One Europe is in Danger

Mikhail MinakovBy Mikhail Minakov
President of the Foundation for Good Politics, Kyiv; Alumnus of the Ukrainian (2006) and Moscow (2010)
Schools of Politics
January 2014

 The idea of One Europe is under threat once again. Today, the risk comes from consolidating post-Soviet authoritarianisms and their emerging friendship with ultra-conservative parties in EU member states.

Post-Soviet fragmented societies and self-defeating oligarchies have provided an accommodating environment for the development of corporate states with authoritarian rulers. Resources of the East are uniting to create an ultraconservative alternative to the modern and rights based Europe. This trend is a menace to the entire European space: both to the new nations of Eastern Europe as well as to the values of the longer established democracies.

With the fall of communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe, the idea of One Europe from Dublin to Vladivostok has its chance to become reality. However, the post-communist modernisation turned out to have ambivalent results. On one hand, the Change of 1989-1991 provided former the Eastern Bloc with an opportunity for statebuilding based on political and economic freedoms. On the other hand, in the absence of effective democratic institutions, these freedoms were subject to abuse from enemies of democracy.

For a long time, the enemies of democratic development were not seen as a real threat to the major direction of Europe’s progress. In the 1990s the Central European and Baltic countries made a leap into institutionalised democracy. In the early 2000s the Balkan nations began to cope with nationalist regimes. Post-Soviet coloured revolutions have brought a hope for democracy to Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, as well as to their neighbours. It looked like democratization of the big Europe could not be halted.

But with the global economic crises of 2008, the new democracies of the East proved to be too vulnerable to antidemocratic reactions. Authoritarian regimes have managed to overcome the regional trend towards democratisation. Coloured revolutions failed; their leaders left party politics. The winners dropped their democratic façade and their modernisation rhetoric. They came forward with a new agenda of neo-traditionalist ideology promoting intolerance, collectivism and clericalism.

At the same time, in Western Europe the crisis has also fostered radical conservatism. This trend has less open anti - European propaganda, but is nonetheless more open to the values of Kremlin and its allies.

In times of socio-economic crisis, conservatism is a natural and legitimate response to difficult social and economic issues. In a way, it helps restore the misbalances of fast-changing societies. In dialectical competition and co- operation with liberalism and social democracy, conservatism is a necessary element of the contemporary political system.

However, ultra-conservative Europe acts as a competitor to conservatism as well. It is grounded in values which pay lip service to tradition but which function as an excuse for violence against human rights, tolerance, and democratic institutions. By constructing the ‘local tradition’ as ideology of authoritarian rule, the ultra-conservatives claim tradition’s superiority over individual rights, and come up with sovereign democracy’ type ideologies.

Eastern Europe today is a laboratory of ultra - conservative regimes. These regimes share the same models of the institutional set-up of politics and economics. Tested in Belarus and Turkmenistan, the model of ‘vertical power’ managed to overcome the separation of powers and established an undisputed authoritarian rule. The vertical merges legislative and judiciary systems with the executive one, and subjugates local self-governance to central government.

Concentration of control over access to main resources in one hand is possible if civil society organisations and private sector are silenced. The ultra-conservative regimes monopolise control over sources of funding for civic organisations and mass media. At the same time, the big private sector players are controlled and foreign sources of support are prohibited. Once this is achieved, the regimes hold elections which are theatrical rituals of selflegitimation, the judicial courts show permanent obedience and the parliaments rubber-stamp government decrees.

These political regimes evolve in parallel with a deterioration of the free market and the pluralism of economic life. Step by step, small and medium sized businesses are pushed to the margins while state corporations gain control of most national resources.

Overall, ultra - conservative regimes promote the de-modernisation of political, social, economic, and cultural life. This de-modernisation model is being implemented successfully in Russia, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Their success is a result of cooperation and mutual support between regimes. The post-Soviet integration projects were ineffective in all but one dimension: the power elites have always been able to find possibilities to enforce each other’s rule. This is especially clear in Ukraine, where Russia’s financial support to the Yanukovych regime was followed by most effective anti-democratic institutes.

The current situation in Ukraine provides democratic One Europe with an opportunity to re-adjust regional development and undermine the ultraconservative approach. The millions of Ukrainian protesters need support from near and far neighbors to reverse the antidemocratic impulse and make the European idea stronger and more effective in its promotion of rights and liberties.

The danger is already here, in our European house. The democratic forces need to take the risk and work together to re-unite One Europe into a more integrated and democratic region.