As the Pope prepares to travel to Cuba, the Vatican is drawing on its experience as a protagonist in Poland’s peaceful transition from communism to democracy, Victor Gaetan writes in Foreign Affairs. “But the analogy is weak because the Cuban Church has failed to foster an authentic grass-roots democracy movement,” he notes, and in a post-communist Cuba, it may “find itself castigated for having made a pact with the devil.”
When Pope Benedict XVI visits Cuba next month, he will once again reinforce a strategy that the Vatican has allowed the local Catholic Church there to pursue for more than three decades, diligently avoid any political confrontation with the Castro regime, collaborate with Havana to combat the U.S.-led embargo, and support the Cuban government’s incremental economic reforms. In exchange, the Church has been able to maintain a certain amount of autonomy on the island, allowing it to rebuild its presence and position for the possible post-Castro economic boom times to come.
It is a controversial balance: Cubans in the exile community vigorously criticize the Church because they think Church leadership on the island should challenge the dictatorship. But the Vatican takes the long view. Rather than overtly push for change, the Church has come to pursue a strategy of “reconciliation.” …….
Orchestrating the visit is Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino, the 75-year-old archbishop of Havana. …..Ortega’s most intense struggle of late came in 2010, after the death of Orlando Zapada Tamayo (left), a political prisoner who had been on a hunger strike for 85 days. Zapata’s death galvanized the opposition in Havana, including the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White), a group of female relatives of many political prisoners…….After Zapata’s death, the Damas enlarged the protest to downtown streets, where thuggish mobs (suspected of being government connected) assaulted, shoved, and spat on the women. When the Damas returned to their silent protests, the mob followed and blocked them from walking. What had started out as a small, daring public testimonial to private suffering had morphed into a gender-based riot. Then more prisoners joined the hunger strike. Projected around the world, the images suggested a Cuba on the verge of violent change.
Ortega stepped in. By his telling, he wrote a letter to Raúl Castro in May asking that the Damas de Blanco be allowed to march peacefully. Just three days later, government officials called him to arrange a meeting with the women, and the Damas had a chance to request their sick relatives either be released or moved closer to home. Ortega continued to negotiate with the government until July, when he announced he had struck a deal with Castro to release prisoners.
But in the end, Ortega diluted the opposition’s victory with some tough rhetoric. Not long after the prisoner release announcement, he visited Washington to receive a $100,000 prize from the Knights of Columbus. In his acceptance speech, he astounded Cuba watchers by referring to the jailed democracy activists as ”convicts,” who were — in words that were clearly soothing to ears in the Castro regime — “considered prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International.”
Then he did the rounds in Washington. ….. Ortega argued that prisoner release should pave the way for closer U.S.-Cuban relations, including lifting the trade embargo. Within six months after his visit, the White House had lifted restrictions on travel for academic, religious, and cultural groups. Through the end of the year, Havana set free more than 100 political prisoners — provided they accept exile.
Playing the role of holy reconciler has afforded the Vatican three advantages. The Church has gained physical and operational space to expand its presence on the island. Second, Ortega has brokered conflict, which fulfills the Church’s mission (“Blessed be the peacemakers,” the Bible reads) and gives it a recognized role, both in the country and outside. And lastly, and perhaps most important, in taking the long view, the Vatican is laying the groundwork so that it helps facilitate a nonviolent post-Castro transition.
According to Vatican sources engaged with Cuba, the Church remembers its experience helping to steer a peaceful transition from communism to democracy in Poland. That process was a negotiation between the regime, the Church, and its allies in a daring lay Catholic movement, the Solidarity movement, which was the trade union at the vanguard of political change.
But the analogy is weak because the Cuban Church has failed to foster an authentic grass-roots democracy movement. Since the late 1990s, a devout Catholic, Oswaldo Paya, has led a democracy movement inspired by the Polish example called the Varela Project. Some even call Paya “the Walesa of Cuba,” alluding to the Polish visionary Lech Walesa. Paya has been received by John Paul II and awarded the Sakharov Prize for human rights by the European Union. Yet despite his growing reputation, the Cuban Church has done nothing to support or encourage him or his movement.
The risk the Church runs in a post-Castro future is that it will be castigated for having made a pact with the devil. After the democratic transition in Poland, some 15 percent of the clergy were accused of cooperating with the communists. They were subsequently sidelined. Likewise, the next generation in Cuba might not take the time to acknowledge the Church’s sacrificial role. On that score, the Church will have to reconcile its own position.
This is an extract from How the Catholic Church is Preparing for a Post-Castro Cuba.
Never mind the Greek debt crisis and the economic malaise afflicting most of Europe. The continent is afflicted by a more profound socio-political crisis that is re-defining what we mean by democracy, Ivan Krastev writes in The American Interest. And it is spawning a dangerous new kind of populism “for which history and precedent have poorly prepared us.”
The real crisis in Europe is not a financial/economic one, but a much deeper social/political crisis, of which the financial/economic dimension is just a symptom. That deeper crisis has formed not just because there is a democracy deficit between the center and the parts of the European Union, or because current European leaders are less devoted to genuine federal union than their predecessors. It has formed because of a cumulatively dramatic transformation of the very character of Europe’s liberal democratic regimes. The European Union cannot be saved by its citizens because there is no European demos, but neither can it survive much longer as an elite project because the crisis has sharply escalated the process of dismantling the elite-guided democracies in Europe themselves.
The central political paradox of our time is this: Key factors that contributed to the initial success of European project now block solutions to its current crisis. The crisis of trust in democratic institutions in Europe is the outcome not of the failure of the democratization or integration of its societies but of the excessive and unbalanced success of both. In his rightly celebrated The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, Daniel Bell was a herald of the dour news that institutions can unwittingly unleash attacks against their own foundations. He was not the only such prophet, however, or even the most prescient. Three decades ago, Leszek Kolakowski wrote:
As I was browsing through The Open Society and Its Enemies again after many years, it struck me that when Popper attacks totalitarian ideologies and movements, he neglects the reverse side of the threat. By this I mean what could be called the self-enmity of the open society—not merely the inherent inability of democracy to defend itself effectively against internal enemies by democratic means alone, but more importantly, the process by which the extension and consistent application of liberal principles transforms them into their antithesis.4
Kolakowski’s emphasis on the self-poisoning nature of open societies is critically important to understanding the current troubles Europe faces. It helps to think of this self-poisoning as the unintended consequence of five revolutions that have shattered our world since 1968:
• the cultural revolution of the 1960s, which de-legitimated all social hierarchies and put the individual at the center of politics;
• the market revolution of the 1980s, which de-legitimized the state as a principal economic actor;
• the East/Central European revolutions of 1989, which appeared to reconcile the cultural revolution of the 1960s (resisted by the Right) and market revolution of the 1980s (rejected by the Left), and which that persuaded us of the ahistorical proposition that liberal democracy was timeless (the end of History, as it were);
• the 1990s revolution in communications, brought about by the sharply accelerating spread of cybernetic technologies, not least the internet;
• the 2000s revolution in the neurosciences, which changed our understanding of how the human brain works, enabling the more systematic manipulation of emotions to displace rationality at the heart of democratic politics.
In their early stages, all five of these revolutions deepened the democratic experience. The cultural revolution dismantled the authoritarian family and gave new meaning to the idea of individual freedom. The market revolution contributed to the global spread of democratic regimes and the collapse of communism. The revolutions of 1989 spread and deepened Europe’s democratic experience and extinguished an existential threat to European security. The internet revolution gave citizens new access to information and powers of expression and is arguably also enriching our thinking about society, even as it is redefining the very notion of political community. The sharing of information and images now challenges the status of belonging physically to a community as the dominant form of social solidarity. And the new science of the brain has restored an appreciation for the role of emotions in politics and political life.
Paradoxically, these same five revolutions now animate the current crisis of liberal democracy in Europe (and perhaps not only Europe). The cultural revolution diminished the decline of the shared sense of purpose, thus challenging the very governability of modern democracies. The politics of the Sixties, too, devolved into the aggregation of individual claims upon society and state. Identity politics, whether expressed in terms of ethnicity, gender or sectarian identification, colonized public discourse. The current backlash against multiculturalism is a direct result of the failure of Sixties politics to formulate a shared view of society. The rise of anti-immigrant nationalism in Europe, of which more below, is certainly a dangerous trend, but it flows out of a deep and legitimate desire for community, for a common life knit together by an integral culture; it is not fairly characterized as simply xenophobic resentment against foreigners. The rise of an often angry populism in Europe tells us that clashing demands in modern societies cannot be resolved by reducing democratic politics to the politics of rights.
The market revolution of the 1980s made societies wealthier and more interconnected than ever, but it broke the positive link between the spread of democracy and the spread of equality. From the late 19th century until the 1970s, the advanced societies of the West all grew less unequal. But the emergence of a truly global capitalism has reversed this trend, leading to an obsession with wealth creation and fostering an anti-government passion at the core of the crisis of governability in Western democracies today.
By declaring democracy the normal state of society and restricting democratization to an imitation of the institutions and practices of developed democracies, Central Europe’s new post-communist ideology committed two sins. It trivialized the tensions between democracy and capitalism, which are inherent and even necessary to all market democracies, and it contributed to a sense of triumphalism that turned democracy from a society of choice into the only legitimate option for all mankind. Democracy lost its critics, and with them some of its creative potential, without losing its contradictions or its enemies.
In short, we have reached what Alexander Gerschenkron called a “nodal point.” In a relatively short period we have witnessed and participated in aesthetic, ideological and institutional redefinitions of the meaning of both democracy and European society. These redefinitions are ongoing, but the misalignment between our politics and our social reality is coming to a head. Our present crisis isn’t really about banks or money. It is not even about the institutional deficiencies of Europe. It goes deeper than all of that.
The current European economic crisis is producing two very different conceptions of democracy. In countries like Germany, the public’s influence in democratic politics is increasing; in countries like Greece and Italy, the public’s influence in decision-making, especially economic decision-making, is decreasing. What Berlin and Paris have to offer the citizens in Italy, Greece or Spain is a democracy in which the voters can change governments but not the basic economic policies of those governments. The logic of current proposals for strengthening the euro would take virtually all economic policy decision-making out of electoral politics, presenting citizens in debtor countries with the unappealing choice of either “democracy without choices” or “occupying” the streets.
European democracy today is thus not threatened by the rise of anti-democratic alternatives; it is trapped by citizens’ fully democratic desire to choose “none of the above.”
Throughout Western Europe today, threatened majorities are acting more like aggrieved minorities. They blame the real or imagined loss of control over their lives on a conspiracy between cosmopolitan-minded elites and tribal-minded immigrants who refuse to endorse genuine social integration on majority terms. In different ways and for different reasons, both advocate a “world without borders”, a world that average people have increasingly come to fear and to hate.
Thus, ironically, Europe’s democratic institutions are more transparent than ever but less trusted than ever. Democratic elites are more meritocratic than ever but more resented than ever. Our societies are more open and democratic than ever, but also less effective than ever. The European Union, which cannot be sustained as an elite-led project but which cannot survive as a democratic project either, now depends on either the birth of European demos or the preservation of the elite-controlled democracies. A democracy without a demos has even less chance to survive than a common currency without a common treasury.
The new populism also differs dramatically from the traditional populist movements of the 19th and 20th centuries in its language, political objectives and ideological sources. It does not represent the aspirations of the repressed but rather the frustration of the empowered. It is not a populism of “the people” held in thrall by the romantic imagination of nationalists, as was the case a century and more ago, but a populism of the pragmatic complaint of majorities as manifested in almost daily published opinion polls. It is a kind of populism for which history and precedent have poorly prepared us.
This is an extract from the March/April 2012 issue of The American Interest.
Ivan Krastev is chairman of the board of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna and a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy. This paper was developed for the 2011 Dahrendorf Symposium, a joint initiative of the London School of Economics and Political Science, the Hertie School of Governance and Stiftung Mercator.
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood insists it will not be “intimidated” by threats to withhold U.S. assistance in response to the government’s crackdown on pro-democracy groups, but observers believe the Islamist group is treading a fine line over the dispute.
The Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice party have publicly endorsed the prosecution of Egyptian and foreign-based non-governmental groups, even echoing the regime’s claims that their operations were designed to destabilize the country and undermine its democratic transition.
“We don’t owe anyone any favors,” said Gamal Hishmat, an FJP parliamentarian on the foreign relations committee. “Even with the threat to the U.S. aid, we are not intimidated in the way the previous regime used to be.”
But the movement is also striving to distance itself from an unpopular government and, it seems, to prepare public opinion for dashed expectations by portraying the standoff as a deliberate ploy to sabotage an Islamist-led government.
“Egypt is suffering from escalating economic and security crises which confirm the failure of the government,” the FJP said in a statement on domestic and foreign policy issues. “It has become clear that there is a desire to export (pass on) more crises to any future government.”
The Brotherhood has threatened to revoke the Camp David peace treaty with Israel if the U.S. withholds the aid package associated with the agreement.
“The absurdity of the case is that the generals are the biggest recipients of American aid in Egypt – and they are putting that assistance at risk by going after much smaller amounts the US is spending on promoting democracy,” notes one observer.
“Along the way, the generals are not only undermining Cairo’s crucial relationship with Washington,” writes the FT’s Roula Khalaf. “They are also sullying the image of the new Egypt, which looks as arbitrary as the old one, except with a lot more unpredictability.”
In a Cairo courtroom yesterday, prosecutors charged 43 defendants with illegal receipt of foreign funds and illicit political operations. The judge subsequently adjourned the proceedings until April 26.
“The charges made involve only the period from March 2011 to December 2011,” Negad al-Borai, a lawyer representing the accused, told Reuters. “These groups have applied for permits before that period.”
The investigation is part of an orchestrated offensive against emerging democratic forces critical of the regime’s conduct during the last year’s political transition, say Egyptian activists.
“It’s a witch hunt,” said Yehia Ghanem of the International Center for Journalists after leaving the prosecution cage. “We opened an office as a prerequisite to get registered here.”
Most of the groups and activists charged are Egyptian, but U.S. groups targeted in the crackdown include the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, the International Center for Journalists and Freedom House.
An official from NDI said the group’s American staffers didn’t appear in court because they were not formally summoned. Most of the 13 Egyptians who appeared Sunday, including local NDI and IRI staff members, said they had not been officially summoned.
No foreign defendants appeared in the courtroom Sunday. All of the Egyptian defendants who attended the proceeding were kept in a prosecution cage, as is typical here, and pleaded not guilty to charges. They included the director of Freedom House in Egypt, Nancy Okail (above, reading – appropriately enough – George Orwell).
“This whole thing is not about saving Americans,” Okail said. “This is about Egypt’s relations with the world and the future of civil society.”
She fears that the prosecution will deter expatriate Egyptians from returning home to help the transition because it sends the message that “it’s bad to work on human rights or democracy building and if you have an opportunity to go back and help your country, you will be indicted.”
The Egyptian government has undertaken a successful public relations campaign to criminalize the work of NGOs in the minds of many Egyptians. The effort included a full-page story in the state-run newspaper in October accusing Freedom House of being a Zionist entity, code here for an agent of Israel.
In the government’s investigative documents, witnesses from the security forces accuse Freedom House and other NGOs that promote democracy of working in “coordination with the CIA.” The documents also say that the United States encouraged Freedom House and others to violate the law and that Freedom House “aims to control Egyptian society.”
The authorities insist that the prosecutions are a legal matter, but the politically-motivated thrust of the case was evident during and after the hearing:
A group of lawyers were in the courtroom as “citizens” seeking compensation for the “damage” they endured as a result of the groups’ activity. One of them, Osman el-Hefnawy, spoke of their plot to break up Egypt and of a “conspiracy against the whole of Egypt.”
Several theories are circulating that seek to explain the regime’s behavior, says Khalaf:
They range from claims that the military is convinced the NGOs are encouraging young liberal revolutionaries to push for an end to military rule, to suspicion that stirring up anti-US sentiment could improve the image of a military council tarnished by inept management of the political transition. There are even suggestions that the whole issue has been somewhat hijacked by remnants of the former regime, keen to prove that the military authorities are not in control of Egypt.
Worryingly, the country’s new parliament led by the Muslim Brotherhood is backing the crackdown….What makes the NGO case alarming is that it comes at a time when Egypt’s economy is in crisis. Foreign exchange reserves are depleting rapidly, which means Egypt desperately needs financial support from the International Monetary Fund and other foreign donors.
According to central bank data released earlier this month, reserves were $16.4bn at the end of January, down from $36bn in December 2010, just before the revolution. Foreign donors, however, need stability and predictability – attributes that the NGO case is proving are sorely lacking in post-revolution Egypt.
Rebel groups today claimed to have captured an army garrison near the border with South Sudan in an offensive that Khartoum attributed to the south’s army. Rebels fighting along the disputed border with the secessionist south reportedly seized the strategic enclave of Taruje to allow refugees to escape the violence.
Up to 230 Sudanese and South Sudanese refugees (left) are arriving at Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp each week, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a regional update.
A visiting U.S. Congressman heard vivid accounts from refugees at the Yida camp of ethnic cleansing, mass murder and rape by uniformed soldiers of the Khartoum government.
“Refugees recounted how they lived in fear of the Antonov planes that flew over their villages, dropping crude bombs out of their cargo bays – a trademark of the Khartoum government,” said Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), a longtime advocate for Sudan and co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.
“The planes now fly over the refugee camp, continuing their reign of terror,” he told a Capitol Hill hearing today.
“You just prepare yourself for death” when you hear a Antonov fly overhead, a refugee told Wolf.
Many refugees have been driven out by a government bombing campaign in the Nuba Mountains that “appears to be ethnic cleansing,” says reporter Ann Curry. “I want these people to be seen and heard,” she said (her reports will be broadcast on “Today” and on NBC’s prime-time newsmagazine “Rock Center With Brian Williams” on Wednesday).
While there is some hopeful movement on border issues. both Khartoum and Juba accuse each other of supporting rebel groups over ethnic and land-use conflicts, says John Campbell, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies:
The border between the two states, along with the division of oil revenue and questions of nationality for those from the North who now live in the South and vice versa are among the vexatious issues that were not addressed before South Sudan became independent.
Both migratory and agricultural people living in the disputed territories and along the border have been subject to nearly unspeakable atrocities, perpetrated especially by Khartoum ostensibly to suppress rebel groups, and to famine. (Khartoum denies access by international assistance organizations to many border areas.) Nicholas Kristof, in a New York Times February 23 op-ed, describes clandestinely visiting areas in the Nuba mountains, an area regularly subject to Khartoum bomb attacks. His conclusion: “This is a mass atrocity that has attracted little attention: a government starving its people, massacring them, raping them, and bombing them – in hopes of crushing a rebel movement.”
Meanwhile, hopes that South Sudan would be able to develop its nascent democracy on the back of its relatively vibrant civil society and independent media were set back recently when a prominent reporter for Bakhita Radio was assaulted by security personnel while trying to cover parliamentary proceedings.
February is the hottest month in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, and Mading Ngor (right), a reporter and presenter for the Catholic-owned Bakhita FM, trudged his way through the heat to cover parliament proceedings As –only to be thrown unceremoniously out of the assembly. “Before I had time to argue, four security guards pinned me to the ground and dragged me across the floor, tearing up my trousers,” Ngor, a hard-hitting, critical journalist, told me.
The ensuing furor included apologies, a protest, an opinion column, a committee investigation, parliamentary debate, the banning of Ngor from the assembly, and finally, a parliamentary call to revive deliberations over three media bills originally drafted five years ago. While some journalists see the resurrection of those proposals as a silver lining, others — including Ngor — are worried that debate over the bills in this heated atmosphere may spell trouble for press freedom in the world’s newest country.
“If they do it now, it will not be the same bills we had hoped would pass,” Ngor said.