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Ivan Krastev

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1914 versus 1938: how anniversaries make history

Mon, 07 Jul 2014 08:00:45 +0000

Drop into any of the big bookstores in London or Berlin and discover that they are literally occupied by books about the Great War. But how does this affect European attitudes to Russia’s involvement in Ukraine today? Brendan MacQuaile, wearing WWI uniform and Scout Aaron Crampton plant 50 white crosses - one for every thousand Irishmen to die in the First World War. Killester, Dublin, March, 2014. Art Wldak/Demotix. All rights reserved.Why is the west so reluctant to recognize Russia’s involvement in Ukraine as a war? Why is public opinion in the United States, United Kingdom and Germany so unwilling to see Russia’s actions as a threat to European peace? Is it because it is a “quarrel in a faraway country, between people of whom we know nothing” or because Russia is a nuclear power and Europe is dependent on Russian gas? Is it because Europe is a risk averse power or because America is weaker and has had its fingers burnt by its military adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq? Or could it be that Americans and Europeans have fallen victim to a wrong historical analogy, and that the flood of books and films produced this year to mark the 100th anniversary of the Great War have made them believe that what we should fear is not inaction but over-reaction? Historical anniversaries are like carpet-bombing. They throw upon us “teachable lessons” in volumes of historical research, novels, conferences, films and exhibitions and demand unconditional surrender. It is enough to drop into any of the big bookstores in London or Berlin to discover that they are literally occupied by books about the Great War. Some claim that more than 1000 books related to it have been published only in English in the last two-three years.  Is it not just that these books we all read or at least read about fuel particular fears and make certain future developments look more real than others. The power of the anniversaries is a magic power: it comes from our obsession with round numbers and it is divorced from rational arguments. It is arguable that if the fall of the Berlin Wall had not coincided with the bicentennial of the French Revolution, our reading of the changes in Central and Eastern Europe could have been different and what we call revolution today could have been called by another name. And it was this very word “revolution” with all its rich historical connotations that determined the choices of the actors. After 1989 it was the shared fear of revolutionary violence that urged both the old communist elite and the dissidents to opt for negotiations and compromise. It was the shadow of 1789 and the Terror that followed that acted as the invisible presence in Central European politics in the early years of transition. The power of historical anniversaries is so real that one can also imagine that if a mass political protest erupts in Moscow in the year 2017 (centenary of the Bolshevik revolution), we would be tempted to believe that history has yet again changed its course and our view of what is happening on the streets will be dramatically shaped by the books about Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky that will top the bestsellers lists.  In their classic study, Thinking in Time, American political scientists Richard Neustadt and Ernest May have revealed that the choice of the proper historical comparison is at the heart of any crisis decision-making. Policy makers need history to make sense of the present. At the time of the Cuban missile crisis the most important choice that President Kennedy had to make was the choice of proper historical analogy. He had to choose between a “Suez”, “Pearl Harbor” or “July Crisis “ 1914 analogy. The choice of comparison pre-determined his choice of strategy. Betting on “Suez” would have meant that Russian missiles were a game of distraction and the US should be ready for Soviet actions somewhere in Europe. If the Soviets were preparing a “Pearl Harbor” type of surprise, Americans had to choose to s[...]

Bulgaria, protest for the future

Tue, 25 Jun 2013 19:39:23 +0000

Bulgarian citizens are protesting across the country against the capture of their government and for a meaningful democracy. A memorandum from Sofia outlines the heart of their case. Demotix/Katya Yordanova. All rights reserved.Tens of thousands of people have been marching for eleven days now on the streets of the capital Sofia and in some of Bulgaria’s major cities. The mass protests were sparked by the decision of the Bulgarian parliament to make Delyan Peevski - a media mogul and politician - chief of the State Agency for National Security. After his resignation on the second day of the protest, its main demand became the resignation of the government of Plamen Oresharski, which has been built by the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (which represents the Turkish minority). Together, both parties have exactly half of the seats in parliament, yet their government cannot survive without the support of the far-right populist party Ataka. According to representative polling data, 85% of Bulgarians support the protest against the appointment of Delyan Peevski, a front-man of corporate interests with strong influence over the last three governments. The respondents put remarkably little confidence in the current government (23%) and parliament (14%) at the beginning of their term (these figures are the lowest since the 1990s), while only 18% reckon Plamen Oresharski’s cabinet will fulfill its full mandate.This is the second wave of demonstrations in Bulgaria in the first half of 2013. The mass protests in February against the electricity monopolies brought down the centre-right government of Boyko Borissov. Now, the days of unrest since 15 June should be seen as a second demonstration  of Bulgarian citizens’ anger with the political establishment from the transition years, who in their view has betrayed the values of democracy in the service of behind-the-screen corporate interests.For the first time in years, the civil society of Bulgaria is voicing strong demands for genuine reform of the ailing state institutions and for effective democracy. These demands for reform are homegrown and have a grassroots pedigree. They are not the result of external pressures (e.g. from the European Union or international organisations). In fact, external bodies so far have been largely supportive of the status quo: for instance, both the Party of European Socialists and the European Popular Party have recently expressed backing for the political leaders of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (a member of PES), and GERB (a member of the EPP, and the former governing party).These external views are apparently not shared by Bulgarian citizens. As their slogans illustrate, the Bulgarians are protesting:* against the merging of public institutions with nationwide grey-economy groups (“No to the oligarchy!”)* against clandestine  political deals (“No to behind-the-screen deals! ..Transparency!")* against the promotion of corporate interests presented in democratic garb (“No to façade democracy!”)* against Bulgaria’s reneging on its European commitments and the accommodation of extreme nationalist-populists in power (“Bulgaria is Europe!”) The peaceful protests in Bulgaria are momentous for the future of democracy in this country. They show that there is a committed civil society which will no longer tolerate corporate takeover of public institutions, or unprincipled coalitions with nationalistic or irresponsible parties. Our hope is that the lack of violence and the civilised behaviour of the protesters will ensure that the protests draw international attention, rather than allow them to go largely unnoticed. In our judgment, the moment demands broad support for the democratic efforts of Bulgarian society.  Sideboxes 'Read On' Sidebox:  Centre for Liberal Strategies, SofiaEuropean Council on [...]

Is China more democratic than Russia?

Tue, 12 Mar 2013 13:38:46 +0000

On paper, Russia’s political system is an impressive reproduction of Western representative democracy, while the Chinese system remains an unreconstructed autocracy. The reality of the situation is much more complex, says Ivan Krastev. Asking the question, ‘who is more democratic, Russia or China’? is in some ways like asking the question ‘who is more feminine, Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger’? We can spend some time comparing bicep sizes, and we can speculate about their gentle souls, but Russia and China are essentially two non-democracies. The average Chinese or Russian may today be wealthier and freer than any time before, but neither country can satisfy a minimalist definition of democracy, i.e. competitive elections with uncertain outcomes. ‘Though not quite representing an alternative to the age of democratisation, the Russian and Chinese systems are essentially adjustments to it: the Russians are faking democracy while the Chinese are faking Communism.’ The broader trends of democratisation and globalisation have not, however, passed either by. If in the past, monarchical power or ideology gave strong foundations to non-democratic regimes, today the only way to claim the right to govern is to claim popular backing. Coercion is no longer the central survival logic of either the Russian and Chinese regimes. A corollary of democratisation is the empowerment of people, and in particular the role of technology and communication within a globalising society. However hard they may try, non-democratic countries are still unable to prevent people from using the Internet, keeping cross-border connections, travelling or obtaining information about the wider world. Added to these trends is another factor: financial crisis. At the onset of the difficulties, many analysts assumed that the changes would destabilise emerging democracies; others saw the crisis as a death sentence for authoritarian regimes. What seems to have happened is  instead something more complex: a blurring of the border between democracy and authoritarianism. Though not quite representing an alternative to the age of democratisation, the Russian and Chinese systems have essentially become adjustments to it. Broadly speaking, the Russians are faking democracy while the Chinese are faking Communism. A tale of two sophistries At the juncture 1989-1991, both Communist leaderships — Soviet and Chinese — came to realise that Communism had become a dysfunctional type of system. But they had different understandings of what was wrong with it. In the Soviet Union, Gorbachev decided that what was worth preserving were the socialist ideas, and what was bad was the Communist party and its inability to bring to mobilise the energy of the society. His idea of social transformation meant moving beyond the party rule, and developing a state which could be competitive in the Western paradigm. The Chinese communist party took a totally different view. They believed what was bad about communism were the Communist, socialist ideas, especially in an economic sense, and what was good about socialism was the Communist party and its capacity to keep control of society. So they did everything to keep the power infrastructure intact. ‘If an alien with a degree in political science came from some other planet and landed in Russia, he would most probably think the country was a democracy. China, on the other hand, does not look like a democracy, not even to our alien friend.’ What do these regimes look like today? The Russian regime, observed from afar, certainly looks like a democracy. It enjoys a democratic constitution, runs elections, has a multiparty political system, has some free media and has not yet used tanks to crush massive public protests. If an alien with a degree in political science came from some other planet and landed in Russia, he would most probably think the[...]

Would democratic change in Russia transform its foreign policy?

Thu, 07 Feb 2013 19:53:50 +0000

The incompatibility of an anachronistic and arbitrary regime with the modern world is leading many to consider that democratic change is possible — likely even — in Russia. But those expecting that a new ‘democratic’ government would somehow take a softer line on foreign policy should think again, says Ivan Krastev.  If Russia undergoes democratic change, what would its foreign policy look like? Would it be greatly different from what it is now? Would it be much more in tune with American foreign policy? Would it share European values? Or would there still remain important differences between Russia and the West?  These questions, all posed recently by American analyst Mark Katz, are important ones, particularly so given that relations between Putin’s Russia and the West seem to have reached a dead end. Obama’s ‘reset’ with Moscow is over, and in the near future we can expect only banality, frustration, noise and growing mutual mistrust. Viewed from Washington, Russia has become both more annoying and less needed. The shale gas revolution has made Americans uninterested in Russia’s energy resources. The UN has proven ineffective in dealing with global crisis, so Russia’s seat on the Security Council is of diminishing value. American troops are on their way out of Afghanistan, so there is less need for Moscow’s assistance there either. Washington has outsourced the task of changing Moscow’s position on Syria to the Turks. And the American Senate has lost patience with Kremlin’s symbolic politics, most recently over legislation banning American citizens from adopting Russian children. (Americans were of course expecting retaliation for the Magnitsky Act, but they were shocked by the cruelness of the response. Does the Kremlin really believe that it punishes America by punishing its own orphans?)  Pause is the new reset In short, Russia has lost much of its strategic importance to the US, and business relations are decidedly unimpressive too. Obama fears, quite rightly, that his policy of ‘reset’ makes him vulnerable to the attacks of his Republican critics. We are not surprised, therefore, when the New York Times tells us that Washington has resolved to do ‘as little as possible’ and wait for political climate change in Moscow. In other words, the post-reset mood in the White House seems to have something in common with the position taken by America’s first ambassador to the Soviet Union, William Bullitt, who advised his President almost 80 years ago ‘we should neither expect too much, nor despair of getting anything at all’.  ‘Obama’s ‘reset’ with Moscow is over, and in the near future we can expect only banality, frustration, noise and growing mutual mistrust. Viewed from Washington, Russia has become both more annoying and less needed.’ The EU is also in a waiting mood, but Russia does not look as strategically unimportant to Europe as it now does to the US. Europeans know that Moscow still matters both in security and economic terms. Yet there are several factors that tame any desire for more active engagement. First, the EU is much too preoccupied with implementing the institutional reforms needed to save the eurozone to be ready for any ambitious foreign policy initiatives. Second, Brussels is politically unable to deliver what Russia really wants most: a free visa regime for its citizens. Europe is also determined to put an end to Gazprom’s politics of manipulating EU’s energy market, and it is generally sceptical about the chances of Russia’s modernisation under the current conditions.  Putin's second term has been marked by a unmistakenly anti-modern turn in the country's politics. Photo (c) Ria Novosti / Sergey GuneevTo top it all off, European public opinion has turned dramatically against Putin[...]

European dis-Union: lessons of the Soviet collapse

Tue, 15 May 2012 23:53:40 +0000

Europe's crisis is being felt at multiple levels, from the future of the eurozone and divisions between member-states to the rise of populist forces. But is the crisis likely to lead to the European Union's disintegration? The precedent of the Soviet collapse offers some lessons, says Ivan Krastev. In 1992 the world woke up to find that the Soviet Union was no longer on the map. One of the world’s two superpowers had collapsed without a war, alien invasion or any other catastrophe. And it happened against all expectations. True, there was strong evidence to suggest that the Soviet system had been in irreversible decline since the 1970s, but this was anticipated to unfold over decades; nothing preordained its collapse as the climax of a "short 20th century". In 1985, 1986 and even in 1989, the disintegration of the Soviet Union was as inconceivable to contemporary analysts as the prospect of the European Union's disintegration is to experts today. The Soviet empire was too big to fail, too stable to collapse, had survived too much turbulence simply to implode. But what a difference a decade can make! An outcome that was perceived as unthinkable in 1985 was declared inevitable in 1995. And it is exactly this twist of fate, this leap from the "unthinkable" to the "inevitable" that makes the Soviet disintegration experience a useful reference-point in the current discussions on the future of the European crisis and the choices that European leaders face. After all, the EU’s present crisis has powerfully demonstrated that the risk of the disintegration of the EU is much more than a rhetorical device - a toy monster used by scared politicians to enforce austerity on unhappy voters. It is not only European economies but European politics that are in turmoil. The financial crisis has sharply reduced the life-expectancy of governments, regardless of their political colour, and opened space for the rise of populist and protest parties. The public mood is best described as a combination of pessimism and anger. This is reflected in the most recent "future of Europe" survey, funded by the European Commission and published in April 2012. It shows that while the majority of Europeans agree that the EU is a good place to live in, their confidence in the economic performance of the union and its capacity to play a major role in global politics has declined. More than six of any ten Europeans believe that the lives of today's children will be more difficult than those of people from their own generation. Even more troubling, almost 90% of Europeans see a big gap between what the public wants and what governments do; only a third of Europeans feel that their vote counts at an EU level, and only 18% of Italians and 15% of Greeks consider their vote counts even in their own country. Against this background, how unthinkable is the EU's disintegration? Here, Europe's capacity to learn from the Soviet precedent could play a crucial part. For the very survival of the EU may depend on its leaders' ability to manage the same mix of political, economic and psychological factors that were in play in the process of the Soviet collapse. The Soviet order "collapsed like a house of cards", wrote the eminent historian Martin Malia, "because it had always been a house of cards". The EU is not a house of cards, and the great differences between the Soviet and the EU projects must always be kept in mind. But if the EU has never been seduced by the temptations of communism and central planning, it is not immune to the vices of complexity. It is the most sophisticated political puzzle known to history. The mid-19th-century codifier of the British constitution, Walter Bagehot, attributed monarchy's strength to the fact that "it is an intelligible government. The mass of mankind understand it". The EU in contrast is an unintelligible government that the mass of Europeans cann[...]

Gleb Pavlovsky: the final act

Sun, 15 May 2011 08:57:31 +0000

Russian “political technologist” Gleb Pavlovsky is considered a master of political intrigue and backstage games, yet on April 27 found himself dismissed as a Kremlin advisor. His fall from grace was reportedly linked to indiscreet comments made about the 2012 presidential elections (and supposedly for making his support for Dmitry Medvedev known). A short while before his exit, Tatiana Zhurzhenko and Ivan Krastev took an interview with him, not expecting the conversation would be his last major interview as a Kremlin adviser. That context and the dialogue’s frequently candid nature make for fascinating reading. A co-publication with Eurozine and Transit Foreword from the editors Gleb Pavlovsky is arguably Russia’s best-known political strategist and spin-doctor, and his recent departure from the Kremlin came as a real surprise. For over fifteen years, his Foundation for Effective Politics played a key role in Russian political life, advising presidents Yeltsin and Putin through parliamentary and presidential election campaigns. Born in Odessa in 1951, Pavlovsky has not always belonged to the power elite; indeed, as a young man he styled himself in quite opposite terms. As a student of history at the local university, he helped found a small, unsanctioned discussion group on Soviet Politics. He distributed samizdat works of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, a book that was totally forbidden in Soviet Union.  In April 1982, he found himself arrested for his role in this underground publishing. The dissident part of Pavlovsky’s biography is, however, forever to be overshadowed by what came later: his compromise deals with the authorities and his confessions in prison, which saved him from a long prison term. Rather than hard labour, Pavlovsky was instead exiled to the Komi republic and the relative comfort of working as a stoker and house painter. "Twentieth Century and the World”: an influential Perestroika-era magazine Pavlovsky helped found following his return from exile in the Komi republicPavlovsky’s return to Moscow coincided with the election of Mikhail Gorbachev as secretary general of the Communist Party. The policy of perestroika and glasnost allowed Pavlovsky to close the darker part of his biography and to take active part in the reform movement. He was one of the founders, and eventually the editor-in-chief, of the influential "Twentieth Century and the World" magazine, which was one of the most interesting publications of the perestroika era. Pavlovsky also helped establish the Post-Factum news agency. His career developed with even greater speed following the collapse of USSR. In 1995 he founded Foundation for Effective Policy, which was considered to have played a crucial role in ensuring Yeltsin’s re-election and Vladimir Putin’s presidential election victory in 2000. The second election was characterised by the controversial use of TV media to spin “black PR” against Putin’s rivals in Yevgeny Primakov and Yuri Luzhkov. Pavlovsky was considered instrumental in the strategy. From that moment on, Pavlovsky had an official Kremlin position as advisor to the Head of the Presidential Administration. He was seen as brilliant PR expert, able to design effective scenarios for crisis situations. He was also one of the pioneers of the Russian Internet (runet) and he used it skillfully in most of his political campaigns. On the other hand, Pavlovsky is also believed to be the man responsible for the ill-conceived strategy which led to Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the presidential victory of Viktor Yushchenko over Viktor Yanukovych in 2004.Pavlovsky has never been forgiven by his former dissident friends for his role in supporting the strict autocratic measures of Putin’s administration, which bot[...]

Arab revolutions, Turkey’s dilemmas: zero chance for "zero problems"

Thu, 24 Mar 2011 15:58:41 +0000

Turkey’s ambition of becoming a regional power with global relevance is reflected in the domestic and foreign policy of its confident political elite. But changing realities at home and abroad present new problems, says Ivan Krastev. In particular, the Arab democracy wave exposes the limits of Turkey’s “zero problems with neighbours” approach. The Arab revolutions are not European revolutions: neither a repeat of 1989 by Arabs born in 1989, nor a re-enactment of 1848 in the age of social media. There were no European flags - being waved or burned - on the streets of Tunis and Cairo. Arab protesters do not regard European societies as a model to be imitated, nor membership of the European Union as the final destination of their efforts.But these non-European revolutions (or uprisings, insurrections, unrest, upsurges, spring, awakening - the choice of terms reflects the variousness of the events) can still affect Europe as profoundly as did the continent’s own revolutions of 1989 or 1848. They will test the attractiveness and the transformative power of the post-enlargement EU, and alter the dynamics of Turkey’s relationship with the union.The Arab upheavals will also press in unexpected ways on the new role Turkey has sought for itself in the middle east. In fact, where political commentators tend to see the emergence of new regional order there as Turkey's "window of opportunity”, they tend to miss the fact that it is also "window of vulnerability".These two relationships are the theme of this article, which follows a week-long study tour of Turkey undertaken in early March 2011, co-organised by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), the Centre for Economic and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM, Istanbul), the Centre for Liberal Strategies (CLS, Sofia), and the Stiftung Mercator (Essen) with the purpose of exploring the question: “what does Turkey think?”The following reflections draw on this visit and the chance it provided to discuss Turkey’s domestic situation and international role with some of the country’s key policy-makers and analysts, as well as to gather (as a non-expert in Turkish affairs) many impressions and observations.It’s not me, it’s youUntil yesterday, the common-sense judgment of the EU-Turkey relationship could be summarised as “unpromising but stable”. The process of never-ending negotiations has seemed more closely to fit Germany’s dream endgame of “privileged partnership” than any other on offer, persuading Europeans that they had trapped Turks in something that resembles an unhappy Catholic marriage - no fun, no sex, but also no exit. It turned out that the AKP government in Ankara, being of a less Catholic background, prefers to look on the relationship as one version of an Islamic marriage - when you cannot get from your wife what you expected, you don’t divorce but simply get a second or even a third wife. The shift of Ankara’s foreign policy away from Europe and towards Turkey’s non-European neighbours is the demonstration in practice of Turkey’s polygamy. But nothing is forever, often especially marital choice. A moment when history and geography tempt Turkey to upgrade its already active involvement in the middle east, and the EU is constrained by its euro crisis and demographic fears, is an appropriate one to look at the prospects for Turkey’s old and new liaisons.  Many political observers see the fall of the Arab wall - that is, the one separating the Arab world from democracy and modernity - as a chance for Turkey to achieve its ambition of becoming a regional power with global relevance. This, however, is far from the only course possible.The Arab revolutions of 2011 thus bring into immediate focus questions that have previously been of mainly theoretical interest. Can Turkey’s economic and politic[...]

The Shape of Europe's Future

Thu, 29 Apr 2010 10:37:46 +0000

In today's Europe, unlike that of the Cold War, the 'Finlandization' of the post-Soviet space does serve the interests of the West, Ivan Krastev reflects, taking issue with Ronald Asmus' book A Little War that Shook the World  “Asking who won a given war,” wrote Kenneth Waltz in his classic work ‘Man, the State and War’ is like asking who won the San Francisco earthquake”. Twentieth century wars were so horrible and destructive that now we have all learned that in wars there is no victory, only varying degrees of defeat. This is the rule. But, as with any other rule, there are exceptions.  Here the exceptions are little wars. They cause minor casualties and inspire great emotions, thus bringing an illusion of victory. The Russo-Georgia war of August 2008 was just such a little war. It lasted merely five days, but it succeeded in shattering the belief of Europeans that war in the old continent had become a thing of the past. It not only re-drew the state borders in the Caucasus, it changed the terms of Europe’s security debate. “One reason why past security arrangements in twentieth-century Europe failed,” writes Ronald Asmus in his new book, “was that when tough cases arose - and they often involved faraway countries with complicated names and poorly-understood geography - the major powers opted not to go in to bat to enforce the rules: either the problem was considered too hard, the country not important enough, or one party involved too powerful not to accommodate”. This is exactly what happened in Europe in August 2008. It turned out that what stands today for the European security system is a mixture of Cold War institutions (which have undergone plastic surgery) and liberal norms (not shared by everybody) that happened to be ineffective at the very moment they were needed. Why and how the Post-Cold War European security system collapsed in the summer of 2008 is the story of Ron Asmus’ groundbreaking book “A Little War that Shook the World”. The book is a sharp, well-written, controversial and powerfully argued analysis of the events and decisions that led to the Russo-Georgian war, and of the way it ended. The author has interviewed most of the key Western and Georgian policy makers who wrote the script of the August drama and his book will remain a major source for anybody who wants to write on the issue. Russian voices are absent from the book and this will predictably make many professional historians unhappy.  In reality the omission is less critical than one might think because in essence Asmus’ book is not a history of the five days war, but a dissection of Western strategic thinking at the beginning of the 21st century. The book reads like an audit report - an intriguing combination of details that only an insider can know and critical judgments that only an outsider will dare to share. It is very different from the usual vague platitudes just a step away from the Chamber of Commerce which are sold as policy analysis today. In less than 200 pages Asmus forcefully argues that Georgia was trapped in a war it did not provoke (readers are entitled to disagree). The unresolved statuses of Abkhazia and South Ossetia were only the superficial causes for the eruption of violence.  The real reason was Russia’s decision to prevent Georgia from joining the democratic West. In Asmus’ view the diverging political models adopted by Putin’s Russia and Saakashvili’s Georgia led to the war, rather than some local ethnic conflicts. In its nature the Russo-Georgia war was the Kremlin’s rebellion against the Post-Cold War European security system that Moscow finds unfair and tilted against its interests. “Tbilisi became the whipping boy for Russian resentment against the US and NATO.” Diverging from the politically correct interpre[...]

Ivan Krastev

Fri, 26 Mar 2010 13:12:17 +0000

Ivan Krastev
First name(s): 

Ivan Krastev is chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies, Sofia, and permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna (IWM).

His latest books in English are Democracy Disrupted (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014) and, In Mistrust We Trust: Can Democracy Survive When We Don't Trust Our Leaders, (TED Books, 2013); The Anti-American Century, co-edited with Alan McPherson, (CEU Press, 2007) and Shifting Obsessions: Three Essays on the Politics of Anticorruption (CEU Press, 2004). He is a co-author with Steven Holmes of a forthcoming book on Russian politics.

The guns of August: non-event with consequences

Wed, 05 Aug 2009 08:10:08 +0000

It took less than a hundred days for the Russia-Georgia war of 8-12 August 2008 to be eclipsed as a history-shaping event. The guns of August were silenced by the thunders on Wall Street. A war that seemed momentous at the time became subject to instant amnesia: a non-event. But it was a non-event with consequences. Ivan Krastev is chair of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, Bulgaria. He is  visiting fellow of the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM)  in Vienna, from June-December 2009 Ivan Krastev is the editor-in-chief of the Bulgarian edition of Foreign Policy, and a frequent contributor to Transit - Europäische Revue (edited at the IWM) His publications in English include: Shifting Obsessions: Three Essays on the Politics of Anti-Corruption (CEU Press, 2004); (co-editor, with Alina Mungiu-Pippidi) Nationalism after Communism: Lessons Learned  (CEU Press, 2004); and (co-editor, with Alan McPherson) The Anti-American Century (CEU Press, 2007) Also by Ivan Krastev in openDemocracy: "We are all Brits today: Timothy Garton Ash's Free World" (7 September 2004) "Ukraine and Europe: a fatal attraction" (16 December 2004) "The European Union and the Balkans: enlargement or empire?" (8 June 2005) "Russia's post-orange empire" (20 October 2005) "The new Europe: respectable populism, clockwork liberalism" (21 March 2006) "The end of the 'freedom century'" (27 April 2006) "The energy route to Russian democracy" (13 June 2006) "Sovereign democracy', Russian-style" (16 November 2006) "Europe's new Ostpolitik: a Polish echo" (21 December 2006) "Russia: the sovereignty wars" (29 August 2007) "Sleepless in Szczecin: what's the matter with Poland?" (19 October 2007) "The world's choice: super, soft, or herbivorous power?" (26 October 2007) - with Mark Leonard "Europe's trance of unreality" (20 June 2008) "Europe's other legitimacy crisis" (23 July 2008) "Russia and the Georgia war: the great-power trap" (19 August 2009) A year on, a measure of these consequences seems appropriate. The post-war balance-sheets of the leading actors - Georgia and Russia themselves, but also the United States and the European Union - in many respects resemble those of the Wall Street financial institutions hit by the global economic crisis: undeclared losses and inflated profits. Indeed, amid the fallout of this toxic conflict it is easier to see losers than victors. In August 2008, Georgia lost its dreams, the Kremlin lost its complexes, Washington lost its nerves and the European Union lost its sleep. But as the poet said, there's no success like failure; and the messy aftermath also reveals collateral benefits for some of these and other powers. Russia is at the centre of every calculation. The war was the occasion of Moscow's first large-scale military operation outside the territory of the Russian Federation since the end of the cold war. The Kremlin's subsequent recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia was the first revision of inter-state borders on the territory of the former Soviet Union. Russia emerged from the war as a revisionist power and broke the illusion of the existence of European order. The Russian analyst Sergei Markedonov is right to assert that August 2008 was also a "final reloading of conflicts in Eurasia." This assessment of the war's outcome examines the role of all the main players, and looks at the war's implications for the future of European order.  A Georgian balance-sheet Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia's president, made a strategic miscalculation in deciding to launch a rocket assault on Tskhinvali, [...]

Russia and the Georgia war: the great-power trap

Sun, 31 Aug 2008 15:54:21 +0000

Europe has entered the new 19th century. The Russia-Georgia war of 8-12 August 2008 has acted as a time-machine, vaporising the "end of history" sentiment that shaped European politics in the 1990s and replacing it with an older geopolitical calculus in modern form. An older calculus - but not a cold-war one. Indeed, though the conflict over South Ossetia has generated heady rhetoric of the cold-war's return, the real constellation of power and ideology it has revealed is different from the days of superpower confrontation in the four decades after 1945. This is indeed time-travel, not a mere reversal of gears. Among openDemocracy's articles on Georgian politics and the region, including the war of August 2008: Neal Ascherson, "Tbilisi, Georgia: the rose revolution's rocky road" (15 July 2005) Donald Rayfield, "Georgia and Russia: with you, without you" (3 October 2006) Robert Parsons, "Russia and Georgia: a lover's revenge" (6 October 2006) George Hewitt, "Abkhazia: land in limbo" (10 October 2006) Vicken Cheterian, "Georgia's arms race" (4 July 2007) Alexander Rondeli, "Georgia: politics after revolution" (14 November 2007) Robert Parsons, "Georgia's race to the summit" (4 January 2008) Robert Parsons, "Mikheil Saakashvili's bitter victory" (11 January 2008) Jonathan Wheatley, "Georgia's democratic stalemate" (14 April 2008) Robert Parsons, "Georgia, Abkhazia, Russia: the war option" (13 May 2008) Thomas de Waal, "The Russia-Georgia tinderbox" (16 May 2008) Alexander Rondeli, "Georgia's search for itself" (8 July 2008) Thomas de Waal, "South Ossetia: the avoidable tragedy" (11 August 2008) Ghia Nodia, "The war for Georgia: Russia, the west, the future" (12 August 2008) Donald Rayfield, "The Georgia-Russia conflict: lost territory, found nation" (13 August 2008) Neal Ascherson, "After the war: recognising reality in Abkhazia and Georgia" (15 August 2008) George Hewitt, "Abkhazia and South Ossetia: heart of conflict, key to solution" (18 August 2008) Plus: openDemocracy's Russia section reports, debates and blogs the Georgia war It is the singular element of a power-confrontation not accompanied by developed ideological polarisation that makes the Russia-Georgia war the first 19th-century war in 21st-century Europe. The near-coincidence of the fortieth anniversary of the Red Army's invasion of Czechoslovakia to crush the "Prague spring" in August 1968 makes the point. The punitive incursion into Georgia is not a remake; its conditions, motives, driving certainties and governing justifications are different. Russia's military expedition - and victory - in Georgia marks Moscow's attempt to return to the centre of European power-politics. It signals the resurgence of Russia as a born-again 19th-century power eager to challenge the early-21st century post-cold-war European order. But - as the original time-traveller in HG Wells's novella of 1895 discovered - the immediate satisfactions of a past or future world can be deceptive, as its more complex realities slowly unfold. The "new 19th century" is not a simple copy of the old. The Kremlin may have emerged from the five-day conflict (and its longer and even messier aftermath) as the winner; but it may in the longer term turn out to be the strategic loser in its efforts to restore "spheres of influence" as the defining feature of European politics. A triple failure Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia's president, made a strategic miscalculation in starting a military operation in South Ossetia on the night of 7-8 August. He [...]

Europe’s other legitimacy crisis

Sat, 26 Jul 2008 22:32:23 +0000

Bulgaria is the newest, poorest and probably the worst governed member of the European Union. Its economy is growing, its politics is collapsing and its public is totally frustrated. Bulgaria is also the EU member-state where the public is the most sceptical that democracy is the best form of government, one where only 21% agree that the country is governed according to the will of the people. A famous Italian movie director who visited the country in the 1970s found it a great setting for small family dramas but unfit for major political tragedy. He could turn out to be wrong. For Bulgaria is also now (symbolically at least) at the heart of Europe, and thus a place where Europe's future could be shaped. Indeed, there is a sense in which the future of the EU enlargement process will be decided as much in Sofia as in Dublin: for if the Republic of Ireland's rejection of the Lisbon treaty (in its referendum on 12 June 2008) makes it institutionally impossible for the union to enlarge further, an indefinite failure by Brussels to press Bulgaria to change its bad governance practices will make it politically impossible to open the door of the union to new members. It is in this context that the significance of the European commission's report on Bulgaria's progress in fighting corruption and organised crime - released on 23 July 2008 - can be understood. The report is a striking document for someone who has a sense of the workings and the style of the European commission; for in it, Brussels has adopted unusually harsh and political language. The report even threatens Bulgaria with suspension of up to €1 billion ($1.55 billion) in pre-accession aid, and to bar two Bulgarian state agencies from handling EU funds. Furthermore, a parallel report by the European Union's anti-fraud unit (OLAF) - leaked a week in advance of the commission document - states that there are "powerful forces in the Bulgarian government and/or state institutions" who are not interested in punishing corruption. This report goes as far as explicitly mentioning the Bulgarian president in connection with his acceptance of political donations from corrupt networks. In short, the problem of Bulgaria is not the existence of corruption but the suspicion that the government and the president are part of it. For the European commission to publish such a report amounts to a "small revolution". Ivan Krastev is chair of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, Bulgaria. He served as the executive director of the International Commission on the Balkans, chaired by Giuliano Amato. Also by Ivan Krastev in openDemocracy: "We are all Brits today: Timothy Garton Ash's Free World" (7 September 2004), "Ukraine and Europe: a fatal attraction" (16 December 2004), "The European Union and the Balkans: enlargement or empire?" (8 June 2005), "Russia post-orange empire" (20 October 2005), "The new Europe: respectable populism, clockwork liberalism" (21 March 2006), "The end of the 'freedom century'" (27 April 2006), "The energy route to Russian democracy" (13 June 2006), "Sovereign democracy', Russian-style" (16 November 2006), "Europe's new Ostpolitik: a Polish echo" (21 December 2006) , "Russia: the sovereignty wars" (29 August 2007), "Sleepless in Szczecin: what's the matter with Poland?" (19 October 2007), "The world's choice: super, soft, or herbivorous power?" (26 October 2007). with Mark Leonard, "Europe's trance of unreality" (20 June 2008). The digestion problem The reaction of the socialist-led government in Sofia is one[...]

Europe's trance of unreality

Wed, 25 Jun 2008 14:17:04 +0000

There is something unreal and profoundly disturbing about the latest crisis in the European Union. In theory the results of the Irish referendum held on 12 June 2008 are a fatal blow to the Lisbon treaty and the prospects of reforming the European Union. In theory the only logical outcome of the referendum should be either a Europe of "two speeds" or a paralysed Europe. In reality, however, nobody believes that the Irish vote will bury the Lisbon treaty. The only genuine question is when the Irish will be forced to vote "yes" after they were so unreasonable as to vote "no". The third edition of the openDemocracy Quarterly contains a selection of our articles since 2001 on Europe's politics, identity, and future. For details and how to buy, click here The mismatch between theory and unreality suggests that the Irish vote was critically important and absolutely insignificant at the same time. The result is that the referendum outcome is surrounded by a sense of pervasive unreality. This, moreover, relates to the context of the Irish "no" as well as its consequences: for the latest Eurobarometer poll finds that the proportion of people in Ireland believing that their country has benefited from EU membership than that in any other European Union member-state - reflecting the fact that since it joined in 1973, Ireland has received twice as much from the EU budget than it has paid in. Yet it was this same Ireland, the biggest success- story of the European integration project, that put this same project in danger in a referendum where only a little over half of voters bothered to participate. But the Irish voters are not the only surrealists in the latest European psychodrama. A day before the vote, European political leaders had passionately argued that success for the "no" campaign would be a death-verdict for the Lisbon treaty; a day after the vote, European leaders argued with equal passion that in fact nothing really important had happened and that the treaty's ratification should continue. Ivan Krastev is chair of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, Bulgaria. He served as the executive director of the International Commission on the Balkans, chaired by Giuliano Amato This article was first published in the Polish magazine Europe Also by Ivan Krastev in openDemocracy: "We are all Brits today: Timothy Garton Ash's Free World" (September 2004) "Ukraine and Europe: a fatal attraction" (December 2004) "The European Union and the Balkans: enlargement or empire?" (June 2005) "Russia post-orange empire" (20 October 2005) "The new Europe: respectable populism, clockwork liberalism" (21 March 2006) "The end of the 'freedom century'" (27 April 2006) "The energy route to Russian democracy" (13 June 2006) "Between elite and people: Europe's black hole" (4 August 2006) "'Sovereign democracy', Russian-style" (16 November 2006) "Europe's new Ostpolitik: a Polish echo" (21 December 2006) "Russia vs Europe: the sovereignty wars" (29 August 2007) "Sleepless in Szczecin: what's the matter with Poland?" (19 October 2007) "The world's choice: super, soft, or herbivorous power?" (26 October 2007) - with Mark Leonard European Union leaders' common strategy in dealing with the crisis could thus be described as one of "evasion by trivialisation". By agreeing that the best way to react to a crisis is to ignore it, they effectively redefine it in ways that diminish its reality. The Brussels summit of 19-20 June 2008, full of reaction and discussion as i[...]

The world's choice: super, soft, or herbivorous power?

Fri, 26 Oct 2007 17:10:36 +0000

An ambitious survey of public opinion around the world contains valuable findings of great interest to the world's citizens and policymakers alike. The project, conducted by Voice of the People for the European Council on Foreign Relations and released on 25 October 2007, has discovered: openDemocracy writers track the European Union in a decisive year: Aurore Wanlin, "The European Union at fifty: a second life" (15 March 2007) Krzysztof Bobinski, "European unity: reality and myth" (21 March 2007) Frank Vibert, "The European Union in 2057" (22 March 2057) George Schőpflin, "The European Union's troubled birthday" (23 March 2007) Simon Berlaymont, "Tony Blair and Europe" (30 May 2007) Kalypso Nicolaïdis & Philippe Herzog, "Europe at fifty: towards a new single act" (21 June 2007) Michael Bruter, "European Union: from backdoor to front" (3 July 2007) Olaf Cramme, "Europe: politics or die" (17 September 2007) Kalypso Nicolaïdis & Simone Bunse, "The ‘European Union presidency': a practical compromise" (10 October 2007) Katinka Barysch & Hugo Brady, "Europe's "reform treaty": ends and beginnings" (18 October 2007) John Palmer, "Europe's higher ground" (22 October 2007) * There is widespread support for a more multipolar world and a greater role for "herbivorous powers" - countries not widely perceived as military superpowers * There is mistrust of the cold-war powers as well as Islamist-inspired Iranian autocracy. More people want to see a decline rather than an increase in the power of Russia (29% decline, 23% increase), of China (32% decline, 24% increase), of the United States (37% decline, 26% increase), and of Iran (39% decline, 14% increase). On the other hand, there is strong support for an increase in the power of fast-developing powers such as South Africa, India and Brazil (the "IBSA" countries) * The European Union is the most popular great power. Uniquely among great powers, more people across all continents want to see its power increase than decrease. This demand for more European power extends to many former European colonies * Whilst American soft power has declined, the rise of China has led to a resurgence in support for American power in Asia. Increasing Russian influence in eastern Europe is paralleled by a demand for a greater American role * Outside Europe, "the west" is still seen to some extent as a single actor: countries suspicious of American power tend also to be against EU power. In the run-up to the Iraq war, Mary Robinson called global public opinion the "second superpower". She may have exaggerated its ability to sway the decision to invade Iraq, but she was right to point to its importance as a source of legitimacy in world politics. Even in the many places where citizens cannot vote in free and fair elections, governments constantly poll the public to understand their aspirations and pre-empt them. Their findings can have an impact on decisions about war and peace and can even affect the positions they defend in institutions such as the United Nations and World Trade Organisation. Unipolar vs multipolar Who will gain and who will lose from the emergence of global public opinion as a superpower? Which of the current great powers will succeed in capturing the global imagination? The results of the 2007 edition of "Voice of the People" - the world's largest survey of public opinion in 2007, based on interviews with 57,000 people from fifty-two countries - show that more world citizens want to see an in[...]

Sleepless in Szczecin: what’s the matter with Poland?

Fri, 19 Oct 2007 17:17:07 +0000

The party of Poland's prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski is, from the evidence of the immediate pre-election opinon surveys, unlikely to emerge victorious in the parliamentary elections of 21 October 2007. Even if it does not, the appropriate frontpage headline in Le Monde in the aftermath might be a variant of its post-9/11 declaration of solidarity: "We are all Poles now". The global drama and the human damage of the two situations may be incomparable but the sense of engagement and confusion is not. Europe in these tense pre-election days in indeed painfully asking: what's the matter with Poland? Citizens of many countries In western Europe are becoming as acquainted with the bizarre circumstances of Polish politics as are their new neighbours from the large, mainly young Polish diaspora. The prospect of Jaroslaw Kaczynski's Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc (Law & Justice / PiS) winning a parliamentary majority, two years after it took office in the aftermath of the elections of September 2005, makes many people outside and inside Poland uneasy about the future of democracy in central Europe. In this period, the Kaczynski government - part of a structure of power which includes Jaroslaw's twin-brother Lech as president of Poland - has earned the disapproval of many critics: from international watchdog organisations (over its attacks on the independent judiciary and the central bank, and its infringement of the rights of ethnic and sexual minorities) to local journalists and civil-society groups (over its politicisation of state institutions and curtailment of the media's independence). The Kaczyński administration's efforts to centralise power have had damaging effects in the public and political culture as well as on social institutions. The everyday language of politics has become full of confrontation, recrimination, and accusation. In the words of the veteran dissident and forensic critic of the government, Adam Michnik, the Kaczynski coalition has employed a peculiar mix of the conservative rhetoric of George W Bush and the authoritarian political practice of Vladimir Putin. This trademark style - polarising, provocative attention-seeking - has contributed to Poland's effective (agreement on the reform treaty on 18-19 October notwithstanding) isolation in the European Union. Ivan Krastev is chair of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, Bulgaria. He served as the executive director of the International Commission on the Balkans, chaired by Giuliano Amato Also by Ivan Krastev in openDemocracy: "We are all Brits today: Timothy Garton Ash's Free World" (7 September 2004) "Ukraine and Europe: a fatal attraction" (16 December 2004) "The European Union and the Balkans: enlargement or empire?" (8 June 2005) "Russia's post-orange empire" (20 October 2005) "The new Europe: respectable populism, clockwork liberalism" (21 March 2006) "The end of the ‘freedom century'" (27 April 2006) "The energy route to Russia democracy" (13 June 2006) "Between elite and people: Europe's black hole" (4 August 2006) "'Sovereign democracy', Russian-style" (16 November 2006) "Europe's new Ostpolitik: a Polish echo" (21 December 2006) In this sense, the election-eve moment in 2007 looks even bleaker compared with 2005. The electoral victory of a populist party is bad luck for any democracy. But the re-election of a populist government - and more, of a government widely credited with a disastrous performance - would feel like more than bad luck or even bad taste. It would[...]

Russia vs Europe: the sovereignty wars

Wed, 05 Sep 2007 15:46:13 +0000

Russia's "decade of humiliation" is over. Her "still terrible thirst for greatness" is back. The new reality in Europe is the re-emergence of Russia as a great power and the end of the post-cold-war European order. So, the question is: in reality, how serious is the Russian challenge? Is Russia a rising power, or is she a declining power enjoying a temporary comeback? Is Russia a neo-imperial power aiming to dominate her weaker neighbours, or is she a post-imperial state trying to defend her legitimate interests? Does Moscow view the European Union as a strategic partner or does it view it as a threat to her ambitions in Europe? How stable is Vladimir Putin's regime, what are the Kremlin's long-term interests and short-term fears? Ivan Krastev is chair of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, Bulgaria. He served as the executive director of the International Commission on the Balkans, chaired by Giuliano Amato Also by Ivan Krastev in openDemocracy: "We are all Brits today: Timothy Garton Ash's Free World" (7 September 2004) "Ukraine and Europe: a fatal attraction" (16 December 2004) "The European Union and the Balkans: enlargement or empire?" (8 June 2005) "Russia's post-orange empire" (20 October 2005) "The new Europe: respectable populism, clockwork liberalism" (21 March 2006) "The end of the ‘freedom century'" (27 April 2006) "The energy route to Russia democracy" (13 June 2006) "Between elite and people: Europe's black hole" (4 August 2006) "'Sovereign democracy', Russian-style" (16 November 2006) "Europe's new Ostpolitik: a Polish echo" (21 December 2006) Lost in the contradictions of Russia's unexpected revival, western policymakers are torn between their desires to "talk tough" and "teach Russia a lesson" and the realisation that the west has limited capacity to influence Russia's policies. Soaring prices of gas and oil have made energy-rich Russia more powerful, less cooperative and more arrogant. The oil money that has floated the state budget has dramatically decreased the Russian state's dependence on foreign funding. Today, Russia has the third largest hard-currency reserves in the world, is running a huge current-account surplus and is paying off the last of the debts accumulated in the early 1990s. Russia's reliance on western loans has turned into Europe's reliance on Russian energy resources. The outcome is the return of "realism" in the Russia-west relationship. Increasingly, the west analyses Russia as a geopolitical and economic player and pays less and less attention to the nature of its regime and to the link between Russia's foreign policy and its domestic politics. The ideas and ideological concepts that have captured the imagination of the Russian elites are considered irrelevant. The new-born realists tend to agree that the Kremlin's foreign policy is the least ideological foreign policy in Europe due to the fact that the "people who rule Russia are the same people who own Russia". Putin's critics inside and outside Russia are inclined to dismiss the intellectual substance of the concept promoted by the Kremlin: "sovereign democracy" (see Andrei Okara, "Sovereign Democracy: A New Russian Idea or a PR Project?", Russia in Global Affairs / 2, July-September 2007). In their view "sovereign democracy" has only propaganda value; its only function is to protect the regime from western criticism and any closer st[...]

Europe's new Ostpolitik: a Polish echo

Thu, 21 Dec 2006 00:00:00 +0000

Anna Politkovskaya, the renowned Russian journalist and critic of the Kremlin, was assassinated in Moscow on 7 October 2006. Alexander Litvinenko, a former FSB agent and another foe of the Kremlin, was poisoned in London on 1 November and died twenty-two days later. Russia's defence minister proudly announced that two of the Kremlin's in-house so-called liberals - Vladimir Surkov and Dmitri Kozak - are in fact siloviki who either work or used to work for Russia's notorious military intelligence body, the GRU.  Even worse, some film critics even see a resemblance between Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, and the new James Bond: both figures are tough, enigmatic, sentimental and (apparently) ready to quit when the operation is over. Are these the elements of Russian conspiracy or syndromes of western paranoia? Could James Bond turn out to be a Russian spy at the end? More immediately, how should Europe's public make sense of the continent's growing uneasiness about Russia?Gazprom's combative policy towards European investors, Russia's pressure on Georgia, and the new Kremlin ideology of "sovereign democracy" seem further evidence of the appropriateness of a cold-war framework. What is still unknown is the nature of this cold war: how deep it goes, who is in it, what its prospects are. And if there are traces of nostalgia in its return, is the (formerly) victorious west or the defeated Russians most in its grip - or is it simply that Russia still lives in a cold-war era that the west seems to have forgotten? One way to address these questions is by posing another: where is central Europe in all this?Ivan Krastev is chair of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, Bulgaria. He served as the executive director of the International Commission on the Balkans, chaired by Giuliano Amato Also by Ivan Krastev in openDemocracy: "We are all Brits today: Timothy Garton Ash's Free World" (September 2004) "Ukraine and Europe: a fatal attraction" (December 2004) "The European Union and the Balkans: enlargement or empire?" (June 2005) "Russia post-orange empire" (October 2005) "The new Europe: respectable populism, clockwork liberalism" (March 2006) "The end of the 'freedom century'" (April 2006) "The energy route to Russian democracy" (June 2006) "'Sovereign democracy', Russian-style" (16 November 2006) The ghost of 13 December 1981 A good vantage-point to consider these pressing issues is Poland. After all, Warsaw's veto on the provisional European Union-Russia framework agreement has established the frontlines in the ongoing German-Polish diplomatic combat over the EU's policy towards Russia. An even more potent Polish dimension lies buried within current disputes, however: the international politics of the crackdown by Poland's then communist authorities on the independent Solidarity trade union on 13 December 1981.The predominant Polish view of 1981 is that (West) Germany's then Ostpolitik - the special concern and engagement with the Soviet-bloc countries to its east - betrayed Solidarity for the sake of maintaining good relations with Moscow. Today, Warsaw sees the new German Ostpolitik - symbolised by the Baltic oil pipeline that will bypass Polish territory - as evidence of historical continuity. Berlin, meanwhile, views Warsaw's hardline position on Russia as a grotesque and insane return to Ronald Reagan's policies towards the Soviet Union in a totally changed post-cold-war environment. While Poland seeks to assert its [...]

'Sovereign democracy', Russian-style

Thu, 16 Nov 2006 00:00:00 +0000

Vladimir Putin's Russia is not a trivial authoritarian state. It is not "Soviet Union lite". It is not a liberal democracy either. It is, however, a "managed democracy". The term captures the logic and the mechanisms of the reproduction of power and the way democratic institutions are used and misused to preserve the monopoly of power. But the concept of managed democracy is also insufficient. It cannot illuminate Vladimir Putin's Russia considered not as a power machine but as a political ambition. It cannot explain why Putin resists becoming president-for-life; why, unlike his central Asian colleagues, he has declared his intention to step down at the end of his second constitutional term in 2008. It cannot explain what distinguish Putin's concept of sovereign democracy and Hugo Chàvez's concept of sovereign democracy. What is missing in western attempts to make sense of Putin's Russia is an insight in the political imagination of the current political elite in Moscow. What is missing is an interest in the arguments with which the regime claims legitimacy. Carl Schmitt could be right when some fifty years ago he noted that "the victor feels no curiosity". Sovereignty, a recently published volume of ideological writings edited by Nikita Garadya presents a promising opportunity to glimpse into the political imagination of Putin's elite. The volume is a compendium of excerpts from the president's state of the union speeches, newspaper interviews with one of his possible "successors" (deputy prime minister Dmitry Medvedev), the legendary February theses of Kremlin's ideologue-in-chief Vladislav Surkov delivered in front of the activists of United Russia, and a dozen essays and interviews in the tradition of enlightened loyalism. The book's ambition is to define and develop the master-concept of Kremlin's newfound ideology: the concept of sovereign democracy. The contributors - philosophers, journalists and military strategists - are regarded as key members of Putin's ideological special forces. The unexpected presence in the book is François Guizot (1787-1874), French political philosopher and the country's prime minister in the days of the July monarchy. Guizot missed the opportunity to become a trusted member of Putin's inner circle but the decision of the editor to include excerpts from his writings on sovereignty in the volume is the real message of the book. Carl Schmitt (1888-1985) - the crown jurist of the Third Reich and the leading figure of the modern European anti-liberal tradition - is the other powerful intellectual presence that can be detected in the official philosophy of the new Russian sovereignists. His influence can be felt in many of the pages of the book but his "Nazi connection" made him unpublishable in a Kremlin-inspired book. The truth is that in comparison with the masterpieces of ideological literature such as Stalin's Short Course on the History of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks), Sovereignty is a clumsy and mediocre reading. The new Kremlin's ideologues are not philosophers but public-relations specialists. Reading their reflections on the merits of sovereign democracy is not intellectually inspiring. But a sarcastic response would be to miss the point. Sovereign democracy is an ideologically potent concept. Its ambition is not to explain the world but to change it. It succeeds in confronting Kremlin's two ideological enemies of choice: the liberal democracy of the west and the populist d[...]

Between elite and people: Europe's black hole

Thu, 03 Aug 2006 23:00:00 +0000

"New Europe" is no longer a miniature version of the United States. It has become instead "little France". In the first instance, this does not mean that east-central Europeans have suddenly shifted their romantic affections or reoriented their foreign policies. It is rather that new Europe – the bright formation designated (and championed) by Donald Rumsfeld on the eve of the Iraq war to connote the ex-communist states that were combining market economics with robust foreign-policy attitudes – more and more looks like France: messy, unhappy, unpredictable, anti-liberal, its politics dominated by left-wing populists and far-right nationalists. True, there are also differences. In France, pensioners are beneficiaries of the status quo, and so never protest; in central Europe, pensioners are the losers and so protest all the time. Moreover, in Paris almost everyone is frightened by the invasion of the fabled Polish plumber, while in Sofia or Warsaw the public is indifferent or at least less hostile to the invasion of the French banker. Ivan Krastev is chair of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, Bulgaria. He served as the executive director of the International Commission on the Balkans, chaired by Giuliano Amato Also by Ivan Krastev in openDemocracy: "We are all Brits today: Timothy Garton Ash's Free World" (September 2004) "Ukraine and Europe: a fatal attraction" (December 2004) "The European Union and the Balkans: enlargement or empire?" (June 2005) "Russia post-orange empire" (October 2005) "The new Europe: respectable populism, clockwork liberalism" (March 2006) "The end of the 'freedom century'" (April 2006) "The energy route to Russian democracy" (June 2006)Slovakia's success and failure The formation of the grand populist coalition in Poland after the elections of September-October 2005 was an early-warning signal that something strange and unexpected is taking place in central European politics. It has sounded even more loudly with the appointment on 14 July of Jaroslaw Kaczynski – twin brother of the president, Lech Kaczynski – in place of Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz as prime minister, joining Roman Giertych (minister of education) and other populists in the cabinet. The Slovak election on 17 June 2006 and the formation of a new government in Bratislava are an indication that what happened in Poland was not an accident of Polish eccentricity, but a definite trend. The cabinet formed there (and on 4 August ratified by parliament) as a result of post-election maneouvring – an unbelievable and unbearable coalition of Robert Fico's moderate populists, Jan Slota's extreme nationalists and former prime minister Vladimir Meciar's Meciarists – is an illuminating example of the new "French" revolution that is underway in central Europe. For the last eight years, Slovakia has been the European Union's favourite success story. It was as inspiring as the story of Ireland's "Celtic tiger" success, but arguably even richer in dramatic twists and surprising happy endings. First, Europe's power of attraction mobilised Slovak society and liberated the country from Meciar's authoritarian rule. Second, Mikulas Dzurinda's centre-right government – the one voted out in June – was the best government Brussels could dream of. It introduced the flat tax; it managed to attract more foreign direct investment per capita than any of its post-communist neighbours. The government was pro-European, pro-market and pro-constitution. Slovak diplomacy, under the banner of the European Union, even manage[...]

The energy route to Russian democracy

Mon, 12 Jun 2006 23:00:00 +0000

In an attempt to explain the Russian revolution to Lady Ottoline Morrell, Bertrand Russell once remarked that, appalling though Bolshevik despotism was, it seemed the right sort of government for Russia: "If you ask yourself how Fyodor Dostoevsky's characters should be governed, you will understand". In explaining the recent resurgence of authoritarianism in Russia one does not need to reread Dostoevsky or draw on the Bolshevik legacy. It is enough to take into account the rise of the price of oil. At least this is what one might think when reading the new Freedom House study Nations in Transit 2006 (released on 13 June 2006 in Berlin) that rates the democratic performance in twenty-seven countries in the European Union and its eastern neighbourhood. The study shows that the skyrocketing of oil prices in the last year has led to deteriorating governance standards, restrictions on media and the judiciary, and rising corruption in all four energy-rich countries of the former Soviet Union – Russia, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. The study is a powerful illustration of Thomas Friedman's "first law of petropolitics" formulated in Foreign Policy magazine (March/April 2006 [subscription only]). According to this law "the price of oil and the pace of freedom always move in the opposite direction in oil-rich petrolist states". It follows that the worst enemy of Russian democracy is not the Kremlin or oligarchs but the high price of oil. Ivan Krastev is chair of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, Bulgaria. He served as the executive director of the International Commission on the Balkans, chaired by Giuliano Amato Also by Ivan Krastev in openDemocracy: "We are all Brits today: Timothy Garton Ash's Free World" (September 2004) "Ukraine and Europe: a fatal attraction" (December 2004) "The European Union and the Balkans: enlargement or empire?" (June 2005) "Russia post-orange empire" (October 2005) "The new Europe: respectable populism, clockwork liberalism" (March 2006) "The end of the 'freedom century'" (April 2006) The soaring price of oil has made the energy-rich post-Soviet states more powerful, less democratic and more corrupt. The oil money that has floated the state budget dramatically decreases Russian state dependence both on foreign funding and on the taxes collected from its citizens. Russia's reliance on western credits has turned into Europe's reliance on Russian oil and gas. The result is that Russia does not want to be lectured any more; she wants to lecture. Now when the Russian government has more money than it knows how to spend, the Russian government has lost interest in improving the quality of its governance, and concentrates instead on deciding whom to buy and whom to leave in the cold. More money means larger and better client networks. But even more important – the high price of oil has given birth to a new state ideology – oil nationalism. "We, the people" has been transformed into "We, the people who have oil". The country's oil is at the core of the new Russian state identity. Oil, not history or culture, is at the heart of Russia's claim to great-power status. It is oil that makes Russians feel powerful, special and privileged. Any criticism of the government is simply dismissed as an attempt by foreigners to put their hands on Russian oil. A green revolution The combination of the "orange" fears of the elites and the new price of oil has produced a real regime change in Russia. In less than two decades Russia has been transformed from a commu[...]

The end of the "freedom century"

Wed, 26 Apr 2006 23:00:00 +0000

The historical arc that reaches from the end of the cold war to the launch of the "war on terror" and the invasion of Iraq has created new uncertainties and arguments among intellectuals as well as nation-states and their publics. A fascinating aspect of this collision of ideas and power – which encompasses a new field of foreign-policy discussion about neo-conservatism, realism, liberal interventionism, armed force, civil society, and "democracy promotion" – is the way that it has supplemented older divisions between friends and enemies with fresh lines separating friends from ex-friends. Everywhere, it seems, people are settling accounts with the past (including their own); everywhere, the sense of the end of a geopolitical cycle and the dawn of a new, more complex and challenging one is pervasive. The controversy in Britain over the publication by a group of liberal-left thinkers of the "Euston Manifesto" is just one indication of a wider, international rethinking and repositioning on a cluster of related issues: United States policy after 9/11, the Iraq war, radical Islam and the Enlightenment inheritance, the nature of democracy itself and whether and how it should be "exported". Two new books offer revealing reflections of this current intellectual condition. Yet Paul Berman's book-length essay Power and the Idealists and Francis Fukuyama's policy proposal America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power and the Neoconservative Legacy also bring to mind C Wright Mills's insightful observation that it is difficult to define a problem until we know whose problem it is. For three years after the US invasion in Iraq, a prominent pro-war liberal (Berman) and one of the few anti-war neocons (Fukuyama) are in ostensibly puzzling agreement that the age both of humanitarian interventionism and of democracy-promotion and global civil society are effectively over. What explains this agreement, and what follows? Ivan Krastev is chair of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, Bulgaria. He served as the executive director of the International Commission on the Balkans, chaired by Giuliano Amato Also by Ivan Krastev in openDemocracy: "We are all Brits today: Timothy Garton Ash's Free World"(September 2004) "Ukraine and Europe: a fatal attraction" (December 2004) "The European Union and the Balkans: enlargement or empire?" (June 2005) "Russia post-orange empire" (October 2005) "The new Europe: respectable populism, clockwork liberalism" (March 2006) The return of realism The reasons for the authors' pessimism are evident. The experience of Iraq – the United States's failure to find the much-vaunted weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the tortures at Abu Ghraib, the signals of civil war in Baghdad (as well as the prospect of an extension of war to Iran) – has made even the true believers highly sceptical of revived democracy-promoting Wilsonianism of the sort proclaimed by George W Bush's State of the Union address in 2004. Moreover, as Americans themselves lose faith with the Bush project, global opinion polls indicate that the US's "soft power" is in decline and anti-Americanism is on the rise around the world. The "cartoon wars" that shook Europe and the middle east in February 2006, mobilising (in Faisal Devji's argument) a new "global Islam" that contests liberal democracy's self-understanding, sent a warning that worse was to come. In the context of such worrisome developments, it is not surprising that a Kissinger-style foreign-policy realism is[...]

The new Europe: respectable populism, clockwork liberalism

Tue, 21 Mar 2006 00:00:00 +0000

Populism is on the rise all over Europe. Populist parties of left and right are winning more votes than ever. A populist Zeitgeist helped fuel the "no" votes in France (29 May) and the Netherlands (1 June) that killed the European constitution in 2005. Moreover, a populist agenda is prevailing at the centre of many countries' national politics, and establishment parties are trying their best to recapture the outright populists' themes and messages. If the trend is Europe-wide, the capital of the new populism is central Europe. The populist party Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc (Law & Justice) won the October 2005 parliamentary elections in Poland; a populist party is expected to win in Slovakia in June; and populists are on the rise in Bulgaria. A populist style is ascendant in most of the other post-communist countries. The magic formula of the populists' success is not a secret. It consists of ten elements: authentic anger unrestrained hatred of the elites policy vagueness economic egalitarianism cultural conservatism compassionate radicalism measured euroscepticism and anti-capitalism declared nationalism undeclared xenophobia anti-corruption rhetoric. This is the new, electoral version of the Molotov cocktail. The mystery is why liberals are not really worried, scared or even outraged about the prospect of populists winning power. They are a bit ashamed, quite uncomfortable, somewhat nervous – but not really worried. Liberals' sanguine attitude towards populism is very similar to their attitude towards prostitution – it is low and dishonest, it is inevitable and it could also be a lot of fun. Have liberals simply lost their ability to be outraged, or is there another explanation for their complacency? In examining the problem more closely, five possible explanations for liberals' silence in the face of the populist wave come to mind. First, the problem could be that liberals simply have lost their language. Liberals spent the last decade locked in the assumption that democracy and liberalism are identical twins, and expended much of their energy attacking their enemies for being undemocratic. This worked against communists and religious fundamentalists, but it does not work with populists. Second, it could be that democracy and populism are difficult to distinguish – as difficult, it might be said, as distinguishing between the new Polish president Lech Kaczynski and his twin brother and party leader Jaroslaw when they wear the same tie. Third, it could be that liberals were simply unable to challenge the appeal of populism on the ground of democracy itself. In current media debate, the term "populism" is used in two senses: referring either to an emotional, simplistic and manipulative discourse that is directed at people's "gut feelings", or to opportunistic policies aimed at "buying" people's support. But an appeal to people's passions is not forbidden in democratic politics, and the decision over which policies are "populist" and which "sound" is open to debate (as Ralf Dahrendorf noted, "one man's populism is another's democracy, and vice versa"). Thus, unless we perform a Brechtian gesture and abolish the people, populism is and will remain a part of the European political landscape. In this sense, it could be the very democratic nature of populism that renders liberals silent. Ivan Krastev is chair of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, Bulgaria. He served as the executive director of the International Commission on the[...]

Russia's post-orange empire

Wed, 19 Oct 2005 23:00:00 +0000

“The political personality of Soviet power as we know it today”, George Kennan wrote in his now famous “Mr X” long telegram of February 1946, “is the product of ideology and circumstances.” The political personality of Russian power as we know it today, in October 2005, is the product of a lack of ideology and…circumstances. The devil is in the circumstances. The “orange triumphalism” in the west that followed the regime changes in Georgia and Ukraine perceives the decline of Russia’s influence in the post-Soviet space as irreversible. The only relevant questions for the democratic triumphalists nowadays are how many more weeks Alexander Lukashenko can survive in power in Minsk and where the next “colour revolution” will take place. Ivan Krastev is chair of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, Bulgaria. He served as the executive director of the International Commission on the Balkans, chaired by Giuliano Amato Also by Ivan Krastev in openDemocracy: “We are all Britis today: Timothy Garton Ash’s Free World” (September 2004) “Ukraine and Europe: a fatal attraction” (December 2004) “The European Union and the Balkans: enlargement or empire?” (June 2005) If you find this material valuable please consider supporting openDemocracy by sending us a donation so that we can continue our work and keep it free for all In my view this single-scenario approach is an exercise in wishful non-thinking that underestimates the vulnerability of the newest “new democracies” and neglects Russia’s strategic drive to transform itself from a status-quo power into a revisionist power on the territory of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Could it be that Vladimir Putin’s Russia will emerge as the greatest beneficiary of the colour revolutions and “new Europe” is the biggest loser in the mid-term? There are convincing signs that Russia is adopting a “support for democracy” approach and has begun investing in the development of an NGO infrastructure as the major instruments for destabilising pro-western governments and regaining influence in places like Ukraine. Three factors contribute to the emergence of a dramatically new situation in the post-Soviet space, composed of three elements: high energy prices, especially oil the crisis of the European Union’s “soft power” in the aftermath of the French and Dutch rejections of the European constitution the impact of Ukraine’s orange revolution on Russia’s political thinking. First, the current energy crisis creates a perfect opportunity for Russia to transform itself from a defunct military superpower into a new energy superpower. Moscow’s favourable oil prices have given the Russian government the financial resources and international influence to launch an active foreign policy in its blizhneye zarubezhiye (“near abroad”). Second, the impact of the European Union constitutional crisis on Brussels’ neighbours is not difficult to predict. The emergence of a de facto post-enlargement EU closed to the membership aspirations of Ukrainians, Georgians, Moldovans or Belarussians creates a space for Russia’s soft power and reduces the attractiveness of the “Europeanisation” option. Third, and least understood, is that the orange revolution in Ukraine was Russia’s 9/11: it has had a revolu[...]

The European Union and the Balkans: enlargement or empire?

Tue, 07 Jun 2005 23:00:00 +0000

A crisis is approaching in the Balkans that is both dangerous and timely. What makes it dangerous is the fact that the European public is totally unaware of it. What makes it timely is the fact that this is the crisis that the European Union badly needs at the moment. In the aftermath of the French and Dutch rejections of the European constitution it is in the Balkans where the referendum on the credibility of the EU will take place. It is in the Balkans that the EU should either demonstrate that its transformative power can work in regions where states are weak and societies are divided or it will sink into irrelevance. The Balkans is the make-or-break test for the union. The EU can survive the premature death of its constitution but the EU cannot survive a new Srebrenica. Also in openDemocracy’s “Europe: after the constitution” debate: Theo Veenkamp, Kirsty Hughes, Mats Engström, Aurore Wanlin, John Palmer, Dan O’Brien, Krzysztof Bobinski, Gwyn Prins, Neal Ascherson and Frank Vibert draw lessons from the French and Dutch campaigns. If you find this material valuable, please consider supporting openDemocracy by sending us a donation A fracture zone The outburst of violence in Kosovo in March 2004 failed to capture Europe’s attention. The international community has decided to trivialise the disruption and not focus public attention on it. In comparison with the other international nation-building sites like Iraq and Afghanistan, the Balkans looked like a success story and nobody was in a mood to challenge this success. Unfortunately the border between failure and success is the least guarded border in the postmodern world. And diplomats are the worst border guards. We can hope that the wars are over in the Balkans, but the smell of violence still hangs heavy in the air. What we face in the region is not the prospect of a new Balkan war but a nasty combination of state failures and small criminal wars. The region’s profile is bleak – a mixture of weak states and international protectorates, where Europe has stationed almost half of its deployable forces. Economic growth in these territories is low or non-existent; unemployment is high; corruption is pervasive; and the public is pessimistic and distrustful towards its nascent democratic institutions. Criminalisation of politics in the Balkan states and statelets goes hand-in-hand with the internalisation of the criminal networks. The international community has invested enormous sums of money, goodwill and human resources here. It has put twenty-five times more money and fifty times more troops on a per capita basis in post-conflict Kosovo than in post-conflict Afghanistan. But despite the scale of the assistance effort in the Balkans, the international community has failed to offer a convincing political perspective to the societies in the region. The future of Kosovo is undecided, the future of Macedonia is uncertain, and the future of Serbia is unclear. We run the real risk of an explosion of Kosovo, an implosion of Serbia and new fractures in the foundations of Bosnia and Macedonia. The report of the International Commission on the Balkans makes clear that the real choice the EU is facing in the Balkans is enlargement or empire. Either the EU devises a bold strategy for accession that could encompass all Balkan countries as new members within the next decade, or it will become mired instead as a neo[...]

Ukraine and Europe: a fatal attraction

Thu, 16 Dec 2004 00:00:00 +0000

After three tumultuous weeks in Ukraine, it seems overwhelmingly likely that the opposition candidate in the presidential election, Viktor Yushchenko, will be voted president of the republic after the re-run, third round on 26 December 2004. What remains unclear is which party will be more frustrated by such an outcome: Russia, because of the defeat of her protégé Viktor Yanukovych and her “near-abroad policy”, or most European Union governments because of the victory of the pro-European Yushchenko. If you find our coverage of Ukraine’s democratic revolution unique and valuable, please subscribe for £2/$3/€3 a month and access more of openDemocracy For events in Ukraine have revealed an extraordinary paradox: that the European Union is a revolutionary power able to overthrow undemocratic regimes – and that this is exactly what EU is afraid to be. This historic moment in Kyiv (Kiev), Lviv, and other centres across Ukraine emphasise that the EU can exert transformative force even while a majority of its member-states are committed to preserving the status quo. The thousands of people occupying Independence Square in Kiev since the fraudulent results of the second round of voting were declared on 21 November – demonstrating, standing, sleeping, and (some at least) falling in love – have made irrelevant both Vladimir Putin’s dream to consolidate Russia’s sphere of influence on the territory of most of the former Soviet Union, and the feverish desire of the Berlin-Paris axis to draw the final borders of the European Union. In the aftermath of a Yushchenko victory, it is feasible that Russia will continue to press for a partitioned or at least federalised Ukraine – and that European leaders will be forced in response to declare that the door of the union is in principle open to a united Ukraine. This is exactly what makes so many of them deeply unhappy: for the “orange revolution” has shown that the EU’s “soft power” – the ability to mobilise and empower people, to inspire their imagination, to effect change via civic example not superior physical force – itself derives from its soft, shifting, borders. In this context, comparisons between Ukraine today and central Europe in 1989 are exciting but misleading. The aesthetics are identical, the slogans are similar, people look alike, but the difference is profound. The citizens of Warsaw, Prague, Budapest and Leipzig took to the streets in 1989 demanding a “return to Europe”, where “Europe” stood for the west and the pre-communist past – not the (then) European Community. In 2004, “Europe” means aspiration not return, model not protection, future not past – the European Union. Thus, the “orange revolution” in Kiev is not the last of Europe’s “velvet revolutions” of the late 20th century. It is rather the first of the EU-inspired revolutions of the 21st century. In 1989, in many aspects, Europe was also America. The streets reverberated with American songs, the crowd waved American flags and the American dream was a significant component of the “return-to-Europe” revolutions. The 2004 “orange revolution” is both more realistic and stronger: it demands not just the destruction of the “Kiev wall” that Russia seeks to build within Ukraine and bet[...]

We are all Brits today: Timothy Garton Ash's 'Free World'

Mon, 06 Sep 2004 23:00:00 +0000

The world of a London bookstore can seem to the visitor as mysterious and rivalrous as the world of global politics. The shelves seem torn between passion and fashion, between classics and (university) classes, between the order of the alphabet and the order of demand. The arrangement of the “current affairs” section, for example, reveals more about the ideological temptations of rank–and–file intellectuals and other readers of last resort than a dozen opinion polls. To guess what the politics of the day is, it is enough to spy on whether the books on the American war in Vietnam are assigned to the history section or exposed in the current politics area. But the most especially revealing display is the politics of the shelf arrangement of “global books”. For sure, the usual suspects dominate the scene in apparent mutual contentment: Joseph Stiglitz’s Globalization and Its Discontents faces Robert Kagan’s Of Paradise and Power, Robert Cooper’s The Breaking of Nations neighbours Zbigniew Brzezinski’s The Choice: global domination or global leadership, and the new edition of Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations conceals from sight an older copy of Thomas Friedman’s The Lexus and the Olive Tree. But this peaceful coexistence is deceptive. As in a real civil war, new arrivals are forced to take sides and join the battle. A new title can be regarded as either an anti–American or anti–European “warrior”; a “therapeutic” expert in trivialising or triangulating current crises; a “prophet” or a “bridge–builder”. Also in openDemocracy, Stephen Howe’s incisive overview of the intellectual career of Niall Ferguson, partisan historian of British and American empire; see “An Oxford Scot at King Dubya’s court: Niall Ferguson’s Colossus” (July 2004) Who is winning the bibliographic war? At present, the media is flooded with quotes by the warriors; political leaders are busy agreeing with the therapists; the general public is in love with the prophets; and everybody is angry with the bridge–builders. In the eyes of the public, the bridge–building literature is a strange mixture of old–fashioned utopianism, newborn nostalgia for the cold war west and remnants of political common sense. So, when bridges are either being burnt or regarded as boring, when readers are in search of warriors and prophets, it is a controversial strategy to write such a book. But this is exactly what Timothy Garton Ash has done with Free World: why a crisis of the West reveals an opportunity of our time. In his case the risk turned out to be well–calculated because this celebrated historian of the present has two enormous advantages in comparison with most of the other bridge–building authors: his writing is clear and powerful and he has a project. The outcome is a book that reads like a history of the future, a future that might not necessarily come. Timothy Garton Ash’s ability to write a readable and influential book is no surprise. If history decided to summon a single witness to testify to what happened in Europe in 1989 this Oxford historian would be our ultimate choice. He is the one who could walk in the ruins of the Berlin wall on 9 November 1989 and modestly confess that “we were all Berline[...]