Guo Feixiong case a ‘dark verdict on China’s future’


guo feixiongDissident writer and human rights legal activist Guo Feixiong (left), was detained in August of 2013, formally arrested two months later for “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place,” and finally allowed access to legal representation in November of 2013. The New York Times reports that the activist’s trial is expected to begin on Friday, and that his lawyers and family are expecting conviction and imprisonment, China Digital Times reports:

The charges against Yang Maodong and Sun Deshang stem from their involvement in organizing support for Southern Weekly staff members who protested against censorship at the paper in early 2013. The upcoming trial will be the latest in the Xi administration’s ongoing drive to stifle China’s nascent civil society.

With the trials of Gu and other rights advocates, “the Chinese government has sent a clear signal to society: For citizens to demand their rights is a form of provocation, an attack, and the state will repress such behavior without restraint. There is a zero-sum relationship between the government’s repressive system and the people’s basic rights; there is no longer flexibility,” notes Xiao Shu, the pen name of Chen Min, a researcher at the Transition Institute in Beijing.

The government is afraid of a “color revolution” and has reportedly sent agents to Russia and Central Asia to study how to prevent such events, Chen writes for the Wall Street Journal:

Beijing’s newly established National Security Commission has apparently investigated foreign-funded nongovernmental organizations in China, and several well-known NGOs are now at risk. All of which exposes one thing: The Chinese authorities are fearful. The power of civil society in China is growing. The public’s rights consciousness is awakening. Yet our civil society is still extremely weak compared with the world’s strongest ruling state.

The Chinese authorities’ overconfidence in hard power and underconfidence in soft power has rendered them incapable of assessing the situation objectively. So officials are fearful and treat the slowly growing rights movement as a mortal enemy. They probably don’t realize that this extreme policy has antagonized people on all sides, stimulating powerful counterforces.

If the government gives no space to the people, it cannot expect the people to give it space in return. If the government gives no retreat route to civil society, it cannot expect civil society to offer a retreat route in return. The government’s imagined “hostile forces” and “color revolution” will turn into self-fulfilling prophecies. If the authorities don’t change direction, they will eventually reap what they sow.


Ukraine’s options: capitulate, fight or consolidate

ukrainesolidarnoscUkraine must choose between three options: capitulate, fight or consolidate, argues Taras Kuzio, a research associate at the Canadian Institute for Ukrainian Studies.

The first option entails acceptance of Putin’s de facto demand for Donbas “statehood” inside Ukraine. Such a state, which he has called New Russia using the Tsarist name for eastern and

southern …It would be political suicide for any Ukrainian president, including Petro Poroshenko, to agree to transform Ukraine into a second Belarus. He would come under intense pressure from Yulia Timoshenko, Euromaidan civil society and the nationalists who fill the ranks of the volunteer battalions.

A second option would be for Ukraine to regroup its forces and re-launch military and partisan attacks against Russian and separatist forces. No western government questions Ukraine’s right to use all methods available to regain control of its territory but such a strategy would be difficult to pursue without western military assistance, advice, training and intelligence….

A third option supported by some western Ukrainian intellectuals and outlined by Alexander J Motyl of Rutgers University calls for rebuilding Ukraine without the Donbas and ultimately Crimea. …

The choice today is not between a united Ukraine fully in the Western camp, or a Ukraine which has lost part of its territory to Russia, argues Anatol Lieven, a professor at Georgetown University and the author of “Ukraine and Russia: A Fraternal Rivalry.”

As recent military developments have demonstrated, the first outcome is simply not going to happen, he writes for the New York Times:

The choice is between a Ukraine with an autonomous Donbass region, along with a real chance of developing the country’s democracy and economy in a Western direction, or a Ukraine which will be mired in a half-frozen conflict that will undermine all hopes of progress. The way out of this disaster is obvious — if only Western governments have the statesmanship and courage to take it.

“Of our three options, the outcome of the first would be to transform Ukraine’s president into a

Russian suzerain,” Kuzio writes for the Financial Times.

“The second and third options are more palatable to Ukraine’s leaders but would require western military assistance,” he suggests. “Which of the three options Ukraine opts to pursue will have a profound impact on European security and the west’s relations with Russia.”

EU urged to monitor Hungary as Orban promotes ‘illiberal democracy’

hungary orbanA Hungarian opposition party is urging the EU to step up its monitoring of democracy in the country after prime minister Viktor Orban said he wanted to ditch “liberal” democracy in favour of building an “illiberal state,” the FT’s Kester Eddy reports from Budapest:

The move comes after Mr Orban said in a speech at the weekend that the financial crisis had shown liberal democracies could not remain “globally competitive” and praised models such as Russia, Turkey and China. Together-PM, a small, centrist opposition alliance, is writing to the European Commission in response, asking it to take a stronger stance on issues such as media freedom, civil society and government reforms of the constitution in Hungary.

Addressing an annual gathering of ethnic Hungarians in Romania, Mr Orban denounced a decadent and “money-based” west and outlined a future Hungarian state which would shun western European values to “create a successful nation”.

“The hottest intellectual topic of today is understanding systems which are non-western, non-liberal, which are not liberal democracies, perhaps which are not even democracies, and they still make some nations successful,” Mr Orban said. He added that Singapore, China, India, Russia and Turkey were “stars” in this respect.

“The prime minister has launched an attack against democracy as we understand it in Europe,” Viktor Szigetvari, the Together-PM co-chairman, told the Financial Times. “We want the incoming European Commission to consider that if we were not already a member of the European Union, then Hungary as presented by the prime minister would not be ready to become a member.”

‘Our time will come’

Orban, whose Fidesz party has a two-thirds majority in parliament, said the global financial crisis had shown that liberal democracies were no longer competitive. “Today, the world tries to understand systems which are not Western, not liberal, maybe not even democracies yet they are successful,” he said, according to EUobserver.

 The prime minister, who has been the target of frequent criticism by nongovernmental groups, implied that civil society was an obstacle to establishing an illiberal state.

Orban said his “illiberal democracy” won’t deny the “fundamental values” of liberalism, such as “freedom.” hungaryfideszorban

“The point of the future is that anything can happen,” Orban said. “That means it could easily be that our time will come.”

NGO Crackdown

The Hungarian prime minister is distancing himself from values shared by most EU nations even as his government relies on funds from the bloc for almost all infrastructure-development financing, Bloomberg’s Zoltan Simon reports:

Orban said civil society organizations receiving funding from abroad need to be monitored as he considers those to be agents of foreign powers.

“We’re not dealing with civil society members but paid political activists who are trying to help foreign interests here,” Orban said. “It’s good that a parliamentary committee has been set up to monitor the influence of foreign monitors.”

“We are making ourselves independent of and free from western European dogma and ideology,” Orban said. “We are trying to create...a new Hungarian state, globally competitive...We want to create a work-based society which is admittedly of a non-liberal nature.” he said.

Orban began his political life as a self-declared liberal, anti-communist student dissident in the 1980s, the FT adds:

But he warned on Saturday that non-governmental organisations in Hungary were employing subversive political activists paid for by foreigners – a reference to an ongoing dispute over civic groups financed primarily by Norwegian state funds…Although the prime minister declared that the new model state would not deny liberal values such as freedom, the address provoked a general outcry from Hungarian opposition parties.

“Hungary is tending towards becoming a country ruled by a despot seeking to go back to before the peaceful regime change [from communism in 1989],” said Jozsef Tobias, chairman of the opposition socialists. “By abandoning liberal democracy Orban is breaking with the basic values of all democratic groupings – socialists, liberals and conservatives as well.”

Mr Orban has also caused alarm among ethnic Hungarians in neighbouring countries.

“[Mr Orban’s] vision is in sharp contradiction to everything that we have been trying to accomplish for the past 25 years in Romania...a strong, centralised state, which is not in the interests of any single minority group, Bela Marko, an ethnic Hungarian leader in Romania, told a Budapest radio station on Tuesday.

Yet apart from the planned EU appeal, Hungary’s weak and divided opposition parties have mustered little concrete action, and Mr Orban’s speech has so far prompted little outcry from the public.

Orban said he wants to abandon liberal democracy in favor of an “illiberal state,” citing Russia and Turkey as examples. The global financial crisis in 2008 showed that “liberal democratic states can’t remain globally competitive,” he said.

“I don’t think that our European Union membership precludes us from building an illiberal new state based on national foundations,” Orban said, according to the video of his speech on the government’s website. He listed Russia, Turkey and China as examples of “successful” nations, “none of which is liberal and some of which aren’t even democracies.”

“Orban’s comments are very controversial and closer to what we’re used to hearing from President Putin of Russia than from a leader of a European democracy,” said Paul Ivan, an analyst at the Brussels-based European Policy Centre. “It’s also an extremely bad moment to cite Russia and Turkey as examples, with Russia becoming much more imperialistic and nationalistic and with serious attacks on the freedom of speech in Turkey.”

“I must admit Fidesz is still popular,” said Mr Szigetvari. “[But] long term, this policy cannot be successful. What Orban said against civil organisations and democracy, it’s unacceptable. People did not vote for that: even Fidesz voters want to live in a western-style country.”

Civil society draft law would ‘throttle’ Egypt’s NGOs


NGOs on trial

NGOs on trial

A new civil society draft law will “throttle” Egyptian Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and “rob them of their independence”, said Human Rights Watch.

In a Monday statement, the international watchdog condemned the draft law and called for it to be discarded and replaced. The group’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director warned that the draft law would “extinguish a crucial element of democracy in Egypt”.

The Ministry of Social Solidarity presented the draft legislation to Egyptian groups on 26 June. It has garnered criticism since then for restricting the activities of the already struggling civil society organizations in Egypt.

The draft gives the government veto power over all activities of civil society organizations, Human Rights Watch said. Under the new legislation, the government has the power to dissolve organizations without a court order; it can also refuse to license new organizations under the pretext that their activities could “threaten national unity”….

The draft law furthermore restricts the activities of international organizations within Egypt and their cooperation with domestic organizations, as well as imposing “crippling restrictions” on civil society organizations seeking foreign funding….The current law under which civil society organizations operate obliges them to seek government permission before domestically raising funds, which pushes organizations to seek foreign funding.

Twenty-nine NGOs rejected the draft in a joint statement on Wednesday.

From democratic transitions to Brazil’s World Cup

In the latest round-up from Democracy Lab’s Transitions blog:

MarcplattnerThe National Endowment for Democracy’s Marc Plattner (left) wonders whether the current wave of democratic transitions may be petering out.

Antônio Sampaio analyzes the political fallout from Brazil’s epic World Cup failure.

Vera Mironova and Valerie Hopkins explain why Ukrainian civil society organizations are lending a hand to the beleaguered military.

Terra Lawson-Remer argues that redistributing revenues from Libya’s oil wealth is just what’s needed to consolidate the transition to democracy.

Mohamed Eljarh reports on the latest battle among militias for control of Libya’s main airport.

And now for this week’s recommended reads:

Ben Bland of Financial Times looks at the election dispute in Indonesia and assesses its likely impact on the country’s continuing transition.

Democracy Digest examines the obstacles still facing Burma on its path to liberal democracy. The New York Times’ Thomas Fuller covers the predicament of Burma’s Chinese Muslim minority as ethnic tensions deepen.

The Daily Beast‘s Josh Rogin reports on, a new site attempting to crowdsource human rights.

Brookings’ Ted Piccone offers advice to the new U.N. human rights commissioner on how to maximize his effectiveness on the job.