Two for One: Public Welfare and Regime Legitimacy Through State Funding for CSOs in Russia
Civil societies are usually seen as facilitators of democracy or as oppositional powers withstanding authoritarian rule. However, more and more often civil society organizations (CSOs) appear to contribute to the legitimacy of non-democratic incumbents. Taking the example of contemporary Russia, this paper argues that state funding for CSOs under authoritarian regime conditions serves for securing regime legitimacy in two respects—by supporting CSOs contribution to public welfare and by transmitting state-led legitimacy discourse to the civil society sector. The analysis of applications submitted between 2013 and 2016 to the Presidential Grant Competition (PGC), the biggest public funding programme for CSOs in Russia, shows that the state is (1) supporting CSO activities above all in social, health and education-related fields, and (2) privileging projects that relate to a state-led conservative public discourse not only but foremost within those welfare-related fields. These results highlight the importance of investigating state support to CSOs in order to access the changing role of civil society under authoritarian regime conditions.