Lessons from Protest Waves in Europe: Movements, NGOs and Political Mobilization

Lessons from Protest Waves in Europe: Movements, NGOs and Political Mobilization 
In the last five years political protests have erupted in more than 70 countries and tens of million people have participated in them. The recent waves of protests create the impression of rising levels of civic activism in the context of low levels of democratic trust in both established democracies and in countries in transition. The protest display anti-institutional and internet centered activism. New forms of political representation – like social movements, social networks-based organizations, politicized media, etc. compete with the political parties for the mandate to “represent the people”. Also, new political actors who claim to be an alternative – like Syriza and Podemos – do exceptionally well in elections.
How to make sense of these developments? Do they signal a greater potential for civic activism and public participation in politics? Or are these phenomena a negative reaction, a simple show of desperation and frustration with the inefficiency of the current state of democratic government?
The Centre for Liberal Strategies, Sofia addresses these questions systematically by looking at civic activism from three different perspectives – setting up novel forms of political representation; involvement in NGOs; and self-organization and self-structuring through social networks, the blogosphere, etc. A follow up to the first phase of the project Lessons from the Protest Wave in Europe, in which we studied the nature and character of protests more generally, the new project on civic activism will be comparative in nature and will cover six countries: Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Russia, Spain and Turkey.
The goal of the project is to address the following three problems and to explore their policy implications:
-       Is there a rise in civic activism and how can it be measured?
-       If there is a rise in civic activism, is this process sustainable or is it just a temporary side-effect of other processes?
-   What is the political background against which this process is taking place: are there significant changes in public attitudes or in the functioning of democracy?

Three areas of problems: novel forms of representation, NGOs, and social media
By addressing three different forms of channeling of citizen energy task is to come up with some novel research, but also to engage with stakeholders and to discuss the findings of our project with civil society representatives:
Novel forms of political representation: We examined their degree of novelty and popularity, their conceptual difference from traditional forms of representation, consultation and hearing, the impact of new means of communication and interaction on their creation and operation, the extent to which they are sustainable and necessitate more permanent changes to our conceptions of democratic politics.
Involvement in NGOs: A study of the impact of protests on the NGO community as a civil society sector was conducted, with a specific focus on think tanks and strategic litigation. NGOs role in recent forms of public activism and how is this role perceived by the public was examined, as well as the degree courts and the judiciary have been cooperative and accommodating of NGO efforts. Can we talk of a crisis of the role of think tanks and are they resilient to the anti-institutional protest wave?
Social media and the blogosphere was analyzed as mediums for the creation of virtual communities as the new forms of civic activism, to examine the merits and demеrits of virtual representation. We focused to determine what kind of virtual communities have been created by protests and recent forms of civic activism, how are they different from real communities, do they last, do they make a difference at elections, do they tend to self-insulate themselves from other groups? What is the informational and cognitive added value that they have for society at large?

The project design includes desk top research on the definition of civic activism and the methodology of assessing and measuring it. The research resulted in the production of an analytical part which provide a conceptual framework and place civic activism in the context of political populism and mass protests.

The comparative part, based on the case studies conducted in Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Russia, Spain and Turkey is analyzing the research topics: novel forms of political participation based on six case studies; NGOs in the age of populism and mass protest; and civil activism and social networks and the blogosphere.

The case studies are available upon request to Yana Papazova (
The Final Report, containing the analytical part and the comparative part is prepared by Daniel Smilov, CLS and can be downloaded here.

Period: January 2015 - December 2016
Coordinators: Daniel Smilov, Anna Ganeva, Yana Papazova
Financing Organisations: Charles Stewart Mott Foundation
Political Studies Social Contexts European Union