Freedom at Issue:

Insights on the global struggle for democracy

February 2012

Ilya Kunitski

When Belarus’s authoritarian ruler, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, goes to ski in Russia, it is rarely just for a nice vacation. The southern Russian resort town of Sochi, planned site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, is a favored spot for Belarusian and Russian officials to gather and discuss bilateral relations in a relaxing setting. Lukashenka’s trip to Sochi last month was no exception, with official Belarusian media duly reporting that his time on the slopes would be combined with a working visit.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is heading to Capitol Hill this week to defend the administration's funding and policy priorities for the next year, which should make for some interesting discussion given the variety of serious issues facing U.S. policymakers. The fiscal year (FY) 2013 State and Foreign Operations Budget, which includes the State Department, USAID, and support for international organizations, was released on February 13 as part of the complete budget request, though full details on many programs will not be made public until next month. As Secretary Clinton appears before the House and Senate foreign relations and appropriations committees, Freedom House would like to see a robust exploration of the administration's foreign policy goals, including its plans to support human rights and democratic development.

Tyler Roylance

Last week, Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin published an article—in the business newspaper Kommersant and, in shortened form, in the Washington Post—on the topic of “democracy and the quality of government.” Skeptical readers may scoff at the idea, but the fact that the Russian leadership devoted time and resources to the piece makes it worth investigating.

Brendan Harrison

As Senegal prepares for a pivotal presidential election on February 26, some citizens and outside observers are weighing the possibility of a popular uprising akin to last year’s Arab Spring revolts, with large numbers of Senegalese taking to the streets in defense of their political rights. Another, even more troubling scenario would entail a violent postelection standoff between the entrenched incumbent and forces loyal to his would-be successor, as occurred a year ago in Côte d’Ivoire. The fact that such outcomes are even being discussed illustrates how far Senegal has fallen under the stewardship of President Abdoulaye Wade, who is seeking a third term in office.

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet today with Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev to sign a strategic agreements focused on energy and raw materials. Merkel, whose country has been cultivating access to Kazakhstan’s natural resources for some time, is not likely to devote much of the discussion to her guest’s domestic troubles. Nazarbayev prefers to present Kazakhstan as an eager business partner, committed to its international obligations and open to gradual reforms, and foreign governments and companies often have an economic interest in accepting this image at face value. However, recent events suggest that popular frustration with the country’s authoritarian system is becoming more difficult to ignore.

E. P. Licursi

Since its foundation in 1923, the Republic of Turkey has endured three military coups against democratically elected governments, in 1960, 1971, and 1980. A fourth military intervention—in the form of an ultimatum—brought down a coalition government led by the Islamist Refah Partisi (Welfare Party) in 1997. Since 2002, however, the Adelet ve Kalkına Partisi (Justice and Development Party, or AKP) has consolidated power, offering a platform of political conservatism with an Islamic bent and neoliberal economic development that has garnered unprecedented popular support.

Vukasin Petrovic

The progress that sub-Saharan Africa has achieved in building democracy over the past generation is coming undone. After two decades of significant gains, the continent has experienced a steady decline in democracy over the last several years.

Writing on the revolutions of Central Europe in the New York Review of Books two decades ago, scholar Timothy Garton Ash made the observation that “the crucial medium was television. In Europe, at the end of the twentieth century all revolutions are telerevolutions.”                                                                                                          
Today, one could argue that all revolutions, at least in their nascent stages, are social media revolutions. However, this does not mean that television has been tossed onto the ash heap of history. In fact, in settings where the state retains dominance over television, it is in many ways functioning as a counterrevolutionary medium.