Having just spent the afternoon in a very nice restaurant in Odessa with a Ukrainian politician – and witnessed the march past of a very vocal and lively anti-government protest by local Krygs against the government of Kyrgyzstan in Bishkek – the conversation turned to democracy and how best to support it within from without.
The question asked of me I presume, as somebody from without now living permanently within – rather than any urge of this politician to support from without any democratic notions within Kyrgyzstan.
Now there are truly numerous ways to support democracy within a nation from without, be it expertise or financial aid (or both) to the State apparatus, to civil society or to political parties themselves, or through development agencies with projects on the ground, the use of regional architecture such as the EU or OSCE – the list goes on and on to be honest.
However, blindly throwing money, time and expertise at supporting democracy has a very real risk of wasting these resources. There is of course, a risk that such resources will be misused by the corrupt and insincere if these efforts are channeled through government that only purports to have the political will to carry out reforms. There is a risk of looking to “western-orientated” NGOs for reasons of language or location within a nation rather than finding more “authentic and genuine” civil society actors in the provinces speaking only provincial language. There is the risk that with money and expertise to farm out, the donor will approach the recipient rather than the other way around leading to a legitimacy crisis on the ground in some cases.
All very serious issues when thinking about democratic assistance to democratic agents in foreign lands – particularly when elections (whatever their genuine democratic worth in any particular nation) are on the horizon.
How close to any election can any external democratic assistance be given to the democratic parties before it is seen by both incumbent government and large parts of society as intervention rather than democratic assistance? There is an obvious and extremely fine line between assisting democracy and democratic parties and being seen as intervening and “picking a winner” from without.
This is assuming that those without can actually identify any genuine democratic actors to support – rather than those who are opportunistic and thus semi-loyal to the idea of democracy, or those that are simply not democratic whatsoever other than having the word “democratic” attached to themselves or party when officially registering the party name.
It can hardly be claimed that Kravchuk, Kuchma, Yushenko, Tymoshenko or Yanukovych are (or were) truly and genuinely democrats. They may like the idea – but only so long as it serves their purpose at the time.
Kravchuk had democracy dumped in his lap when the USSR imploded.
Kuchma used dominant party politics during his term which failed to be continued as expected only due to the 2004/5 mass mobilisation of the Ukrainian public.
Yushenko continually interfered with the rule of law and most infamously with the constitutional courts to the point where the Council of Europe wrote to him in 2007 pointedly highlighting such an erroneous path – which he subsequently ignored.
Tymoshenko was and is known as an autocrat amongst most of her party and throughout the Ukrainian based foreign diplomatic community – which is hardly surprising when empirically and historically no political party or political faction that has born the name of any specific individual has ever produced anything other than an autocrat when they got into power. What else could “Block Yulia Tymoshenko” have been other than a vehicle for the personalisation of power for Yulia Tymoshenko?
Yanukovych is seemingly attempting to return to the dominant party politics of the Kuchma era whilst brazenly reinforcing patron-client relationships on an almost daily basis. Thus far it appears nobody within the Party of Regions is intent on reigning him in and eventually it may reach a stage where he becomes stronger than his party – no different to the inability of Batkivshchyna or Block Yulia Tymoshenko to control her.
This ably assisted, unfortunately, by a “United Opposition” that is neither “united” nor genuinely democratic across its tri-party make-up. It is no surprise that the European Parliament has made repeated calls for the United Opposition to jettison Svoboda from its line-up, as extreme nationalist politics is by nature exclusive rather than inclusive and thus is not going to result in a full-blooded, liberal and inclusive democracy.
Who were and are the genuine democrats to support amongst these people?
Now there will be – and there are – those within both the current opposition and current majority that are genuinely up for the democratic leap despite the probable losses to themselves personally in doing so. But, is it wise to support any specific actor, as that again can be seen as foreign intervention and “picking a winner” which may do more harm than good for that individual’s chances on polling day.
Are any of these truly democratic actors capable of garnering mass public support, or in supporting them would it be a case of futility by way of supporting a lost cause? Even if there is such an actor, is the continued personalisation of politics what Ukraine needs?
So what to support? The answer has to be the principles and processes of democracy in isolation from individual actors – especially and particularly so when elections sit just over the horizon. The question then, is how to effectively and consistently support the principles and processes of democracy whilst insuring maximum impact in a somewhat hostile/insincere environment – especially and particularly during election time?
That question and the answers will have to await another sunny afternoon in another nice Odessa restaurant with the same company – and I fear it is my turn to pay next time!
(And yes, of course it does actually help when it comes to the legitimacy of any foreign donor purporting to support the principles and processes of democracy to have their own house in order and walk their own talk – before I get the usual, inevitable, expected – and yes warranted – comments about the EU and Member States.)