‘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.

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Yemen: Saleh bites back?


Credit: Sada

Credit: Sada

Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, has been besieged since August by armed Houthi followers demanding the government’s resignation after a decision to cut fuel subsidies, the latest in a series of grievances they hope to settle, notes Nasser Arrabyee, a Yemeni journalist based in Sanaa. Thousands of protesters are camping out near important government institutions like the ministry of interior, raising concerns that there will be a violent escalation to topple the government. Meanwhile, Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh is using the crisis to reestablish his influence on the country’s politics, he writes for Carnegie’s Sada Journal:

Seeking to appear above the fray, Saleh keeps denying claims that he supports Houthi fighting in Amran, Jawf, and Sanaa. “We will not stand with a party against the other,” he toldsupporters from Amran on September 9, calling for dialogue to save Yemeni blood after more than 10 pro-Houthi protesters were killed and 60 others injured in a confrontation with the government forces near the cabinet building. Saleh has made a show of ignoring the unrest, instead receiving tribal and religious leaders from all over Yemen who came to show support after an alleged assassination attempt. …

Whatever its strength or motives, Saleh’s potential overt support for the Houthis would likely help their cause in the short term, giving them political backing—particularly from pro-Saleh tribal leaders and his supporters within the army. However, even an informal alliance risks enflaming the tensions in Sanaa and may lead to further violence. But Yemen can avoid all-out war if the Houthis opt for a political solution. If they form a party and maintain the backing of Saleh and his supporters, they will be able to make stronger demands, and President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi, who depends mainly on international support that would be lost if Yemen went to war, is keen to ensure such a resolution.


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Does Democracy Matter?

democracy ukraine

Negative experiences from state-building projects in Iraq and Afghanistan, the mixed record of democratic change in the former Soviet Union and the aftermath of Arab Spring have led many to question the efficacy of democracy promotion. Some argue that Western democracy support is ineffective at its best and counterproductive at its worst.

Is there a case for continuing efforts to encourage transitions to democracy? The unresolved Ukraine crisis has heightened the importance of this question.

Taking stock of democracy promotion over the past 30 years, what are its strengths and weaknesses? If U.S. and European democracy promotion should be continued, how can it be better targeted and reformed to more effectively advance democratization in post-authoritarian societies? If such assistance programs deserve to be terminated, should there be alternative policies to support human rights and other aspects of pluralism?

The Project on Democratic Transitions at the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Kennan Instituteand the Foreign Policy Research Institute are sponsoring an October 20 conference on Does Democracy Matter?

Topics and Speakers

Welcoming Remarks

Adrian A. Basora

Director · Project on Democratic Transitions

Revisiting the case for democracy assistance

Amb. Kenneth Yalowitz


Kennan Institute ·

Carl Gershman, National Endowment for Democracy ·

Nikolas Gvosdev, Naval War College ·

Barak Hoffman, World Bank ·

Joshua Muravchik, Johns Hopkins University ·

How effective are the core components of US democracy promotion? Are they adequate for today’s circumstances?

Christian Caryl, Moderator, Foreign Policy ·

Sarah Bush, Senior Fellow · Project on Democratic Transitions

Melinda Haring, Associate Scholar · Project on Democratic Transitions

Tsveta Petrova, Eurasia Group

Michal Koran, Prague Institute for International Relations ·

Luncheon and Keynote Speaker

Alan Luxenberg, Introduction, President · Foreign Policy Research Institute

Larry Diamond, Stanford University ·

Closing Remarks

Matthew Rojansky, Kennan Institute ·

For additional information or to register for this event, please contact Maia Otarashvili at (215) 732-3774 x 119 or motarashvili@fpri.org.

For registration and further information, visit conference web-site at http://doesdemocracymatter.com/

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Inside Venezuela’s opposition

vzla LilianTintori

Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López was just one of several political leaders—including current Mayors Daniel Ceballos of San Cristóbal and Enzo Scarano of San Diego—arrested after a wave of peaceful student protests that began in Venezuela on February 12, 2014, AQ’s Leani García writes. The protests soon turned deadly as demonstrators flooded the streets to protest high inflation, rising crime rates and…

RTWT on the Americas Quarterly website for an interview with Lilian Tintori (above).


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Will Kiska revive Slovak democracy?


Olga GyárfášováThe election of the political newcomer Andrej Kiska as fourth president of the Slovak Republic was a blow to Prime Minister Robert Fico, writes Olga Gyárfášová (left), an analyst at the Institute for Public Affairs in Bratislava. 

Kiska’s first actions in judicial and foreign affairs might even signal a change in the country’s political atmosphere.  

In the 1990s Slovakia faced tough criticism for democratic deficits, and it lagged far behind its neighbors in integration and democratization processes. After 1998 the country managed a dramatic shift that moved it ahead of countries that had previously been seen as high achievers.  

Those dynamics are still there. A key finding of the latest edition of the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Sustainable Governance Indicators (SGI) project, which examines democratic quality in 41 European Union and OECD nations, is that from 2011 to 2014 Slovakia made the largest improvements in terms of quality of democracy among all countries in the assessment.  

This does not mean Slovakia is a champion in every respect; it still has room for improvement. The SGI survey shows that the country has remained below-average in several dimensions of quality of democracy (it ranks 25th on overall democratic quality). One of the main concerns here is corruption, although rule of law and the state of the judiciary system are also problematic. Nevertheless, its rapid rise in the ranks gives good cause for a closer look.           

On June 15, 2014 the presidential palace in Bratislava got a new resident when Andrej Kiska became the fourth President of the Slovak Republic and its third president to be directly elected by popular vote. Kiska clearly defeated Prime Minister Robert Fico, whose presidential candidacy came as a surprise for many analysts. Yet voters preferred the political newcomer, a former entrepreneur who made a fortune, became a philanthropist, and then in his early fifties decided to enter politics.  

The election outcome was a clear signal that the people did not want to have all key government positions in the hands of one party. Kiska campaigned for the office as a non-partisan, and he is the first Slovak president who was never a member of the communist party (25 years after the Velvet revolution!). His victory brings high hopes for political culture, transparency, and especially the balance of power in Slovakia.  

A new era in judicial affairs and human rights? 

The Slovak president largely plays a ceremonial role. He does, however, appoint the judges of the Constitutional Court, is able to veto laws and represents the country abroad. One of Kiska’s first decisions in office addressed then also hopes for changes in judicial affairs – and let to a first clash with the governing party. 

The judiciary plays an essential role for countries’ institutional checks and balances. In Slovakia, however, this pillar of democracy has been a hobbling leg. In recent years the Supreme Court and the judiciary have been almost completely controlled by the President of the Supreme Court, Štefan Harabín. He is a former member of the People’s Party-Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (LS-HZDS), which was established and led by Vladimír Mečiar for over two decades and dissolved in 2014, and he was the party’s nominee for the position of justice minister in the first Fico cabinet. This man came to symbolize the general mistrust towards the judiciary and its dependency on political power.  

Kiska here sent a strong message: He nominated only one out of the six candidates selected as judges by parliament, which is dominated by the prime minister’s Direction-Social Democracy (Smer-SD) party, for three seats at the constitutional court. Kiska only appointedJana Baricova arguing that the other Smer-candidates were not sufficiently qualified for the position.   

The appointment of new judges to the constitutional court was one of the most important steps by the new president. It was significant in particular for the overall political atmosphere, the nature of relations between the constitutional institutions, as well as for the credibility of the constitutional court and rule of law in general. The second half of June 2014 saw the end of the term of Štefan Harabín. As he was not reelected in the first round, the Harabín era could well be over given the new political context.   

Another problematic area concerning respect for the rule of law in Slovakia is the law enforcement. This applies in general and in some selected cases in particular. One such case is the violent police intervention in the Roma settlement in Moldava nad Bodvou in June 2013. Slovakia’s ombudswoman, Jana Dubovcová, has clearly identified human rights violations by the police there, which were also condemned by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, but her report has been repeatedly disregarded by the ministries and the coalition MPs in the National Council. As the SGI Slovakia report points out, not only are marginalized groups in Slovakia at risk of being discriminated against by the police but during the economic crisis the negative attitudes of the majority towards the Roma have also increased. “This makes it politically risky for politicians to address the issue,” write the SGI experts.  

However, during his first weeks in office, the president openly supported the ombudswoman’s efforts to defend the human rights of minorities and disadvantaged groups in instances where the executive has been blind and deaf to their needs.

Clash over foreign policy

The second area in which the new president has raised a loud voice is foreign policy – and it often runs contrary to that of the prime minister.

Recent sanctions against Russia imposed by the European Union (EU) and the United States in the wake of the Ukraine crisis have brought large differences between the president and the prime minister to the surface. As an EU member state Slovakia agreed to the sanctions, but Prime Minster Robert Fico repeatedly said they were senseless and harmful to the country. Kiska, however, wrote on his Facebook page that “business interests mustn’t be put above the fundamental values of freedom and democracy.”

Naturally, Fico’s statements were addressed to his domestic audience rather than to the international community. Yet they can be considered an important message to the outside world regarding where Slovakia stands in this polarizing conflict. This is why it was so important for the president to counterbalance Fico’s stand by saying that while the EU sanctions against Russia may bring certain economic losses; the country needs to be prepared to make sacrifices.

To sum up, Slovakia’s new president provides a strong anchor for its quality of democracy, one that could further accelerate the country’s already rapid pace of the last few years. Yet, there is still room to improve.

Olga Gyárfášováis lecturer at the Institute of European Studies and International Relations at Comenius University in Bratislava and a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy.

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