Kremlin targets journalists investigating deaths of Russian soldiers


Credit: BBC

Credit: BBC

Journalists investigating the deaths of Russian soldiers that news reports claimed were killed during Russia’s alleged involvement in Ukraine’s conflict have been targeted in a series of attacks since late August, writes Elena Milashina, Moscow Correspondent for the Committee to Protect Journalists. The attacks, mostly by unknown assailants, began after they tried to investigate the mysterious deaths of Russian soldiers.

According to the Glasnost Defense Foundation (GDF), the Moscow-based press freedom group, attacks on local and international journalists covering the story have spiked. In at least five cases in August, GDF documented threats, arbitrary detentions, denial of access to public information, use of violence, and physical assaults……

The attacks started after the independent newspaper Pskovskaya Guberniya, published a series of reports claiming members of 76th Division had been deployed secretly to eastern Ukraine, and had been actively involved in the conflict with pro-Russia separatists. Russia denies the claims. On August 29, the newspaper’s publisher, Lev Shlosberg, who is also a politician with the opposition party Yabloko, was the victim of a vicious attack that he said was in retaliation for his paper’s investigation into the deaths of Russian paratroopers in Ukraine. In a series of reports, the newspaper alleged that up to 100 soldiers from Pskov were killed in eastern Ukraine in August. …..

On Tuesday, Shlosberg filed a formal request asking the office of the Russian general prosecutor to investigate the deaths of 12 soldiers who served in Pskov region, the Moscow-based independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported.

After he filed the request, the state-owned news channel Vesti released a lengthy report on Shlosberg’s case. But instead of following up on his inquiry, the broadcaster portrayed him as a traitor and recipient of foreign grants, including from the U.S. government-funded National Endowment for Democracy.


Democratization: waves vs. clusters

HuntingtonJay Ulfelder’s thoughtful critique of my Journal of Democracy essay “The End of the Transitions Era” makes some interesting points, and there are a number of specific matters about which we agree, writes Marc Plattner. Nonetheless, I find his larger critique to be unpersuasive. Our disagreements, all having to do with “waves” of democratization, can be divided into two parts—those about the past and those about the future. 

Regarding the past, Ulfelder rightly notes that I emphasize the distinction between the two sets of countries that make up Huntington’s First Wave (1828 – 1926) of democratization: 1) the “dozen or so European and European-settler countries that had already succeeded in establishing a fair degree of freedom and rule of law, and then moved into the democratic column by gradually extending the suffrage”; and 2) “countries that became democratic after World War I, many of them new nations born from the midst of the European empires defeated and destroyed during the war.” I would not object in principle to calling these two separate “waves,” but given the currency still enjoyed by Huntington’s categorizations (especially the Third Wave), it seems to me futile to insist on this.

Ulfelder himself accepts the “coherence” of Huntington’s Second Wave (1943-62), which occurred in the aftermath of World War II. He argues, however, that Huntington’s Third Wave (1974 -2000) should be divided in two, separating off the southern European and Latin American cases of the 1970s and 1980s from the postcommunist cases that began in 1989 and the African cases that began shortly thereafter. Here I cannot agree with him–and not only because of the wide acceptance of Huntington’s scheme.

In the first place, Ulfelder simply omits important transitions in other regions in the mid-to-late 1980s that made the Third Wave clearly global—especially the Philippines, Pakistan, and South Korea. Second, his categorization ignores the fact that several key Latin American countries, including Chile, Nicaragua, and Mexico, did not make their democratic transitions until after 1989. It makes little sense, in my view, to try to designate as two separate “waves” groups of democratic transitions that occurred so close to each other in time and in some cases overlapped. Moreover, as I stated in my original essay, I think one can find some specific ways in which the East European transitions were influenced by the Spanish example, and that even more important was the overall impact that the global democratic resurgence had on decaying regimes in the communist world. The downfall of European communism did not occur in an ideological vacuum.


Bahrain reform plan prompts protests, as court upholds activists’ jail terms

Maryam al-KhawajaOn September 18, Bahrain media reported that Crown Prince Salman, perceived as a conciliator, had sent a letter to his father, King Hamad, outlining areas of “common ground” in talks on political reforms, writes Simon Henderson, a Gulf specialist at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy:

Five core elements were listed: redistricting to ensure greater representation; legislative changes to allow parliament to question ministers, including the prime minister; parliamentary approval of the cabinet; improvement in judicial standards and judiciary independence; and security-sector changes, including new codes of conduct for the security forces. In the absence of actual reforms, the crown prince’s efforts to clarify the issues could simply exacerbate the country’s divisions, Henderson suggests:

On September 19, Sheikh Ali Salman, the leader of the main al-Wefaq opposition faction, told a large group of demonstrators that the proposals did not represent “the will of the people” and the elections would be “illegitimate.” … The opposition is no doubt frustrated at being offered the prospect of political reform but only after elections in which their hope of victory is nil. A large-scale boycott would be embarrassing for the government, yet delaying the vote until reforms are enacted is probably not a realistic option. Under the constitution, polls have to be held before December 15 unless the king extends the terms of current members of parliament by two years. Perhaps the ominous presence of the “Islamic State”/ISIS in Syria and Iraq — which is a danger to Bahrain’s Shiites and ruling family alike — will avert a major crisis at home.

A Bahraini appeals court Sunday confirmed five-year jail terms imposed on nine Shiites, among them a photojournalist and an online activist, for calling for the overthrow of the Sunni monarchy, AFP reports:

Dozens of Bahraini Shiites have been handed lengthy prison terms after being convicted of involvement in protests that have shaken the kingdom since February 2011. The court upheld an April ruling sentencing photographer Hussain Hubail and activist Jassim al-Nuaimi, along with seven other Shiites, to five years in prison, after convicting them of promoting the overthrow of the regime “through illegal means via media and social networks”.

bahrainThe Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint program of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has been informed by the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) about the provisional release pending trial of Ms. Maryam Al-Khawaja (above left),GCHR Co-Director and a member of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR):  

According to the information received, on September 18, 2014, the public prosecution ordered the release of Ms. Maryam Al-Khawaja pending her trial on 1 October 2014, for allegedly assaulting a police officer at the airport. A travel ban has been imposed on her and a guarantee of her place of residence was required as a condition of her release. She is due to appear on October 1 2014 before the High Criminal Court. If convicted, she can face up to two years of imprisonment.

Today, the Shia political opposition looks to London and Washington for help, but if there is no effective help, and if  they remain effectively disenfranchised, the day will come when some among them begin to look instead to Tehran, warns Elliott Abrams, a Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies with the Council on Foreign Relations:

That will be a disaster for Bahrain and for the United States– a kind of “reverse Iraq,” for in Iraq it was the Shia-led government of prime minister Maliki that refused compromise and alienated the Sunni population.

The United States should not today be pressuring the Shia community, led by the al-Wefaq organization, to participate in the elections come what may. The ground rules and the terms of compromise count. Al-Wefaq participated in parliament from 2006 to 2010 under pressure to play the political game, produce change, and reap the benefits. But there were no benefits; the experiment failed. Bahrain is today less free than it was a decade ago.

Instead, the United States should be pressing both sides for a genuine and meaningful compromise, and should be urging the King to act now to save his country from strife that surely lies ahead unless he uses his influence and his power to guide change, argues Abrams, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.

‘Doubling down’ on democracy in face of new authoritarians?

fukuyama pol order decayWestern liberal democracy now faces a competitor Frances Fukuyama did not anticipate when he wrote “The End of History?,” says Harvard’s Michael Ignatieff: states that are capitalist in economics, authoritarian in politics, and nationalist in ideology. These new authoritarians are conducting an epoch-making historical experiment as to whether regimes that allow private freedoms can endure when they deny their citizens public freedom.

Fukuyama, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, “has learned caution since ‘The End of History?,’” he writes for The Atlantic, in a review of Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy:

If his analysis is true, however, then Presidents Xi and Putin should beware. Over the long term—and nobody knows how long that might be—authoritarian regimes that allow their citizens capitalist freedoms but deny them democratic rights will explode, in revolution, coups, civil war, or a combination of all three. Democratization, Fukuyama seems to be saying, will eventually turn out to be necessary to Russia’s and China’s very survival as unitary states.

He also takes a relatively optimistic view of political developments in the Arab world, Ignatieff notes…

…..arguing that a middle class is steadily growing there, education levels are rising, and economies are opening up, all of which mean that autocracy or military dictatorship cannot last forever. Islam, he insists, is not an enemy of democracy. Indeed, Islamic parties have best captured the demand for political voice and dignity. Fukuyama clings to the Tunisian example, where moderate Islamic parties and secular political groups have agreed on a compromise constitution that does not let Sharia trump the rule of law.

Fukuyama’s assumption that middle classes always want democracy would seem to break down in Egypt, where the middle class of Cairo teamed up with the army to restore a military dictatorship after the first wave of the Arab Spring. Elsewhere, Islamists have exploited demands for voice and dignity, and Syria and Iraq are crumbling as their regimes fight to hold on to power. Not even Fukuyama is up to the challenge of predicting how long this battle will last, or who will win.


MICHAEL IGNATIEFF, the Edward R. Murrow Professor of the Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School, is the author of Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics.