Viva Belarus! premieres in Washington


viva belarusViva Belarus!, a film based on the true story of Franak Viacorka, RFE/RL journalist and its first Vaclav Havel Journalism Fellow, held its North American premiere this week at the Washington, D.C. headquarters of the National Endowment for Democracy, RFE/RL reports.

Viva Belarus! was co-written by Viacorka with director Krzystof Lukaszewicz and depicts the life of nonconformist youth living in “Europe’s last dictatorship.”

The groundbreaking movie — the first feature film about the political situation in Belarus — tells the story of 23-year old Miron, whose true passion is music. When his concert triggers an anti-regime protest, Miron is held responsible. Despite a heart condition, he is forcibly drafted into the army to serve in a remote region within the Chernobyl fallout zone. After accessing a hidden mobile phone, Miron informs his girlfriend Viera about the day-to-day life of a conscript, which includes brainwashing, brutality, and horrible living conditions. The diary is posted online and becomes a sensation, prompting the regime to try to discredit Miron and crush his spirit.

Russificated Belarus

“The film is about human dignity, and it shows the line of tolerance behind which humiliation of dignity leads to desperate fight for freedom,” said Viacorka. “The regime in Belarus is founded on fear: fear to lose one’s job, to be expelled from university or imprisoned for political disloyalty, to use our native Belarusian language in russificated Belarus. Viva Belarus! shows how young people fight these fears with assistance from the Internet, new media, and solidarity.”


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The Confidence Trap: Are we too complacent about democracy?


CONFIDENCE TRAPIn the modern world, representative democracy is the norm and the latter part of the 20th century seemed to witness its global triumph, but that was a striking contrast with the first half of the 20th century, notes a leading expert.

In 1926, there were just 26 democracies and these came under threat after the Great Depression. As a result of the impact of fascism and National Socialism, the frontiers of democracy were forced back even further, says Vernon Bogdanor, professor of government at the Institute for Contemporary History, King’s College London:

In 1934, António Salazar, the dictator of Portugal, said: “I am convinced that within 20 years, if there is not some retrograde movement in political evolution, there will be no legislative assemblies left in Europe.”

By 1940, it was an open question whether democracy could survive in the west or, indeed, at all.

Political scientists have focused on analyzing transitions to democratic rule and the conditions for stable democracy, Bogdanor writes for The New Statesman, but David Runciman’s The Confidence Trap addresses the more challenging task of explaining how the crises facing modern democracies have been overcome:

A global history with a special focus on the United States, The Confidence Trap examines how democracy survived threats ranging from the Great Depression to the Cuban missile crisis, and from Watergate to the collapse of Lehman Brothers. It also looks at the confusion and uncertainty created by unexpected victories, from the defeat of German autocracy in 1918 to the defeat of communism in 1989. Throughout, the book pays close attention to the politicians and thinkers who grappled with these crises: from Woodrow Wilson, Nehru, and Adenauer to Fukuyama and Obama.

The Confidence Trap shows that democracies are good at recovering from emergencies but bad at avoiding them. The lesson democracies tend to learn from their mistakes is that they can survive them–and that no crisis is as bad as it seems. Breeding complacency rather than wisdom, crises lead to the dangerous belief that democracies can muddle through anything–a confidence trap that may lead to a crisis that is just too big to escape, if it hasn’t already. The most serious challenges confronting democracy today are debt, the war on terror, the rise of China, and climate change. If democracy is to survive them, it must figure out a way to break the confidence trap.

“Runciman’s main targets are false promises and undue hopes. Failure is as normal in democracies as success,” The Economist observes:

A historian of ideas, he takes a long view. Democracy lives, and has always lived, in crises. These are mild at times, severe at others. Either way, democracies, being flexible, tend to muddle through. Mr Runciman stresses “muddle”. Crises do not reveal great truths. Nor do democracies learn much from crises. 

How can democracies be induced to defend themselves?

The book is written in the spirit of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, but Bogdanor is “not wholly convinced” that Runciman identifies the key threats faced by modern democrats:

He does not confront the problem, which nearly destroyed democracy in the 1930s, of ensuring that it does not become powerless in the face of its enemies. How can democracies be induced to defend themselves? The problem, while not as acute today as it was in the 1930s, is nevertheless one that ought not to be evaded.

The real confidence trap, so it seems to me, is the tension in many advanced democracies between the inherited forms of democracy and the new ideological forces of modern society. 

The Confidence Trap: a History of Democracy in Crisis from
World War I to the Present
David Runciman Princeton University Press.


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A “transatlantic renaissance” would advance democracy around the world, says U.S. official

A senior Obama administration official has called for a “transatlantic renaissance,” with the U.S. and European Union drawing on “a new burst of energy, confidence, innovation, and generosity, rooted in our democratic values and ideals.”

East European nations should cast aside “old hatreds and grievances” and work towards reconciliation and democracy through the European Union’s Eastern Partnership, said Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State for European & Eurasian Affairs.

“Popular confidence in elected government is dropping across Europe’s center and east, because voters believe that their leaders feed their own interests first and those of their people second,” she said.

But the transatlantic community could “finish the democratic map of Europe” by neutralizing corruption, a “pernicious killer of … the democratic dream,” she told the Atlantic Council of the United States.

euusHer address coincided with a fresh blow to Ukraine’s prospects for an EU accession accord when its parliament failed to agree a bill to permit the release of jailed ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko.

Two weeks before an EU summit in Vilnius, Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova stood before an “historic moment,” Nuland told the Atlantic Council.

Urging the U.S. and Europe to work towards a “transatlantic renaissance” and advance democracy around the world.

“The world needs a community of free nations with the will and the means to take on the toughest challenges, and to work for peace, security, and freedom when they are threatened,” she said.

President Obama has described the U.S. relationship with Europe as the “greatest catalyst for global action” and the “cornerstone for US engagement in world affairs.” The relationship is especially vital at a time of geopolitical transition, Nuland suggested.

“Those who want to live in peace and freedom around the world are looking to us,” she said. “For almost seventy years the transatlantic community has been the rock on which the world order rests. Our challenge, on both sides of the Atlantic, is to ensure that remains the case.”

She welcomed moves by Serbia and Kosovo “towards long term reconciliation … so that both countries achieve their goal of integrating fully into the European structures.”

But the former State Department spokeswoman delivered a warning to Bosnia-Hercegovina which was divided into two entities following the Balkans conflicts of the 1990s.

The Serbs’ Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation have separate legislative, executive and judicial bodies, but share a parliament.

“It is well past time for leaders to demonstrate courage and vision, to move past the petty power interests and to build a modern, unified nation worthy of the talents and aspirations of all three communities,” Nuland insisted.

“If these leaders continue to block their country’s path to the EU and to NATO membership, Bosnia’s international partners, the US included, should seriously re-evaluate our approach.”

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Kosovo and Prishtina-Belgrade Agreement – Not Yet a Done Deal

KosovoThe agreement between Prishtina and Belgrade, brokered by the European Union in April 2013 opened the door to resolution of the status dispute between Serbia and Kosovo and unblocked both countries’ path toward integration in the EU, note analysts Kurt Bassuener and Bodo Weber.Serbia(Yugoslavia)

The dialogue holds out the promise as a vehicle which could ultimately lead towards full normalization between Kosovo and Serbia. But this is not a done deal yet, they argue in a new report for the Democratization Policy Council.

Due to developments since the summer, the process has reached a point at which it could go seriously awry, threatening the hard-won functionality of the state of Kosovo and the peaceful integration of the majority of Kosovo’s Serbs, as well as perpetuating the status dispute with Serbia.

Now is the time to shut down such threats once and for all.

In order to get there a number of key steps are necessary in the aftermath of the local elections scheduled for November:

  • Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States need to be directly engaged in order to prevent the future dialogue process from veering in the wrong direction.
  • They need to state the basic elements of the only acceptable outcome: full sovereignty of Kosovo, full inclusion of Kosovo Serbs in the state institutions of Kosovo, and full normalization of relations between Prishtina and Belgrade – i.e., mutual recognition.
  • The joint German-British proposal for the platform for accession talks with Serbia must build the basis for a medium and long-term strategy.
  • Following municipal elections and the implementation of the April agreement, international attention must focus on ensuring the full withdrawal from Kosovo of Serbian security structures and the dismantling of Serbian parallel structures.
  • Catherine Ashton’s office should initiate negotiations for a second Belgrade-Prishtina agreement to be started in early 2014. Negotiations should concentrate on the dismantling and/or integration of the remains of Serbian parallel structures (health care, education, pensions, etc.) into Kosovo’s institutional system, as well as on the transformation of Serbia’s financial support to Kosovo Serbs.
  • Brussels must enforce a clear division of work within the dialogue between high-level political talks and working group negotiations over technical details.
  • The EU must confront Kosovo’s democratic shortcomings. This must include reform of the electoral system in 2014 as well as broad external monitoring of the next general elections.
  • The EU must oppose Prishtina’s demands for the closure of EULEX in 2014. Instead it should seize the moment to streamline the mission and refocus its executive mandate on areas key for the consolidation of the rule of law in Kosovo.


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Matching EU values and interests: a smart geostrategy for the Eastern Partnership

This month’s Vilnius summit is fueling a fierce competition between Europe and Russia, the likes of which haven’t been seen since the ebbing days of the Cold War. Amid that competition, there is a rare convergence of EU values and interests, notes Judy Dempsey, editor in chief of Strategic Europe.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to intimidate the Eastern Partnership countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine – to stop them from signing accords with the EU.

“It is not in Europe’s interests to have a neighborhood that is vulnerable to blackmail and intimidation by Russia,” Dempsey notes:

Nor, indeed, is it in Europe’s interests to have its Eastern neighbors, such as Belarus and, further afield, Azerbaijan, ruled indefinitely by authoritarian regimes. Over time, these regimes will become even more corrupt. They will also become unstable as a younger generation and a pro-market business community demand change.

The European Union’s relationship with Eastern Europe and the Caucasus is at a turning point, say analysts Richard Youngs and Kateryna Pishchikova. Russia’s increasingly assertive tactics have chipped away at the ties that bind the six Eastern Partnership countries to the EU, and the entire Eastern Partnership is on the verge of unraveling, they argue in a new paper for Carnegie Europe.

To rescue its association with its Eastern partners, the EU must deliver more tangible results. Europe can be both geopolitical and committed to reform—but to strike the right balance, the EU must be more strategic.


  • Russia has threatened trade sanctions, energy supply interruptions, and security reprisals against states choosing to sign new agreements with the EU. The November 28–29 Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, is now partially an exercise to limit the damage done.
  • European governments hope to sign a raft of association agreements at the summit that are designed to lock the Eastern partners into a sphere of European influence and ensure progressive political and economic liberalization.
  • Concrete results like association agreements are important, but injecting new momentum into the Eastern Partnership will depend primarily on what happens after the summit.
  • European governments must move beyond signing formal contractual agreements and recognize that policy should not be primarily about winning the East and beating Russia. It is not in the EU’s strategic interest to see these states destabilized by geopolitical rivalry.
  • To build a more sustainable strategy, the EU should facilitate the region’s internal cohesion and avoid giving Russia any further incentives to deepen tit-for-tat power struggles. Instead, it should reinforce its positive-sum, values-oriented version of geopolitics.


Focus less on the technical implementation of EU standards and more on underlying political reform. The EU’s current approach assumes countries will be willing to make a huge administrative effort to fit into the EU’s template and that will indirectly spur democracy and strategic benefit. Instead, the EU should support and promote democratic standards in a proactive, bottom-up way.

Deliver more tangible benefits faster. Eastern partners that implement reforms should quickly receive benefits from the EU that are tailored to each state.

Use conditionality more consistently and selectively. Incentives should be attached to progress on overcoming core obstacles to democratic and governance reform rather than progress on more tangential administrative hurdles.

Reform the way Eastern Partnership funds are spent. The EU should support civil society organizations in a more agile and participative manner.

Improving Interactions With Civil Society

Much scope exists to boost the EaP’s civil society dimension. The EaP’s Civil Society Forum, which brings together various civil society organizations to develop recommendations for the EU and national governments, recognizes the need to now harness the impressively broad network it has established in a more operational direction.

Twinning programs, which involve posting EU officials and experts to counterpart ministries and organizations in the region, have had much positive impact. But they do not suffice while profoundly political obstacles to deep democracy remain. And the new Eastern Partnership Integration and Cooperation program, established in 2012 to channel reform rewards according to the more-for-more principle (the more states reform, they more support they receive), focuses primarily on big infrastructure projects, which is not the most effective approach. Instead, it should focus its limited resources on more core political governance issues.

Large amounts of aid forwarded under the European Neighborhood and Partnership Instrument remain overwhelmingly state-centered and need to be more organically connected to civil and political society dynamics. In a similar vein, the EU’s Comprehensive Institution Building program, designed to help partner countries strengthen their institutional capacities to implement the association agreements, is sizable and of enormous importance to the EaP. But it has been concerned mainly with state capacities and is only just beginning, at a low level, to work on improving the interaction between ministries, parliaments, and civil society.

By far the major share of EU rule-of-law funds still goes to government bodies for formal institutional projects. The EU tends to think of the rule of law in terms of partners’ capacities to transpose EU legislation as and when they make commitments under the association agreements. It needs to support more initiatives geared toward bottom-up civic legal education and legal aid—efforts that are just beginning to come on stream.

To make these shifts, innovative thinking is needed. The first grant of the European Endowment for Democracy, which assists pro-democratic civil society organizations, went to an independent Azeri media outlet. Much more should be done through this kind of initiative. The Polish government in particular has pushed for a stronger focus on innovative projects funded by the endowment in EaP states.

EU undertakings could also target the business community. The EU is the main trading partner for all EaP countries except Belarus, so deeper engagement with the region’s business sectors could offer important benefits. Key economic actors should see the prospect of concrete gains in business opportunities in European markets, and they should realize that this is an incentive for them to disengage from the damaging politics of state capture.

This extract is taken from a longer report. RTWT

The Future of the European Union’s Eastern Partnership

On November 19, 2013, the American Society of International Law will host a panel discussion of the European Union’s Eastern Partnership initiative. The Partnership, which encompasses the former-Soviet states of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, seeks to strengthen the relationship between the EU and its Eastern neighbors through economic cooperation and political reforms. These reforms include association agreements and free trade agreements, visa liberalization, energy security, and support for rule of law. In advance of the Partnership’s annual summit on November 28, the panel will discuss achievements made through the partnership, competing influences in the region, and the implications for future engagement.


Carl Gershman, President, National Endowment for Democracy

Temuri Yakobashvili, Former Ambassador of Georgia to the United States, German Marshall Fund of the United States


Francesca Bignami, Professor, George Washington University Law School

Date: Tuesday, November 19, 2013 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm

Location: American Society of International Law, 2223 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington DC 20008-2847


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