15 April 2010

Article: European Democracy Promotion in Russia Before and After the "Colour" Revolutions

Sinikukka Saari, "European Democracy Promotion in Russia Before and After the 'Colour' Revolutions" ("Democratization", 16 [4], August 2009: pp. 732-55):


Abstract: "This article explores international democracy promotion and its impact on Russian policies before and after the colour revolutions in the former Soviet Union. In particular, the article analyses the democracy promotion efforts of major European intergovernmental organizations – the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Council of Europe and the European Union – as well as NGOs working in Russia. The article demonstrates that European intergovernmental organizations gave political and economic considerations priority over more consistent and principled policy towards Russia in the 1990s and early 2000s. This instrumentalism partly explains Russia's current aggressive attitude towards international democracy promotion. Informed by the 'colour' revolutions in the former Soviet republics, this negative attitude has turned into a direct, openly articulated and internationally concerted action plan against democracy promotion. This article traces and analyses the shifting dynamics of the Russian challenge to Western democracy promotion. It cautions both against simplistic categorizations of 'democrats' and 'non-democratic forces' by democracy promoters and also against political favouritism linked to them. These categorizations rarely reflect complex reality and they are all too easily manipulated. Overall, the European intergovernmental organizations indirectly legitimized undemocratic practices in Russia in the name of promoting democracy and thus delegitimized their own democracy promotion efforts."

Excerpts: "Despite the typical anti-democracy promotion rhetoric that highlights non-interference and a strict interpretation of state sovereignty, [...] (semi-)authoritarian leaders actively give political and financial support to fellow (semi-)authoritarian states in their neighbourhood. Peter Burnell labelled this phenomenon active anti-assistance and counter-promotion. Its goal is to 'prevent, frustrate, oppose or hollow-out' democratic change. While the forms and methods of the semi-authoritarian challenge have already been studied comprehensively, there has been only little attention to exactly how and why the backlash occurred. [...] Manipulation of political processes means in the Russian context that officially the name of the game is democracy, but in fact the unwritten rules are inherently antidemocratic. The aim of the system is 'to manage, manipulate and contain democracy' with the help of the elite and the experts in political manipulation employed by them.

"Examples of this unhealthy political process are the creation of 'opposition' groups by the ruling elite, buying of parties and politicians, manipulation of the media, and paying for negative, false stories and publishing false opinion polls. [...] Western actors' policy indirectly suggested that shallow rhetoric and the form of institutions are more important to Western actors than how these institutions actually function. [...] [T]he basic features of the undemocratic system in today's Russia already began developing during the Yeltsin era, and since then these features have been institutionalized and streamlined into an effective political system. The crucial feature of this system is that power is legitimized through elections that are 'managed' beforehand in such a manner that true competition is effectively eliminated. This political management is also at the core of Russia's current challenge to international democracy promotion. [...]

"The international dimension of Russia's counter-democracy promotion strategy builds on both normative and institutional challenges. It simultaneously questions European democratic standards and norms as well as European institutions and procedures set up for protecting those standards and monitoring their practical implementation. [...] One of the cornerstones of the anti-democracy promotion campaign has been the accusation that international democracy promoters adhere to 'double standards', especially in the field of election monitoring. [...] Russia has [...] made concrete suggestions on how to reorganize the European election observation framework. The basic idea behind the proposals is that the European standards should reflect the average practices in European states rather than some lofty democratic ideals. [...] By these standards even the Belarusian and Kazakh elections can be claimed to be free and fair and democratic. It is unlikely that such reports would convince Western audiences. However, the target audience is the public in the [...] semi-authoritarian states [...].

"Thus, it seems that the battle over the 'hearts and minds' of citizens has started again in earnest. [...] While during the 1990s Russia hid its undemocratic practices behind democratic and pro-Western slogans, the alternative to Western democratic ideals is nowadays more explicitly articulated and given an ideological foundation. [...] The non-implementation and practical revision of democratic norms were naturally a serious challenge to international democratic norms, but since the official rhetoric remained consistently democratic, this challenge remained an indirect one. [...] [I]t seems that not only have pro-democracy movements learned from past revolutions, but that the anti-democracy side has also learned and has modified its tactics accordingly. The situation now looks gloomy: Russia's challenge has become a direct one, and democracy promotion is aggressively being rooted out."

Sinikukka Saari is a Researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs. She holds a PhD in International Relations from the London School of Economics.

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