• Katarína Mathernová brilliantly answered questions on the EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood. Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, and the recent war between Azerbaijan and Armenia were some of the topics.

    Roland Freudenstein Eastern Europe EU-Russia Neighbourhood Policy

    The Week in 7 Questions with Katarína Mathernová

    Multimedia - The Week in 7 Questions

    26 Feb 2021

  • As part of the long-standing common project between the Martens Centre and the KAS Skopje Office on “Cross-Border Cooperation: Water Management between Greece and North Macedonia”, this publication comes as a result of the collaboration between professors and scientists from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at the Ss. Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje, North Macedonia, and the School of Civil Engineering at the Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, Greece.

    The transboundary surface water bodies of Vardar/Axios River, Dojran/Doirani Lake and Prespa Lake have undoubtful importance at national and regional levels fostering economic prosperity and development, social integrity and environmental protection. The management of these waters at the basin scale is a step forward for achieving closer cross-border cooperation and for promoting sustainable development. The outputs of this book demonstrate the current situation, as well as the progress that has been conducted in the management of the transboundary waters of the two countries.

    Greece Neighbourhood Policy North Macedonia

    Water Management of cross-border waterbodies

    Collaborative

    17 Dec 2020

  • Perhaps there is no better proof of Hagia Sophia’s universality than the array of names it has borne over the centuries. Αγία Σοφία, Sancta Sapient, Ayasofya, were all used to refer to this Christian Basilica dedicated to the Holy Wisdom. It served for 1500 years as a place of worship for Christians and Muslims and, as of a few days ago, as a World Heritage Museum under UNESCO’s patronage.

    It is this monument that Turkish president Erdoğan decided to re-convert into a mosque by reversing Kemal Atatürk’s decision from 86 years ago. For Atatürk, the symbolism of turning Hagia Sophia into a museum was clear. After a century of wars and persecution of its religious and ethnic minorities, the Ottoman Empire had been significantly reduced in both size and population. His dream for “peace at home, peace in the world” required neutralising religion as a source of internal division or external threats.   

    The reopening of Hagia Sophia as a mosque is planned for 24 July, the anniversary of the signing of the Lausanne Treaty in 1923. The Treaty regulated the borders and international commitments of Kemal’s new republic, including respect for both minorities within its borders, and the sovereignty of its neighbours. The symbolism could not be more apparent: Erdoğan sees this treaty as an obstacle to his ideological and strategic revisionism. The geopolitical implications of the Hagia Sophia decision are clear.

    This decision goes beyond Turkey’s relationship with Greece, a country that has, for obvious reasons, taken the decision as an affront. It also goes beyond Europe and the West as a whole, as Erdoğan’s objective is to keep his domestic base mobilised. This move undermines global norms, rules, and efforts of inter-civilisational dialogue. The casualty of this decision may end up being nothing less than peace and understanding on a global scale, undermining relations between the West and Islam as a whole.

    Turkish officials claim that Hagia Sophia is a purely internal matter. However, it is hard to see how the international community can ignore the emergence of radical civilisational discourses in Turkey, like the statement of AKP Party’s deputy chairman, Numan Kurtulmus, that “[…] those who conquered It by the sword also own the property rights”. Such statements are unworthy of a country privileged to host myriad World Heritage monuments, which, however, also come with international responsibility. All states hosting UNESCO sites are repositories of humanity’s shared history and universal values. Consequently, they are accountable for how they treat this global patrimony.

    Perhaps not coincidentally, the Hagia Sophia decision comes at a very delicate political time for Erdoğan. The recent local elections in Turkey, the collapsing economy, and the mismanagement of the COVID-19 crisis have created unrest in Turkey that the AKP government cannot handle. As is typical for populist and authoritarian regimes, the remedy for the inability to deal with citizens’ actual problems is a turn to nationalism and religious fanaticism.

    The decision was preceded by a publicity campaign to create the impression that the Turkish population is supportive. But in a recent survey by Istanbul Economics Research, Turks appeared divided: 47% were in favour, while 38% were against. Additionally, many Turkish scholars and politicians (Orhan Pamuk, Ahmet Davutoglu, and Ekrem Imamoglu, among many) called it a terrible mistake. Much as everything else Erdoğan does these days, this decision just serves to divide Turkish society, solidifying his base while targeting his opponents. Contrary to how Erdoğan tries to present it, opposing Hagia Sophia’s reconversion into a mosque does not equate to ‘opposing Turkey’: it means standing up to a regime which an increasing number of Turks are growing hostile towards.

    Erdoğan is on a frontal attack against all values of the West’s past and present, from secular ideas of democratic liberalism to its Christian heritage. When geopolitical reorientation becomes embedded in a language of cultural inconsistency, it is difficult to see how there is any way back. A move that signals such blatant disregard for Turkey’s international commitments, even in the cultural field, can only portend further brinkmanship in the political and strategic field. Europe must be under no illusion. Turkey is an important partner. But you can only be a partner with someone who also sees you as one. If the EU wants Turkey to return to the table as a reasonable interlocutor (under the current government, or another one), the EU must prove it is a serious actor in its own right against Erdoğan’s provocations.

    The Hagia Sophia decision is part of a long series of hostile acts against Europe by a regime degenerating into a rogue actor. The EU has more than sufficient justification to impose targeted, proportionate, but, if necessary, escalating sanctions in a variety of fields – economic, touristic, military – on Erdoğan. This is not meant as a punishment against the Turkish people, or to rupture the EU’s ties with Turkey terminally. There is simply no justification to indulge a regime that engages in such blatant authoritarianism at home, and aggressive revisionism internationally. A firm stance against Erdoğan is in the interest of both democracy in Turkey, and stability in the region.

    Finally, a note about EU foreign policy more generally: Hagia Sophia has highlighted the importance of cultural heritage, particularly in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, as a topic of international diplomacy. Cultural heritage beyond the EU’s borders is a legitimate concern. The EU has long been absent in this area, at a time when wars have taken a horrible toll on cultural and religious diversity in its strategic periphery in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. A ‘strategic Europe’ must also be one that is ready to defend culture, civilisation, and diversity, not only at home, but abroad as well.

    Credits: Photo by Engin_Akyurt on Pixabay

    Panos Tasiopoulos Angelos Chryssogelos Democracy Neighbourhood Policy Religion Values

    Panos Tasiopoulos

    Angelos Chryssogelos

    “Oh Kemal, I Have Surpassed Thee!” – Erdoğan’s Folie des Grandeurs

    Blog

    16 Jul 2020

  • Despite partially delivering on his threat, to ‘open the floodgates’ of migrants to Europe, Turkish President Erdoğan remains a rational, albeit undemocratic, politician. The EU should strike a new migration bargain with Turkey, one that involves the creation of a safe zone and the protection of civilians in Idlib. All this should be part of the EU’s selective political support to the Turkish government.

    Turkey surprised Europe again when, according to Reuters, an anonymous Turkish official uttered the following sentence on 27 February: “All refugees, including Syrians, are now welcome to cross into the European Union.”

    Unlike previous rabble-rousing Turkish statements, this one was immediately followed by action. The Turkish intelligence service began organising transportation of migrants from centres inside Turkey to the Greek border. Refugees from Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq were told that Greece would accept them on its territory. People boarded buses in the middle of the night and were taken to the border areas. At the same time, the news channel A-Haber, which belongs to President Erdoğan’s family, began advertising the news that the Greek border was open. Turkish police, coastguard and border security officials were ordered to no longer prevent migrant crossings towards Greece and Bulgaria.

    The rest has already become history. February 2020 will be known as the month in which another massive migrant crisis started on the EU borders, although no-one can tell how long this one will last.

    Timing

    According to the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, preparations for the bus transfers of migrants from cities like Istanbul had been going on for days. It is not clear if the Greeks and Bulgarians knew that something was afoot. Nevertheless, they have responded well, and continue to do so, as they refuse any migrant crossings under the current conditions of extreme pressure.

    We cannot exclude the idea that Turkey has deliberately targeted Greece at this moment. Just before the Turkish green light to refugees, clashes between local residents and riot police on the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios were growing increasingly violent.

    As is now clear, the main impetus for Turkey to engage in this ‘humanitarian aggression’ is desperation over the situation in the north-west Syrian province of Idlib where Syrian government forces, backed by Russia, have been engaged in indiscriminate killings, not distinguishing between jihadists and civilians. Turkey has a justified fear over a new wave of Syrian refugees crossing into Turkey.

    EU response

    Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011, Europe (and the West) have stood on the side-lines, without doing much to defeat Assad or to, at least, try to create peace in the country. The EU’s humanitarian efforts in the war-torn country and the painful lessons of the 2003 Iraq invasion cannot justify the bloc’s scandalous absence from any meaningful involvement in Syria. Europe has been paying the price ever since by having to face a neighbourhood that increasingly seems out of control. So far, the refugee wave of 2015-16 has been the most perceptible reminder. A new reminder is now being issued.

    It is perhaps time to recognise that although we choose our friends, we do not choose our neighbours. Turkish aggression in the Mediterranean, and namely its incursions in the Greek airspace and illegal drilling in Cypriot waters, cannot be condoned. The same applies to the customary jailing and ostracism of journalists, academics and opposition politicians at home.

    On the other hand, Turkey has already experienced regimes that were much worse than that of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The country is hosting the highest number of refugees in the world. If there were a no man’s land where Turkey is, there would be at least 4 million, and probably many more, refugees and migrants in the EU today. It is difficult to imagine in what state European politics would be under that scenario. Those who criticise the 2016 EU-Turkey migration deal invariably fail to answer that question.

    And unlike some European NATO members, Turkey is on the right side in Libya, supporting the internationally recognised government in Tripoli. (Despite this, its maritime deal with Libya is very likely illegal.)

    All this is to say that not working with the Turks is not an option. Europe, while criticising the Turkish regime on some policies, needs to lend a helping hand to others.

    Despite all the recent geopolitical losses to Russia and Iran, there is still scope for meaningful European engagement in the region.

    First, continuing with the business as usual is important. EU member states need to start preparing budgets for a new migration deal with Turkey after funds under the current agreement run out.

    Second, as the current Turkish migration pressure is tied to the dismal humanitarian situation in the province of Idlib, the EU should strike an additional Idlib-focused bargain with Erdoğan. Persuading Russia to agree at the UN level to the creation of a safe zone with European boots on the ground, would have to be part of this agreement. A less ambitious but still effective means of protecting the local population would be the establishment of a no-fly zone, now promoted by the Netherlands.

    Of course, all this should happen under the condition that Turkey has restored control on the Greek border and again, held up its end of the 2016 agreement.

    When this condition has been fulfilled, European money and humanitarian assistance should be directed to the civilians in Idlib. Such European support should be tied to taming the unfortunate Turkish tendency to enlist local jihadist units in its service.

    European governments need to hold up their end of the 2016 agreement as well. For example, they must resettle substantial numbers of refugees from Turkey, as foreseen by the agreement. Those EU governments that refuse resettlement may soon have to accommodate irregular migrants breaching their national borders en masse and, unlike resettled individuals, bringing along genuine security risks.

    The ongoing negotiations on the EU’s long-term budget as well as the branding of the von der Leyen Commission as the geopolitical commission offer an excellent opportunity for Europe to step up its game in Syria.

    Recognising that Turkey may not be a friend, but remains an ally would be the first useful step in this process.

    Vít Novotný Crisis EU Institutions Immigration Neighbourhood Policy

    Vít Novotný

    Time for a new migration bargain with Erdoğan

    Blog

    05 Mar 2020

  • Just one day after the 85th anniversary of the Holodomor, the man-made famine of 1932-1933 that killed millions of Ukrainians during the Stalin regime, the Russian Federation, the continuing legal personality and successor state of the Soviet Union, stroke again. This time it came in the shape of a naval battle, or more accurately, a unilateral attack since there was no return of fire.

    On 25 November, Russian FSB border guard ships attacked two Ukrainian artillery boats and a tugboat in the Kerch Strait off the coast of occupied Crimea wounding six Ukrainian sailors  and seizing all three vessels with a total of 23 crew members on board. It’s important to note that the Ukrainians ships were already on their way back to Odessa from the Kerch Strait (which they couldn’t pass) when they were fired upon and seized by Russia.

    As per usual, there are two sides to the story: according to Russian media and government, allegedly, Ukraine has violated Russia’s territorial waters deliberately provoking an incident in order to create a pretext for new sanctions to be imposed on Moscow; whereas Ukrainians deny any violations. Unfortunately for the Kremlin, there is an agreement that proves Ukrainians to be right.

    It was signed in 2003 by the then Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and Vladimir Vladimirovich himself, and it designates the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov as shared territorial waters between Russia and Ukraine, with free access for each side. Not that agreements stopped Putin before from achieving what he wants: he will easily ignore any international treaty, just as he did with the Budapest Memorandum when he illegally annexed Crimea in 2014.

    Following these events, the Ukrainian Parliament has greenlighted a decision to impose martial law in 10 regions located along the Russian border and Transnistria, which entered into force at 9 a.m on 28 November  and last until 27 December. The initial proposition looked at imposing the martial law for 60 days, which would have caused a postponement in the elections, scheduled for 31 March 2019, as martial law rules out elections.

    However, after a compromise reached with the political parties, the term was decreased to 30 days, which would allow holding elections as planned. President Poroshenko stressed that martial law will not infringe upon civil liberties of Ukrainians, and in Parliament repeated that they will be limited only in case of an intervention.

    The blame game is already on. The masterminds of Kremlin propaganda claim that this “provocation” is solely aimed at imposing martial law in Ukraine and, henceforth, cancelling the elections with the President Poroshenko being the main beneficiary. Stakeholders of the other side accuse Russians of violation of sovereignty and open aggression.

    It’s no secret that Poroshenko’s popularity has been dropping and his re-election is not set in stone. He recently scored a big victory when the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was granted autocephaly by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople – however, he is still far from being the favourite candidate. His campaign slogan “Army, Language, Faith”, addresses the national pride of citizens, but he is not the only one to play this card.

    As of October, 66% approved (and 33% disapproved) of Putin’s performance, down from 82%(and 17%) in April. The percentage of those who “trust” Putin fell from 59 to 39%, and the percentage of those not trusting Putin doubled. So what could be better than another triumph of Russian forces against the ‘evil Ukrainians’ to reverse this trend?

    However, there’s a major difference between this episode and the annexation of Crimea or the war in Eastern Ukraine – this is the first time since the beginning of the Russian aggression in February-March 2014 that Russia as a state is engaging in an open act of aggression against Ukraine, not hiding behind  “Donbas separatists” or “little green men”.

    This could be a game changer for the response of the international community. President Poroshenko appealed to the partner countries under the Budapest Memorandum, to the EU countries, and to participants of the Normandy format in order to coordinate effective measures to protect Ukraine.

    The Baltic States along with Poland were quick in condemning Russian behaviour, followed by EU and NATO statements. The US took their time: U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s condemnation was noticeable for how late it was, whereas President Trump framed Russian aggression as a “both-sides issue”, refusing to openly criticise Putin.

    This is indeed a moment of truth for the West – the Kremlin wants to know how much it can get away with. The Black Sea is a critical intersection for trade and security and it needs to be properly protected.

    Experts suggest that NATO and the United States should send in naval ships in the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea to guarantee that it stays open to international shipping as well as provide military equipment to Ukraine. Even the former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen states that “Russia responds only to power”.

    The Eastern part of Ukraine’s Black Sea coast, with cities like Mariupol and Berdyansk, is now practically cut off from shipping with much of their trade now functioning by rail, at higher cost. The EU should consider special assistance programmes to soften this effect.

    What is important for the European Union to realise is that Russia has made a bold act and moved this war closer to its doorstep. A safe and secure Ukraine is essential for the security of Europe and a unified response from the member states is crucial for the respect of international law.

    Achieving consensus on military intervention inside NATO is rather difficult, but tougher economic sanctions and suspension of the Nord Stream 2 could be steps in the right direction.

    Photo by Shaah Shahidh on Unsplash

    Anna Nalyvayko Eastern Europe EU-Russia Neighbourhood Policy Security

    Anna Nalyvayko

    Strait outta Azov: How much can Putin get away with?

    Blog

    28 Nov 2018

  • The Nord Stream 2 project aims to double the capacity Russia currently possesses for delivering natural gas directly to Germany through the Baltic Sea. This paper provides an overview of the current developments surrounding the project and of opposition to  the  pipeline  by  the  European  Commission  and  a  growing number of EU member states. It goes on to analyse the risks involved  in  the  new  gas  infrastructure  and  argues  that  Nord Stream 2 would be detrimental to the energy security of a number of Central and Eastern European member states and of Ukraine. 

    The  paper  contends  that  while  the  pipeline  offers  uncertain economic gains, it would dangerously weaken the EU’s strategic goals in Eastern Europe, disrupt the European Energy Security Strategy and damage member state unity. Ultimately, the new German government should recognise this and take the necessary measures to stop Nord Stream 2. 

    Energy EU-Russia Neighbourhood Policy Sustainability

    European Energy Security: The Case Against Nord Stream 2

    IN FOCUS

    13 Apr 2018

  • The rising terrorist threats in the region have compelled Morocco to enhance the protection of its vast territory, long borders, 34 million citizens and over 10 million visitors per year. Morocco’s comprehensive security strategy combines a wide range of policies which link the improvement of the socio-economic situation to the capacity to anticipate the risk of terrorism and the operational aspects of the strategy.

    Security governance and the modernisation of the security forces, religious reform and the promotion of moderate Islam, the involvement of civil society, and close international cooperation, including religious diplomacy, are all key to preventing terrorism and countering extremism. Reforms to improve human security and to lift vulnerable groups out of poverty and exclusion have contributed to enhancing sustainable security.

    An example for many, Morocco still has a few big challenges ahead, especially to provide quality education, both to ‘immunise’ the minds of the youth against extremism and to create jobs so that hope can be restored to an overwhelmingly young population.

    Read the full article in the June 2017 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.

    Assia Bensalah Alaoui Defence Mediterranean Neighbourhood Policy North Africa Security

    Assia Bensalah Alaoui

    Morocco’s security strategy: preventing terrorism and countering extremism

    Blog

    07 Jul 2017

  • The EU is facing an unprecedented challenge on its southern borders in terms of instability in the region and increased migration flows. In its search for a solution that will meet with the approval of all member states, there is a new momentum for strengthening cooperation with neighbouring countries.

    The EU is increasingly turning to third countries to manage migration flows and reduce the number of irregular migrants arriving in Europe. Nevertheless, there are serious constraints on its ambition. The EU has failed to offer its cooperation partners real incentives, while member states have been reluctant to coordinate their initiatives and become involved, thus undermining EU action beyond its borders.

    The result is slow progress and uncertain partnerships. It is time to address these limitations and make the EU a reliable and coherent regional actor, able to speak with one voice when addressing third countries on migration. This calls for stronger foreign policy on migration at the EU level, the deployment of a wide range of tools and incentives, and more committed member-state support for EU action.

    Read the full article in the June 2017 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.

    Loredana Teodorescu Foreign Policy Immigration Migration Neighbourhood Policy Security

    Loredana Teodorescu

    Ambition versus reality: partnering with our neighbours on migration

    Blog

    04 Jul 2017

  • “People tend to forget that it is not just about pro-bono work in the European neighborhood; it is also our own interests that are at stake there.” This point, made by Martens Centre Executive Tomi Huhtanen, kicked off a debate organised in Brussels on 31 January 2017 on the strategic rethink of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP).

    The EU’s current ENP policy is focused on supporting democratic transformation and creating economic opportunities in its neighbourhood through technical cooperation and economic integration.

    But with growing instability including the Brexit decision, rising Euroscepticism, new ‘hybrid warfare’ threats, an assertive Russia, the rise of Islamic State and declining US engagement in European security, Europe has to take bold and decisive action to secure its long-term interests.

    As the spillover effects of instability in the regions outside of the EU are taking a significant toll on the Union, rethinking the way it deals with its neighbourhood has to play a central part in the EU’s Global Strategy.

    According to Salome Samadashvili, former EU Ambassador and current member of the Georgian Parliament, “the EU must graduate from a global actor to a geopolitical actor.” In order to achieve this, she argues for a pragmatic, yet principled and creative approach to EU’s policies in its neighbourhood.

    EU institutions think in five or ten year terms. But if you operate in Georgia or in Libya you only have the luxury of planning up to one month in advance. Salome Samadashvili, former EU Ambassador and current Georgian MP

    Sandra Kalniete, Latvian Member of the European Parliament added that countries in the neighbourhood need to be assessed case-by-case; for too long, the EU has been trying to apply a one-size-fits-all approach that has not benefited neither the EU, nor its partners.

    During the event, Kalniete also emphasised a shift “from rule-based to deal-based diplomacy” taken by the new US administration; however, she maintained that the EU needs to stay true to its values while projecting its power abroad.

    Not giving up our values while adding more pragmatism to the way Europe deals with its neighbourhood was a point also echoed by Bruno Lété, Security and Defence Transatlantic Fellow with the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

    In ten years from now China will be an inevitable factor in EU’s neighborhood policy towards the Mediterranean. Bruno Lété, Security and Defence Transatlantic Fellow, German Marshall Fund of the United States

    Subsequently, he argued for more short-term flexibility rather than long-term planning on the part of the EU. His third recommendation was that any successful foreign policy needs to be coupled with the ability to project power; this is where, according to Lété, NATO and EU-NATO cooperation come into play. Rather than debating where to place shared defence assets, the West needs to work more on efficient ways of delivering training, education and financial support to its partners.  

    Defence Development Foreign Policy Neighbourhood Policy Security

    EU’s foreign policy needs values and muscle to survive

    Other News

    01 Feb 2017

  • The current Western liberal order is in danger of becoming vulnerable to threats posed by political systems which have no regard for universal values, such as human rights, and are willing to use brutal force—as is the case with Putin’s Russia and aggressive Islamist movements.

    The spillover effects of instability in the regions outside of the EU are taking a significant toll on the Union. Unless the West succeeds in making a case for the universality of the values underpinning its institutions and shows the capacity to defend those values, in the medium and long term, the West could lose this battle. Europe has no better way to defend itself than by expanding the geographic reach of its ideological sphere of influence. 

    This is why the EU has to invest in state-building and security in its Eastern and Southern neighbourhood. This paper argues that the EU needs to rethink the focus of its European Neighbourhood Policy; it needs to go beyond the limited scope of technical cooperation or the project of economic integration, and must invest in itself as a ‘geopolitical’ actor.

    The best way to do so is through the Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy. The EU has to prioritise its role as a ‘stabiliser’ and security actor in its immediate neighbourhood. 

    Democracy Foreign Policy Neighbourhood Policy Security

    Good or Bad Neighbours: The Main European Security Challenge

    Research Papers

    07 Nov 2016

  • The paper considers current political challenges encountered by Georgia and the geopolitical framework in which the EU-Georgia relationship develops. While Georgia is apparently better off on the democratic front, clouds are gathering again ahead of the forthcoming parliamentary elections — a possible game changer.

    Economy remain sluggish, political landscape fragmented and unpredictable, and security concerns unabated. Plagued by a multitude of problems and challenges, the West’s interest in the country has been diminishing, while Russia is intensifying its propaganda machine and other dangerous tools at its disposal.

    The EU can and should develop a more differentiated approach to the South Caucasus and the Eastern Neighbourhood — and Georgia, in particular— based less on geography and more on democratic achievements and strategic importance. It is also discussed what the EU and other actors such as Eu

    Eastern Europe Elections EU-Russia Foreign Policy Neighbourhood Policy

    What the EU Can, May and Should Do to Support Georgia

    Policy Briefs

    30 Sep 2016

  • Everyone has the feeling that the UK referendum on EU membership was more than just merely a referendum. In search of the way out from what is now seen by many as a disaster, possible scenarios have been become blurred amid diverse and sometimes wild speculations, including the reversal of an actual Brexit process, dismantling the EU via ‘referenda spill-over’ by political extremists, equipping NATO with a new ‘European role’, among a multitude of other prospects.

    Still, one thing is clear – the referendum has already profoundly affected the world’s political landscape, including that of the Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries, which are analysed much less in relation to the mess created by a potential Brexit. So how has the referendum influenced developments in EaP countries Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia?

    First, the EU now even more dominated by the rather asymmetric German-French leadership will most probably demonstrate more caution regarding any radical change of the status quo. It will have less enthusiasm on enlargement and greater engagement with the Eastern neighbourhood. Populists play not only with the fear of migration, but also enlargement.

    Furthermore, the new security strategy of the EU simply pays lip service to the notion of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). An astute eye can see in this that the Union has given up on the application of its transformative and democratising effort, and instead opts to increasingly rely on the resilience of the EaP countries. In other words – they have to take care of themselves.

    Second, despite Putin’s denial that he had nothing to do with the results of the Brexit referendum, hardly accepted for face value by anyone after so many lies and deceptions, there is little doubt that, whether genuine or opportunist, Russophiles gloated over the referendum’s outcome. The leverage of pro-Russian forces is also expected to rise in Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia, as the EU’s soft power is weakened.

    In the case of Georgia this would also mean the strengthening of pro-Russian parties, for Ukraine this would mean strong disappointment on part of the public who would realise there is now even less probability of the full implementation of the Minsk Agreement, not to mention the return of Crimea; Moldova most probably will intensify its ‘normalisation’ process with Russia in reality leading to rapprochement, as the country is in urgent need of financial support.

    Third, Britain’s departure will not be a zero-sum game but will mean an essential economic loss for both the EU and the UK. Financial resources at the disposal of the EU will diminish, therefore the Union will have to reconsider the scale of financial support to the EaP countries. The remaining 27 countries will be more cautious if not parsimonious in spending money for such programmes, and sooner or later EU development cooperation instruments for the EaP will be revisited and revised, although most probably not towards an increase.

    Fourth – the security of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia will become an issue. Brexit implies the loss of EU credibility in particular in the eyes of its neighbourhood, but also the reduction of its influence and leverage. Therefore a feeling of insecurity will rise among these EaP countries, which host an unfortunate burden of frozen conflicts, such as Transnistria (Moldovan territory – a self-declared state at the Ukrainian border), Abkhazia and South Ossetia (Georgian territories occupied and recognised by Russia) and Crimea – relatively new but not the final adventure of Russia.

    On all these conflicts where Russia has her grip, this is expected now to tighten further, in addition to testing NATO’s vulnerable points and resolve in other places.

    Finally, the Brexit referendum has put a big question mark on the political rationale and attractiveness of democratic transition and the Europeanisation process in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. The rivalry between the modernisers still believing in the European model, and the traditionalists and pro-Russian reactionaries pointing toward the failure of the European project, might turn dangerous.

    However, in the case of the three EaP countries the situation may become even worse due to the deeply rooted mistrust toward the political class and massive anti-western propaganda that has now gained the new fodder with the Brexit.

    While being in the middle of democratic transition, if they feel that the EU has given up on its transformative power and withdrawn, this may unleash an unhappy scenario when Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia might find themselves abandoned in the ‘middle of nowhere’, while under the permanent threat and pressure for the resurgent and increasingly imperialist Russia.

    To sum up, the Brexit scenario, even before it happens, may damage and hurt the three aspiring pro-western states in the Eastern Neighbourhood, leaving them more insecure, with less support, and even worse, with less public enthusiasm to continue to move along the path of Europeanisation.

    This will have a rather negative impact on both their internal policies in these countries, weakening the appeal of democratic, free-market, European model of development, and on the other hand, on their foreign policies, as they will have to look for ways of how to deal with the existential threats emanating from Russia.

    The only hope is that on one hand a reformed EU will still care to help its eastern neighbours; and on the other, that the US and NATO, as well as the UK (whether within or without of the EU) will do their best to compensate for potential losses in terms of support and security.

    Teona Lavrelashvili Brexit Eastern Europe Enlargment Neighbourhood Policy

    Teona Lavrelashvili

    Brexit: five ways it might affect the Eastern Partnership countries

    Blog

    12 Jul 2016

  • The security threats Europe is now facing, such as hybrid warfare, propaganda campaigns and information warfare, frequently include a digital dimension. At the same time, digital tools offer an immense potential for change in the European neighbourhood, not least in their ability to equip and inspire pro-democracy protesters, particularly those facing a repressive security apparatus.

    Digital policy cannot therefore become an afterthought but needs to be deeply integrated into Europe’s foreign policy and diplomatic efforts. Furthermore, the US’s long-held Internet hegemony is beginning to fade, placing the EU in a good position to lead global Internet governance initiatives and ensure that they develop along open and liberal lines.

    Read the full articlein the June 2016 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.

    Łukasz Antoni Król Foreign Policy Internet Neighbourhood Policy Security Technology

    Łukasz Antoni Król

    Digital foreign policy: how digital tools can further Europe’s foreign policy goals

    Blog

    12 Apr 2016

  • Europe has gone through paramount difficulties and tragedies throughout the twentieth century, dealing with two world wars, the Holocaust, the existence of gulags and tens of millions of deaths. After the end of the Cold War, Europe stepped into the twenty-first century with faith in its guarantees of peaceful prospects. Unfortunately, recent years have demonstrated that these guarantees are not as reliable as previously thought.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin has engaged in another aggressive foreign policy adventure, this time in Ukraine. This has brought back the nightmares of the twentieth century, prompting experts to discuss the possibility of a Third World War (Lucas 2015) and to portray the prospect of a nuclear conflict as entirely likely (Fisher 2015).

    Intimidating as it may sound, this is the reality of the situation. The Western community cannot escape it by burying its head in the sand and shying away from openly responding to the pressing geopolitical questions at hand.

    In this article I will briefly discuss the origins of the ‘Russian problem’ and its effects on the state’s foreign policy, describe the phase of development that Russia is currently undergoing, and provide the readers with guidelines on the actions that the Western community should take in order to help both Ukraine and Russia move forward successfully on the European path.

    Read the full FREE article published in the December 2015 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.

    Andrius Kubilius Eastern Europe EU-Russia Neighbourhood Policy

    Andrius Kubilius

    A changed reality: EU and US role in the transformation of Ukraine and Russia

    Blog

    19 Nov 2015

  • So what’s our takeaway from the unexplained 10-day disappearance of President Putin, now that it’s over?

    1. if he didn’t plan it (f.e. because he may have had a flu initially) he certainly started enjoying it after a couple of days, when speculation went into overdrive. And he really used the whole thing in his favour. I believe the disappearance/reappearance thing has an almost spiritual dimension, especially for Russians. Like a kind of resurrection. He is in control of reality. Now you see him, now you don’t. He knows the world exists, but the world doesn’t know whether he exists. It’s a form of domination, creating a dependency.

    2. And weren’t we all relieved (except for a few diehards) when he turned up again, and Russia was spared anarchy and upheaval, or some other fate worse than Putin? Wasn’t the world happy that no Chechen finger was suddenly on the nuclear trigger? And didn’t some people draw the conclusion that if there are so many things and people worse than Putin, maybe we shouldn’t be so tough on him with the sanctions? Mission accomplished, Vladimir Vladimirovich!

    3. And for at least half of the 10 days of absence, didn’t we spend far too much time on speculation, neglecting Russia’s aggression against its neighbours, the nose-diving economy, and the political oppression? Again, mission accomplished! Molodyets!

    But, 4. – and this has, fortunately, often been pointed out over the final weekend of Putin’s stunt: This, or anything remotely like it, would never be possible in an open society. No freely elected leader accountable to his or her citizens could or would go incommunicado like that. And this difference really counts. Because it means, and this cannot be repeated often enough, it means that we don’t have two equivalent empires locked in some kind of geopolitical struggle. We have liberal democracy vs. kleptocratic authoritarianism. If not good vs. evil, that’s at least better vs. worse. That’s what gets me when people say that the West has made mistakes, too, or that Ukrainians are no angels either. All true, but does that mean we can assume some kind of moral equivalence between the two sides? Hell, no!!!! So instead of continuing the speculation, let’s draw the right conclusions from Putin’s absence. Though I admit the thought of Vladimir V. Putin sitting in a dark prison cell has its charm……

    Roland Freudenstein Democracy Neighbourhood Policy

    Roland Freudenstein

    The Great Putin Absence

    Blog

    17 Mar 2015

  • So what’s our takeaway from the unexplained 10-day disappearance of President Putin, now that it’s over?

    1. if he didn’t plan it (f.e. because he may have had a flu initially) he certainly started enjoying it after a couple of days, when speculation went into overdrive. And he really used the whole thing in his favour. I believe the disappearance/reappearance thing has an almost spiritual dimension, especially for Russians. Like a kind of resurrection. He is in control of reality. Now you see him, now you don’t. He knows the world exists, but the world doesn’t know whether he exists. It’s a form of domination, creating a dependency.

    2. And weren’t we all relieved (except for a few diehards) when he turned up again, and Russia was spared anarchy and upheaval, or some other fate worse than Putin? Wasn’t the world happy that no Chechen finger was suddenly on the nuclear trigger? And didn’t some people draw the conclusion that if there are so many things and people worse than Putin, maybe we shouldn’t be so tough on him with the sanctions? Mission accomplished, Vladimir Vladimirovich!

    3. And for at least half of the 10 days of absence, didn’t we spend far too much time on speculation, neglecting Russia’s aggression against its neighbours, the nose-diving economy, and the political oppression? Again, mission accomplished! Molodyets!

    But, 4. – and this has, fortunately, often been pointed out over the final weekend of Putin’s stunt: This, or anything remotely like it, would never be possible in an open society. No freely elected leader accountable to his or her citizens could or would go incommunicado like that. And this difference really counts. Because it means, and this cannot be repeated often enough, it means that we don’t have two equivalent empires locked in some kind of geopolitical struggle. We have liberal democracy vs. kleptocratic authoritarianism. If not good vs. evil, that’s at least better vs. worse. That’s what gets me when people say that the West has made mistakes, too, or that Ukrainians are no angels either. All true, but does that mean we can assume some kind of moral equivalence between the two sides? Hell, no!!!! So instead of continuing the speculation, let’s draw the right conclusions from Putin’s absence. Though I admit the thought of Vladimir V. Putin sitting in a dark prison cell has its charm……

    Roland Freudenstein Democracy Neighbourhood Policy

    Roland Freudenstein

    The Great Putin Absence

    Blog

    17 Mar 2015

  • What about the war in the east and what about politics? Well, there were echoes of both, but not as intensively as you might imagine when you follow the news on TV.

    Ukrainian patriotism was palpable in both Kiev and Lviv. One could see the yellow and blue colours on public buildings, bridge railings and other places. On the streets, volunteers even collected money for those yellow and blue paints. What was also noticeable was that not a single building featured the Russian flag, although flags of other countries were freely flown. The EU flag could be seen everywhere on public buildings.

    Lviv seemed more religious in its patriotic commitment. One car proudly featured a flag with Christ’s head over yellow and blue, proclaiming ‘God and Ukraine Above All’:

    I also visited the barracks of one of the many branches of Ukrainian ‘special forces’ in a Lviv suburb. In February, they were partly burnt as local demonstrators tried to prevent the soldiers from joining other government forces who at that time were suppressing the demonstrations on the Maidan. In the event, I was told by an active participant of the siege of the barracks that the young soldiers, themselves drafted, were more than happy not to go to Kyiv and stay at home.

    On the markets in Lviv and Kyiv, there was plenty of toilet paper with faces of Putin, Yanukovich and other figures opposed to the pro-European forces (I am told that you can find similar merchandise in Russian cities but with faces of the representatives of the current Ukrainian government).

    Disturbingly, in Lviv there was also plenty of red and black. These are the colours of the Right Sector, a far-right organisation with a voluntary militia which is fighting the Russians and Russian sympathisers in the east, alongside the regular Ukrainian army. The Right Sector criticises the regular army as corrupt and leaking information to the Russian government. According to the Right Sector’s own periodical, which you can pick up at a stand in Lviv, the organisation does not accept atheists, communists or socialists in its ranks. Not that I fit any of these affiliations but thanks, that’s not my mug of kvass. 

    On the radio, there was a lot of discussion regarding a lustration law to ‘clean up the Ukrainian state’. The allegation is that the public administration and the army are partly controlled by people whose sympathies go to the former Soviet Union or who have links to the Russian government.
    In Lviv, we were told that a demonstration was just being organised in one of the suburbs. It gathered young men and their families opposed to military draft. These young men did not want to fight for a Ukraine some of whose citizens turn against their own state, backed by a foreign power to the east. In contrast, other young men volunteer for service and want to fight for a restoration of Ukraine in its borders recognised by international law. Still others are waiting, often with trepidation, to be drafted into the Ukrainian army. And if you want, you can support the Ukrainian army by a donation organised by the government: 

    Moving about in Kyiv and Lviv was easy. No-one ever accosted me on the street, although I took plenty of photographs and used my rusty Russian. Freedom seemed to be thriving. On the Maidan in Kyiv, I even saw a charming demonstration for the independence of Siberia: (http://ces.tc/XUMocb).
    The only battle I witnessed was to make the Kyiv city centre clean and presentable again. And the only violence I suffered was inflicted on the locker of my suitcase at the Kyiv airport, either by the airport security or by thieves. 
    So, if you are looking for an affordable holiday with good food, a lot of greenery and historical monuments, I heartily recommend Lviv and Kyiv in Ukraine.

    Vít Novotný Eastern Europe EU-Russia Neighbourhood Policy

    Vít Novotný

    From the Brussels bubble to the (all quiet) Maidan front: A travel diary (Part 2)

    Blog

    08 Oct 2014

  • The Eastern Partnership (EaP) Initiative is the bridge which connects Europe to the countries in its eastern neighbourhood. Those countries were left out of the cycle of peaceful development, which the European project brought to the continent following the Second World War. It aspires to transform these countries into more democratic and prosperous societies. Over the last five years, the EaP has achieved more in some partner countries than in others. Structural policy weaknesses and different socio-economic realities of the partner states notwithstanding, the main challenge to the success of the EaP has come from Russia, which chose to view this policy as a zero-sum game for geopolitical dominance in its shared neighbourhood with Europe. This paper argues that in order to achieve the desired transformations, the EaP needs a fresh start, focusing on different players, methods and political technologies. Failure of the EaP to achieve its goal could deprive another generation of Georgians, Moldovans, Ukrainians and others in the EaP countries of an opportunity for a better life.

    Brexit Democracy Eastern Europe Enlargment EU-Russia Neighbourhood Policy

    Building a Lifeline for Freedom: Eastern Partnership 2.0

    Research Papers

    07 Oct 2014

  • Ukraine is passing through a civilisation change. Ukraine has made a fundamental strategic decision: UKRAINE DECIDED TO BELONG TO THE WEST. Similarly to how we in Slovakia decided in 1998. Russia’s reaction represents its response to this fundamental Ukrainian decision. This is no action organised by the United States, no CIA conspiracy against Russia – this is the free choice expressed by the Ukrainian people not only on Maidan, but also by electing a clearly pro-European President Poroshenko and ratifying the Association Agreement in Parliament by overwhelming majority on 16 September.

    Why was Russia’s reaction to the decision of Ukraine so harsh? I believe that the main reason is that Russia strives to maintain its status of a global superpower. It is concerned about the loss of influence. And it also fears that Western influence would weaken the position of its ruling elite. The intervention in Crimea was quick and smooth because Crimea had always been, as it were, at Moscow’s disposal: the Crimean nomenclature, the ruling political elite was mentally closer to Moscow and had for years preserved considerable political and administrative independence from Kiev. Thus, it was not a big problem for Russia to intervene militarily in Crimea and to hastily organise a referendum on whether the Crimean population wants to join Russia. It was all the easier given the fact that many Russians felt in their minds and hearts that Crimea had “always” been Russian.

    Why is the situation in eastern Ukraine so dramatic? The main reason is that after Russians took control of Crimea, they tried to use a similar scenario also in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions (Oblasts) of the Donbass area. However, this time Ukraine decided to defend its territory. Even at the cost of armed clashes and the loss of human lives. In the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Russians met with a much “less warm” reception than in Crimea. In response to the determined stance of Ukraine, the EU and NATO agreed on the need to draw a red line, which is represented today by economic sanctions.

    IS THIS ONLY A FEUD BETWEEN RUSSIA AND UKRAINE? The Prime Minister says that this is a GEOPOLITICAL CONTEST BETWEEN RUSSIA AND THE UNITED STATES OVER UKRAINE. That is not true. However, the confrontation between Russia and Ukraine does have a more global character. IN THIS WAY, RUSSIA IS CHALLENGING THE WEST. The West did not and does not incite Ukraine to join the EU or NATO. The West says that it will fully respect Ukraine’s choice. Just the other way around – it was Russia that was actively and openly trying to make Ukraine join its Eurasian Customs Union. The West would have accepted that choice just as it accepts Ukraine’s choice to belong to the EU. It only made it clear that Ukraine must make a choice. It is not possible to belong to both the EU and the Eurasian Union. President Yanukovich apparently played to both sides. Like asking Russia for loans. And certain “strategic” investments. We don’t know what “guarantees” he offered for these loans. But it is very likely that he raised high and unrealistic expectations by Russia. This is probably why Russia responded as it did to the ousting of Yanukovich by Maidan. The fact that Russia is challenging the West and not only Ukraine is also witnessed by reduced gas deliveries to Poland, Slovakia and Hungary. It is therefore not only Ukraine that is concerned; it is also Russia challenging the West. It is a test about how far can the Russians go. This challenge to the West also conveys a strong message for the domestic audience: it should demonstrate the strength of the ruling regime and its determination to defend Russia against the penetration of the values or ideas of the Western world into Russia. Moscow does not want its Maidan.

    WHY IS THE TENSION IN AND AROUND UKRAINE SO HIGH

    The basis of Western political culture is democracy. Basic tenets of democracy are free elections and pluralistic society. An essential attribute of free elections is that the government defeated in the elections hands over the power to the opposition. And, moreover, that the winner of elections shares the power it has acquired. It shares it with the opposition to which it assigns, for instance, the function of parliamentary oversight. And also with civil society, which must be allowed to freely and independently carry out its activities. Democratic governance means the de-politicisation of the police, courts and prosecution.

    Russia’s problem is that – practically at all times (except perhaps for the short period of perestroika) – it had been dominated, ruled by an authoritarian regime. First by the czars, then by the Bolsheviks, later (and up to the present) by the nomenclature, called the Family. The nomenclature opposes democratisation with the argument that loosening the reins to democratisation, liberalisation and pluralism would lead to the collapse of the state. In reality, it strives to maintain its power, and its policy often includes the search for an external enemy to make people ignore problems at home.

    Not only Ukraine but also Russia faces serious challenges. Both internal and external. They are, in particular, adverse demographic trends, economic dependence on extraction and export of raw materials, and also the pressure – growing, albeit slowly – of civil society towards the promotion of pluralism. Russia’s neighbourhood – from its perspective – is not exactly favourable or friendly (in the words of one participant of a recent conference in Kiev – with big China in the east, Islam with its ever stronger extremist factions in the south, liberal “decay” in the west, and cold seas and ice in the north).

    For these and also other reasons, a sustainable agreement with Russia has been and will remain a problem for the West. Russia, its ruling elite, will feel increasingly vulnerable and therefore increasingly less predictable. In particular, it will be afraid of what presents the most serious threat to its political monolith. This means the West. The ruling nomenclature will do anything to prevent the Maidan spark jump over to the Red Square.

    WHAT OPTIONS DOES THE WEST HAVE?

    In this situation, the West has only two options: to abandon the promotion of democracy in the world, abandon the support to Ukraine, and to subsequently backtrack and yield to the authoritarian regimes in other parts of the world, allowing these regimes to get increasingly “bolder”, or to accept the challenge of and engage in a hard struggle with Russia.

    The baseline of the political struggle between the West and Russia must be the conviction of its citizens and gradually also of the others that the West does not present a threat to Russia. If anything, it presents a threat to its political monolith, the establishment, the nomenclature. The determination of the West to accept the challenge of Russia and respond to it has taken the form of economic sanctions imposed on Russia. The more often Fico criticises the sanctions, the more often it should be repeated to the citizens: ECONOMIC SANCTIONS HAVE BEEN IMPOSED ON RUSSIA BY THE EU. THIS MEANS BY INDIVIDUAL MEMBER STATES, INCLUDING SLOVAKIA. THUS, AS REGARDS SLOVAKIA, ECONOMIC SANCTIONS HAVE BEEN IMPOSED ON RUSSIA BY THE GOVERNMENT OF ROBERT FICO.

    I do not criticise this decision of Robert Fico’s government. I do not criticise this decision because I perceive it as a fundamental, principled response of the West to the Russian challenge, and I consider it to be the best of available responses. However, I do criticise Prime Minister’s statements regarding the sanctions that received also his approval. It is highly immoral and damaging for Slovakia when the Prime Minister approves sanctions in Brussels on Monday, only to subject them to harsh criticism at home, in Slovakia, on Tuesday. Such conduct leads to distorting the truth, turning things upside down, confusing the cause and effect. All this leads to the rise of primitive anti-Americanism, opposition to the EU, and the subsequent polarisation, flaring of tempers, but mainly to the loss of Slovakia’s reputation. I do not recall any ambassador of a neighbouring country having ever commented the statements by the Slovak Prime Minister the way the Ukrainian ambassador did referring to Robert Fico: Robert Fico talks like a bad neighbour.

    Ukraine is facing serious challenges. The most serious of them is the defence of its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Ukraine has made its choice. It is defending its rights, even at the highest cost: the cost of human lives. That is one reason for its successful defence efforts. This is also the reason why Ukraine should be helped. Especially in the MORAL sense. I appeal to Prime Minister Fico to stop falsely claiming that Ukraine is breaking down, that Ukraine is falling apart. Such statements are false and cynically inappropriate. They harm Slovakia and do not help Ukraine. Who they help are the aggressors who want Ukraine to disintegrate.

    Besides this crucial and vitally important challenge, Ukraine is facing and will continue to face three truly monumental and several major challenges. (Môj návrh: Ukraine is facing and will continue to face a few truly monumental and a number of major challenges.) Monumental challenges are, in our opinion, modernisation of its economy, restructuring of its industry, stabilisation of its currency and the financial sector, diversification of energy sources, and resolution of its defence capability and security issues.

    These challenges are also challenges for the West. It is true that no one will do for Ukrainians what they must do themselves. But the West must help them. In each of these areas. It is commendable and encouraging that Slovakia has contributed by ensuring the reverse flow of gas to Ukraine. The Slovak Government deserves praise for having mastered this process much earlier than it had been initially indicated. But, by no means is it possible to claim victory. The fact that Russia is challenging not only Ukraine but also the West is documented by reduced deliveries of Russian gas to Poland, to our country, and to Hungary.

    But there are many other serious challenges that Ukraine is and will be facing, such as the need to combat corruption, decentralise and streamline public administration, improve the quality of education, healthcare, modernise the pension system.

    Not only the West but also Slovakia as its part have things to offer to Ukraine. Like moral and political support, and also experience with the transition process and reforms. This is also in the supreme interest of Slovakia, and not only of the regions in the eastern part of the country.

    Among those who spoke in the opening section of the already mentioned conference which was held on 11-13 September in Kiev was the frontman of Ukrainian band “Okean Elzy”, Svyatoslav Vakarchuk. He is one of the most visible faces of Maidan. The last question he was asked was: What does Ukraine expect the West to do? Svyatoslav paused in thought. I expected he would make a request for financial or military assistance, a kind of a new Marshall Plan … But after some thought, Vakarchuk said: What is going on in Ukraine right now is painful for us. And we realise there still will be a lot of pain for us to bear. It would be good if also the West could bear and withstand some pain. Because, if the West does not do it and is not ready to do it at a lesser scale now, it will also suffer much pain later.

    I understood what he meant. And I am convinced there are many of us who understand.

    Mikuláš Dzurinda Democracy Eastern Europe Neighbourhood Policy

    Mikuláš Dzurinda

    What’s going on in Ukraine?

    Blog

    30 Sep 2014

  • Yanukovych still has the choice to emerge from the current ordeal as the man who has taken Ukraine’s statehood and democracy to the next level, by securing free and fair elections and making its European future irreversible. In exchange he will be allowed to get away with the economic benefits he has gained in his three years in power.

    The stakes in the epic battle for securing democratic future of Ukraine have never been higher. A signature of the Association and Free Trade agreements between Ukraine and the EU would have been seen as an irrecoverable loss by Russia under any circumstances. However, if Ukraine’s European future is sealed by the massive democratic movement we are witnessing in Kiev today, it will bring a double blow to current Russian regime. It will create a substantial obstacle on the way of Russia’s ambition to rebuild an empire, but Kiev will also become a “Rubicon” for democracy’s advancement towards Kremlin.

    Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the agreements with the EU in the coming weeks will only signal that he has never intended to do so, manoeuvring to buy more time. And time is of essence-Sochi Olympics are already starting to be a disappointing affair for Putin, with the heads of several European states refusing to attend the opening ceremony. Once Sochi is over, however, the Russian President will turn his full attention to the most important jewel of his crown-the Eurasian Union. The 15 billion credit line and substantial cut in gas prices presented to Yanukovych in Moscow, make it clear that the costs of the project, as with Sochi Olympics, do not matter.

    In the coming weeks the EU cannot afford to yield-Yanukovych must either sign the agreements with the EU or the new elections are in order. The argument of the opposition is clear: When the elected representatives change the strategic alliances of the country, without having a popular mandate to do so, they lose any legitimacy to take the decisions on behalf of their people.

    That said the challenge posed by the new elections, is also considerable. The opposition is divided and Vitali Klichko, the most likely candidate to defeat Yanukovych, lacks the necessary political infrastructure. Yanukovych’s hold on the administrative resources, which he will use to try to falsify the election results and the likelihood of heavy Russian interference, also present a considerable threats to the outcome of the elections.

    However, the longer the period of uncertainty lasts, the greater will be the damage to Ukraine-massive collapse of the economy, social unrest and instability, are the most likely consequences. The EU’s margin of interference will diminish even further, as the conditions attached to the EU assistance will never be acceptable to increasingly cornered Yanukovych, focused on his survival. Weaker Ukraine, will be an even easier prey for Russia.

    To paraphrase the Austrian Philosopher, Otto Neurath, the countries in transition from authoritarian rule into modern democracy are like sailors who on the open sea must reconstruct their ship. “Where a beam is taken away a new one must at once be put there.” Ukraine and other former Soviet republics are racing against time-longer is the interval between replacement of the beams, greater is the likelihood of sinking. In the coming weeks, the EU and the US need to think strategically how to avert sinking of Ukraine’s democratic future, which is clearly a looming disaster.

    While the current administration in the US might think that it is time to take a backseat and let the EU lead in its shared neighbourhood with Russia, Putin views the absence of the US as an opportunity to bring the region back under his neo-imperial rule. The Russian government is only too well aware, when it comes to confronting them, the EU, plagued with its own internal economic problems, is still a rather divided camp. It does not respect the EU’s “soft power.” Transatlantic Unity is a sine qua non for advancement of the democracy in our part of the world. We see encouraging signs of the US reengagement in the region and hope it will continue.

    Western support for democracy groups in Ukraine turned out to be the most efficient form of foreign assistance. One can only regret that the leaders of the civic groups behind the mass protests, who today might be Ukraine’s last hope for securing country’s European future, do not have the time to organize themselves into the coherent political force, able to lead beyond street protests. The West needs to continue assisting broad democratization in the countries of the former USSR-helping to replace the Soviet citizens used to passivity with the ones who know how to hold their governments accountable.

    Granted that Yanukovych does not sign the agreements with the EU in the nearest future, it will be up to these groups, supported by the Western political pressure, to force Yanukovych to call early elections. The West should already start mobilizing massive electoral assistance to Ukraine to prevent electoral fraud, securing the right of the Ukrainian citizens to have their voices heard through the ballot box.

    Yanukovych should feel a real threat of becoming an international pariah in case he tries to steal the elections. A serious discussion of the potential sanctions against Yanukovych and his economic interests in Europe and the United States would be a good start.

    Finally, convening an internationally mandated group of experts to look at real economic foes of the country and considering the potential need for “Marshal Plan” for Ukraine, which the country will likely need in order to shore up its economy, as the political crises deepens, would also be helpful.

    Yanukovych still has the choice to emerge from the current ordeal as the man who has taken Ukraine’s statehood and democracy to the next level, by securing free and fair elections and making its European future irreversible. In exchange he will be allowed to get away with the economic benefits he has gained in his three years in power.

    An alternative would be abandonment to the mercy of Vladimir Putin. If this choice is clearly framed, one might hope that if not patriotism or other sentiments of higher moral category, than a simple instinct of self-preservation prevails and Ukraine will be given a chance to win the race against time, securing its democratic future.

    [Originally published on EurActiv.com: http://ces.tc/1fDVP3Z ]

    Salome Samadashvili Democracy Eastern Europe EU-Russia Neighbourhood Policy Values

    Salome Samadashvili

    Race Against Time-The Democratic Future of Ukraine

    Blog

    18 Dec 2013

  • Two weeks can be a long time in politics. Remember the downbeat mood in the EU on 27 November, after Ukrainian President Yanukovych’s decision to ditch the deal with the EU? With the Eastern Partnership in near shambles, the finger-pointing, the recriminations, the understanding shown for Ukrainian industry dependent on Russian, not EU export markets, the suggestions that Brussels had not offered enough incentives to Ukraine, and, of course, the accusation that it had been a fatal mistake to stick to principles about Yulia Timoshenko?

    All that seems ages ago now. Last Sunday’s mass demonstration in the streets of Kiev, the biggest since 2004, came as a culmination of a rising groundswell of protest against the government, and against its violent crackdown on a pro-EU demonstration on 30 November. Of course, only a fraction of the 45 million Ukrainians are demonstrating here. And yet, it’s some of the best and brightest, and they are not only from the West of the country. Plus, although this was initially a rather leaderless people’s protest, with Vitali Klitschko, the opposition now has a fresh leader that can at least hold out the prospect of a better future and credibly promise not to repeat the mistakes made by centre right Ukrainians after 2004.

    To put it in a nutshell: Last Sunday’s toppling of the Lenin statue was the best expression of what this is all about: It’s about lies, it’s about Russia, and it’s about freedom.

    Because three things have transpired in these heady two weeks:

    Ukraine is in a mess. Its oligarch-based government is facing default. Yanukovych doesn’t seem to be able to raise the minimal credits required to keep the country afloat, not to mention sorting out the economy. Make no mistake: That man is no friend of Putin’s. In the world according to Yanukovych, Ukraine pushes its national interest in some kind of a balancing act between the West and Russia. In the eyes of the oligarchs, it thereby preserves lucrative sleaze and avoids bothersome controls by eurocrats. But a rising number of Ukrainians don’t buy this any longer because it doesn’t produce the minimal prosperity and stability they expect. They want freedom. And Russia wants Ukraine ‘back’.

    Russia is playing hardball. Some people have known that for many years, but it has dawned on really everyone in the EU in the last couple of weeks. Russia is actively and ruthlessly rolling back the already meagre successes of democracy and the rule of law in the countries of the former Soviet Union. It is using not only strongarm tactics, such as trade boycotts, energy blackmail and threats about national security – or throwing money around by buying assets and people. It is also spreading ideology – as incredible as it seems. This ideology is based on the notion of a common past – sometimes referring to the good old days of the Soviet Union, sometimes to centuries before. But in any event, the putinist narrative goes, Western ways are evil ways. We Europeans can tell ourselves a thousand times that international relations in Europe’s east can be win-win for all: That is to no avail as long as Russia defines the game as zero-sum. But current Russia is a giant with clay feet. Its long term economic and demographic prospects are atrocious. And it has its own growing disenfranchised middle class whose first stirrings we have seen in the Moscow demonstrations a year ago.

    The Ukrainians are showing us what believing in the West means. Hundreds of thousands of them are braving the cold, and even risking to get beaten up by riot police. As Ed Lucas wrote in the Economist, no one takes to the streets in favour of sleazy authoritarianism. What the demonstrators want is a whole range of things, from the rule of law and an end to corruption, to decent wages and pensions, to true independence for their country. For any future government, these are daunting expectations, in view of the current mess.

    There is one drawback to the developments of the last two weeks, though: The political meta-concept of geopolitics has never been more fashionable in EU discourse. Now, I’m far from claiming that geography has no influence on politics. But if, as Napoleon claimed, geography was the destiny of nations (and, by implication, political ideas like freedom of secondary importance), NATO would have collapsed instead of the Warsaw Pact, and the Soviet Union might as well be alive and kicking. And today in Ukraine (just as in 2004), there is no neat automatic East-West divide that would suggest a politico-geographic split in the country. There is more of a divide between different groups in the population: Those with a desire for fundamental change, and those with an interest in the status quo, out of greed or out of fear.

    And this is where the EU’s response to the situation has to begin: With the power of ideas such as freedom and the rule of law. We were losing faith in that ourselves. It took people like Vitali Klitschko and the men and women in ‘Euromaidan’ to remind us. However the situation in Ukraine develops now: At some point in the future, a new government will be in place that requires our help. It is good that the European People’s Party already has both Ms Timoshenko’s Batkivshchina and Mr Klitschko’s UDAR parties as observer members. And it is good that the EU and the US have unequivocally supported free speech and condemned police brutality and provocations in Ukraine. Second, we need to stick to the prospect of trade and political dialogue (in association agreements) while intensifying work on civil society, especially students, entrepreneurs and future leaders. Visa policy is extremely important in this respect, but also coherent democracy support. Third, of course more resources will be needed for some time to facilitate economic reforms – that’s unavoidable. Last but not least, we have to become much more patient and farsighted, not focused on political and economic success in a few years. The struggle over Eastern Europe is closer to its beginning than to its end. But it’s good that virtually everyone in the EU now recognises it as a struggle.

    Roland Freudenstein Democracy Eastern Europe EU-Russia Neighbourhood Policy

    Roland Freudenstein

    The message from the streets of Kyiv

    Blog

    10 Dec 2013

  • Georgia is unquestionably the most open polity of the South Caucasus, and its political development will be a bell-wether for the prospects of democratic development across Eurasia. This research paper analyses the achievements and shortcomings of the Rose Revolution era as well as the prospects for the country under the leadership of the Georgian Dream Coalition. Furthermore, it discusses the influence of Russia on Georgia’s development on the path of European integration and democracy-building. In the past decade, Georgia has transformed from a failed state to a functioning one; President Saakashvili helped modernise Georgia’s conception of itself and moved Georgia irrevocably toward integration with Euro-Atlantic institutions. Prime Minister Ivanishvili has continued Georgia’s foreign policy priorities of EU and NATO integration, declaring these to be irreversible. Meanwhile, Russia is doubling down on its efforts at coercive integration of the post-Soviet space, with the explicit purpose of undermining the east–west corridor. Should Georgia’s democratic progress be reversed, the very feasibility of democratic governance in post-Soviet countries as a whole would be called into question. Should it continue to progress towards European norms, the viability of the model of state–society relations that Vladimir Putin euphemistically terms ‘sovereign democracy’ would instead be challenged.

    Democracy EU-Russia Foreign Policy Neighbourhood Policy Security

    Getting Georgia Right

    Research Papers

    02 Dec 2013

  • On 2 and 3 October 2013, prominent policy-makers from the European Parliament, Ukraine, Georgia and Armenia alongside experts from the European Commission, Frontex, diplomats and analysts discussed the EU policy towards the Eastern Neighbourhood from the perspective of mobility and migration management. It is a multifaceted topic where visa liberalisation and migration management interact with factors such as democratisation reforms, trade agreements, geopolitical considerations and frozen conflicts.

    The first day of this expert hearing focused on the lessons with visa liberalisation processes of the Western Balkans and the link between visa liberalisation and readmission agreements for the countries of the Eastern Partnership (EaP). Jacek Protasiewicz MEP, Vice-President of the European Parliament, who hosted the hearing, outlined that the process of visa facilitation should make people to people contact easier with the ultimate objective being visa-free travel. However, the fears of EU citizens regarding any negative effects of this process need to be addressed. Following recent visa liberalisation with the Western Balkans some EU countries experienced increase in asylum applications.

    In his keynote speech, Elmar Brok MEP, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, expressed the need of a strategic approach of the EU which includes both measures allowing for circular migration and responding to the pressure which Russia exerts on the countries.
    During the panels on the following day the discussants made an assessment of the state of play in visa dialogues with EaP countries and agreed that the process towards liberalisation should continue as the mutual benefits of mobility exceed the negatives. Nevertheless, all further steps on liberalisation of visas should be merit-based – measuring individual progress and achievements by the Eastern partners.

    CES’s Vít Novotný emphasised the fact that democracy in Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Belarus is not advancing in the right direction while at the same time citizens of those countries have limited contact to the EU. That is why a stronger involvement of the EU is needed with a focus on civil society and travel opportunities. Mr Novotný expressed his confidence that the partnership on which EaP countries have embarked with the EU will provide additional merits alongside with visa facilitation. It is a process involving durable reforms in the area of justice, security and democratisation. He also pointed out some concrete steps which the EU should take when treating migrants from the Eastern neighbourhood – improving consular services abroad and better management of applications from state immigration agencies. Integrating migrants from those countries is central to preventing abuses on the labour market and breaches of the migrants’ social rights.

    The questions and answer session which followed shed some light on the various expectations towards the upcoming summit in Vilnius. The Summit will be held on the 28-29 November 2013 and will determine not only the objectives for the next two years but also the future character of EaP policy. It is a summit charged with many expectations and its outcomes are hardly predictable, especially since Armenia expressed its interest to join a customs union with Russia. The participants agreed that EU should approach the Summit positively, keeping possibilities open. However, all countries should be judged on their ability to live up to the commitments they have made regarding Association Agreements with the EU.

    Eastern Europe Neighbourhood Policy

    CES provides expert advice on migration during European Parliament hearing

    Other News

    07 Oct 2013

  • On March 27, the Centre for European Studies welcomed a delegation of the Alwasat Party (Centre Party) from Egypt. The aim of the meeting was to exchange views on the current political situation in Egypt and to discuss the role of the EU in the country’s transition process. The Alwasat Party aims to be one of the parties engaged in breaking the deadlock between the ruling Islamists and the opposition. With their long history of opposition under the old regime and the current Muslim Brotherhood government, they could act as credible mediators as they are also closely involved in the current political developments of Egypt.

    The delegation was formed by Abou Elela Mady, Chairman, Essam Sultan and Hatem Azzam, Vice-Chairmen and Amr Farouk, Speaker of the party. A day earlier, members of the delegation had participated in a conference organised by the Hanns Seidel Foundation (Brussels office), entitled “Polarized Egypt – Can moderate political Islam bridge the gap?” The delegation’s visit to Brussels was facilitated by Christian Forstner, HSS Brussels office Director and Nina Prasch, HSS Resident Representative in Egypt, also present during the meeting.

    CES Director Tomi Huhtanen and Ingrid Habets, foreign policy Research Officer, presented the Centre’s activities related to the Middle East and North Africa region in general and Egypt in particular. Mr Huhtanen emphasised that the Arab Spring events had led to an increased focus of the EU on its neighborhood policies; as a result, the CES also started conducting research, establishing links and offering policy advice on the developments in the region. Ms Habets then presented the results of the Springeneration online initiative, a 2011 survey on how the EU could positively contribute to the momentous changes taking place in many MENA countries. She stressed that while the European Union was mainly focusing on human rights issues at the time, the survey revealed that the 70,000 young respondents from the region emphasised instead the importance of cooperation in the fields of education, entrepreneurship and economic development.

    Furthermore, Nicolas Briec, European People’s Party Secretary of External Relations, outlined the EPP’s engagement and support for democratic movements in the region. During the 2011 EPP Marseille Congress, the EPP in cooperation with the CES hosted a group of 40 MENA political activists; in 2012, together with the EPP Group and the CES, they welcomed to Brussels political leaders from four Tunisian parties. Through all these activities, the EPP remains committed to dialogue with like-minded partners and parties in the region; in this respect, the work of political foundations such as the Hanns Seidel Foundation are of great added value.

    The Centre for European Studies will continue to devote attention and carry out research focusing on developments in this region. To this end, a policy brief by Lorenzo Vidino, senior fellow at the Centre for Security Studies, ETH Zurich, on the role of the Muslim Brotherhood, its challenges and future scenarios will be available online on the CES website end of April.

    Arab Spring Foreign Policy Mediterranean Neighbourhood Policy

    CES discusses political developments with Egyptian moderate party

    Other News

    28 Mar 2013

  • Israel has in the last 20 years achieved some impressive economic results. It was the last country to enter the great recession and the first to come out and its economy grew by 4.8% in 2011. Israel also has the highest number of start-ups per capita in the world and has the highest relative number of people working in R&D. Furthermore, multinationals like Intel, Google, Cisco and AG Siemens all have important research and production facilities in the country.

    So how can Europe learn from Israel’s achievements in order to improve its own economic prospects? The book ‘Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel Economic Miracle’ by Dan Senor and Saul Singer offers some answers.

    Firstly, the State of Israel has been, and still is, a country built by immigrants. Around 90% of Israelis have a migration story in their recent family history. Immigrants are more likely to start from scratch and build something themselves. Israel has also used the potential of educated immigrants to the maximum, with many of them working in the high tech industry or creating start-ups.

    Secondly, the role of venture capital is also very important. Israel attracts around two billion dollars a year in venture capital, the highest per capita in the world and more than Germany and France combined. This flow of capital began in the 1980s with a number of private sector initiatives, but started to increase from 1993 with the introduction of the government initiative ‘Yozma’, which offered co-financing and tax incentives for foreign venture capital investments in Israel.

    Thirdly, Israel is a country with a strong entrepreneurial spirit. While elsewhere mothers may wish for their children to become doctors or lawyers, in Israel mothers hope that their children will start their own business. It is considered normal to take risks and found a start-up.

    The last and perhaps the most important consideration is the cultural factor of ‘chutzpah’. This Hebrew word can be translated as audacity and focusses on the attitude in Israeli society of assertiveness, of informality and of questioning authority and things as they are. This leads to an urge for improvisation and innovation and allowed companies like Intel to make some of their biggest R&D successes is Israel.

    [picture source:theyeshivaworld.com]

    Christophe Christiaens Business Macroeconomics Middle East Neighbourhood Policy

    Christophe Christiaens

    The Israeli economic miracle, lessons for Europe

    Blog

    25 Mar 2013

  • The Centre for European Studies is proud to participate in the 2013 edition of the Brussels Forum organised by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, an event that will take place in Brussels during March 15-17, 2013.

    The Brussels Forum is an annual high-level meeting of the most influential North American and European political, corporate, and intellectual leaders to address pressing challenges currently facing both the EU and the US. Participants include heads of state, senior officials from the European Union institutions and the member states, U.S. Cabinet officials, Congressional representatives, Parliamentarians, academics, and media. The Brussels Forum has, since its first appearance in 2005, become the most important annual Brussels-based international conference on global politics, security and economics. The number of participants regularly exceeds 400 participants.

    As part of this year’s event, the Centre for European Studies is organising a breakout dinner on Saturday, March 16 on the future of democracy support in the EU’s neighbourhood. In the East, the colour revolutions of the 2000s have given way to increasing authoritarian tendencies. Countries such as Ukraine and Georgia seem to turn away from the West. In the Middle East and North Africa, the enthusiasm of the initial Arab revolts of 2011 has fizzled out. While Syria is steeped in civil war, liberty seems to be threatened again in Egypt and Tunisia. Several economies are in free-fall. What can the EU do to better support democratic developments in its neighbourhood? Which new instruments and methods promise better results than what we could achieve in the last 8-10 years? Tomi Huhtanen, CES Director will deliver the welcoming remarks and Roland Freudenstein, CES Deputy Director and Head of Research will moderate the debate between high level experts and Forum participants.

    The CES participation in the Brussels Forum adds to the importance that the Centre attaches to transatlantic issues. As part of the transatlantic research agenda, the Centre for European Studies regularly publishes studies and organises events with experts and senior officials from both sides of the Atlantic; one of the most important events of this kind is the Transatlantic Think Tank Conference, a conference which takes place every year in Brussels and Washington.

    For more details concerning the 2013 Brussels Forum and to follow the livestreaming of the public sessions, please visit http://brussels.gmfus.org/.

    [Picture source: Brussels Forum 2012 Flickr gallery]

    EU-US Neighbourhood Policy Security Transatlantic

    CES proud Forum Partner of the 2013 Brussels Forum

    Other News

    15 Mar 2013

  • Turkey’s growing assertiveness on the international stage, difficulties with EU accession, rapidly rising economy, and the long and controversial reign of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) are all necessitating a need for analysis. The present study of the Centre for European Studies presents two papers which look at Turkey and the AKP from different perspectives. Svante Cornell’s paper argues that AKP has moved away from democratic reforms and that Turkey’s ‘zero problems with the neighbours’ approach to international relations has failed. Gerald Knaus maintains that the AKP and the EU’s influence on Turkey have effected radical changes in the balance of power between the military and civilian actors, thus bringing Turkey somewhat closer to Western democratic standards. Both authors advocate continued EU engagement with Turkey, irrespective of the progress of accession negotiations

    European Union Foreign Policy Mediterranean Neighbourhood Policy

    Dealing with a Rising Power: Turkey’s Transformation and its Implications for the EU

    Research Papers

    01 Oct 2012

  • The dissolution of Yugoslavia at the beginning of the 1990s gave birth to seven independent states in the Western Balkans. After the wars that followed the initial proclamation of independence in several of these countries, a period of consolidation ensued, along with European integration as well as reconciliation efforts. The principal goal of this paper is to explain the reasons that led to the wars in Western Balkans, the main issues that remained in the 2000s and the EU initiatives that were supposed to help in resolving these problematic issues and to facilitate the accession of the countries of the region to the European Union. 

    One of the main goals of the original idea of European integration is defined as preserving peace in the Member States. This research paper argues that the same concept should be applied to the territory of Western Balkans, that is, that the European integration of the region could help to preserve peace in the region while also providing stability and, consequently, political and economic growth. Furthermore, the paper notes the growing need for interdependence amongst all of the European nations and states on different political and societal levels. 

    Moreover, as the main goal of the process of European integration is twofold—consisting of stabilisation as well as accession—the author critically assesses the relative value of the European Union applying either a regional or individual approach to the respective countries in the process of accession. 

    Despite the effort jointly performed by the EU as well as countries from the region, this new study shows that a lot of work will still have to be done before all of the countries become sufficiently mature in a political, economic and societal sense to become members of the European Union.

    Balkans Eastern Europe Neighbourhood Policy

    European Integration of Western Balkans: From Reconciliation To European Future

    Research Papers

    01 Jun 2012

  • In the aftermath of this year’s revolutions, the EU has rightly recommitted itself to the support of democracy and human rights in the Middle East and North Africa. However, although protesters across the southern Mediterranean share some of the EU’s values, they do not see Europe as a political model and democracy in the region is likely to produce some results with which Europeans are not comfortable. This brief argues that, in response, the EU should focus above all on the development of legitimate and accountable governments in post-revolutionary countries in the Arab world. Rather than backing specific political groups in countries that are in transition, the EU should work to create the building blocks and background conditions for fair and inclusive politics. The EU should also try to support human rights through transparent diplomacy and support for civil society. In countries such as Morocco that remain undemocratic, the EU should develop a more political approach that pushes harder for incremental reform in return for credible benefits, while continuing to engage on other EU interests. The use of violence against civilians in countries like Syria should be a red line for limiting cooperation, drawing condemnation and sanctions in severe cases. EU proposals on conditionality and a new European Endowment for Democracy will be most effective if they are focused on the support of accountable and legitimate government.

    Arab Spring Foreign Policy Neighbourhood Policy

    Europe and the Arab Revolutions

    Other

    01 Jan 2012

  • The book presents results of a collaborative study conducted by a team of authors from different Belarusian think tanks, as well as experts from Germany who are familiar with the problems associated with EU integration and enlargement. The study aims at analyzing the status of Belarus’ governmental, economic, social and legal situation, vital information in order to identify the measures which will be necessary for the country to reform and for its structures to become more compatible with the European Union. The path towards more democracy and freedom passes through a greater cooperation with the European Union. At the same time, the study suggests that closer ties with Europe will make wide-ranging political, economic, social and legal reform in today’s Belarus absolutely essential.

    Enlargment Integration Neighbourhood Policy

    Belarus and the EU: from Isolation towards Cooperation

    Collaborative

    07 Nov 2011

  • Following the Arab spring, the power of social networks to drive social protest movements was acknowledged worldwide. Social networks, used mainly by young people, collected and crystallized their demands for change and also gave them the opportunity to get in touch with each other. 

    However, the official regimes in these countries had to face new social demands and new technological challenges at once. And as we know, in many cases they didn`t succeed in this.

    The Belarusian internet revolution started in June from the simple idea of trying to see the people who are ready to protest off line. Belarusian society, thoroughly entrenched in the regime of Aliaksandr Lukashenka, has been suffering for the last 15 years under the grip of the state ideology. Relative economic stability, based on cheap Russian oil, was sufficient to keep ideological control over a large part of the voters. As for its ideology, the Belarusian regime, usually described by Western media as the “last dictatorship in Europe”, is also the last fortress of Soviet political values. The notorious official ideology of Belarus still characterises the country as part of non-existing Soviet state and constantly refers to the Soviets’ moments of glory, like the victory over fascism or the first space flight. In contrast to this artificially imposed, frozen ideological framework, the society is going through a difficult period of self-identification. The economic crisis was a trigger for another round of self questioning about the path that Belarus should take.

    The state of play The group created in the Belarusian segment of the Russian replica of Facebook – VKontakte, known as “The Revolution through Social Networks”, called for the public to gather on the main squares of Belarusian cities at 19:00 each Wednesday. The first protest on 15 June was conceived as a manifestation of support for the car owners’ protest, which took place earlier that week. In order not to provoke the regime`s security forces it was decided not to perform any activities, but rather to have a “silent” protest. However, as the situation developed, protestors were inspired to choose their own very special way to express their disagreement: each time one of the participants was detained or harassed, people applauded. That was how the “silent” protests gained their “voice”. The number of participants grew rapidly. In Minsk there were 400 participants on the first Wednesday and 2,000 by the third Wednesday. In some of the cities these protests were the largest of any in the last 10 years.

    As for virtual participation, the group on VKontakte has around 14.000 and is still growing. The movement also has Twitter and Facebook accounts. The way the protests were organised and the unexpected number of protestors were a real challenge for the Ministry of Interior. Being classical Soviet institutions, the Ministry of Interior and the KGB were not prepared both structurally and ideologically to even classify them. During the first protest they were desperately and unsuccessfully trying “to keep the order”. As for the virtual response to the protests, the KGB immediately used its ultimate cure, which it is using in response to all Internet “plagues”–blocking the web page of the group. There were some weak attempts to play on the same field as the protestors by creating accounts and by spamming the page with abusive content. However, the virtual revolutionists were vigilant and were publicly denouncing them. After have tried for a while to fight the virtual revolution with its own weapons, the Belarusian coercive structures resorted to their classical methods: arrests, intimidations and physical force. But not only the Belarusian regime was surprised by the success of the idea of the internet revolution. The Belarusian opposition was left out in the organization of the largest non-election protests. Being sceptical and divided in the beginning of the protests, the Belarusian democratic elites then changed their minds and tried to catch up at the last minute by signing an agreement of cooperation. The majority of the democratic parties and movements are supporting the protestors. Independence Day The Lukashenka regime is focusing its efforts to keep society under control by carrying out pseudo-patriotic events.

    Lukashenka is appealing to Soviet history, and by distorting the facts, presents the Belarusian people, and particularly himself as the representative of Belarus, as the main contributors to the victory over fascism. Therefore, all dates connected to WWII are largely celebrated in the whole country. The last event of that kind was Independence Day on the 3r dof July in Minsk. Knowing the significance of this military parade to the ruling regime, the organisers of the internet-based group proposed gathering during the parade. The state security forces and the Ministry of Interior were vigilant, and everybody who was applauding “inconveniently” as well as others were detained directly on the parade stands. Other participants moved to the Railway stations’ square. There they were dispersed by special forces, with about 100 taken to temporary detention centres. Plainclothes agents acted violently toward women and teenagers and used tear gas against journalists. Many of the protestors were severely beaten. However, the next day, the organiser of the group stated that the protests will continue and the violent reaction of the authorities will only trigger more of them. …

    Will it end in the same way as in North Africa? We will see on Twitter!

    Alena Dzemidzenka Arab Spring Human Rights Neighbourhood Policy Technology

    Alena Dzemidzenka

    Belarus: Social Networks and an end to Lukashenka’s regime

    Blog

    06 Jul 2011

  • The upcoming Communication of the European Commission on the review of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) is likely to re-confirm conditionality and differentiation as the two guiding principles for the EU’s assistance to its Eastern neighbours.

    Eastern Europe Mediterranean Neighbourhood Policy

    European Neighbourhood Policy: Addressing Myths, Narrowing Focus, Improving Implementation

    Other

    14 Jun 2011