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Category: Issue 1-2 2021

Whither Democracy?

And what lies ahead for our region. Issue 1-2 of New Eastern Europe is now available.

February 4, 2021 - New Eastern Europe

We need innovation and courage to rejuvenate democracy

A conversation with Basil Kerski, director of the European Solidarity Centre in Gdańsk. Interviewer: Iwona Reichardt

IWONA REICHARDT: With 2020 behind us, we are now entering into the third decade of the 21st century. There is a sense that the beginning of each decade can indicate a certain change which determines the years to come. 1989 and 1991 marked the beginning of a new post-Cold War order; the first decade of the 21st century was marked by the terrorist attacks on September 11th 2001; while the second decade of this century started a bit earlier, with the 2008 financial crisis. This time we have the COVID-19 pandemic which started in 2020. In a way, all of these events were surprises as well….

BASIL KERSKI: It is hard to say whether decades are a good measure to describe political and economic phenomena, but let's say that this is some sort of ordering perspective. We must distinguish between two things. First, the breakthrough events are always preceded by some processes that are visible and predictable. Only then, do we see their effects. When it comes to 1989 and 1991, I think that the process that everyone had expected was the democratisation of Central Europe.

February 3, 2021 - Basil Kerski Iwona Reichardt

Russia in the starting blocks for the 2021 parliamentary election

The 2021 State Duma election will be the most important stress-test for the Russian regime in the run-up to a possible transition of power in the coming years. The Kremlin has responded to real or imagined threats linked to this election with a new wave of highly repressive laws. However, this authoritarian overreaction may backfire, thus confirming the Kremlin’s fears of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Parliamentary elections in Russia are about much more than just window-dressing. They serve to legitimise the authoritarian regime in the eyes of the public as well as verify the efficacy of the state administration machinery. The tangible unease among the Kremlin’s decision-makers, provoked by an unfavourable economic future and a worrisome evolution in the social mood, has accelerated efforts to consolidate authoritarian rule.

February 3, 2021 - Maria Domańska

2020’s electoral lessons: Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine

Recent elections in Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine have proven that positive democratic changes are difficult to achieve but are still very possible. Even though oligarchs retain much of their power, political newcomers, civil society and the diaspora are turning into key players shaking up the status quo.

The political transformations that occurred in Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine in the second half of 2020 will have long-lasting consequences on the democratic development of these critical countries in the region. Each of them has made qualitative steps forward, leaving behind more oligarchic-centric rules of the game.

February 3, 2021 - Denis Cenusa

When institutions fail, boycott and street protests remain the only instrument

Georgian NGOs and election watchdogs have labelled the October 2020 parliamentary elections as “the least democratic and free among the elections held under the Georgian Dream government”. As a result, the united opposition parties have boycotted entering into the new parliament and protests continue on the streets of Tbilisi, calling for fresh, free and transparent elections.

Once a frontrunner in democracy in the region, Georgia now faces a crisis of democracy. What was supposed to be the country’s first predominantly proportional parliamentary elections that would strengthen representation and bring in a diverse, pluralistic parliament resulted in the opposite happening. Georgia’s 2020 parliamentary elections became known as “the least democratic and free” in the Georgian Dream’s rule by the country’s leading NGOs and election-watchdogs.

February 3, 2021 - Anastasia Mgaloblishvili

Lithuanian elections provide new opportunities and women empowerment

In October 2020 the election to Lithuanian parliament (the Seimas) took place and brought new political power to Lithuania for the upcoming four years. More women have been empowered in leadership – the three parties that will make up the centre right coalition are led by women. This election marks a change in Lithuania’s political culture and gives more assurance for trust, democracy and gender equality.

During the two rounds of elections to the Seimas on October 11th and 25th, 141 parliamentarians were elected to represent Lithuania’s parliament for the next four years. The results of the elections show that the Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats won the elections with the most seats (50) in the Seimas. The previous ruling party, the Lithuanian Peasant Popular Party, won 32 seats while the Social Democrats and the Liberal Movement received 13 mandates each. The Freedom Party, founded in 2019, won 11 seats, and the Labour Party won 10 seats. The new ruling coalition was formed by the Homeland Union, the Liberal Movement and the Freedom Party, which together secured a majority of 74 seats.

February 3, 2021 - Kristina Smolijaninovaitė

When trust in institutions is lacking, we have a problem

An interview with Henrik Müller, a professor of economic policy journalism at the Institute of Journalism at TU Dortmund University, Germany. Interviewer: Markus Krzoska

MARKUS KRZOSKA: In your book, published last year, you analyse “turbo democratism” which, as you argue, poses a great threat to our social life. What characterises this phenomenon and what distinguishes it from the parliamentary democracy from which we have long been used to?

HENRIK MÜLLER: Actually my first idea for the title of my book was “turbo democratism”. It was later decided to be called Kurzschlusspolitik (a short circuit policy or a quick reaction policy). In the 2000s there was a lot of talk about turbo capitalism, which is an unstable economic system and which, as we now know, reached its peak with the 2008 financial crisis. Today, I argue that the political system, just like financial capitalism, is innately unstable. This instability comes from public opinion and society’s tendencies to have knee jerk reactions, which (at least partially) affects the traditional political structures.

February 3, 2021 - Henrik Müller Markus Krzoska

What 1989 can (and cannot) teach us

When viewed as the breaking point of conformity, 1989 contains multiple and legitimate meanings. This is the main conclusion that can be made from all the different perspectives gathered throughout our project. Talking about 1989 in a meaningful way, especially about the role of the citizen, it is crucial we resist the temptation to search for a common cause of the revolutions.

February 3, 2021 - Simona Merkinaite

The failure in binary thinking about Belarus

For the last 25 years Belarus has been the greatest victim to stereotypes. This “last dictatorship in Europe” has been often presented vis-à-vis other “democraticising” post-Soviet states. This optic of presenting Belarus based on black and white; or good and bad terms failed to explain what was really taking place within this country’s borders. Yet, it explains why so many western analysts did not predict the social changes that we are now witnessing in Belarus.

In recent months we have seen numerous conferences, articles and discussions with a variation of the title “Belarus. An unexpected revolution”. Through them western analysts and policy-makers who were once calling Belarus the last dictatorship in Europe, are now looking for answers on whether and when the people’s revolution will succeed. They typically start their analysis with questions such as “Why now?” or “Where did this sudden awaking of the Belarusian society come from?”

February 3, 2021 - Iwona Reichardt Maxim Rust

Belarus. Fighting for the future or the past?

Despite the historical parallels, the differences in memory politics and more recent national developments explain why Belarus never turned to Ukraine for guidance, symbols or role models. The marches in the streets of Minsk and other major cities typically brandish the white-red-white flag which is about the only historical reference. The flag clearly has become the symbol of protest, similar to the colour orange in Ukraine almost two decades ago.

In the 2004 Orange Revolution as well as during the EuroMaidan uprising a decade later, Ukraine’s future orientation was at stake. In both cases, pro-European citizens confronted pro-Russian state authorities on Kyiv's main square, the Maidan Nezalezhnosti or Independence Square. Not only did the views of Ukraine's future and the principles of democracy clash, but events and heroes from the nation's past were fielded as arguments.

February 3, 2021 - Olga Morozova Wim van Meurs

Bulgaria’s veto for North Macedonia’s European hopes spells trouble for the region

Bulgaria’s veto for neighbouring North Macedonia’s accession talks to the European Union late last year could spell trouble in the long run for the rest of the region. By blocking Skopje’s European path, the decision taken by Bulgarian authorities goes to show how historical feuds in the region are still threatening to disrupt its already fragile and patchy path towards the EU.

The conditions that Bulgaria has set ahead for its much smaller neighbour include an official acknowledgement of having a common history, a change in the formulation describing the official language (Macedonian) which is being used in North Macedonia, and a roadmap for the implementation of a friendship treaty that the two countries signed in 2017. Bulgaria has also requested that the agreement includes Skopje's renunciation of claims to the existence of a Macedonian minority in Bulgaria.

February 3, 2021 - Bojan Stojkovski

Turkey, Russia and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

Irrelevance of the West in the recent war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh has turned the conflict into Turkey's and Russia's domain. Yet, despite far-reaching ambitions and unprecedented assistance which Turkey gave Azerbaijan during the last round of the conflict, it has been side-lined by Russia’s ambition to dominate the peacekeeping process in the break-away region.

Despite the fact that western governments – those of the United States and France – are co-responsible for supervising the resolution process of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, their response to the recent outbreak of hostilities had been, at best, ineffective. This vacuum has been filled by Russia, which has long sought to play the role of a major mediator in the conflict, and Turkey, a new entrant to the region that recently became determined to get more involved in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

February 3, 2021 - Natalia Konarzewska

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