2018 Democracy and Human Rights Analysis

Swedish Aid in the Era of Shrinking Democratic Space – the Case of Turkey

Åsa Eldén, Paul T. Levin

The notion of a shrinking space describes a global trend whereby activists’ and civil society organizations’ freedom to organize and operate is circumscribed by increasingly repressive and authoritarian governments. Turkey is often held up as an illustration of a country where the
shrinking of democratic space has been particularly rapid and dramatic.

This study offers an up-to-date account of the shrinking democratic space in Turkey and its effects on civil society organizations in Turkey, coupled with an evaluation of how well Swedish reform/development cooperation is adapted to this kind of situation. The study relies on a combination of qualitative methods where the document analysis is complemented with interviews with representatives of Sweden as a donor and almost 40 representatives from a broad range of rights-based civil society organizations.

The report was presented during the seminar Swedish aid in shrinking democratic spaces (in Swedish).

The study shows that Swedish aid is extremely important, and that its significance increases as the democratic space in Turkey shrinks.


  • Sweden’s reform cooperation with Turkish partners should continue, in a short-term as well as a long-term perspective.
  • The new strategy, from 2020, should be flexible and specific for Turkey and should keep and strengthen the overall goals including preparations for a renewed EU accession process, democracy, human rights, gender equality, freedom of expression and rule of law.
  • Develop a method or format for clearer instructions in dialogue with partners, and consider opening up for grant applications in Turkish.
  • Make sure that both the Embassy, the Consulate and MFA/Sida in Stockholm have sufficient expertise and enough competence on relevant aspects of the Turkish context, to be able handle the present situation.

Åsa Eldén, visiting Senior Researcher at Stockholm University Institute for Turkish Studies

Paul T. Levin, founding Director of the Stockholm University Institute for Turkish Studies