In: Frontiers in Political Science, Volume 5.
How does political activism in autocracies emerge? Why do political activists engage in social movements or civil society organizations and fight against dictatorship and for political change despite the high personal risk? And what are the long-term outcomes of such collective behavior? These questions are not new. But given the prominence of pro-democracy activists in Belarus, Sudan, Iran and elsewhere and the harsh reactions of incumbent regimes that frequently catch international attention, they are more important than ever. Two recent trends underscore the relevance of studying pro-democracy movements from a comparative perspective. Data from the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Project suggest that the size and frequency of mass mobilization for democracy have risen steadily during the 2000s until the global COVID-19 pandemic temporarily slowed down pro-democracy movements (Figure 1, left panel). At the same time, authoritarian governments have shown less respect for human rights since the mid-2010s, making civic engagement more difficult (Figure 1, right panel). In a world that is ever more interconnected, it is essential that we understand the various expressions of pro-democracy movements, the impact they have across different contexts and how autocrats respond.
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