How to save the new Ukraine

ukraine euA new Ukraine was born a year ago in the pro-European protests that helped to drive President Viktor F. Yanukovych from power, note philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, and investor-philanthropist George Soros. And today, the spirit that inspired hundreds of thousands to gather in the Maidan is stronger than ever, even as it is under direct military assault from Russian forces supporting separatists, they write for The New York Times:

The new Ukraine seeks to become the opposite of the old Ukraine, which was demoralized and riddled with corruption. The transformation has been a rare experiment in participatory democracy; a noble adventure of a people who have rallied to open their nation to modernity, democracy and Europe. And this is just the beginning.

It is instructive to compare Ukraine today with Georgia in 2004. When he became president that year, Mikheil Saakashvili immediately replaced the hated traffic police and removed the roadblocks used to extort bribes from drivers. The public recognized straight away that things had changed for the better….., Mr. Saakashvili was a revolutionary leader who first stamped out corruption but eventually turned it into a state monopoly. By contrast, Ukraine is a participatory democracy that does not rely on a single leader but on checks and balances. Democracies move slowly, but that may prove an advantage in the long run.

“Unfortunately, just as democracies are slow to move, an association of democracies like the European Union is even slower. Mr. Putin is exploiting this,” they note.

Strategic Patience

ukraine euromaidan“Right now, yes, most European leaders do appreciate the scale of the problem [of Russia’s military build-up],” says Keir Giles, an expert at London’s Chatham House foreign policy think tank.

“European leaders come and go. And Russia benefits from a continuity of leadership and also from strategic patience, which none of its adversaries can match.”

A Ukrainian female army pilot may die in detention in Russia where she is on hunger-strike, her lawyer said on Monday, calling on President Vladimir Putin to release her, Reuters reports (HT: FPI).

What is at stake in Ukraine is the future of NATO and the stability and security of Europe, analyst Andrew Michta writes for The American Interest:

It’s true that since Ukraine is in Europe’s neighborhood the United States has the right to expect greater determination from Berlin, London, and Paris to stop Russia’s war. But it is only partially true. Ukraine is our common problem as an alliance. This is about the growing threat of a wider war in Europe. It’s time for Washington and its European allies to act accordingly.

What does future hold for Donbas?

This past weekend’s intensified fighting and shelling in southeastern Ukraine, from Donetsk to Mariupol, escalated the Ukraine crisis to a new level. As more people die, political negotiations and eventual diplomatic compromise look less and less likely. What, under these circumstances, does the future hold for Donbas? Carnegie Moscow Center asks:

Alexey Malashenko, Scholar in residence, Carnegie Moscow Center’s Religion, Society, and Security Program

The status of Donbas remains uncertain. Russia still insists that it is in favor of the region being part of Ukraine. However, Russian politicians and, of particular importance, President Vladimir Putin himself, already refer to Lugansk and Donetsk as republics rather than regions. In other words, their statements demonstrate that they effectively consider the regions to be state-like entities.

Still, it’s not viable for Russia to implement the Abkhazian scenario in Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and Lugansk People’s Republic (LNR). …. Donbas is to remain an instrument of Russian politics for a long haul…..the defeats in Donbas might be used to expose Kyiv’s military and political weakness to Ukrainians and point to the fact that Ukraine has no allies in the West that are prepared to take extreme steps on its behalf. …

Balázs Jarábik, Visiting scholar, Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment

Donbas is in a downward spiral. With Russia’s support, the conflict has been worsening: …. Kyiv have been able to mobilize their constituents using nationalistic wartime propaganda. Kyiv is caught between a rock (austerity/reforms) and a hard place (war), and will have a difficult time justifying social welfare cuts to the Ukrainian people and lack of reforms to the IMF. The recently introduced state of emergency in Donetsk and Lugansk regions taken together with the ongoing mobilization indicates that Kyiv has decided to take up the military challenge. The battle for Debaltsevo will be the first test of how solid—and efficient—its efforts are.

Andrei Kolesnikov Member of the board, Yegor Gaidar Foundation

It’s clear that Donbas has joined the ranks of the unrecognized republics like South Ossetia. Each case is different, of course, but the typology of such quasi-state formations is almost identical.

Donbas is headed for a protracted existence in the state of a “frozen conflict”….. RTWT

Ukraine’s struggle for democracy, independence, and territorial integrity has consequences for the whole world, The National Endowment for Democracy’s Carl Gershman writes:

And it’s why the US has a profound stake in its success. By standing with Ukraine, we are not merely supporting their struggle. We are also defending our own national security and advancing the values of human freedom that America, with all its troubles, continues to represent, he argues in World Affairs.

Is U.S. ‘shortchanging its commitment’ to advancing democracy?

carotherscolormedium8U.S. assistance to advance democracy worldwide has shrunk by 28 percent during Barack Obama’s presidency and is now less than $2 billion per year, says a leading authority. The decline has been especially severe at the U.S. Agency for International Development, which traditionally funds the bulk of U.S. democracy assistance, notes Thomas Carothers, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. USAID spending to foster democracy, human rights and accountable governance abroad has fallen by 38 percent since 2009, he writes for The Washington Post:

The drop-off affects almost every region to which such aid is directed. It has been largest in the Middle East — a startling 72 percent cut that came just as much of the Arab world attempted a historic shift toward democracy. In Africa, a 43 percent decline has left a paltry $80 million for democracy work for the entire continent outside of Liberia and South Sudan. Overall, the number of countries where USAID operates dedicated democracy programs has fallen from 91 to 63.

To grasp just how unimpressive the U.S. commitment to aiding democracy abroad has become, consider this: Leaving aside Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, USAID spending on democracy, rights and governance in fiscal 2014 — $860 million — totaled less than what just one U.S. citizen, George Soros, spends annually to foster open society globally … The main aid agency of the country that prides itself on being an unmatched force for democracy cannot even match the financial commitment of one of its citizens?

Supporting democracy, human rights and better governance more substantially and effectively will not produce instant solutions, Carothers writes:

But patiently and seriously pursued, such aid can be a crucial part of the longer-term solutions we seek. Troubled though our democracy can seem at home, our society still enjoys its unique stability and security thanks to its pluralistic, open political system rooted in democratic accountability and the rule of law. That formula remains the right one for our pursuit of stability and security abroad.


Cuba Posible: extolling moderation to confront politics

cuba posibleRoberto Veiga González and Lenier González Mederos have created a space where Cuba’s dissidents, dyed-in-the-wool communists, artists, exiles, bloggers and academics can discuss national issues, both in print and at seminars held in a Catholic cultural center in Old Havana, Jose Goitia reports for The New York Times:

Their new project, Cuba Posible — part forum, part online magazine, part research organization — aims to do the same, and will test the government’s threshold for debate as well as Cubans’ appetite for finding a third way.

Serious and circumspect, Mr. González and Mr. Veiga lack the caustic eloquence of Yoani Sánchez, whose blog Generation Y has millions of readers, and the daring of some dissidents. They tread carefully, advocating political change without rupture and keeping some distance from the Castros’ most outspoken adversaries.

Cuba Posible does not advocate democracy, Veiga said in a telephone interview, but promotes dialogues that incorporate “discernment of the question of how to advance towards fuller democracy.”

Mr. Veiga and Mr. González are not the only, nor the first, Cubans debating national politics, Goitia adds:

Publications, including New Word, the magazine of the archdiocese of Havana, have bluntly urged much faster economic reforms. Temas, a cultural magazine, has, for years, held monthly discussions that are open to the public.

Antonio Rodiles, a physicist by training, has gained recognition for hosting discussions and jam sessions that are broadcast online under the name State of SATS  an activity for which he has been arrested more than once.


Better governance most effective tool against Nigeria’s Boko Haram

nigeria boko cfrThe militant Islamist Boko Haram’s increasingly bold attacks in Nigeria threaten to fuel further Muslim-Christian violence and destabilize West Africa, making the group a leading concern for U.S. policymakers, writes John Campbell, Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow for Africa policy studies, in a new Council Special Report.

“The Boko Haram insurgency,” Campbell explains, “is a direct result of chronic poor governance by Nigeria’s federal and state governments, the political marginalization of northeastern Nigeria, and the region’s accelerating impoverishment.” Rather than fighting the militant group solely through military force, he argues, the U.S. and Nigerian governments must work together to redress the alienation of Nigeria’s Muslims.

Though the United States has “little leverage” over President Goodluck Jonathan’s government, Washington should “pursue a longer-term strategy to address the roots of northern disillusionment, preserve national unity, and restore Nigeria’s trajectory toward democracy and the rule of law.”

Campbell’s long-term recommendations comprise:

How Tunisia will succeed: octogenarian president after youth uprising?

tunis smaliTwenty seven-year old Anis Smaali (left) is running a team of 5,000 election observers for Mourakiboun* - a group that monitored Tunisia’s parliamentary elections in October and on Sunday will be observing the first freely contested presidential election in the country’s history, the BBC’s Naveena Kottoor reports.

“These are the most important elections in the history of Tunisia,” he says. “After this we will have a real government with a five-year mandate. Tunisia is showing that a real and sustainable democracy is possible in the Arab world.”

It may seem unusual that an octogenarian politician who once said he would run for president if he was “still alive” would be tipped to lead a country whose youthful uprising touched off the Arab Spring, Heba Saleh writes for the FT:

But Beji Caid Sebsi is now seen as the frontrunner in Tunisia’s presidential election on November 23, just three days before his 88th birthday. His Nida Tunis party won October’s parliamentary elections with 39 per cent of the seats making it the largest bloc in the assembly. One of 25 candidates in the race, Mr Sebsi is for his supporters a credible secular face against the Islamists of Nahda, who emerged from decades of repression to capture a plurality of seats in the first election after the 2011 revolution and lead government for almost two years.

tunisia_ugtt(1)Also running is Moncef Marzouki, the interim president. A long-time opposition figure and veteran human rights activist, he may draw support from Islamists who see him as a bulwark against the return of the old regime.

Mr Sebsi’s party, a motley alliance of the old guard, liberals and trade unionists, was formed expressly to counter the Islamists, whom voters have punished for the country’s economic slowdown during the transition and for their perceived initial laxity towards violent religious extremists.

Tunisian rappers, comedians and journalists, fearful that next week’s presidential election could cement a return to power by partisans of the former dictatorship, are bracing themselves to defend the freedoms won since it was ousted in 2011, AFP reports. 

Most of the political spectrum in Tunisia is evolving toward more centrist and pragmatic politics. The reduction of the elections to an “Islamist/secularist” dichotomy is unhelpful and inaccurate. In fact, most secularist parties, including Nidaa Tounes, reject the label of “laïcité,” or secularism, as unhelpfully polarizing, says the leader of Ennahda, the country’s leading Islamist party.

tunisia ghannouchiThe solution to extremism is not less freedom, but more. The solution to terrorism is not less religion; it is freedom of religion and the cultivation of moderate, balanced religious thought, Rachid Ghannouchi (left) writes for The New York Times: 

Muslim democrats have an important role to play in combating the spread of extremist interpretations by upholding democratic values of freedom and pluralism….Tunisia still faces a daunting task. The Constitution, with its vision of a separation of powers and newly accountable institutions, has yet to be implemented. The “truth and dignity” commission has just begun its work toward providing justice to the victims of the Ben Ali dictatorship; this process is vital to healing the wounds of the past.

Tunisia will need the cooperation of all political parties to tackle much-needed reforms of economic subsidies and public administration, and of our banking system and investment laws. Consensus has got us this far, but Tunisia will need an inclusive, democratic approach if it is to solve the problems that are the legacy of dictatorship. 

“Nearly four years have passed since a man named Mohamed Bouazizi so despaired of the system that he set himself on fire in protest,” he notes, “With every decision we make, politicians in Tunisia must never forget what he died for. We need to protect freedom and dignity, and provide hope and opportunity.” RTWT

*A partner of the National Democratic Institute.