Archive for category South Caucasus
Mikhail Saakashvili, Georgia’s president conceded the defeat of his party at the parliamentary elections. His rival Bidzina Ivanishvili, a money-splashing oligarch who made his billions in Russia and and set up the Georgian Dream party – a motley crew of oppositionists ranging from very respectable centrist politicians or former diplomats to some loony nationalists and populists – got over 50% of the votes on party lists. Saakashvili might still get a majority in the Parliament because whereas he seems to have lost the contest for the Parliament’s half seats that are elected on party lists under proportional voting system, the other half is elected as single-seat constituencies where Saakashvili’s part might have the lead.
Anyway, the election results are a big surprise. Just a couple of months ago very senior Georgian politicians were expecting something like a 50% to 30% victory for Saakahsvili, and were saying that the main danger from Ivanishvili was not for this round of elections, but for the next electoral cycle where he could build on his 30% to make the leap towards a proper majority.
Of liberalism and social democracy
The reasons for the elections results are manifold. The most important is basically too right wing a government. In his near-decade in power Saakashvili achieved huge successes in state building. The list of achievements is very long and has been so often quoted by Georgia apologists and friendly lobbyists that many people are tired of it. However, what Saakashvili achieved is no mean feat. He drastically reduced low-level corruption when it comes to the interaction between the citizen and the state – from traffic police to construction-permit issuers. He attracted significant investments, and most importantly (re)built the skeleton of a more or less functioning state, starting with the police and tax-inspectorate, then moving on to courts, universities, and municipal services (Here is a good book from the World Bank chronicling Georgia’s reforms). All was supplemented with a huge deregulation drive – that ranged from cutting red-tape and giving as free a hand to investors to drastic liberalisation of visa procedures for as many countries as possible. Georgia was open to anyone who would come to spend money or invest – from Iranian or Turks going to casinos in Batumi, to Russian, Kazakh or Gulf investors. Read the rest of this entry »
Foreigners normally tiptoe around Azerbaijan. They all want something from the country, be it in the field of energy or security. The EU wants Azerbaijani oil, gas and cooperation over building gas pipelines to Central Asia. The US and Israel value cooperation over Iran. Turkey has a strategic partnership with the country. Russia wants Azerbaijan not too align too closely with the US and to prolong the lease for the Russian radar station in Gabala. In its turn Azerbaijan is rarely a foreign policy demandeur. It has lots of oil money and a consolidated authoritarian regime which does not want to take lessons over foreign policy or lack of democracy at home.
Appearances can be deceptive
Money and a careful foreign policy between various great power interests made Azerbaijan the ultimate balancer and a fairly arrogant regional player. But the Azerbaijani system is more fragile than the country’s foreign partners think. The foundations of that system are increasingly shaky for several reasons.
One key factor is decreasing oil production. Oil production peaked in 2010; it will go down by half by 2017 and two-thirds by 2019. The hope is that new gas reserves will make up for the difference in incomes. This might compensate the fall in revenues, but only partly and insufficiently. Read the rest of this entry »
One of the main stories of the 2000-2005 wave of revolutions – successful in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine, and failed in Belarus, Azerbaijan and Egypt – were the existence of organised youth movements with names which were variations on the idea ‘enough is enough’. Otpor in Serbia, Pora in Ukraine, Kmara in Georgia, Kefaya in Egypt, Zubr in Belarus), and Mjaft in Albania became almost household names. However, I have not heard of anything ressembling Kefaya in the recent Egyptian or Tunisian revolutions. These recent revolutions were conspicuous by the absence of well-organised and well-branded youth movements. The revolutions seem to have done well enough without them.
Certainly, it is not youth movements, but authoritarian regimes and ‘ripe contexts’ that are the causes of revolutions. This sounds self-evident, but both revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries seem to often miss it (though it is impossible to know whether a revolutionary situation is ‘ripe’ before it actually happens). I still remember the avalanches of venom deployed against youth movements as ‘fifth columns of foreign powers’, not just in Russian, Azeri or Serbian media, but also in plenty of (leftish) European newspapers (the Guardian seemed to excell at that). Many of them implied that youth movements, not authoritarian mismanagement were the causes of revolutions. But it is also indicative how Kefaya failed to lead to anything meaningful in Egypt in 2005, whereas the 2011 protests toppled Mubarak without any Kefaya-like organisation. Read the rest of this entry »
Just when the southern neighbourhood of the EU is shaken by a wave of revolutionary situations that toppled consolidated dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt, the eastern neighbourhood seems to be in the middle of a trend towards authoritarian consolidation. So the paradox is that whereas the Southern neighbours look like those in the East in the revolutionary years of 2003-2005, but in fast forward mode, the Eastern neighbourhood seems to look increasingly like the south a few years ago – a collection of states with increasingly close economic relations with Europe, but with centralised, non-competitive politics, which routinely afford to ignore the EU on many political and security questions. Today, every country in the Eastern neighbourhood except Moldova is less pluralistic than it was 5 years ago (though Belarus arguably could not become worse).
Seen from Ukraine, Moldova or most of the new EU member states one of the most irritating aspects of the European neighbourhood policy is that it dumps together the Southern and the Eastern neighbours of the EU. The Eastern neighbours tend to be rather arrogant about the Mediterannean neighbours of the EU. The argument goes that you cannot approach ‘European’ neighbours of the EU and ‘neighbours of Europe’ like Morocco or Syria through the same policy lenses; Read the rest of this entry »
In 2003 -2005 revolutions in the neighbourhood were all the rage. Georgia, Ukraine and Lebanon have all inspired high-hopes among their own populations, as well as the EU and US. Then, many of those hopes collapsed, the revolutions lost their glitz, and the EU and US settled for a revolution-sceptic mood. Having gone through enthusiasm and then fatigue for revolutions, the EU now has to have views on revolutions again. It would rather not. But in less than two months the EU neighbourhood has been agitated by revolutionary situations in Belarus, Albania, Tunisia and now Egypt.
Coming up with coherent EU responses to today’s ‘revolutions’ is more difficult. The problem for the EU is not so much the lack of visibility, but the lack of a clear-cut position with which to be visible. Back in 2003-2005, EU’s sympathies were clear (though not always as explicitly articulated at revolutionaries wanted it), but now the EU is struck by the scale of events and is mainly stuck on the fence. As Daniel Korski asks: “Should the EU back the protests, support what has been a friendly regime or sit uncomfortably on the fence?”
The fence-sitting moment (for many it is a ‘fence-sitting eternity’) is something which comes up at every single revolutionary situation the EU is supposed to have a view on. It is always uncomfortable, but sometimes it is easier to choose sides than other. Responding to Belarus’ suppression of post-election protests last December was relatively ‘easy’. It might not be effective, but there was no room for fence-sitting, and the EU was practically pre-determined to reimpose sanctions on Lukashenko and his cronies. Of course this was tried before and hasn’t worked. But what else can the EU do? After years of sanctions since the late 90s, the EU tried to engage with Lukashenko for the last few years, but engagement was pushed aside by the repression of post-electoral protests. To a certain extent, the new set of sanctions are not introduced to change Lukashenko, but for EU’s peace of mind and modicum of self-respect. So the EU policy on Belarus came full circle – sanctions, then engagement and now sanctions again. Nothing worked in the end. (Though engagement seemed to bring some moderate progress, which proved unsustainable however.)
But Albania, Tunisia and Egypt are much more complicated when it comes to having coherent reactions and choosing on which side of the fence to put the EU. The reasons are many-fold. To begin with, the EU is relatively disappointed with the value and sustainability of coloured revolutions. Read the rest of this entry »
Throughout the 90s in Central and Eastern Europe, and later in the Balkans reformism and democracy tended to go hand in hand. Governments which were more respectful of democratic norms, also tended to be more reformist. (By ‘democracy’ I mean respect for human rights, media freedoms and opposition parties. And by ‘reformism’ I mean the implementation of reforms such as fighting corruption, cutting red tape, improving the business climate, modernising state institutions like police, customs, tax inspectorates or the border guards.)
In a sense, the 90s was a simpler world in which Meciar, Tudjman or Milosevic were undemocratic and non-reformist; whereas Dzurinda, Mesic, and Djindjic were both reformist and democratic. The good and the bad guys were obvious; the black was clearly distinguishable from the white. And the EU’s approach to these governments was shaped by this unbreakable link between reformism and democracy.
But it seems that the Eastern neighbourhood is different. There is much more grey than black and white. Categorising the likes of Yuschenko, Timoshenko, Saakashvili, Putin and Medvedev is more difficult. The link between being reformist and being democratic is much more blurred. Some are reformist, but less democratic; some are more democratic, but less reformist; and some are neither reformist, nor democratic.
Think of the following examples. ‘Orange Ukraine’ in 2005-2010 was the most democratic post-Soviet state with a vibrant media, lively parliament and vociferous opposition. But it was hardly reformist. Few deep reforms were even tried, let alone successfully implemented. Read the rest of this entry »
An Armenian acquaintance recently noted that Armenia is apparently the only Eastern Partnership (EaP) country that is really satisfied with the policy – all the other partners want either more, or less from the EU. Of course this highlights Armenia’s limited (or realistic) ambitions vis-a-vis the EU. But also the fact that Armenia, instead of constantly complaining that the EU is not doing enough (like Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia often do), pragmatically tries to benefit from what is on offer from the EU.
At the beginning of this year Armenia became the first country of the Eastern neighbourhood where the EU deployed a mission of eight advisers across a whole set of state institutions. Because the project was considered a success the EU is about to send an additional six persons. Read the rest of this entry »
In light of the Tagliavini report, it is perhaps worth discussing in greater details EU’s performance in Georgia’s conflicts as well. We all know that both Georgia and Russia (with South Ossetia) are responsible for escalating the game around the conflicts zones and ruthlessly rushing into a downward spiral of militarisation of the conflicts zones, particularly after Kosovo’s declaration of independence and Georgia’s perceived moves towards NATO in the first half of 2008. But EU failures are also worth discussing. The report only refers to them en passant:”over the years there was a gradual increase in European involvement in Georgia, which may be called forthcoming in terms of economic aid, politically friendly on the bilateral side, cooperative but cautious on contentious political issues and … mostly distanced [from] sensitive security issues. A good case in point was the European reluctance to take over the Border Monitoring Mission on the Caucasus range facing Russia, after Russia had vetoed the hitherto OSCE engagement in 2004.”
Behind this carefully calibrated phrase lies the story of EU’s failure to engage in conflict-resolution. Read the rest of this entry »
(MORE updates…) Here is an interesting opinion poll (Eurasia Monitor) where post-Soviet publics are asked whether they prefer integration into the EU, union of Russia/Belarus/Ukraine/Kazakhstan or independence without integration with any such entities. The results broadly confirm some of the findings from our recent ECFR report on Russian and European neighbourhood policies which argues that EU soft power in the region is not uncotested.
Among the more interesting results are (see page 35 of this opinion poll):
- Georgia comes first in pro-EU sentiment with 36% being in favour of integration with the EU. But it also comes first in pro-independence sentiment with 48% (not willing to join any integrationist blocks). Unsurprisingly only 3% want integration into a Russian-led Union. Read the rest of this entry »
For years the secessionist entities of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Transnistria have been refered to as “de facto states” and the conflicts around them – “frozen conflicts” (see previous posts on South Ossetia and Abkhazia). There has been a wide consensus that the term “frozen conflicts” is a misnomer. The conflicts have never been frozen, their settlement was. But the evolving realities of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are making the term “de facto states” also increasingly obsolete.
Scott Pegg launched the debate on de facto states with a book published over a decade ago. He referred mainly to North Cyprus, Taiwan, Somaliland, and Tamil Eelam. Dov Lynch took the debate into the post-Soviet space with his book on the “Engaging Eurasia’s Separatist States: Unresolved Conflicts and De Facto States”. The argument in both books is that secessionist regions which control a more or less well-defined territory, population and have a set of state-like institutions can be termed as “de facto states”. They are unrecognised, but de facto independent.
The truth is of course more complicated because most “de facto” states have always relied on various levels of external support to ensure their security and/or economic development (think of Taiwan, North Cyprus or Abkhazia). So the term has always been relative. Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria have outsourced a large chunk of their de facto independence to Russia: Read the rest of this entry »