Promoting Democracy in the Age of Competition with Russia
On May 27, 2015 the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) in Brussels hosted a discussion on “Promoting Democracy in the Age of Competition with Russia”. Jana Kobzova, senior program officer at the European Endowment for Democracy moderated the discussion. Speakers included Dr. Nicolas Bouchet, TAPIR research fellow at the GMF; Orysia Lutsevych, research fellow at Chatham House; Dr. Alexander Sokolowski, democracy and governance division chief from the Bureau for Europe and Eurasia at the USAID; and Silvio Gonzato, director for human rights and democracy at the European External Action Service.
Participants, including representatives from the think-tank sector, civil society, and government institutions, discussed the changed circumstances for democracy promotion in Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and the post-Soviet space over the past twenty years. The discussion centered around Russia’s increasing efforts to counter democracy promotion and promote authoritarianism, and how this challenges the transatlantic community to change its approach to supporting democratization.
It was argued that there is now a situation of regime competition between democracy and authoritarianism in the countries concerned, and that this is because Russia’s rulers see containing and rolling back democracy as vital. The discussion covered how Russian efforts and instruments to do so have increased over the years, and how this has changed the playing field for EU and U.S. democracy promotion. Participants debated how Russia used channels relating to language, history, religion, and culture in order to promote undemocratic and illiberal norms, and how democracy promoters could respond to this. One important dimension of this debate was the need to have more country-specific democracy programmes.
There was agreement that Russia’s behaviour requires the transatlantic community to update its tools to support democratic development in the region, and also develop new approaches. This would mean, among other things, greater engagement with civil society at the grassroots level, encouraging pro-democracy education, cultural diplomacy, and providing access to alternative media outlets and sources of information. Participants also noted the need to focus on augmenting the resilience of newer democracies so they can better refute an authoritarian narrative and resist reactionary outside influences. Last, there was agreement that more dialogue, information-sharing and cooperation between US and EU democracy promotion actors was important to compensate for Russia’s growing influence against democracy.
Read the policy brief: Russia and the Democracy Rollback in Europe