled by authoritarian or authoritarian-leaning governments. The recommendations in this guide are organized based on where democratic states apply such actions in support of the pro-democracy movement.
- Inside the country with the pro-democracy movement.
- In the democratic state itself.
- On the international level.
The actions listed in this guide can be further divided based on the target of the actions, namely states, institutions, and people. They may also be further organized according to the nature of various actions—be it to coerce or entice (the carrot or the stick)—and the goals of such actions, among others:
- To build movement capacity.
- To solicit loyalty shifts among the regime’s allies.
- To mobilize domestic or international sympathy and solidarity.
- To mitigate regime repression.
This is a guide for the actions of states in support of nonviolent movements. It does not consider the myriad of supportive actions that non-state actors can take as well. Their actions deserve an entirely separate guide.
To decide which actions states should take, and when they should take them, it is of primary importance to listen to the needs of activists on the ground. They are best positioned to request the type of external aid they consider most helpful.
At the same, even while listening, states need to uphold standards, such as insisting that their assistance supports nonviolent movements, as they have historically proven more effective in confronting authoritarian regimes and building democracy afterwards than armed insurrections.
The end of the guide includes a compilation of relevant literature for readers who wish to dive deeper into the subject of external assistance to nonviolent movement.
About the Author
Dr. Maciej Bartkowski is a Senior Advisor to ICNC. He works on academic programs for students, faculty, and educators to support teaching, research and study on civil resistance. He is a series editor of ICNC Monographs and ICNC Special Reports. He holds an adjunct faculty position at the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences of Johns Hopkins University where he teaches strategic nonviolent resistance. Dr. Bartkowski is book editor of Recovering Nonviolent History: Civil Resistance in Liberation Struggles and Nation-Making published by Lynne Rienner in 2013. You can follow him @macbartkow.
- International Center on Nonviolent Conflict ICNC – Resource Library
- The Role of External Support in Nonviolent Campaigns: Poisoned Chalice or Holy Grail?
- ChangeMaker Chat with Myint Cho: Burmese Pro-Democracy Activist
- Nonviolent Action and Pro-Democracy Struggles
- The Democracy Playbook by The New Deal Forum
- Democracy Resource Hub
- Direct action - Non violent NVDA
- Movements_Campaigns - Democracy
- Strategy_Strategic planning