Freedom’s uneasy condition

FREEDOM FHIn recent commentaries on the bleak state of global freedom, analysts have used a series of labels to describe the trajectory of democracy: “stagnation,” “erosion,” “recession,” and even “decline” for those who view the trends with alarm, notes Arch Puddington, Vice President for Research at Freedom House. One label that has not been applied to current conditions is “reversal.”

This is worth noting. In his influential study of the democracy revolution of the late 20th century, The Third Wave, Samuel Huntington devoted considerable space to the reversals in political freedom that came on the heels of the first and second waves of democratization, he writes for the Freedom at Issue blog.

The sense of backsliding is increasingly palpable, leading many to ask, like the Economist, what’s gone wrong with democracy? A complete list of disheartening phenomena over the past several years would be a long one, but here are a few:

  • The lack of major breakthroughs: Aside from Tunisia, the Arab Spring has met with a grim fate across the Middle East, with antidemocratic forces dragging the region even deeper into repression and violence. Other persistent blocs of Not Free countries, covering much of Eurasia, Africa, and Southeast Asia, remain overwhelmingly authoritarian, despite significant ferment on their margins.
  • Worsening conditions in major authoritarian states: In 2000, many anticipated change for the better in China. Instead, political freedom remains a remote prospect, and civil liberties have been further curtailed. Russia was ranked as Partly Free in 2000; it is now firmly in the Not Free category. Nor have things improved in Iran, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, or Egypt, and the situation has gone from bad to worse in Venezuela.
  • Strutting dictators: Where previously a country’s democracy deficit would elicit apologies and pledges to institute reforms, today’s autocratic leaders, led by Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, categorically reject democratic values and speak with disdain of Euro-American gridlock and decadence.
  • The economic factor: The democratic sphere’s clear superiority in growth, prosperity, and technological modernization played a huge role in discrediting both communism and military dictatorship during the late 20th century. While developed democracies remain atop the roster of prosperous countries, the economic crisis that began in 2008 has shaken their peoples’ confidence and—coupled with a continued boom in China—changed the calculation in many developing societies.

The current situation can be viewed in two ways. It is not as bad as it may seem, in the sense that the great gains of previous decades have not in fact been erased. But it could be a sign of things to come, the cusp of a major reversal. To prevent a negative outcome in matters of such consequence, it is always best to prepare for the worst.


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Postponing Ukraine trade agreement ‘a bad move’ by EU

ulrich speckThe EU suddenly and surprisingly changed its long and firmly held position that Russia has no right to interfere in its relations with Ukraine on September 12, writes Ulrich Speck, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels. EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht announced that an agreement had been reached between the EU, Russia, and Ukraine to delay the implementation of a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement (DCFTA) between the EU and Ukraine.

By postponing the DCFTA, the economic core of the Association Agreement meant to bring Ukraine closer to the union, some EU leaders apparently wanted to accommodate the Kremlin. The concession on the DCFTA was meant to give Moscow an additional incentive to stick to a ceasefire that Russia, Russian-supported rebels, and the Ukrainian government had agreed to on September 5. The so-called Minsk protocol also set in motion a broader process to end the fighting between pro-Moscow and pro-EU forces in Ukraine. But delaying the DCFTA is a mistake. It gives Russia incentives to raise the pressure because it opens a large window of opportunity to prevent the DCFTA from entering into force. The pressure could be military, economic, or diplomatic. And the delay puts at risk what should be the EU’s longer-term response to the Ukraine crisis: a redoubled effort to help the country build itself up as a successful liberal democracy and market economy.


Ulrich Speck is a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels, where his research focuses on the European Union’s foreign policy and Europe’s strategic role in a changing global environment. Follow him on Twitter @uli_speck.

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The Governance Agenda and Democratic Development

fukuyama pol order decayPolitical Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy is the sequel to Francis Fukuyama’s widely-acclaimed book The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution. This new work examines how societies develop-or fail to develop-strong impersonal and accountable political institutions, carrying forward Fukuyama’s historical analysis all the way to the Arab Spring and the deep dysfunctions of contemporary American politics. He explores the legacies of colonialism in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, analyzes the effects of corruption on governance, and explains why some regions have developed more quickly than others.

Please join us as Francis Fukuyama discusses his findings in Political Order and Political Decay, with special attention to their implications for the future of democracy and for democracy promotion.

The International Forum for Democratic Studies

at the National Endowment for Democracy

invites you to a panel discussion entitled

“The Governance Agenda and Democratic Development”


Francis Fukuyama

Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli

Institute for International Studies, Stanford University

Author of Political Order and Political Decay:

From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy

moderated by

Marc F. Plattner

Coeditor, Journal of Democracy

Vice President for Research and Studies, National Endowment for Democracy 

Monday, October 6, 2014

12:00 p.m. to 2 p.m.

(copies of the book will be available for purchase at the event)

National Endowment for Democracy

1025 F Street, N.W., Suite 800, Washington, D.C.


RSVP (acceptances only) with name and affiliation by Thursday, October 2 to

 Livestream of the event will be available here.

Twitter: Follow @ThinkDemocracy and use #NEDEvents to join the conversation. 

Francis Fukuyama is Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI), resident in FSI’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law, and professor (by courtesy) of political science at Stanford University. His most famous book, The End of History and the Last Man, was published by the Free Press in 1992 and has appeared in over twenty foreign editions. Fukuyama has written on a wide variety of issues in development and international politics. His most recent book, Political Order and Political Decay, was published in 2014. Fukuyama is chairman of the editorial board of The American Interest, which he helped to found in 2005. He is a senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins SAIS Foreign Policy Institute and a non-resident fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Center for Global Development. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Endowment for Democracy, the editorial board of the Journal of Democracy, and the Research Council of NED’s International Forum for Democratic Studies.

Marc F. Plattner is founding coeditor of the Journal of Democracy, vice-president for research and studies at the National Endowment for Democracy, and co-chair of the Research Council of the International Forum for Democratic Studies. He is the author of Democracy Without Borders? Global Challenges to Liberal Democracy (2008) and Rousseau’s State of Nature (1979), a study of the political thought of Jean Jacques Rousseau. His articles on a wide range of international and public policy issues have appeared in numerous books and journals. Over the past two decades, he has coedited with Larry Diamond more than twenty books on contemporary issues relating to democracy.

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Educating those who will overthrow you?

CHINA HK CDTThis past weekend, the world was startled by images, caught in real time, of a Hong Kong in crisis. Students have played key roles in the various movements over the past century to check the power of abusive or unresponsive governments, according to a guest post on the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog.

Numerous scholars have detailed the decisive actions taken by students in different parts of the world, write political scientists Howard Sanborn and Clayton L. Thyne. Over the past few years, we have seen students take the lead in protests against authoritarian regimes, be it in Tunisia, Egypt or, indeed, China.

If students, imbued with this political consciousness, played important roles in social movements that challenged institutions and authorities, what effect might this mean for the authoritarian regimes that go to great lengths to provide education to their citizens?  In our piece from the October issue of the British Journal of Political Science, we find that the increased enrollment of students at the primary and university levels produces a greater chance that an authoritarian regime will transition to democracy.  Put another way — the more students that are educated under an authoritarian regime, the more likely it is that the regime will transition to democracy.


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Russia on ‘road to nowhere’

russia moscow timesDemocracy is important to most Russians, but they can’t seem to agree on what exactly it is, the Moscow Times reports:

In the survey, conducted by the state-run pollster Public Opinion Foundation and published by the Kommersant newspaper Monday, 63 percent of respondents said it was important for Russia to have democracy, while another 16 percent said it made no difference to them personally whether Russia was ruled by a democratic system or not.

Twenty-two percent said there was not much democracy in the country and that transparency and free speech were lacking. Another 11 percent said there is too much democracy, lamenting the fact that “everything is permitted, and everyone does what they want,” Kommersant reported.  

The poll’s results also revealed that there was no common consensus on what exactly democracy entailed, with 43 percent of respondents saying democracy meant “transparency, free speech and free elections” as well as “upholding human rights,” while another 12 percent described it as ordinary citizens taking part in the country’s management.

Analyst Grigory Kertman expressed skepticism about the survey’s results, saying most respondents were just giving the ”socially acceptable response.”

“For all the predictability and manageability of the elections, people value the right to vote,” Kertman said, adding, however, that for most people elections were nothing more than a ”form of dialogue with the authorities.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said the European Union may need to rethink its energy partnership with Russia if Moscow continues to violate basic principles, RFERL reports:

Merkel said there were good reasons to continue the energy cooperation, noting that within the European Union different countries had different levels of dependency on supplies of Russian natural gas

Russia’s “reversal of 2012″ was the point at which the political elite understood that a gas and oil economy worked best under a nondemocratic “power vertical” and that restructuring the country’s political foundations in hopes of achieving an uncertain result — and at a time when mass public protests were on the rise — was simply too risky, analyst Vladislav Inozemtsev writes for the Moscow Times.

The only way to stop Russia’s “convulsive turn” is to show the Russian people that their own leaders carry far more responsibility for the country’s problems and failures than any perceived enemies in the West, he contends:

No further sanctions are even necessary: Those already in effect are enough to prod Moscow leaders into taking retaliatory measures that will derail Russia’s economy.

And when that happens, Russia will turn once again to the West — as it has turned many times in the past — in search of investment, technology and innovation. At that point, both sides will need to build economic and political ties that are strong enough to resist the machinations and adventurism of a handful of oligarchs with close ties to the Kremlin. RTWT

Despite what some Russian ideologues would like us to think, these ex-KGB leaders and corrupt oligarchs have not embraced orthodox religion and pan-Russian nationalism, writes José Ignacio Torreblanca, Senior Research Fellow at the European Council of Foreign Relations:

What they are interested in is ideological manipulation to ensure their own survival. The Putin regime, through an unparalleled concentration of economic and media power, has managed a feat that will forever be remembered in the history of authoritarianism. It has achieved democratic and popular legitimacy – because yes, Putin is very popular – for an extractive oligarchy that owes its existence to the overlapping of intense political authoritarianism, extreme social inequality, and undue concentration of wealth.

Gradually, Russia has been converted into a petrostate, a state entity that has not only constructed its power on raw materials but that because of that base can ignore its society’s demands for political, economic, and social modernisation. The “resource curse” in Russia has created a unique hybrid: something halfway between Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, where oil and gas income is used to build the social support that the regime needs to maintain a democratic façade, and a petrol monarchy that anchors its legitimacy in a rancid nationalism rooted in religion, culture, and mythical historic battles. Putin has become obsessed with identity and nation-building, from the manipulation of the media to harass independent groups in civil society and social movements (including homosexuals) through to the rejection of foreign influence and ideas and the re-vindication of both Tsarism and the Soviet era.

Political scientist Ivan Krastev argues that to understand Putin, one must understand how a KGB agent thinks. The job of the KGB man, unlike that of a member of the military or a Communist Party apparatchik, is not to create hierarchical structures and keep them under control, but to infiltrate and capture them while maintaining the appearance of normal operation.


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