In Belarus and other Autocracies: The Power of Digital Resistance
In Eastern Europe no less than globally, authoritarianism has seen a revival for years now. This resurgence, after many years of democratic expansion following the fall of communism, has been a gradual process. It is often attributed to, among others, the systematic use of digital technologies by ruling elites in countries that experience democratic decline. State control and power increasingly shift to digital technologies for both surveillance and propaganda.
However, this digitized authoritarianism is only one side of the story. Technologies also open conduits for pro-democracy actors to advocate for civic freedoms and to resist authoritarian resurgence. Ongoing events in Belarus are a case in point, as civic resistance and activism draw on information and coordination provided through platforms such as the Telegram messenger. This case illustrates how activists in autocracies can use platforms to build surprising capabilities to organize, mobilize, lead, and inform citizens, as well as to document peaceful protests, police brutality and ridicule the incumbent regime. The double-edged sword of digital technologies poses important questions not least for international partners and donors aiming to empower local democracy actors.
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