The Transition is Over

“Transition to democracy” was one of the European politics geek’s terms of art ever since 1989; there’s even an AFOE category devoted to transition and accession to the EU. According to Tim Garton Ash, one of his old dissident friends kept a large file of documents under the rubric “TD”; he suggested, wisely, that it ought to have been TC, for “Transition from Communism”. There’s even Transitions Online.

The transition is over. It’s now clear that even the aspiration for it in Russia is dead; the “administrative resources” are now aiming for a one-party Duma. TOL itself is more optimistic; they reckon there is a chance for a significant Communist revival, which would at least mean the opposition was a real, existing political party. However, who can do anything but laugh at the thought of e-voting in Russia? E-voting everywhere else in the world has been bad enough, and its well-publicised fiascos will deaden any criticism of Russia’s version.

It’s the end of an era. Earlier this week, I watched a BBC documentary about the shutdown of the BBC World Service’s programmes in Central and Eastern Europe; a whole microculture of Polish and Bulgarian broadcasters in West London signing off. They, of course, can claim that it’s mission accomplished, especially as the Kazcynski Kidz lost the elections.

The next point to watch here is the fate of the OSCE, and specifically its office of democratic institutions and human rights; Putin has promised to “reform” it. (As you know, Bob, AFOE hates the word “reform”.) It should be pretty clear what “reform” will consist of; a dictators’ club veto on publishing anything critical. This is something that badly wants watching, as I doubt there is much political will in the West to keep it going.

If we want to take the EU as a magnet for democracy, peace, and other good stuff – basic norms of civilised behaviour – ODIHR needs either support, or else to be transferred into the competence of the European Union, safe from post-Soviet vetoes or US fiddling.

One thought on “The Transition is Over

  1. Your last paragraph struck me, as some of the opposition against the strengthening of the EU’s human rights instruments (the Charter on, and the Agency for, Fundamental Rights) was founded on the argument that it could undermine the Council of Europe’s Court of Human Rights’ position and clout. Because if the EU would start handling most or practically all of its own human rights cases through its own institutions, the inevitable result is that an even larger share of the cases handled by the Council of Europe would have to do with Russia and the rest of Eastern Europe. It would definitely strengthen the case of those on the Russian side who argue the Court’s efforts are “unbalanced” because it handles fewer cases from Western Europe.

    Diplomacy (which is all the Court is about, after all) is always a matter of being able to give as well as take, in order to give the other side the opportunity to grudgingly accept something unwanted without losing too much face.

    The same case can be made for the OSCE and its ODIHR. Which means ODIHR needs to be strengthened and kept in the OSCE, much rather than moving it to the EU.

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