Which Way Forward for Europe’s Hybrid Regimes?
WASHINGTON — While the fall of the Berlin Wall was hailed as the end of non-democratic regimes around the world, many of the Soviet successor states that embarked on the democratization path are still stuck in a grey zone between democracy and authoritarianism two decades later. Some progress has been made in such countries as Georgia, Moldova, or Ukraine, but there are few cases of unequivocal democratic consolidation. In Europe’s eastern neighborhood, liberal and illiberal norms, institutions, and actors coexist, interact, and clash in ways that preclude democratic consolidation. These countries are a useful reminder that illiberal elements do not simply fade away after regime change occurs — in fact, they can prove quite resilient.
Old patterns of power distribution and new patronage networks have become increasingly difficult to eradicate and contribute to the Democratic Disconnect. Moreover, limited public engagement over crucial reforms adds to the disillusionment and disengagement of citizens and undercuts demands for government accountability and transparency. For democratization to be successful, a number of crucial relationships have to be recharted, including the ways in which new leaders can enter what is often a closed system of politics run by elite networks. Engagement with hybrid regimes in Europe’s neighborhood could prove more effective if it moves away from narrow institutionalism to broader conceptions of citizenship and rights. This, in essence, would entail shifting the focus from privileging links with governments or opposition leaders to direct engagement with different groups in public, private, and civic realms. It would imply a long-term focus on facilitating conditions for the protection and effective exercise of rights — civil, social, political, and cultural — particularly when hybridity limits the space for effective democracy promotion. The European Union is uniquely placed to follow through on this agenda in its eastern neighborhood. While the prospect of EU membership is not, for now, an option for such Soviet successor states as Ukraine, Moldova, or Georgia, the broader process of Europeanization could still be pursued. And if implemented in a sustained and coherent manner, it could make a real difference by gradually locking stakeholders into long-term relationships with European societies and socializing them into appreciating liberal democratic norms and institutions. Whether such socialization and emphasis on effective citizenship will prove sufficient for overcoming the condition of hybridity remains an open question, but it is worth trying. So far, the record of the EU Eastern Partnership initiative (EaP) that covers six states (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine) has been mixed. While it may have encouraged some countries, like Moldova, to mobilize around a reform agenda, the EU has not been able to exert much leverage over the countries that were not progressing. The ongoing EU-Ukraine negotiations in the lead-up to an EU-Ukraine Association Agreement offer one key example.
The search for a common language and goals continues and is unlikely to be resolved even if Association Agreements with some EaP countries are successfully brokered. Such difficulties make it ever more evident that nudging the respective governments into reform is not going to be enough to ensure qualitative change in these societies. Broader groups of societal actors have to be taken on board and engaged with directly. The EU could make a difference by boosting its engagement in specific policy areas. One of the initiatives launched at the 2013 EU-Ukraine Summit is a dialogue on issues related to business climate. A series of joint forums, exchange programs, and initiatives that reach out directly to societal actors could be developed further. To be successful, these initiatives have to be designed and managed jointly by EU and non-EU partners, operate on a municipal or regional level, and have long-term planning horizons. EU-sponsored programs in these countries tended to be biased towards institutional cooperation, but it is high time to bring in the citizens of those countries.
Kateryna Pishchikova is a junior fellow at the Transatlantic Academy, an initiative of the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington, DC.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.