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Fear of Civil Society: Governments, Repression and Zombie NGOs

More than two decades ago, I published a book about indigenous development NGOs in the Third World.  At that time, my overall impression was that governments were largely unaware of the significance and dramatic growth of civil society in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. This remained true even after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the spread of civil society in Russia and Eastern Europe in the 1990s.

However, during the 1990s governments began to worry that civil society could threaten politics as usual. One reason for this concern was the increasing support for civil society by “official” foreign assistance. Whereas the major international support for Third World NGOs in the 70s and 80s had been “voluntary foreign assistance” provided by international NGOs, by the 1990s, governmental donors (U.S. and western European) had become more prominent, particularly in Russia and Eastern Europe.

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