Interview: “Illiberalism was born out of post-Communist trauma”

Stephen Holmes, is a Professor of Law at the NYU School of Law, New York and co-author, together with Ivan Krastev, of The Light That Failed. A Reckoning published in October by Allen Lane (an imprint of Penguin Books). In a work of startlingly original political psychology, two pre-eminent intellectuals propose that the post-1989 world order has been characterised by 30 years of what they call The Age of Imitation – a period of Western democratisation in which Eastern European values would be bent to the liberal fiscal, cultural and moral politics of “integration”.

State capture is a joint venture, not a solo act: informal networks and democratic state building

By Veronica Anghel | Bologna

In assessing the state of liberal democracy in contemporary Europe, significant scholarly and public attention has been paid to the role of leaders. Post-Communist countries in particular are often the focus of scholars who announce a ‘democratic backsliding’ engineered by populist ‘strongmen’. This article suggests that in consolidating EU democracies, such attention is disproportionate in reference to the actual de-democratising effect of the emerging ‘strongmen’. It draws attention to the systemic conditions that allow such leaders to surface, and focuses on state capture (the extraction of private benefits from the state by incumbent officeholders) as a joint-venture practice that precedes and outlives individual political lives and acts as a brake on further democratisation.

With the Benefit of Hindsight: Lessons from Five Pooled Funds to Support Civil Society

By Barry Gaberman, Merrill Sovner, and William Moody| New York

The 1990s ushered in an era of widespread governmental support for liberal democracy and an opportunity to build civil society in countries where there had long been a dearth of public space separate from government control. There was optimism bordering on euphoria, and a general belief that liberal democracy was the model of the future. This was an environment in which outside funders saw an opportunity to have an impact and were willing to seize that opportunity, even though their expertise in the region might have been modest in the beginning.

The ambivalence of the Zelensky presidency

By Andreas Umland | Kiev

Many political experts both in and outside Ukraine have reacted negatively or very negatively to the meteoric political rise of Ukrainian comedian Volodymyr Zelensky. Indeed, Zelensky’s presidency could prove problematic in various ways. His 2019-2024 term as Ukraine’s head of state may prove to be an even more ambivalent enterprise than those of the other two top contenders in this year’s presidential elections, the opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko and the former president Petro Poroshenko, would have been. Still, for all the apt scepticism, there is also – as in the case of certain positive aspects of Tymoshenko’s and Poroshenko’s unsuccessful bids for president – a bright side to Zelensky’s victory. One can identify at least three major risky or negative, but also three relatively encouraging dimensions of his rule.

Orbán as an export product– and the high demand in South-East Europe!

Interview Dimitar Bechev (North Carolina)

Interview with Dimitar Bechev, research fellow at the Center for Slavic, Eurasian, and East European Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and non- resident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council. In 2017, he published “Rival Power. Russia’s Influence in South- East Europe” at Yale University Press.

Exploring Putin’s strategic narrative

By Iulia-Sabina Joja | Berlin

Russia’s foreign policy is President Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy. It’s a one- man show. This is partially due to the super-presidential system of the country. However, it is also a one-man show because Vladimir Putin himself, now in his fourth term, has a firm grip on his country and a strong vision for foreign policy. Hence, when endeavouring to scrutinise Russian foreign policy, we have to analyse Putin’s discourse and actions.