Windham World Affairs Council hears Ambassador Basora
The Windham World Affairs Council of Vermont held its 2008 annual meeting tonight, Friday, June 20, at the Library.
Ambassador Adrian Basora, of the Foreign Policy Institute, gave a talk after the business meeting and coffee. Basora spoke on the retreat of democracy in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Soviet union and dismantling of their economic political governments, various forms of Communism, and the beginnings of democracy in those countries.
The 28 former communist countries can be looked at in four categories: moderately advanced democracies, emerging democracies, hybrid regimes, and autocracies.
Basora detailed his talk through the use of charts created from Freedom House data. Freedom House is a non-governmental organization which (according to its web site) supports the expansion of freedom in the world. Freedom is possible only in democratic political systems in which the governments are accountable to their own people; the rule of law prevails; and freedoms of expression, association, belief and respect for the rights of minorities and women are guaranteed.
Freedom House was founded by Eleanor Roosevelt and Wendell Wilkie. They publish rankings of freedom for all the countries. Their Nations in Transitions report has been published annually since 1997.
Basora's charts, which were handed out to the audience, display various degrees of freedom that exist in these countries. Emerging democracies are showing promise with Bulgaria and Romania at the top as what he called developing democracies.
However, support for democracy is weaker in most central European countries than any other place in the world. And this was after the transition from their old economies polls showed at that time they were full of hope.
The "authoritarian camp" former 8 Soviet satellites, make up 91% of the land mass, are autocracies. These 8 "sister autocracies" are the most problematic and will be the hardest to reverse.
Fifteen of the 29 former communist are either democracies or emerging democracies, but most are quite small countries, 10 million or less. They count of only 30% of the population and only 6% of the land mass.
Why the regression after the optimistic democratization of the 1990's.
1. A resurgent Russia. Putin establishes a highly centralized state and the rise in energy prices have allowed him.
2. Moscow initiates "managed democracy." Sham elections, centralization of power, and professional diplomacy
3. Reduced U.S. influenced and good will due to the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars. Our focus has shifted from promoting democracy in eastern/central Europe to a quagmire in the M.E.
4. European Union expansion fatigue: They have turned inward after some failures.
5. Popular disillusionment: There were great hopes that these nations would catch up with Western Europe. GNP went down 30-70% over the first 5 years.
6. Low hanging fruit: many of the earlier democracies were closer to Europe and they already had a middle class. But with the introduction of market economies came inequalities. Sort of a robber baron stage in their development. People saw others getting rich and their security eroded.
Why democracies have regressed. Can they overturn the regression. why should the U.S care? If we cannot get democracies and free economies straight here we will not be able to encourage democracies elsewhere, especially in the Middle East. There should be a new US investment to resist the decline. More subtle and differentiated approach to these countries. We must do more outside of government, NGO, academia, the media. US cannot impose a democratic style; it must work with people in these nations to promote democracies. Increase investment in the "hybrid" countries to tip the balance toward more democracy. Use Helsinki framework to engage the dictators of Russia and former satellites to engage them and promote democracy.
Why did communism not fall in China. Embraced a state capitalism but retained the one party state and created prosperity. The same with Russia.
What about Cuba and Venezuela: Basora was analyst for Cuba in the 1960's. The economic embargo was counter productive; Raul is a transitional figure but the regime is highly institutionalized therefore it retained the state. Chavez is a "caudillo" strong-arm figure that goes directly to the people. But Basora thinks he is incompetent like Peron in Argentina.
After Amb. Basora took the final question, the evening ended with the 60+ crowd milling around discussing the talk and asking Amb. Basora individual questions.
Next Windham World Affairs Council meeting will be Friday, September 26, &:30 at Brooks Memorial Library, with David Lampton Dean of Faculty; George and Sadie Hyman Professor of China Studies; Director of the China Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University. His most recent book is The Three Faces of Chinese Power: Might, Money and Minds (2008);