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Study – The impact of COVID-19 pandemic on civic activism in Kazakhstan

Jason Goodman / Unsplash
Jason Goodman / Unsplash

The COVID-19 pandemic has created significant challenges for civil society in Kazakhstan. At the same time, it also is an important reference for civic engagement. Our fellows conducted interviews with activists to analyse their adaption to the pandemic circumstances.

Civil society actors in Kazakhstan are not supported by the government and continue to face repressive measures. These undermine their efforts to create a diverse and sustainable civil society. The COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated these problems: measures supposedly introduced to protect public health hindered the engagement of citizens and civil society organisations (NGOs). This was the case across the country, even in cities with a higher concentration of NGOs, such as Almaty, Astana (Nur-Sultan) and Shymkent.

Other challenges that activists were already struggling with before the outbreak of the pandemic were amplified. These include funding problems, loss of performance due to burnout of staff, and lack of effective communication with government agencies.

At the same time, the research findings show that the pandemic also served as a catalyst for more intensive civil society engagement and effective cooperation between NGOs. This led to an increasingly positive perception of civil activism in Kazakhstan.

Eurasia Lab fellows Anna Klimchenko, Viktoriya Nem and Kamila Smagulova conducted a study among civil society activists in different regions of Kazakhstan. The aim was to understand what challenges and obstacles they faced in their work during the pandemic, how they adapted their work processes and what role digital technologies played for the activists during this time.

About the Eurasia Lab and Fellowship Programme project: Young researchers from Eastern Europe and Eurasia receive support through fellowships to realise their research projects. The Eurasia Lab & Fellowship Programme also helps them network with other researchers and activists working on the region.

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