Democratist

Democracy. Russia. CIS.

Archive for the ‘Democratization’ Category

Putin’s Third Term: Towards Instability?

Posted by democratist on April 24, 2012

April 24th 2012,

Democratist has sometimes been accused of being “theoretical.” We do not deny this charge. For us, using “theory” means the ability to generalize rational insight from experience.  Although not without limitation, any attempt to explain (and by extension change) the world without some kind of rational framework will amount to little, and incautious abandonment leaves one vulnerable to a variety of intellectual hucksters (post-modernists, nationalists, religious dogmatists, conspiracy theorists…).

In terms of International Relations, the most fruitful theoretical tools Democratist has encountered are those drawn from historical-sociology. Part of the reason for this blog is to apply insights drawn from that tradition to the contemporary world.

This explains the repeated importance we have placed on the revolutions of Arab Spring. For us, 2011 was a year of global historical significance - like 1789, 1848, 1917 or 1989/1991. As with those other historically conjunctural years, 2011 combined elements that are central to our view of the world; social conflicts, mass movements and (democratic) revolution. However, the events of 2011 also involved an additional aspect that we have not yet covered in any detail, but which is a cornerstone of our approach, and of particular relevance to the political trajectory of the countries of the CIS; the idea of international society as “homogeneity.”

What do we mean by “international society” and “homogeneity”?

Within the academic study of International relations over the last 40 years, there have been three main perspectives on what constitutes “international society”. These are;

i) It consists of relations between states (governments). Obvious examples include diplomacy and war.

ii) It consists of non-state links of economy, political association, culture and ideology (a favourite of “globalization” theorists).

iii) It consists of a set of ideological values shared by different societies and promoted by inter-state competition, producing international “homogeneity”.

While the first two perspectives are certainly essential to any understanding of international relations, and are regularly covered in the mainstream media, it is the third which comes from the historical-sociological tradition, and on which we focus here.

The basic idea of homogeneity is simple: As a result of international pressures, states are compelled through competition with one another over the long-term, to resemble each other more and more in their internal arrangements. Developments at the international level have an impact on the ideological legitimacy and stability of states domestically: Political and social change within countries have always been to some extent, and are now increasingly the result of external processes.

In Rethinking International Relations (1994), Fred Halliday uses this perspective to explain the end of the Cold War, or as he puts it, “…why a specific political and socio-economic system, one that was in broad terms equal to its rival in military terms, should have collapsed as it did, rapidly and unequivocally, and in the absence of significant international military conflict.”

Halliday argues that communism was successful, not only in the second world war, but in subsequent arms races and third world strategic competition. However, it was at the socio-economic level that the USSR came to be seen as a comparative failure, unable to match its Western competitors: By the 1980′s the domestic record of communism, as compared with its main capitalist alternatives, became a central dimension of Cold War rivalry, resulting in the Gorbachev’s attempts at reform, and the ultimate collapse of a unreformable system.

The key point is that it was an ideologically influenced change of direction by the leadership which brought about the USSR’s demise. Communism could easily have dragged on for another decade or two, but the leadership became convinced that the Soviet system was unable to catch up with the west, especially in terms of economic output and innovation. The subsequent opening of the USSR to foreign influences after 1988 as part of glasnost acted to alert the broader public to these problems, highlighting contrasts in living standards, which led to increased calls for change.

This brings us to the question of the extent that states have responded to international pressure to homogenize since 1991. For Democratist, it is clear that the idea of the democratic “good life” transmitted by popular culture, the media and, above all the internet, has become much more powerful over the last twenty years. Indeed, so powerful is this image, that leaders of many authoritarian countries have come to expend considerable resources in countering it with domestic and international propaganda (e.g. RT, Press TV etc).

International pressure for homogenization has therefore increased, with democracy taking on a far greater role as a factor for domestic legitimization and stability. The Arab Spring was witness to the growth of pressure for reform building due to a number of factors, but not least the example of comparatively politically and economically successful democratic countries. However, the regimes of the middle East proved resistant to reform, and therefore lost popular legitimacy and finally faced revolution.

Similar pressures have also manifested themselves in the former Soviet Union, with revolutions sparked off by rigged elections in a number of countries. However, in contemporary Russia, democratizing pressure remains weak as result the chaos and national humiliation of the 1990′s. This is commonly blamed on “dermokratiya,” while it was in fact actually more the result of the collapse of the command economy and massive corruption. And yet, as described in Masha Gessen’s The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin (Granta Publications, 2012), the Russian government has shown no serious willingness to reform over the last decade, and the untreated corruption of the 1990′s has in fact worsened.

It therefore seems unlikely that the government will embark on meaningful reform over the coming years, whilst homogenizing pressure for change will grow: As the Russian middle class gains in political confidence it will begin to demand the representation it is afforded in other countries, spurred on by technological change.

And while the possibility of a gradual transition to a more representative political system remains, the probability of a political crisis over the longer term if this does not materialize is growing.

Posted in Arab Spring, Colour Revolution, Democratization, Historical Sociology of International Relations (HSIR), Russia 2012 Elections, Russia Propaganda | 6 Comments »

Americans, Liberasts and Russian Democracy.

Posted by democratist on April 4, 2012

4th April 2012,

In a previous article, I described the argument that Russia’s elections are “more or less” democratic as one of the “legitimating myths” of Putinism [designed to bolster the regime and keep the population in check]. Unsurprisingly, this claim upset some readers, and they made a number of counter-arguments.

Their main points were;

  • The current Russian government is, despite the fraud that took place in both parliamentary and presidential polls, broadly a reflection of the preferences and political goals of most Russians.
  • “Western” democracy is not a universal value; there are many different styles of democracy and the current system in Russia represents an “acceptable” variation on the democratic theme, in line with Russian history and cultural norms.
  • The “western” democratic model is not without its weaknesses and inefficiencies and does not solve problems such as corruption.
  • The “non-systemic” opposition is weak and divided, especially the “pro-western” liberals. Some of these parties may be dependent on American money (witness the $200 million dollars spent by the American government on supporting Russian NGOs since 2009, with $50 million more apparently on the way). Liberalization would only benefit hard-core leftists, nationalists and liberal “traitors”.

These are interesting arguments, but not without some elements which characterize the “mythologising” to which I was referring. I will deal with each in turn:

The first point is essentially true. Vladimir Putin is popular, and would presumably have won the presidential election without falsification (although the fact that falsification did occur makes it hard to be 100% sure; the assurances of opinion polls will never be good as the “real thing,” i.e. a fair vote). However, the position of the party of “crooks and thieves” is far less secure, and it would not have won the (reduced) representation it now has in the Duma without considerable fraud in December. The current government may also broadly reflect the preferences and goals of a majority of Russians but, as is the nature of politics, there is no guarantee that this state of affairs will continue indefinitely, and as Russian society evolves it seems likely that there will ultimately come a point when the majority of Russians find themselves actively opposed to government policy.

More fundamental is the question of whether “western” democracy is a universal value. From Democratist’s perspective, one of the main lessons to be learned from a (non-conspiratorial) analysis of the Arab Spring is that democracy, while “western” in origin, is increasingly coming to be seen as having universal applicability, and that “democracy” need not necessarily mean “Americanization” or “neo-liberalism.”  Recent events in the middle East have shown that the populations of countries such as Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria have risen up despite American hypocrisy on the issue of democratization. These people are demanding respect and representation for themselves in their own countries regardless of any “Freedom Agenda” or other rhetoric. Democratization is not simply an American plot (although the Americans, just like other major powers will doubtless seek to influence these processes), but is rather reflective of historical-social developments taking place in many countries, and so it is to be hoped that the polities which emerge from these revolutions will reflect the sovereignty, national character and priorities of their people.

Furthermore, the idea that the world is divided into incomparable moral blocs or civilizations has taken a huge blow over the last 18 months. While the cynics have sought to paint the Arab Spring as harbinger of anti-western Islamist autocracy, there have been significant historical-social trends in the region over the last 40 years which suggest that this will not be the case: The large majority of arab Islamists are not calling for the establishment of revolutionary islamic states, but rather the creation of a “civil state” [i.e one which, while not secular, has many democratic elements, including free and fair elections].

So, while the last fifteen years may have been witness to democratic stagnation or reversal in the CIS, on the global scale, the last two centuries (and especially the last seventy years) demonstrate the growing potency of democratic ideals, and the erosion of autocracy as a legitimate form of governance, even in “unexpected” places, and (more recently) regardless of American rhetoric: Democratist contends that a set of shared values is slowly emerging throughout the world, including democracy, human rights, the defence of national sovereignty and a belief in the benefits of economic development, even though this has taken place during a period in which some of these values have come under pressure in the United States: They may have originated in the West, but in responding to basic human aspirations and social change within the context of the spread of capitalism, their potential applicability is growing ever wider.

This brings us to the question of whether the current political system in Russia is just a variation on the democratic theme; one, moreover, which is in line with Russian history and cultural norms. This is, of course ultimately a question for the Russian people to answer, rather than any outsider, and (again) American lecturing on this issue has proved remarkably counter-productive over recent years. Nonetheless, it has to be said that there are strong arguments which suggest that the current system, while popular with a majority of Russians, does not meet the basic criteria of democracy. As an example, the OSCE ODIHR (an organization of which the Russian government is both a member and occasional participant) reports the following problems with recent parliamentary and presidential elections; technical restrictions on who was able to stand, a biased electoral administration dominated by the ruling party at all levels, the partiality of most media, and ballot stuffing on election day. It is up to Russians themselves to decide whether they feel that these problems match existing Russian “cultural norms,” and if they do, the extent to which such “norms” are worth preserving, or should be changed.

As for corruption, it is certainly true to say that no political system can eliminate it completely. However, it must also be admitted that institutionalized democracy, with a firmly established rule of law and independent legal system has proved a more effective guard against corruption than the current Russian system. By many accounts Russia is the most corrupt industrialized country in the world; Vladimir Putin’s friends from his Saint Petersburg youth and the Ozero dacha collective are worth billions. Indeed the current system is so entrenched that it may prove unreformable until a change in the political or economic situation provokes a collapse.

Finally, the question of the non-systemic opposition. Yes. The opposition is weak and divided, sometimes extreme, and possibly reliant on American money (although I still require some convincing on this point). Additionally, American calls for increased funding for NGOs are helping to stoke growing government paranoia. But on the other hand, the current system (deliberately) stifles debate and does little to encourage the development of Russian NGOs. It seems unlikely that President Medvedev’s recent changes to the law on registration of parties will make much difference to this situation. And while it might be possible, with institutional safeguards in place such as an independent legal system, “fair and balanced” requirements for the media etc, to create the basis for wider debate and eventual genuine elections, on the basis of recent history we are unlikely to see these wider structures in place anytime soon.

Posted in Arab Spring, Democratization, Domestic NGOs, Russia - US Relations, Russian Liberalization | 19 Comments »

Russian Autocracy and the Future of the Arab Spring.

Posted by democratist on March 12, 2012

12th March 2012,

It hardly comes as a great surprise that the Arab Spring should have proved unpopular with the current Russian government and its representatives in the media. The great fear is that before too long the same fate awaits the Putin regime as that suffered by the rulers of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. Closer to home, recent examples of so-called “colour-revolutions” include Georgia (2003) Ukraine (2004), Kyrgyzstan (2005) and Moldova (2009).

In the Russian case this fear seems somewhat exaggerated for the time being since the government remains popular, especially in the provinces, but nevertheless the obsession is rather telling. Since Russia Today is essentially a more or less unmediated reflection of the world-view of its Kremlin paymasters, it is again unsurprising that the channel should seek to highlight the post-revolutionary problems that have occurred in the middle East since December 2010.

Recent negative trends here have included an election of questionable usefulness and validity in Yemen, and growing regional divisions and repressive Islamist measures apparently to be taken against women in Libya. Time after time, the message drawn from this by the representatives of autocracy is clear; these people were far better off under the strong-men; safer and freer.

In one sense, this is, of course true. Hundreds of Egyptians have died since the revolution, about 10,000 people have died in Syria (so far), and several times that number died in Libya during the civil war there. Islamism is indeed in the rise, as the elections in Egypt and developments in Libya have demonstrated. So it is quite legitimate to ask whether it was all worth it?

There are several answers to this question. The first is ask whether another, more peaceful alternative was ever available? Would it not have been better for the people of the region to have been more patient? Wouldn’t the Mubarak, Gaddafi, Al-Assad and other regimes have been willing to reform of their own accord eventually? This seems unlikely; Gaddafi was in power for 42 years, Mubarak for more than thirty. The revolutions that have taken place in these countries provide clear evidence that the people’s patience had long been exhausted. Historically, we would do well to remember that the internal peace and democracy of contemporary western states act to obscure the bitter and violent struggles in the past which eventually brought the new order into being; the English Civil War; the American war of independence; the French revolution; the fascist and nazi periods in Italy and Germany. Indeed, Marxists have argued that there is no such thing as a peaceful path to modernity: Social movements are brought into inevitable conflict by the development of capitalism.

The second point to make here is that, although Islamism is certainly on the rise in the region, and represents a socially conservative agenda, its success does not necessarily represent a return to despotism, or anti-westernism in foreign policy. As professor Fawaz Gerges of the LSE noted in a public lecture given on 13th February, there are several historical-sociological trends we need to take into account in our analysis of the likely future developments stemming from the Arab Spring.

Firstly, in the Arab world most mainstream Islamists (in Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan and Syria) have renounced violence since the late 1960′s/early 1970′s, and have not only renounced it, but have laboured hard to join the political process in their societies, despite severe repression. For many Arab Islamists the Iranian revolutionary model is seen as having failed to offer a workable alternative to western secularism: The construction of theocracy in Iran since 1979 has motivated them to think in alternative terms to the Iranian goal of the construction of an “islamic state”, and rather to aim about the creation of a “civil state” [i.e a one which, while not secular, has many democratic elements, including free and fair elections, which might serve as a peaceful arbiter for at least some of the "conflicts of modernity" mentioned above].

Secondly, since the 1950′s, there has also been a generational shift within Islamism in almost every Arab country towards pragmatism. This new generation of pragmatists is less obsessed with identity politics that their predecessors. This is not to suggest that ultra-conservatives are not still powerful among Islamists. However, they have been in decline for many years.

Nonetheless, the possibility of a shift to the right remains: There is almost 100 years of bitterness to contend with. And so, if we are looking for an immediate shift to a Swiss-style democracy (as a number of autocratically minded commentators seem to have assumed should have already taken place), we are wasting our time: Whether these developments take place will only be evident over the longer term. This said, there are several important historical-social trends evident which suggest the Arab Spring will not descend into the despotic anti-western fiasco of the Putinist imagination.

Additionally, it seems unlikely that Arab Islamists are about to take reckless decisions on foreign policy: Islamists in Libya embraced NATO intervention, and many are calling on the US to take action in Syria: A change is taking place in the way Islamists view the west, and of western intervention.

Equally, Russia’s influence in the region has waned over the past 18 months through its support for Gaddafi and Assad.

And if the countries of the Arab Spring do indeed eventually settle down into a pattern or more or less democratic “civil” statehood over the coming decade, this will act as yet another indicator of the backwardness of the autocratic model, and as yet another signal that the writing is on the wall for the Putin regime.

For a theoretical overview see; http://democratist.wordpress.com/2011/03/28/great-arab-spring/

Posted in Arab Spring, Democratization, Egyptian Revolution, Revolutions, Russia Propaganda | 7 Comments »

You have been weighed, and found wanting: Russia Today and the 1st Anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution

Posted by democratist on January 25, 2012

January 26th 2012,

It has been a year since the revolution in Egypt. Russia Today’s treatment of the anniversary has been rather telling.

In a piece provided top billing yesterday, the Kremlin’s international mouthpiece noted that, among hundreds of thousands celebrating the anniversary of the beginning of the uprising in Cairo, many (perhaps the majority of) people are still demonstrating as part of an ongoing struggle to entrench the revolution by reducing the influence of the army on the Egyptian political system.

The tone of the report is markedly different from the way the channel greeted the first days of the revolt a year ago. Back then, it implausibly claimed that (then recently released) Wikileaks cables “revealed” that the US had been plotting to overthrow Mubarak for “at least three years” and that they, ”show Washington had been secretly backing leading figures behind the uprising.”

At the time, Democratist noted that the Wikileaks documents did not in fact reveal anything of the kind, and suggested that the RT’s wholly invented position was chiefly inspired by the nomenklatura’s concerns about the ramifications of the Arab Spring for its own domestic position;

“from the perspective of the nomenklatura, any major popular democratic uprising has to be presented to the Russian people (and by extension the world at large) as part of an “American plot”, because what has to be avoided at all costs is the idea that people might actually be able to think for themselves. As long as it’s all the CIA’s fault, that’s OK. But if people in other countries can overthrow oppressive regimes, then the Russians might slowly wake up to the idea that they might one day do the same thing – and that would never do.”

And so now we find ourselves a year on. RT’s talk of direct CIA involvement in the revolutions has waned. Indeed, if anything it has become mildly supportive of the Egyptian protests, seeing them as part of the inspiration for the Occupy Wall Street movement (which the channel has also been attempting to leverage to the Kremlin’s advantage through its coverage and support in the US – hoping that it might eventually have some influence on the broader political scene and foreign policy).

Additionally, while RT could just about defend the argument that the Americans were behind the revolution for a few months, the very fact that millions of Egyptians are still prepared to come out onto the streets a year after the initial uprising gives the lie to the suggestion that what has happened in Egypt and the wider middle East was directed from Washington/lacked popular support: Surely not even the most credulous of RT’s viewers are now prepared to accept that the US was able to organize, on its own, uprisings of millions of people in five or six countries simulaneously, and for a period which has (so far) lasted for more than a year?

Instead RT’s propaganda model is adapting to the new circumstances, and the original position is being replaced with a new and more convoluted conspiracy theory, which sees “the West” backing Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who are in turn using money and influence to hijack the popular grievances (now accepted as genuine, at least in terms of economics) which sparked the Arab Spring, and to bring Sunni Islamists to power in local elections.

This new perspective highlights the supposed potential dangers of democratization in the region, but also handily provides rhetorical ammunition to Russia’s allies in Syria and Iran: The Syrian regime can defend itself on the basis that it preventing the country falling into the hands of the Muslim brotherhood, and the Iranians can argue that there is a western-backed conspiracy against Shia Islam from which they need to protect the Iranian people.

From Democratist’s perspective, while it is would hardly come as a great surprise to discover that the Saudis may be funding Islamic parties in the region, the idea that the West would support them in such an endeavor is without the slightest foundation, and serves only the nomenklatura’s ideological/geopolitical objectives.

Additionally, in seeking to highlight the potential dangers of democratization in the middle East, RT deliberately ignores the extent to which political demands – democracy and rights – have been at the forefront of protests throughout the region. Instead RT seeks to rewrite the history of the Arab Spring in the Russian ruling class’s own image – playing up economic demands at the expense of democratic ones, whereas it has been clear, not least to the demonstrators themselves, that the two are in fact closely intertwined and mutually supporting. As the crowds shown by RT in Tahrir square demanding genuine reform yesterday attested, demands for democracy and rights have been, and remain central to the Arab Spring, and since this is the case it seems considerably less likely that the countries affected are likely to turn into anti-western theocracies than RT implies.

More fundamentally, what the Arab Spring highlights is that, while the last few years may have been witness to some democratic reversals in the CIS (Russia, Ukraine, Belarus), on the global scale, and from a longer term perspective, the last two centuries (and especially the last sixty-five years) demonstrate the growing international potency of the democratic ideal, and the erosion of autocracy as a legitimate form of governance, even in previously unexpected places (such as Egypt), and despite the United States’ perceived hypocrisy on this issue.

With the anniversary of the Egyptian revolution, the pressure for democratic reform in states which have reached the prerequisite level of economic and social development appear to be strengthening, rather than receeding. Even in Russia the population, whose docility was taken for granted by the ruling class (and the west) for much of the last decade, has finally given some indication of its potential, with the large demonstrations which followed last December’s rigged parliamentary elections.

Autocrats throughout the middle East, and wider world are being weighed, and found wanting by their people. Although this process may be delayed for some years in Russia, through economic growth, propaganda, rigged elections and the efforts of the FSB, the writing on the wall is clear for all to see.

It’s simply a question of when, and how.

Posted in Arab Spring, Democratization, Egyptian Revolution, Russia Today | Leave a Comment »

Revolution, democracy and the West.

Posted by democratist on July 28, 2011

28th July 2011,

Perhaps the strongest intellectual case made for the domestic benefits of democratic governance over authoritarianism was set out by the philosopher Karl Popper (1902-1994). Popper believed (see Popper by Bryan Magee, Fontana, 1973) that democracy was the best form of government because it allowed for the critical examination and correction of governments and their policies, and that it was therefore most able to correct previous policy mistakes, and more effectively address the social, political and economic problems a given society encounters than any other form of governance.

In order for this essential criticism to be assured, democracy must consist, not just of regular genuinely competitive elections, but critically also of the establishment and maintenance of “free institutions” (especially the rule of law), which enable the ruled to continue to criticize their rulers regardless of the government of the day.

Even in established democratic states, the threat from anti-democratic elements may remain considerable. Paradoxically therefore the free institutions which facilitate criticism must be protected from those who would use the very freedom they provide to destroy them. This is the responsibility of civil society, the media, an independent legal system, the police and security services. Many countries which formally claim to be democracies because they hold regular elections have weak institutions and therefore do not constitute democratic polities within the definition we are using here.

However, once institutional democracy has been established over a period of time, as noted by democratic peace theorists such as Michael Doyle, the democratization of formerly authoritarian states has proved beneficial for pre-existing democratic countries because democracies have very rarely (if ever) gone to war with one another. Entrenched internal democratization leads to increased international stability, and democratic countries therefore have an interest in the promotion of democratic governance.

Given the advantages outlined above, and the growing number of examples of relatively politically and economically successful democratic states over the past 70 years, as well as the current weakness of ideological alternatives, the democratic model has become an increasingly desirable one for many individuals and social movements in developing authoritarian states.

Recent examples of the trend towards democratization include the fall of communist regimes in 1989 and 1991, and revolutions in Serbia (2000), Georgia (2003), Ukraine (2004), Lebanon (2005), Kyrgyzstan (2005), Moldova (2009), as well as the “great Arab Spring” of 2011.  However, it is important to remember that revolutions by themselves by no means signal an automatic shift to democratization without an entrenchment of free institutions over a lengthy period, and indeed very many of the cases cited above have been witness to subsequent setbacks.

From a historical sociological perspective Democratist would suggest that this process of revolution and democratization has been partly one of attraction towards an ideal manifested externally (the relative political and economic success of a growing “core” of democratic states), and partly of internal economic, technological and social developments, and the inevitable social tensions capitalist modernity provokes.

But since specifically internal political and economic developments play a critical role in the spread of democracy, it is foolish for western states to believe that it is possible to export democracy at the barrel of a gun (as the US has attempted in Afghanistan and Iraq), or that they can have any overall control of the democratization process in developing countries. Instead, the West should try to carefully balance the gradualist facilitation of democratic development (through diplomatic, trade, media and other initiatives) with necessary realist policies so that when revolutions (almost inevitably) occur in developing authoritarian states, they can retain at least some influence with the social movements and political parties constituting the new regime, and can press for the introduction and development of the critical democratic institutions.

Posted in Democratization, Historical Materialism, Historical Sociology of International Relations (HSIR), Historical Sociology of IR, Karl Popper, Liberalism, Revolutions, Revolutions in IR Theory, Western Foreign Policy | 5 Comments »

Moldova’s 2011 Local Elections will confirm its European Orientation.

Posted by democratist on May 27, 2011

It will be harder for Moldova to join the EU that it was for neighbouring Romania, but Moldovan society has already made its preferences clear.

27th May 2011,

Moldova remains in a state of political upheaval initiated by the inability of the Communists to win the constitutionally required 61 seats to elect a President in the April 2009 parliamentary elections. The two years since then have seen several additional early votes – the last in November – but while the three-party coalition that forms the ruling Alliance for European Integration (AIE) has gained a few more MP’s each time, they still have only 59, and so are unable to elect one of their number to the presidency.

Marian Lupu (former Communist rising star and now leader of the breakaway Democratic Party) has filled the role of acting President since December. He looks set to do so for some months to come, especially since the constitutional court decided in February that it was not necessary for the government to hold a vote to appoint a new President within two months of the resignation of the last one (and did not provide an alternate time frame).

And yet a new set of elections early next year remains a possibility: Two rounds of municipal polls are due on 5th and 19th June. If the AIE, and especially Vlad Filat’s Liberal Democrats perform well (as expected), and the Communists lose control of one of the larger cities currently under their sway, then Filat may decide to have another crack at the top job.

In the meantime, it looks unlikely that either of his two AIE partners (Lupu’s Democrats or Mihai Ghimpu’s Liberals) will seek to block his path to power by cutting a deal with the Communists: They would almost certainly be seen as traitors to the cause of Moldova’s European integration (supported by about 70% of the population), and would suffer badly at the next election.

However, this might change if the fallout from the local polls provoke a challenge to Vladimir Voronin’s leadership of the Communists. If Igor Dodon, their mayoral candidate in Chisinau does well, while the Party’s vote in the rest of Moldova declines, then the young, centrist Dodon may make a bid to take control of the Party from the septuagenarian Voronin. This in turn would make the Communists a much more acceptable prospect for a possible deal with one or more of the AIE coalition partners.

But whether the current coalition continues, or the Liberal Democrats, or (less likely) a new coalition including Lupu and Dodon comes out on top, it seems implausible the EU’s generous financial support to Moldova will dry up any time soon: Corruption remains a serious problem with has still not been properly addressed, but in terms of progress towards democratization, media freedom and civil society, as well as prospects for co-operation with the EU on issues such as border controls and visa regularization, Moldova’s prospects are notably better than those of fellow EU Eastern Partnership members Belarus or Ukraine. This is not likely to change, given the demographic situation as expressed in the last three parliamentary elections (older Communist voters are dying off, and are not being replaced by many younger ones).

On this basis, the political and sociological foundation for Moldova’s continued EU orientation will remain in place. This is a positive development which, combined with increased free trade, and ongoing remittances from the EU, will do much to propel already robust economic growth (6.9% last year) and lead to the continued entrenchment of Moldova’s remarkably vibrant democracy. However, given enlargement fatigue and economic malaise, as well as the ongoing Transnistria issue, while the EU may be able to provide some additional incentives over the next few years, it looks like Moldova’s path to membership may still take several decades.

Posted in Democratization, EU Enlargment, European Union, Historical Sociology of International Relations (HSIR), Moldova | 2 Comments »

Ukraine Under Yanukovich.

Posted by democratist on May 14, 2011

May 14th 2011,

Over recent weeks, Democratist’s attention has started to shift towards Ukraine. Here are some of our initial thoughts on the current domestic situation;

The two key trends that have dominated Ukrainian politics in the period since Viktor Yanukovich became president last February have been a marked expansion of authoritarianism, and an increase in high-level corruption. As Anders Aslund recently commented in the Kiev Post, reforms introduced as part of a $15 billion IMF loan arrangement have not boosted Ukraine’s competitiveness or market freedom, but have instead benefitted a few businessmen close to the President. Officially the economy appears to be bouncing back from the global financial crisis, with growth projected at 4.5% this year and 6.5% for 2012, but this does not yet appear to be filtering down to the popular level. While the opposition leadership remains weak and unpopular (a result of Orange-era bickering and stagnation), social tension and resentment of the government is increasing, and a number of protests are planned in Kiev over the coming days.

Last year saw a return to the 1996 constitution, which has in turn meant a far greater concentration of power in the Presidency than had been the case under the constitution agreed in 2004 (and followed by former President Yushenko). The Rada has become a compromised and unpopular rubber stamp, with parliamentarians regularly and illegally voting for others who have not bothered to turn up to work, or passing laws at the first reading – sometimes apparently without knowing what they contain. Some MPs switched sides shortly after Yanukovich came to power (perhaps as a result of financial or other inducements) and are therefore very unlikely to be re-elected. There were also a number of credible allegations of electoral fraud in relation to last October’s local elections from the respected non-partisan OPORA NGO, and Freedom House downgraded Ukraine from “Free” to “Partly Free” in its annual Freedom in the World Index for 2011. It currently seems unlikely that Parliamentary elections set for next September will pass smoothly, considering the increasing unpopularity of the current government, even in its Eastern strongholds.

The media (TV and most papers) are owned by oligarchs with close connections to the President, and have very quickly fallen into self-censorship. The IMI Press Freedom NGO reported a drastic decline of freedom of expression in Ukraine last year. Only a couple of smaller independent titles remain, such as Dzerkalo Tyzhnya and Ukrainska Pravda (both owned by the journalists who write for them). Pressure has also been applied to the English-language press, including the Kiev Post, although both the Post and Ukrainian Week magazine are still independent, and both critical of the government.

The judiciary has also become a tool of the regime; the high court and prosecutors office have come under Presidential control, and last year saw a number of selective and politicised criminal cases launched against at least eight Tymoshenko allies, including former interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko (arrested on 26th December, and still in jail). Meanwhile only one, very junior cabinet minister from the current government, plus a couple of PoR officials, have been charged with corruption. The SBU (Security Service) was reported to have been attempting to place pressure on Ukrainian Catholic University rector Borys Gudziak in May 2010. It’s role since that time remains unclear.

In terms of corruption, while independent Ukraine has always been corrupt (part of the Soviet inheritance) quite a few of the current ministers appear to be trying to steal as much as possible, in as short a time as possible – and regardless of the damage they might be inflicting on the wider economy, to Ukraine’s international reputation, or even whether they are discovered (indicative of how tightly the media and judiciary are controlled by the government, and of a lack of desire to control this problem at the highest level). Ukraine has been slammed on this count by both Transparency International and the World bank.  A well placed source has suggested to Democratist that up to 30% of the state budget is siphoned off by various scams.

Perhaps the most instructive case in this regard relates to the grain export quotas that were set after an apparently disastrous harvest last summer (in fact only 13% down on 2009). In August 2010, Deputy PM Andrei Klyuev announced that state control of the grain market needed to be strengthened and a previously unknown company called Khilb Investbud was appointed as the state trading agent in the grain market with exclusive rights to effect all operations connected with grain on behalf of the state. Then in October the government decided to introduce grain export quotas, and who should get a big chunk of the much-prized licenses required in order to export Ukrainian grain, other than the very same Khlib Investbud. It later transpired that, while 49% of Khlib Investbud belonged to the Ukrainian state, the other 51% belongs to a company called Kolossar. Kolossar is partly owned by a man called Mykola Prysazhniuk, who just happens to be…the Minister of Agriculture (and an old friend of President Yanukovich). The other major owner of Kolossar is Russian bank Vneshekonombank. No action has been taken against  Prysazhniuk, and there are no plans to withdraw the quota system, despite the fact that Ukraine is a member of the WTO, and grain quotas restrict an important source of export earnings and tax revenue.

A similar degree of murk surrounds the privatization of the national telecommunications company UkrTelecom which, after having large sums of public money invested into it over the past decade, was sold for a minimal $1.3 billion in an auction in which only one firm, a mysterious Austrian private equity firm called EPIC, was permitted to bid, thereby excluding competitors including Deutsche Telekom. UkrTelekom is currently the only company to have a 3G license, and looks set to have a monopoly on 4G services as well.

A similar story is apparent from the introduction of a series of new tax laws passed by the Rada. These seem to have been specifically designed to favour large corporations at the expense of Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs), and allow greater scope for corruption: Tax inspectors are now allowed to raid businesses as often as they want (previously this was a maximum of once per year), and they are able to seize property for up to 96 hours without a court order. One result of this is that FDI into Ukraine (once money reentering the country from Cyprus is discounted) remains negligible. More significantly, there’s a growing sense of anger among SMEs that may well soon spill over into protest.

In terms of the broader  economy, it currently looks unlikely that Ukraine will convince the IMF to part with the two remaining $1.6 billion loan tranches to be decided in July because of  lack of action on pension reform, VAT and gas prices. However, cash from the UkrTelecom sale was received by the treasury in April, and along with an unexpectedly strong trade balance, and the planned privatization of 700 state-owned companies over the coming year (due to bring in about $1.2 billion), fears that Ukraine will default on its $42.1 billion of short-term public debt due for repayment, refinancing or restructuring in over the summer have waned slightly, although they remain considerable.

Nonetheless, Ukraine is now suffering from a number of serious economic problems including soaring prices (especially food and fuel), a weak credit market, wage arrears and  unemployment. As a result, according to an article in 12th May Russian Nezavisimaya Gazeta, in a recent survey some 45% of respondents said that they might be willing to participate in antigovernment protests. While we feel that this figure may be exaggerated, a number of protests are planned in the coming days in Kiev, and the level of participation in these will give a better indication of the level of popular anger.

Posted in CIS Media, Democratization, Freedom of the Press, Ukraine, Ukrainian Corruption, Ukrainian Politics | 3 Comments »

Russia 2012: Mr. Kudrin takes a (semi) stand.

Posted by democratist on April 23, 2011

23rd April 2011,

Some fascinating statements from Russian Finance Minister, Aleksey Kudrin at a meeting of the Board of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs on 21st April. These have so far received limited coverage in the Russian press, but we have pieced them together from reports in Izvestia and elsewhere.

Kudrin said he considers any GDP growth below 3% as tantamount to stagnation, and 3% -4.5% as “minor, unsteady” growth, because at less than 4.5% growth companies would have no time to update their fixed assets.

He stated the Russian economy is currently growing at about 3% and that investment growth is currently 8% - compared with the 30% annual increase he believes is required for modernization.

While the price of oil has climbed about 30% so far this year to $124 per barrel (auguring a dramatic improvement of Russia’s fiscal situation) Kudrin believes that a further increase in oil prices will have a negative effect on the Russian economy through inflation, and that petrostate model of development “has failed.”

He explained that the government has prepared several hypothetical scenarios for the economy, which include various possible price levels for oil, but in all the scenarios, the growth rate remains the same. He stated,”This is confirmation of the unfortunate fact that the price of oil, which before the crisis was an impetus for growth, is no longer such.”

Kudrin’s position is rather telling when compared with Putin’s statement to the Duma the previous day. Putin stated growth would be 4.2% this year, and much of his speech seemed to consist of assurances to various sectors of society that the state would soon lavish spending on them.

The model reflected in Putin’s speech then could be characterised as “back to 2008.” It is dependent on a continued growth in oil prices (or at least a continuation of the current price), and the distribution of the resultant wealth throughout Russian society in a nation-wide divvying up of the spoils. Despite some lip-service to technocratic modernization, there is little prospect that this is going to take place, leading to both stagnation and a continued withering of Russian industry, not least the high-tech sector, including military innovation.

In this light Putin’s position appears shortsighted – and Kudrin is strongly aligning himself with a liberalising agenda, without (as yet) openly backing Medvedev.

Will he go that far? Or is this just political manoeuvring designed to have a moderating influence on Putin? Either way Kudrin is levering himself into a more influential position which will become more evident and important as we move towards Parliamentary and Presidential elections over the next few months.

Posted in Autocracy and Innovation, Democratization, Hydrocarbons, Liberalism, Russia 2012 Elections, Russian Economy, Russian Liberalization, Russian Politics | 3 Comments »

Putin vs Medvedev 2012 – Update.

Posted by democratist on March 31, 2011

31st Match 2012,

Democratist has been greatly enjoying this rather groovy piece of satire from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHgQbrkS_is

Putin vs Medvedev on 2012? Where could they have got such an idea?

Posted in Democratization, Russia 2012 Elections, Russian Politics | Leave a Comment »

The Arab Spring and “Structural Power.”

Posted by democratist on March 31, 2011

March 31st 2011,

A few days ago we noted Michael Cox’s recent restatement of the argument that, despite the current debate about it’s supposed decline, the US has managed to retain a great deal of “structural power.” However we did not explain this concept in any detail.

The notion of structural power was first put forward by the British academic Susan Strange in the 1970′s. In her classic States and Markets (1988) she defined it is as;

“the power to shape and determine the structures of the global political economy within which other states, their political institutions, their economic enterprises and (not least) their scientists and other professional people have to operate…Structural power in short confers the power to decide how things shall be done, the power to shape frameworks within which states relate to each other, relate to people, or relate to corporate enterprises.”

Essentially in Strange’s view, “structural power” is the power of a state to shape various kinds of international frameworks: For her, the advantages for the US of the dollar as the key post-War currency for international trade was the central example of structural power at work, because it allowed the US to run large deficits at reduced cost (a feature of the International Monetary System which continues to this day).

However, it has occurred to Democratist that beyond the realm of economics, the “Arab Spring” we are now witnessing may well represent the strengthening and maturing of a new and potentially far more important form of structural power, one that may well confer considerable advantages for the US, and the wider West over the coming years.

As Halliday argues in Revolutions and World Politics (1999), in addition to expressing the tensions that occur within societies in transition, revolutions are also a result of the pressures placed on traditional societies by international factors.

And over the last 20 years the international trend towards democratization - which therefore increases pressure on others to democratize - has strengthened markedly; the end of Communism, the enlargement of the EU, the continued democratization of Turkey,  the revolutions in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine, Lebanon - and now Tunisia, Egypt and (possibly) Libya.  These will all add to the already considerable domestic problems faced by developing autocratic states as an additional, and now heightened structural pressure for domestic reform, if revolution is to be avoided.

This trend has in turn been encouraged by a developments in IT and globalization;  Al Jazeera, Twitter, Wikileaks, Wikipedia and Facebook are all a part of this process.

But while the US has consciously (and sometimes counterproductively) sought to export democracy for much of the last century, a great deal of the attraction of democracy - its equation with modernity for increasing numbers of people throughout the world - has been partly independent of the United States’ actions. Rather the desire for freedom and egalitarianism which informed the French and American revolutions has taken on something of a life of its own – regardless of (for example) the US invasion of Iraq, or support for Hosni Mubarak.

Nonetheless, since democratization represents the development of an international framework within which states relate to each other, and one which seems likely to disproportionately favour the democratic West (no two democratic states have ever gone to war with each other), whilst placing an additional pressure on authoritarian competitors, this democratization has to be seen as a burgeoning form of Western structural power.

Posted in Democratization, Egyptian Revolution, Historical Materialism, International Political Economy, Jasmine Revolution, Libyan Revolution, Orange Revolution, Revolutions, Russia 2012 Elections, wikileaks | 4 Comments »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.