ISSUE 2-2011
Rafał Sadowski Victoria Gumeniuk  & Liubov Akulenko Андрей Федоров Vlad Lupan Сергей Саркисян
Sebastian Schäffer Валерий Мастеров
Ярослав Шимов
Pavel Vitek
Pavel Venzera

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the articles and/or discussions are those of the respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the official views or positions of the publisher.

By Pavel Venzera | Researcher in Politics, the Czech Republic | Issue 2, 2011

In 2009 the democratic world celebrated 20th anniversary of anno mirabilis when a gloomy existence of communist regimes in Central Europe was finished. There was really a good reason to celebrate. In these twenty years Central European countries managed to join NATO and EU and built strong foundations of the democratic society. Of course, there are also a lot of disappointments but the comparison between then and now has unambiguous result.

The same can be said about of Baltic States which regained their independence a bit later in times when the nerushimii U.S.S.R. was collapsing. People in other twelve successional states of the U.S.S.R. are more confused considering pros and cons of the past twenty years. None of them have managed to repeat the achievements of Baltic States and the results of the social transformation in these states could be much better.

When we have a look at nearest neighbours of the more successful the Central European and Baltic countries -Belarus, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine- we are getting an unpleasant picture. This twenty-year-long period was more or less wasted. The Russian story would deserve a special space. Briefly said, Yeltsin tried to do his best, he reached a certain progress (e.g. freedom of speech) but on the whole he caused that a lot of Russians have identified democracy with disorder and robbery. From this feeling Putin rose. The results of the rule of this man, who considers collapse of the U.S.S.R the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century, is evident: in some cases Russia has been coming back to the U.S.S.R.

And what about the other mentioned countries? In each of them the efforts to accomplish transformation occurred, something was done but a general impression is not too impressive. Let´s look for some possible reasons of that.

We should open such a research withremarks from the field of history and psychology. The Central European and Baltic countries lived under communist regime “only” forty years whereas above mentioned countries did more than seventy years. There cannot be any doubt that the longer the worse is the valid rule. After seventy years there were almost no people remembering what had been before communists. We do not meet this problem either in the Central European or Baltic countries.

Authentic story telling, although often idealistic, about what was before communists played its very serious role. It was significant both during active and passive resistance against communism and also during the transformation process. Moreover in Hungary and Poland the bloody uprisings against communist regime occurred and also in former Czechoslovakia the foundations of communist regime were shaken. From historical point of view, all these events happened not to long after communist´s coming to the power. Thus, further tradition supporting later transformation process originated here. This is missed in named countries. Perestroika came too late and it did not, and it could not, work with tradition what had been before communists.

It is evident that the starting position of the Central European and Baltic countries was better. There is further and very apparent difference which can be called gravitation force of Russia or translated in Russian political speak blizhnoye zarubezhie (near abroad). After the period when Yeltsin needed independence movements in other Soviet republics, Moscow evidently demonstrated that former Soviet republics, although independent, are taken like the territory under Russian control.

In these countries such a position also implies that Kremlin would not like to see more attractive regimes than in Russia. It means autocratic regimes ordictatorships are more or less acceptable, but any effort to establish democracy and more intensive contact with the West is taken, in better case, suspiciously. The examples of Georgia and Ukraine demonstrate that can be even worse and disapproval can turn into very concrete measures.

Let´s recall Putin´s diversion against the Ukrainian Orange Revolution. The direct intervention was not necessary and using gas attack could be moderate because Ukrainians buried their revolution themselves, nevertheless, Brezhnev´s doctrine of limited sovereignty was revitalized. In Georgia it was done in literally.

It is not necessary to make other deep analysis. Simply said Kremlin does not need any durnyje primery (bad examples) for Russians when Putin is being built the authoritarian regime step by step.

The fact that today´s Russia does not need democracy and even too independent states (e.g. see the pressure on Ukraine to join Custom union controlled by Moscow) in near abroad is a very serious obstacle for building democracy there. But it would be possible to be more successful if there would be the will and unity in neighbouring countries. Sometimes the will is not absent but internal unity is a really rare phenomenon. The absence of it makes a subversive role of Russia much easier.

The problem of the unity emerged immediately at the beginning of the existence of independent states. Whereas in the Central European and Baltic countries a complete change of elites occurred in former Soviet republics representatives of the former regime preserved their positions. This fact did not allow coping with the past and it did not also allow starting real reforms leading to the establishment of democracy and market economy. Moreover, in Ukraine, for example, after falling of the old guard its komsomol came to power. It caused the fall of the Orange Revolution which was stolen by these people from civil society which was really standing against Kuchma´s regime. In Georgia and Moldova we can now observe the effort to amend this mistake.

Studying difficulties of the transformation process in the states between Russia and the EU we can meet an interesting paradox. A certain level of democratization allows to the not too tuned pro-reform establishment to preserver its power. Paradoxically, this democratization causes absence of a real opposition struggling for real reforms and having support of a substantial part of active and unsatisfied society. Such an opposition does not exist because its potential building material is either sitting abroad or on the internet. If these possibilities had not existed it would have been necessary to struggle for democracy in a direct political confrontation in a respective country. Almost free movement of people across boarders with the free movement of ideas on the internet prevents the accumulation of the critical mass. A high number of people voting by feet substantially disempowered possibility to create strong and pro-reform oriented opposition. We are also speaking here about Russia because the number of people who do not want to live in condition of democracy with appendix is very high.

Only some reasons given here demonstrate us that the transformation process in these countries has not been easy. In this context a question rises: what the European Union can do and in which way it could help these countries. The EU and some of its members individually have developed various initiatives towards named countries but there is a problem: the West has missed any success on this territory so far. The EU needs success-story similar to that of that of Central European and Baltic cases. Permanent failures are stressful and invoke fatigue.

Nearly a twenty-year-long movement of the EU on the post-soviet territories has reminded something between Ahaswer and Flying Dutchman destiny. Apart from the wandering seaman the EU is allowed to disembark in former Soviet republics more often than once per ten years but the result is not any better. Sooner or later each new hope vanishes and the EU continues with more or less enthusiasm onwards.Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova and even Belarus appear and disappear in the EU spotlight. There is a hope that one success could cause a domino effect. It is a pity that the Orange Revolution failed because a Ukrainian example would have stood out a mile. Instead of the Ukrainian case turned into a welcomed argument for Putin and Lukashenka against any opposition and reforms.

The role of the EU is not easy. It plays on the playground where only the EU keeps rules whereas other side follows only its own rules. Such a play is uncomfortable but it is necessary to continue in it. Let´s hope that the West will meet a better destiny than Ahaswer and it will not wait so long for the acceptable result and the price of the achieved result will not be as high as in Dutchman´s case.

Maybe there is a chance to be more successful because the European perspective is gradually becoming the issue of social consensus in Georgia, Moldova and also in Ukraine. Even Belarusian President will understand that the EU is a better perspective than to become 90th subject of Russian Federation.

Coming back to the EU activities we should not only ask for how long and where. It is equally very important to find an answer to the question in which way?

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