Democracy must ‘deliver dividends’

The National Journal notes former President Bill Clinton’s remarks at the Democratic Convention this week. No, not his keynote speech, but his comments at the National Democratic Institute’s forum on Ensuring Democracy Delivers Dividends

Clinton prefaced his remarks by saying that they had “nothing to do with what is going on right now” in the United States. He then proceeded to say that democracies face an accountability challenge: If there is a candidate whom everyone agrees with but who people fear can’t deliver, he said, and another candidate whom people agree with only half the time but who they think can deliver, people will vote for the person they think can deliver.

NDI, loosely affiliated with the Democratic Party, organized the International Leaders’ Forum, series of nonpartisan seminars, receptions and [all important] access to the convention floor. Other speakers included Madeleine K. Albright, former U.S. secretary of state and NDI chairman,  Ricardo Lagos, former president of Chile, Kjell Magne Bondevik, former prime minister of Norway, Alejandro Toledo, former president of Peru, and Kim Campbell, former prime minister of Canada.

SCO’s separation anxiety

RFE/RL’s Merhat Sharipzhan explains why Russia’s fellow autocrats in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) refused to follow the Kremlin in recognizing South Ossetia and Abkhazia:

Since 1996, the SCO has affirmed its commitment to the principle of territorial integrity in many mutual agreements and resolutions. An SCO accord on cooperation combating separatism and terrorism has been used by China to secure SCO support for Beijing’s position on Xinjiang Province and Tibet. They were used by some Central Asian states to justify the extradition to China of Uyghurs charged with terrorism in Xinjiang, actions that elicited harsh criticism from local and international human rights activists.

So, it is easy to understand China’s reluctance to go along as Russia seems to be trying to rewrite the long-standing rules of the game within the SCO. None of the other member states is going to sign onto a policy that could complicate their efforts to maintain their own territorial integrity.

China: Uyghurs harassed, dissident released, unrest explained

Dissident Hu Shigen was released from prison this week

Dissident Hu Shigen was released from prison this week

An emerging grassroots resistance movement has already “fundamentally altered key elements of China’s party-state regime and society”, a new analysis argues. “Originating as a spontaneous series of unorganized, non-ideological, and apolitical movements”, this liberalization movement has created “a parallel society alongside the authoritarian state”, argues the University of Hawaii’s Kate Zhou, until recently a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow.

Yet her report, published by the NED-affiliated Center for International Private Enterprise, concludes that the liberalization movement faces serious challenges, including weak rule of law, disunity between various causes, and a “hyper-nationalism that threatens prospects for peace and stability in Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang province, and Tibet.” Consequently, Zhou suggests, China is “at the crossroads of three possible futures: the rise of a fascist-like state, a continuation of the status quo, or most likely some form of liberalized Chinese federalism.”

A series of mass protests reveal the extent of inequality and corruption in China, according to a new civil society report on mass incidents. The report documents the Weng’an incident when over 10,000 citizens, angered by a police investigation into the death of a local student, attacked a government building and police station; clashes between police and villagers in Fugu; and attacks on police in Huizhou and Menglian.

Such protests demonstrate a strong dissatisfaction with growing social inequalities, while bureaucracy and corruption “cause tension” between Communist Party cadres and the people. Citizens are unaware of their legal rights and “don’t know how to express their dissatisfaction by lawful means”, in part because greater economic and social openness has not been matched by political liberalization. The fact that citizens are unable to protest legally forces them to take direct action that often turns violent.

Meanwhile, China’s communist authorities have released long-term political prisoner and veteran democracy advocate Hu Shigen after he served sixteen years of a twenty-year sentence. Hu was one of several Chinese dissidents and democracy activists to receive this year’s NED Democracy Award.

“We welcome the release of Hu Shigen, but it is tragic that Hu had to suffer so many years of abuse, serious health problems, and harsh conditions,” said Human Rights in China Executive Director Sharon Hom. “He should have been released immediately in November 2005, when the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determined that his detention was arbitrary.”

Hu established the China Freedom and Democracy Party and the Preparatory Committee of the Free Labour Union of China in 1991. He was sentenced to twenty years’ imprisonment in 1994 for “carrying out counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement” and “organizing a counterrevolutionary group.” Both crimes were eliminated in a 1997 revision of the Criminal Law, but Hu remained in prison.

Elsewhere in China, authorities in the restive region of Xinjiang or East Turkestan have accelerated their campaign against Uyghurs, making many arrests and establishing checkpoints following the worst violence in a decade. Some 160 Uyghur youths studying religion in the Hui region were arrested and detained  by the Public Security Bureau in Xinjiang. The Munich-based World Uyghur Congress reports that residents in the town of Kucha have been barred from travelling outside their own county, with several military checkpoints set up to prevent travel.

“The increasing importance of the Muslim-dominated Xinjiang autonomous region as a source of the energy and minerals needed to fuel China’s booming eastern cities is raising the stakes for Beijing in its battle against separatists agitating for an independent state,” the Financial Times reports.

Iraq: need for ‘diplomatic surge’

With Iraq apparently turning a corner toward stabilization, the dramatic improvements in security now need to be consolidated by a political accommodation between the country’s “self-absorbed” and divided parties, argues Larry Diamond. Security progress remains fragile and reversible, he argues, unless a “diplomatic surge” of pressure and incentives forces the major actors to make the necessary compromises and meet benchmarks on political accommodation and stabilization.

Provincial elections are due by October, but “there remains a huge question of whether they will be reasonably free, transparent, and fair.” In addition to what the U.S. Institute of Peace calls a “weak and divided central government with limited governing capacity”, Iraq’s political institutions remain “feckless, incompetent, and massively corrupt”, says Diamond, a former adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad.

The fundamental problem remains the lack of a consensus on the future constitutional shape of the country, including the key issues of oil revenue distribution, federal arrangements, and the structure of central executive power. “Iraq cannot progress toward stability until all the major parties agree on the core constitutional question: how will wealth and power be shared?”

Growing calls for solidarity with Georgia

Contrary to Vladimir Putin’s fantasies, it is becoming clear that Moscow was primed to move into South Ossetia.

“Our decision to engage was made in the last second as the Russian tanks were rolling — we had no choice,” President Mikheil Saakashvili told journalist Melik Kaylan. “We took the initiative just to buy some time. We knew we were not going to win against the Russian army, but we had to do something to defend ourselves.”

His remarks signaled a diplomatic offensive on the part of the beleaguered democracy. Many media commentators in the West have too readily taken Russia’s account of events at face value and blamed Georgia for provoking the Kremlin. 

“We have a case of a small democratic nation, attacked by a large autocratic neighbor,” said David Bakradze, the chairman of Georgia’s parliament, David Bakradze, addressing a meeting at the Democratic Convention in Denver.

“I think the case speaks for itself. What Georgia is guilty for is … that we don’t want to be part of this autocratic system and we want to have a right to choose, to choose our democratic system, to choose values, and to choose our security arrangements like NATO,” he told a meeting of international leaders sponsored by the National Democratic Institute. “It’s about values, democracy, and protection of human rights. It should be very important to liberals.”

Russia’s actions betray its fundamental weakness, according to a senior State Department official. Three successive US presidencies rightly encouraged Russia’s integration with the wider world, said Daniel Fried, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs. But the Kremlin “has now put all of that at risk, because Russian cannot simultaneously behave like the Soviet Union toward its neighbors like this is 1968 and act as if it is 2008 when it comes to the WTO.”

Without justifying Georgia’s initial actions, Fried came to its defense. “Georgia is a flawed democracy, a democracy in construction. You don’t help them by whitewashing their problems or defending a bad decision. But you don’t want it crushed,” he said.

A new history of the Caucasus invokes “the ghost of freedom” and offers Europe’s “inexorable march” towards liberal values as offering hope to the region’s small states. But one reviewer at least believes the West is unlikely to challenge Russia in its own backyard:

“For over a thousand years the Georgians and Armenians have appealed to Europe for support as fellow Christians, as Europeans by culture, if not by geography, and after being strung along by Crusaders, by Louis XIV, by various Popes, by Presidents Wilson, Roosevelt and both Bushes, can still not believe that the answer they get will always be a perfunctory apology that deeper interests of state force the West to take sides with its major trading partners, not its cultural and spiritual brothers.” 

Indeed, notes Princeton philosopher Michael Walzer, contrary to its claims, Russia’s invasion was not a ‘just war’ humanitarian intervention, but it still represents a major defeat for the US and the EU. “It demonstrates that these two great powers, publicly committed to the advance of democracy in Europe, are unable to defend the territorial integrity or physical security of democratic Georgia,” he observes.

Georgian workers are mobilizing to protest the Russian invasion, the NED-affiliated Solidarity Center reports. Swelling numbers of union activists from the Georgian Trade Union Confederation marched to a Russian military checkpoint.

“Even after the Russians withdraw, we will need a lot of support,” said program director Robert Fielding, speaking from Tbilisi. “Too much damage has been done, too many people displaced and traumatized.” The Solidarity Center has set up a special fund to provide food, shelter, and clothing to Georgian workers and their families (click here to make a tax-deductible contribution).