Activists facing “digital sovereignty”. Reactions and new mobilizations in the post-Soviet space

Ostromooukhova Bella's picture
Call for Papers
February 28, 2021
Subject Fields: 
Contemporary History, Digital Humanities, Political Science, Russian or Soviet History / Studies, Sociology

Call for papers for a special issue of the Terminal journal


Scientific committee 

Olga Bronnikova (associate professor, University Grenoble-Alpes), Bella Ostromooukhova (associate professor, Sorbonne University), Perrine Poupin (post-doctoral researcher, ANR ResisTIC/Sorbonne University), Anna Zaytseva (associate professor, University Toulouse Jean Jaurès)



The digital space, initially managed in a global,  international and multi-stakeholder way, has in recent years been pushed towards a dynamic of national “digital sovereignties”. States are seeking to extend their sovereignty in and through digital space, to legislate, impose constraints or guarantee freedoms.

In this issue, we aim to explore the reactions to this trend by activist individuals and groups in various post-Soviet countries. These phenomena may include mobilizations for the protection of human rights in the digital age, media activism, forms of action led by technical experts and hackers, or reactions from more traditional activist and political worlds to the proliferation of digital tools and their “sovereignization”. We are also interested in actors’ mobilizations in favor of a sovereign national cyberspace that should meet security and “moral” criteria specific to each nation.



The digital space, initially managed outside traditional models of State-based regulation, has been subject to a push towards sovereignization for several years now. In the Russian case, this tendency gave rise to a law known as the “Sovereign Internet” bill in 2019. Confronted by various forms of extraterritorial domination of the Internet by major Internet service players and by transnational institutions (ICANN, RIPE NCC, IETF, W3C) of Internet governance, States are seeking to strengthen their influence, extend their sovereignty in and through the digital world, legislate, impose constraints or guarantee freedoms.


The notion of "digital sovereignty", which is now part of the discourse of various public and private actors involved in the development of digital technologies, also affects the relationships between States. The Snowden revelations in 2013, bringing to light the mass surveillance practices carried out globally by the United States National Security Agency, have provided new justifications for authorities in different states to control their national Internet spaces and protect them against external threats . The claim of a state or intergovernmental authority over cyberspace now seems to be part of a global framework for the interpretation of cybersecurity or information security, showing a clear trend towards the “militarization” of the digital space -- and sometimes even heralding a cyber-”arms race”.


In the post-Soviet space, the “sovereignization” of the Internet could be interpreted as a further step in taking control of citizens' communications and, more broadly, of the Internet space, as it leads to a proliferation of various forms of limitations of freedoms and repressions, including challenges to the right to anonymity and encryption, blockages of entire sites and platforms,  prison sentences for content published in national or international social media, confiscation of computer equipment, and wiretapping. The legal framework for such repression varies from country to country. While the similarities between national legislations within the post-soviet States through the circulation of practices and legal transfers between its member countries, are often highlighted, their application remains subject to the specificities of each situation and the temporalities of each national context.


The initiatives of the Russian State encounter multifaceted resistance from different actors, find support and generate controversy. In this issue, we propose to explore the ways in which activists in different post-Soviet countries are responding to the dynamics generated by sovereignty strategies. These include mobilizations for the defense of human rights in the digital age, media activism that views Internet infrastructure as an object of struggle, forms of action led by technical experts (ISPs, developers) and hackers, and reactions from the more "classical" activist and political world. We are also interested in actors (religious movements, various moral entrepreneurs and citizen protection organizations) mobilizing in favor of a sovereign national cyberspace allegedly able to better respond to security and "moral" criteria specific to each nation.

In order to apprehend the multiplicity of profiles of civil society actors involved in the issues of "digital sovereignty" within the post-Soviet space, publications in this issue, based on empirical research, will answer preferably, but not exclusively, the following questions:

- Who are the actors, critics and mobilizations opposed to or advocating the sovereignty of the Internet? How do these groups position themselves in the local, national and international associative and political landscape, and how do their actions, both online and offline, situate them in relation to state authorities and economic actors? 

- What are the tactics, repertoires or political styles of action of these activists as well as their practices of circumventing new restrictions on online exchanges?

- What are the meanings attributed by different activists to the terms "digital freedoms" and "free Internet"?

- How do these multiple actors seize the law and mobilize notions emerging at the international level ("protection of personal data", "fake news", "right to be forgotten", etc.) to defend themselves or to sue representatives of the authorities at different scales?

- Faced with surveillance and repression, how are new IT and physical security practices developed by these various players? And, conversely, how and by whom are security concepts mobilized to defend a "sovereign Internet"?

 - What is the role these activists attribute to Silicon Valley giants, and how do they perceive the relationship of these technical actors with the State?  

This issue proposal is led by the ANR ResisTIC project team (Net resisters. Criticism and evasion of digital borders in Russia).

Provisional planning


February 28, 2021: Submission of abstracts (5,000 - 6,000 characters including spaces) detailing the method and empirical materials used;

Early April 2021: Feedback on proposals;

Early July 2021: Sending of final papers (40,000 characters including spaces maximum);

November 30, 2021: Evaluations sent to authors;

March-April 2022: Final publication of the issue.

Instructions to authors can be found on the journal’s website. Please send proposals to with a copy to



Deibert, R. J., & M. Crete-Nishihata, 2012, “Global governance and the spread of cyberspace controls”, Global Governance, 18, 339.

Milan, S., 2013, Social Movements and Their Technologies: Wiring Social Change, Londres, Palgrave Macmillan.

Mueller, M., 2017, Will the Internet Fragment? Sovereignty, globalization and cyberspace, Cambridge, Polity Press

Nocetti, J., 2015, "Contest and conquest: Russia and global internet governance." International Affairs 91, 111–130.

Pétin, P. & F. Tréguer, 2018, "Building and defending the alternative Internet: the birth of the digital rights movement in France", Internet histories, Taylor & Francis, pp.1-18

Tufekci, Z., 2017, Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest, New Haven, Yale University Press.

Contact Info: 

Authors wishing to submit an abstract (in French or in English) are invited to send it, before February 28th 2021, to the following address :, with a copy to In a proposal of 5,000 to 6,000 signs (spaces included), accompanied by a short bio-bibliographical note of the author, it will be necessary to specify: the empirical field mobilized, the approach and the methods used. The final articles, to be submitted by early July 2021, may be written in French or English.