Tuesday, December 21, 2004

What am I missing here? 

I continue to read critiques of the U.S. role in Ukrainian elections. The New York Times carries a news analysis today. I have trouble understanding the claim that these expenditures constitute meddling. If it is right to promote democracy in Afghanistan, then it cannot be wrong in Ukraine as well, can it? USAID offered to spend $10 million on election observation (of course, it was up to the Yanukovych government to accept the grant and work with USAID.) Is that money wrongly spent?

Michael McFaul thinks not:
Did Americans meddle in the internal affairs of Ukraine? Yes. The American agents of influence would prefer different language to describe their activities -- democratic assistance, democracy promotion, civil society support, etc. -- but their work, however labeled, seeks to influence political change in Ukraine. The U.S. Agency for International Development, the National Endowment for Democracy and a few other foundations sponsored certain U.S. organizations, including Freedom House, the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, the Solidarity Center, the Eurasia Foundation, Internews and several others to provide small grants and technical assistance to Ukrainian civil society. The European Union, individual European countries and the Soros-funded International Renaissance Foundation did the same.
The grants from USAID and NED are subject to a competitive bidding process (I know because I've been on bids for contracts for economic assistance from USAID, including the one that sent me to Ukraine in 1995-96). There is some cooperation between programs, as USAID projects often include different contractors meeting with USAID officials to discuss strategies to promote USAID goals, but there is also a fair bit of competition to get future contracts. And, as McFaul notes, these promotional groups often spread seed on fallow ground.
The combination of a weak, divided and corrupt ancien r�gime and a united, mobilized and highly motivated opposition produced Ukraine's democratic breakthrough. Westerners did not create or control the Ukrainian democratic movement but rather supported its cause on the margins. Moreover, democracy promotion groups do not have a recipe for revolution. If the domestic conditions aren't ripe, there will be no democratic breakthrough, no matter how crafted the technical assistance or how strategically invested the small grants. In fact, Western democracy promoters work in most developing democracies in the world, yet democratic transitions are rare.
I was contemplating this thought a couple of nights ago while reading the latest Imprimis, in which Charles Kessler from Claremont McKenna College -- I had the pleasure of working on the same floor with Charles, Jack Pitney and fellow visitor James Ceaser at CMC in 1988-89; they treat economists remarkably well -- about the difficulties the Bush administration face in their promotion of democracy.

It is, of course, very heartening to see elections in Afghanistan, with thousands upon thousands lining up to vote. But democracy is not just a matter of elections. Democracy requires that majorities accept and protect individual rights, observe due process of law, respect free speech and free exercise of religion, protect private property and observe the obligation of contracts. These tasks, in turn, require a willingness to trust one�s fellow citizens that comes very hard to tribal societies who are unused to trusting anyone who is not at least a cousin of some sort. That�s a hard thing to say, but it is true. How do you persuade people who are used to trusting only members of their extended families or clans to trust strangers who, in an electoral process in a democratic system, will be voting for laws that will affect their interests? How do you get them to trust people who are not related to them or not known to them in some intimate and familiar way? How do you introduce them to the idea of being fellow citizens?

That too is a problem in Ukraine, though certainly not to the extent that it is in places like Iraq. The story is far more complex that east-west, what with post-WW2 annexations, Cossacks and Tatars and Volga Germans and the like. But as McFaul noted, the opposition was motivated: whether or not it was the Georgian example or the Gongadze murder or the Melnychenko tapes is a question to be left for my political scientist friends. It certainly is a corrupt place, but it takes more than that to turn people towards democracy. If the U.S. is guilty of spreading seeds that changed the election towards a fuller expression of popular will, it should cop to the plea. Those who will seek to pass sentence will stand as impediments to freedom.

(UPDATE: See also this analysis comparing the uprisings in Georgia, Serbia, and Ukraine.)

[Top]