International Day of Democracy:

Celebrating democracy's defenders

Published: 15 September 2022


On Democracy Day (an initiative created by the UN as part of their efforts to build democracy), Civitates would like to acknowledge and celebrate the strength, motivation, and resilience of civil society actors without whom democracy would be a shadow of what it is today.

Having acknowledged that democracy is a constant joint effort, European foundations decided to pool funds together within the umbrella of a fund for democracy and solidarity in Europe – Civitates. Since becoming operational in 2018 and as a collaborative philanthropic initiative, Civitates has been empowering civil society organisations to react collectively and effectively when democratic principles such as respect for human dignity, freedom, equality, and the rule of law are not upheld. 

Civil society organisations and independent public-interest media shape our democracies so that fundamental human-rights and values are preserved and respected. It is important to recognise the importance of such democratic actors but also their struggles. The last years have been turbulent for CSOs and they have been put in a state of urgency due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the looming inflation.

The space for civic engagement has been shrinking in several countries in Europe and we have witnessed organisations grappling with government-imposed restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, undue and disproportionate administrative burdens imposed on non-profits and the lack of financial support to public-interest organisations. We have also seen more direct attacks on CSOs and the media such as smear campaigns, harassment and hate speech (online and offline), surveillance and abusive lawsuits with the aim of asphyxiating organisations and shutting down participation (SLAPPS). It is not only the organisations that are the target of such practices, but their staff as well. In the most extreme cases, they fear for their safety and that of their close ones and in the better cases they are merely a step-away from a burn-out.

Furthermore, the operational context for CSOs remains problematic with relatively low funding compared to the challenges addressed. So is the situation for independent public-interest media with media capture taking a toll on independent publishers as well as the imminent pressure for news organisations to find a viable business model as quickly as possible.  

These developments haven’t discouraged civil society and independent public-interest media from standing strong and finding solutions to their challenges. We have seen pro-democracy actors contributing to shaping public policies that protect and uphold democracy. One of the many examples is the contribution of civil society organisations to the shaping of the digital policies at the national and the EU level, where forward looking proposals were reviewed and adopted in order to shape our digital public sphere in a way that upholds democracy, where citizens can feel safe online and where trustworthy information can be readily accessible.

Another example is the long-standing tradition of solidarity during times of crisis: we’ve seen it with Covid-19 and now the war in Ukraine. Civitates partners, for example, have shown great resilience to the ripple effects of the war in Ukraine and even greater solidarity towards the Ukrainian population through identifying needs and organising activities for support. At the same time, the independent public-interest media organisations that Civitates supports have taken the role of scrutinising war propaganda and providing reliable information to all affected by the conflict.  

Actors defending democracy can’t do it alone, they need support in terms of funding, capacity building and networking. This is where philanthropy comes in with a track record in defending, fostering, and supporting CSOs and independent media. A lot of private foundations and other philanthropic actors have embraced this duty and responsibility and will continue to do so and Civitates is just one example of such efforts. Democracy is not a done deal and it requires constant investment of time, energy, and financial means.

On this day dedicated to democracy, Civitates and its partner foundations want to reiterate our commitment and dedication to supporting Democracy and its committed defenders.