Back to top

The Politics of Division

In many democracies that are moving towards autocratisation – particularly those ruled by populist authoritarian strongmen – there is a rise in hostile rhetoric against both minority groups and political opposition.

Populist regimes use racist and intolerant public speech to marginalise and intimidate social groups – from migrants to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer (LGBTQ+) people – as a tactic to divide, silence disagreement, and scapegoat the problems of a society or regime onto an already-vulnerable group.

The intolerance of politicians and their supporters often became visible in 2018 in the form of hate speech – ‘speech that is intended to insult, offend, or intimidate members of specific groups, defined by race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, or similar trait’ – which has become mainstream in some contexts, promoting hate-fuelled ideas and coarse, polarised public discourse. In 30 countries, major political parties increasingly use hate speech. [1]

Shrinking civic space restricts the voices of minority groups and those subject to hateful rhetoric, and limits the freedom of all people to speak out to counter hate speech, discrimination, and violence [2]

While populist leaders have often claimed to be the champions of free speech, they have proven to be the first to shut down opposition and incite violence against those who dissent.



[1]  – VDem Institute, Democracy Facing Global Challenges: V-Dem Annual Democracy Report 2018, p20, available at

[2] – ARTICLE 19, UNGA: Leaders Must Act on Calls to Tackle Hate and Protect Rights, 26 September 2019, available at