New pope should promote ‘moral foundations’ of democracy

“Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (left) greeted crowds in Rome’s St Peter’s Square today after his election as the Catholic Church’s new Pope, Francis,” the BBC reports. “The 76-year-old from Buenos Aires is the first Latin American and the first Jesuit to be pontiff.”

The new pope should be “a charismatic, missionary culture warrior, challenging the world’s democracies to rebuild their moral foundations,” writes a leading observer.

“As an advocate for religious freedom in full and religious freedom for all, the new pope can help to strengthen civil society and its free institutions, which are both elementary schools of democracy and barriers against the encroachment of the Leviathan state,” says George Weigel, author of Evangelical Catholicism and a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy:

When conceived in strictly functional terms, democracy demeans itself, and the gears of democratic politics too often freeze, as we have seen in venues ranging from the U.S. Congress to the Greek parliament. Democracy is more than the institutions of democracy; it takes a certain kind of people, living certain virtues, to make democracy work.

Weigel appreciates that the church faces similar challenges to those facing an earlier generation and the need to “forge a new Catholic encounter” with the realities of modern political and economic life, notes Julianne Dolan of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.:

Weigel notes that Vatican II was built upon changes set in motion under the papacy of Leo XIII (1878-1903). Leo took over a church truly under siege—the Italian risorgimento had overrun the Papal States, making the pontiff a “prisoner of the Vatican.”

“The rapidly expanding working class of an industrializing Europe was leaving the Church in large numbers,” Mr. Weigel writes. “European high culture was becoming increasingly secularized—indeed, hostile to biblical religion.”

Leo didn’t respond in kind; instead, Mr. Weigel suggests, he …. pushed the church toward advocating religious freedom rather than relying on the sponsorship of governments. He reshaped Catholic social teaching with his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum, which defined the rights of workers and the poor in an industrialized world.

The new pope should promote a morally rigorous conception of democracy, writes Weigel (right).

“Can democracy ‘long endure’ if democracies lack a critical mass of citizens who cherish the common good as well as individual freedom, who complement self-reliance with voluntary charitable service to others, and who understand that they have obligations to future generations, not just to me, myself and I?” he asks.

“A pope who calls the West out of the sandbox of self-absorption and into a nobler vision of human possibility could do wonders for the democratic project.”

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Five traps for Putin

Vladimir Putin has been president of Russia for 13 years and if his grip over the establishment remains as tight as it is now, many fear he could reign for the rest of his life, writes Ben Judah. Since December 2011, when more than 100,000 protesters gathered in Moscow demanding free elections, Putin and his colleagues have regained control of events. But the disintegration of the protest movement is not the same as the return to stability, he writes in the latest of the Legatum Institute’s Transition Series.

The KGB always thought Putin was ?awed and his professional instructors evaluated the future leader as suffering from a “lowered sense of danger”. Currently, this is truer than ever. Though it may not appear so on the surface, the era of ‘managed democracy’ and ‘Putinism by consent’ is coming to an end.

This report identi?es ?ve ‘traps’ or risks to Putin’s grip on power and to Russia’s stability in general.

The Affluence Trap

Putin’s popularity was once easy to explain: the richer Russia became, the stronger his regime. At the end of the 1990s, the old Soviet middle class—intelligentsia and managers employed by the state—had been destroyed, but a new middle class was yet to be born. Putin’s political rhetoric was designed to appeal to losers of market reform—déclassé former soviet bureaucrats and others who had lost their positions since 1991. The leading Kremlin spin-doctor, Gleb Pavlovsky, described the regime’s political vision as:

“What made it possible for us to create such a long-fixed Putin majority? The victorious majority of the 2000s was built on vengeful losers—state employees, pensioners, workers, and the unanimously cursed and universally despised bureaucratic power structures.”

In per capita terms, Russia is now the richest major country in the world that is not a democracy. The only wealthier authoritarian countries are small petro-states or city-states, such as Singapore. Russia is also, in per capita terms, by far the richest of the BRIC economies: incomes are over twice those of China and the middle class is proportionally double in size. This new Russian middle class has swelled—now making up over a third of the population. Some 15 percent of Russians earn over $50,000 a year. Russians are also connected to the rest of the world: every year more than 10 million Russians travel abroad and as many as 1 million are living or studying in the European Union.

But as living standards rose over the past decade, the bureaucracy did not improve and the state did not modernize at the same rate. On the contrary, when the country experienced a sudden wave of prosperity in the 2000s, Putin massively expanded the bureaucracy. The number of government officials grew by two-thirds. Most of these new officials, who owed their jobs to the Kremlin, were encouraged to join Putin’s United Russia party. At the same time, the authorities gutted the institutions that could provide bureaucratic accountability, such as independent courts, parliament, and regional assemblies…..

The opposition meanwhile failed to campaign beyond Moscow and failed to link up with the civil society initiatives that had been created in other regions, nor did they develop a language that could appeal to the provincial or the poor. Self-consciously elitist, it was easy to caricature. Despite successful online elections, the Opposition Coordination Council, created to manage the movement, was widely mocked as a pointless talking shop.

Yet the opposition’s failure does not necessarily spell Putin’s triumph.

In late 2012 the Centre for Strategic Research, a think tank originally created to advise Putin, warned that “data from the Moscow middle class focus groups suggest that attitudes towards Vladimir Putin among the members of that strata have changed from negative to hostile and alienated”.

The Technology Trap

The Russian blogosphere has developed into a large and powerful alternative mass media. Research points to a clear liberal and nationalist cluster among online sites, but not to a ‘Putin’ cluster.

The authorities are trying to build a new repressive toolkit—the FSB has expanded its teams working on the Internet and a list of banned websites is being drawn up and expanding rapidly—but for the moment, it does not seem to have technical capacity to copy Beijing and impose full Internet search censorship. As Internet use continues to increase and as TV news audiences continue to drop, the Kremlin’s monopoly on information, so important to maintaining Putin’s power in the 2000s, will also decline further. A real clampdown on the Internet would also be such an assault on how Russian life has evolved since Putin assumed power that it would likely reignite social protest.

The Culture Trap

By 2010 Russia had the largest Internet market in Europe, the greatest rate of online penetration among the BRIC developing countries, and one of the most engaged social networks on earth.

The culture trap is coming together in Moscow. Whereas Russia may be an ageing society the capital is remarkably youthful due to an exodus from industrial and rural regions—over a third of its population is aged under 35. This leaves the city vulnerable to sudden youth-led protests. The crackdown cowed the opposition but humiliated its supporters among the city’s middle classes.

A new generation of oligarchs is now also snapping at the heels of its predecessors. They cannot be relied on to cling to Putin forever.

The Financial Trap

Economic policy, once a source of stability and consensus, has increasingly divided the Russian political and business elite. Not since the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky in 2003 have there been such vocal disagreements. Alexey Kudrin, the former ?nance minister, has publicly warned that unless the Kremlin reigns in spending it will be exposed to dangerous economic shocks. Igor Sechin, chief executive of the state energy giant Rosneft, has also gone out of his way to obstruct Medvedev’s ambitious privatization agenda.

Other leading officials have been openly at odds with one another as well. These bitter disputes are corroding Putin’s once unchallenged role as arbiter in chief. Not only is the Russian economy vulnerable to an economic crisis thanks to state spending, in other words, but the Russian president is vulnerable too.

The Anti-Corruption Trap

Corruption poses an almost intractable dilemma for Putin. In order to regain popular trust he needs to root out corruption. But if he does so, he will undermine the very foundations of his regime, which has used corruption to secure the loyalty of the elite.

At the moment, the opposition is not strong enough to oust Putin, but Putin is not strong enough to destroy the opposition either. No longer able to control the country through careful manipulation, Putin is now deploying classic police state methods against his opponents. There is no guarantee he will succeed: never before has the country had such a large, politically astute middle class. The more coercion is used against its members, the more they may ?ght back. But one thing is certain—Putin’s current tactics trade long-term stability for short-term security.

Ben Judah is the author of Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In And Out Of Love With Vladimir Putin published by Yale University Press and a visiting fellow at the European Stability Initiative, in Istanbul.

This is an extract from a longer report from the Legatum Institute’s Transition Series. RTWT

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UN must probe death of Cuban dissident Paya, petition insists

Credit: National Democratic Institute

Cuba and its allies tried to block a UN speech today by the daughter of leading dissident Oswaldo Paya (right).  With the support of China, Russia, Belarus, Pakistan and Nicaragua, Cuban officials demanded that Rosa Maria Paya (below, left) should not be allowed to address the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, where she presented a petition (extract below), calling for a UN inquiry into her father’s suspicious death. But “following a strong intervention in her defense by the US delegate, Paya was allowed to continue,” according to reports.

“They say that my father died in a car accident, but we have confirmed … that they were actually crashed into and run off the road by another vehicle,” she told reporters in Geneva:

Cuban authorities said that my father and Harold Cepero, a youth activist, died in a traffic accident. But after interviewing the survivors, we confirmed that their deaths were not accidental.  

[Interruption by Cuba on point of order: “The speaker is a mercenary… she’s not speaking about an urgent situation...” The objection is echoed by points of order exercised by China, Russia, Nicaragua, Pakistan and Belarus. USA takes the floor to defend the rights of all NGOs to speak. Council president gives her back the floor.] 

Thank you, Mr. President. The driver of the car told the Washington Post that they were intentionally rammed from behind. The text messages from the survivors on the day of the event confirm this.

The Cuban government’s state security calls my family home in Havana to say: We’re going to kill you. They are the same death threats that were made to my father. The physical integrity of all members of my family is the responsibility of the Cuban government.

“Mounting and credible allegations that the Cuban government may have been complicit in the murder of its most prominent critic … cannot go ignored by the international community,” read the petition, signed by 46 politicians, parliamentarians and human rights activists from around the world.

The appeal, signed by former presidents of Peru, El Salvador and Uruguay, and 43 other public figures, including foreign ministers, parliamentarians and human rights activists, was organized by UN Watch, a Geneva-based rights group.

“Rosa Maria Paya is a very brave woman who clearly inherited a lot from her father,” said Hillel Neuer, the group’s executive director. “This is the first time we’ve brought a Cuban dissident to speak at the UN who’s not in exile, but who rather has to go back to Havana and assume all the risks that come with taking on a police state in which one still lives. I hope she’ll be safe.”

“The fact that a parade of serial rights abusers rallied behind Cuba to silence a human rights hero only underscored the true nature of Havana’s repressive regime,” added Neuer.

Appeal for International Inquiry into the Death of Oswaldo Paya12 March 2013

An open letter to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, and Ambassadors of all Member States


We urge you to support our demand for an international and independent investigation into the alleged murder of Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá, a world-renowned figure and recipient of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize, who died in a car crash in Bayamo, Cuba, on July 22, 2012, together with fellow activist Harold Cepero.

In dramatic new testimony by the driver of the car, Ángel Carromero describes, in a Washington Post interview dated 6 March 2013, how their vehicle was followed, harassed and ultimately rammed from behind by a car bearing government license plates. Mr. Carromero further alleges that, following the crash, he was drugged, mistreated and coerced by Cuban authorities into making a false confession.

The new revelations corroborate the claims made by the families of the victims and other witnesses, as well as the report by Spain’s ABC news agency about text messages sent contemporaneous with the incident from the mobile phones of Mr. Carromero and another passenger, Aron Modig, indicating that their car was chased and then hit, causing the crash.

Significantly, according to the family of Oswaldo Payá, state security agents had repeatedly threatened to kill him.

Mounting and credible allegations that the Cuban government may have been complicit in the murder of its most prominent critic, a leading figure in the human rights world, cannot go ignored by the international community.

The families of the victims, and the people of Cuba, have a right to know the truth, and they have a right to justice. This can only happen with the creation of an international and independent inquiry. We therefore respectfully urge you to support our call.


Armando Calderon Sol, former President of El Salvador

Luis Alberto Lacalle, former President of Uruguay

Alejandro Toledo, former President of Peru

Edward McMillan-Scott, Vice-President of European Parliament

Markus Meckel, , former Foreign Minister of Germany

Zbigniew Romaszewski, former Speaker of Polish Senate, a founder of the Solidarity movement

Stanislav Shushkevich, former president of Supreme Soviet of Belarus, a current opposition leader in Belarus

Arnold Vaatz MP, Deputy Leader CDU, Germany

Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson, former Foreign Minister of Iceland

Mantas Adomênas MP, Lithuania

Laura Alonso MP, Argentina

Mbarka Bouaida, former MP, Morocco

Philip Claeys MEP

Michael Danby MP, Australia

Mátyás Eörsi, Secretary-General of Parliamentary Forum for Democracy, former MP, Hungary

David Kilgour, former MP, Canada

Adam Lipinski MP, former State Secretary of Poland

Martin Palouš, former Ambassador, Czech Republic

Marija Aušrin? Pavilioniene MP, Lithuania

Marco Perduca, Italian Senator, co-vicepresident of Nonviolent Radical Party

Janelle Saffin MP, Australia

Egidijus Vareikis MP, Lithuania

Renate Wohlwend MP, Lichtenstein

Emanuelis Zingeris MP, Lithuania, President of Parliamentary Forum for Democracy

Hillel Neuer, Executive Director, United Nations Watch

John Suarez, International Secretary, Cuban Democratic Directorate

Carl Gershman, President, National Endowment for Democracy

Ken Wollack, President, National Democratic Institute

Zohra Yusuf, Chairperson, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan

Yang Jianli, President, Initiatives for China

Carlos E. Ponce, General Coordinator, Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy

Faisal Fulad, Secretary General, Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society

Art Kaufman, Senior Director, World Movement for Democracy, National Endowment for Democracy

Alessandro Pettenuzzo, European Union of Public Relations

Lehlohonolo Chefa, Executive Director, Policy Analysis and Research Institute of Lesotho

Anki Flores, Former Secretary-General of the Antiracism Information Service, Geneva

Shauna Leven, Director, René Cassin organization

Bhawani Shanker Kusum, Executive Director, Gram Bharati Samiti, India

Duy Hoang, Spokesperson, Viet Tan

Dickson Ntwiga, Executive Director, Solidarity House International Foundation

Nazanin Afshin-Jam, President, Stop Child Executions

Atamao B T Kane, President, Southpanafrican International

Okay Machisa, Zimbabwe Human Rights Association

Obinna Egbuka, President, Youth Enhancement Organization

International Multiracial Shared Cultural Organization

Zofia Romaszewska, one of the founders of Solidarity movement, Poland

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Eastern Europe’s transition backlash alarms core EU

Are Eastern Europe’s supposedly consolidated democracies beginning to unravel?

“The toppling of Bulgaria’s government after protests last month was dismissed by some observers as another backlash against ‘austerity’,” notes one observer:

But taken together with the similar fall of a Romanian government and resulting turbulence last year, and Hungary’s defiant adoption this week of constitutional changes that opponents say threaten democratic values, something deeper is going on.

“The idea was transition was painful, it was suffering. But now we were supposed to get to a totally different life. We were going to live if not like Germans, at least like Greeks. It never happened,” says Ivan Krastev (above), chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies think-tank in Sofia:

Bulgarians’ chants of “mafia” were shorthand more broadly for perceived cronyism among political elites, and links with tycoons who made millions from the transition and, in some cases, with organized crime. Citizens, suggests Mr Krastev, believe the communist collapse ended up liberating these groups to prosper – but not ordinary people……

The EU’s response has been to search for bigger sticks to tackle democratic backsliding by member states. Four countries led by Germany last week called for the EU to get new powers to deal with countries breaching its “fundamental values”, including freezing EU funds.

However, Mr Krastev suggests that other EU members should make greater efforts to understand what is happening in the ex-communist south-east. They should engage more closely in long-term institution-building in these countries.

If not, the transition backlash risks spreading.

But the EU is largely limited to “political pressure or moral persuasion” in trying to curb anti-democratic practises amongst member states, observers suggest:

While that can have an impact, as was the case in Romania last year when the Prime Minister sought to oust the President, in tricky cases of law backed by democratically elected parliaments, as in Hungary, it is much more difficult.

“There’s a shortage of what the EU can do to ensure that democratic practices, or democracy itself, is not reversed,” said Corina Stratulat, an expert in the politics of Central and Eastern Europe at the European Policy Centre, a think tank.

“There is an awareness that something has to change in terms of enhancing the tools that the EU has at its disposal to influence situations like we’ve seen in recent years.”

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‘Fog of amendment’ over Hungary’s Putinization


Hungary’s democratic regression is causing alarm within the European Union and EU member states.

The country’s parliament yesterday passed constitutional amendments limiting the powers of the constitutional court in a move which observers believe will undermine democratic checks and balances, and enhance the authoritarian drift under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (above).

“These amendments raise concerns with respect to the principle of the rule of law, EU law, and Council of Europe standards,” José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, and Thorbjorn Jagland, secretary-general of the Council of Europe, said in a joint statement.

But some analysts complain that “half-hearted European reactions” have failed to curb Orbán’s autocratic tendencies.

“Most significantly, the amendment annuls rulings of the constitutional court made before the new constitution came into force last year,” the FT reports:

Laszlo Majtenyi, a law professor and former national ombudsman in Hungary, said this prevented the court from referring to earlier decisions as precedent.

“This move opens the door for arbitrary decisions by the court. It’s a [serious] problem,” he said.

Critics say the amendments contain provisions threatening the independence of the judiciary, and potentially violating freedom of religion and the principle of separation of state and church. They narrowly define heterosexual marriage and “marriage and parent-child relationships” as the basis of the family.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel today expressed concern over the constitutional changes, while international human rights groups warned that the reforms will undermine internationally protected standards of rights and democratic governance.

The constitutional dispute matters, notes the FT’s Stefan Wagstyl “because the court has been one of the few Hungarian institutions to have successfully challenged Orbán’s drive to increase the power of the executive, and because the EU relationship matters to Hungary – as a source of financial support and as a political risk safety net.” 

László Kövér, the parliament’s president and a veteran leader of the ruling Fidesz party “was a primary mover” behind the changes, writes analyst Keno Verseck:

Last Friday, in an interview with the conservative broadcaster Hír TV, he laid out his theory that the world was conspiring against Hungary.  International capitals, the EU and the United States had singled out Hungary as a “symbol of their Cold War,” he said, simply because the government in Budapest had rejected the “forced path of liberalism.” His rhetoric made use of the same slogans that the extreme right in Hungary has used for years.

“That the constitutional amendments do, in fact, represent a serious departure from the principles of liberal democracy and civil rights is a view shared by the opposition, EU policymakers and also legal scholars,” says Der Spiegel’s Verseck:

Hungarian constitutional law expert Gábor Halmai has called the reforms a “systematic abolishment of the constitutional order,” while Hamburg-based European law expert Markus Kotzur calls the changes “highly problematic.”.. ….András Schiffer, the otherwise reserved leader of the green-liberal party called “Politics Can Be Different” (LMP), said at a convention in Budapest on Saturday that an authoritarian system was emerging in Hungary, one in which no right was safe and constitutional law was being dissolved. The non-parliamentary opposition alliance “Together 2014″ has called the reforms a “rampage against the constitutional order.”

“The government’s strategy when under attack is to insist that it has been misunderstood, that foreigners have too little information and that technical changes to technical documents shouldn’t cause any alarm,” says Princeton University’s Kim Lane Scheppele:

Hungarian government spokespeople generate a public relations fog to disguise a major step backwards from the rule of law as a mere technical adjustment. As the government brazenly passes a constitutional amendment that its allies have urged it to delay, the world can see that Hungary has become a country in which the law follows politics rather than constraining it.

“But Hungary’s allies should see through the fog of amendment,” writes Scheppele.

“By now it should be clear that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party recognize no limitations in their quest for power.”

“The government’s strategy when under attack is to insist that it has been misunderstood, that foreigners have too little information and that technical changes to technical documents shouldn’t cause any alarm,” says Princeton University’s Kim Lane Scheppele:

Hungarian government spokespeople generate a public relations fog to disguise a major step backwards from the rule of law as a mere technical adjustment. As the government brazenly passes a constitutional amendment that its allies have urged it to delay, the world can see that Hungary has become a country in which the law follows politics rather than constraining it.

“But Hungary’s allies should see through the fog of amendment,” writes Scheppele.

“By now it should be clear that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party recognize no limitations in their quest for power.”

Observers are also expressing concern at Orbán’s flirtation with Hungary’s increasingly assertive nationalist and anti-Semitic Jobbik party.

The Fidesz-controlled Media Council recently penalized ATV, the sole independent cable TV station, for describing Jobbik as a “far-right” party, while  Klubradio, the only independent radio station, was fined punished two months ago for calling Orbán’s close personal friend Zsolt Bayer an anti-Semite. Bayer had written in an article that pianist Adam Schiff, Danny Cohn-Bendit, and “a certain Cohen from the Washington Post” should have been killed in 1919 in Orgovany, a village notorious for its anti-Semitic pogroms. 

“Most Gypsies are not suitable for cohabitation. They are not suitable for being among people,” Bayer said in January this year. “Most are animals, and behave like animals. They shouldn’t be tolerated or understood, but stamped out. Animals should not exist. In no way.”

Old friends: Zsolt Bayer and Viktor Orbán. Credit: Hungarian Spectrum

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