Eastern neighborhood: the silent consolidation of authoritarianism?

By Alexandra Krasteva and Andreea Flintoaca-Cojocea | 3 December 2012

To quote this document: Alexandra Krasteva and Andreea Flintoaca-Cojocea, “Eastern neighborhood: the silent consolidation of authoritarianism?”, Nouvelle Europe [en ligne], Monday 3 December 2012, http://www.nouvelle-europe.eu/node/1594, displayed on 03 June 2023

2012 has been an election year in the European Union’s Eastern neighborhood. The year started with presidential elections in Russia, followed by parliamentary elections in Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, and Ukraine. Even though the electoral saga continues in 2013 with presidential elections in the South Caucasus, the most critical elections are now behind us. What are the outcomes? Have elections brought the Eastern neighborhood closer to substantive, if not procedural, democracy?

This article is a comparative assessment of developments in the EU’s Eastern neighborhood. Under scrutiny are some of the key elections in the region: Russia, Belarus, Georgia and Ukraine. There has been a dose of uneven optimism that authoritarianism in all its forms, incarnated by the personal rules of Mikhail Saakashvili, Viktor Yanukovych, Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko, could effectively regress. Except for Georgia, elections in the Eastern neighborhood proved quite the contrary.

What prospects for democracy in the Eastern neighbourhood?

Enhancing the Potemkine village has called on new strategies to rig electoral outcomes. The accent has moved from the electoral process itself to the pre-electoral period, including doubtful political party financing, biased media coverage of campaigns, flawed electoral laws, removal of opposition candidates from the race etc. One can note efforts on the part of the regimes to abide by some standards of procedural democracy and give elections international legitimacy. For instance, OSCE/ODIHR and other international observers were invited in all four countries, cameras were installed in polling stations in most of them, and the use of so-called “independent” candidates served to dilute authoritarian looking results.

Can we speak of an advance of opposition forces in the Eastern neighborhood? Although rallies in Russia demonstrated an awakening society, the persistence of autocrats has proved stronger and mass mobilisation did not translate into a renewed social contract. As far as Ukraine is concerned, the Orange Revolution (2004) seems to be only a shadow of the past in a country where the main opponents are imprisoned and where the regime is adopting authoritarian overtones. Belarus seems more trapped than ever in Lukashenko's dictatorial system, with an economic crisis not yet strong enough to provoke a regime change. In Georgia, the victory of the coalesced opposition is the exception to the rule and the future of this multifaceted force is still to be defined.

All in all, efforts to create procedural democracy were not matched with a visible or sustainable progress of substantive democracy in the Eastern neighborhood. Authoritarian regimes are tightening the screws on opposition forces and civil society after the elections, once the international attention has shifted. Well-assessed elections are not the end of the story and the Eastern Spring is yet to come.


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