Monday, January 23, 2023

NGOs Didn’t Block Rise of Fascism in Germany and Aren’t Blocking It in Russia Either, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Jan. 19 – Sheri Berman of Barnard College has shown that the NGOs in Weimar Germany did little to block or even slow the rise of fascism in Germany; and Russian experts say that the same thing is true in Russia today, given both the pressures the Putin regime has put on them and the willingness of many to collaborate with i

            Berman presented her findings in a 1997 article, “Civil Society and the Collapse of the Weimar Republic” (World Politics 49:3 (1997): 401-429. Evidence that the same pattern is found in Russia is to be found in reactions to a detailed study of NGO activity there over the last decade.

            The study, Social Projects which Changed Russia (in Russian; Moscow, 2022, 302 pp.), is available at The pessimistic assessment that the changes NGOs did make haven’t been sufficient to stop the rise of fascism there is at

            The Greenhouses of Social Technology group which prepared the study says that the Russian authorities gradually tightened the screws on NGOs throughout the last decade but that they significantly increased the pressure on these organizations since the expanded invasion of Ukraine last year, forcing some to stop and others to collaborate.

            The choice to collaborate is not an easy one for many groups, but their leaders and activists are often put in the position of stopping and thus not providing any assistance to the social groups they want to help or working within the Putin system so as to achieve something even if they have to give up much of their independence.

            Not surprisingly, Aleksey Sidorenko of the Greenhouses group, says, many have chosen to collaborate; but that means that “the very fact of registration doesn’t mean that this or that NGO belongs to civil society.” They may have been coopted and thus come to resemble the notorious Government Organized NGOs or GONGOs that have long drawn fire.

            But the hopes that many in Russia and the West had had that NGOs would be simultaneously a firewall against a return to authoritarianism and invariable promoters of civil society have not proven to be the case, a conclusion that tragically may make their decline even more rapid as potential donors and supporters see that this is the case.

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