The CSS Blog Network

Unholy Alliance: Kleptocratic Authoritarians and their Western Enablers

Blood money

Courtesy ccmerino/flickr

This article was originally published by World Affairs in July 2016.

It is widely understood that corruption is a pervasive problem in many societies and undermines public confidence in the political system and government institutions. The scourge of corruption is generally viewed as a symptom of a larger problem of the failure of judicial, media, and other institutions of accountability in new or developing democracies. In kleptocracies, which is the term used to designate “government by thieves,” corruption is the lifeblood of the system and therefore the heart of the problem.

Karen Dawisha, the author of Putin’s Kleptocracy and one of the foremost experts on this issue, makes the observation that “in kleptocracies risk is nationalized and rewards are privatized.” Participation in the spoils of kleptocracy is organized and controlled by top political elites, who raid state resources with immunity and impunity. Whistleblowers, investigative journalists, and others who seek to expose corrupt practices become targets of law enforcement and are treated as enemies of the state.

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Democracy and Democracies in Crisis

Political Process

Courtesy of Amir Jina / Flickr.CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This article was originally published by World Affairs on 22 November 2016.

Democracy today is facing greater challenges than at any time since the fall of communism a quarter of a century ago; greater than at any time, in fact, since the dark days of the 1970s when Daniel Patrick Moynihan, writing on the occasion of the U.S. bicentennial in 1976, said that “democracy is where the world was, not where the world is going.”

In retrospect, we know something that Moynihan couldn’t have known at the time—that the fall of the military government in Portugal in 1974 and Franco’s death in Spain the following year had initiated what Samuel Huntington was later to call “the third wave of democratization,” which was the most far-reaching process of democratic transition in the history of the world.

It’s always possible that the current moment of democratic gloom conceals factors that could give rise to dramatic democratic progress in the years ahead. But we are now faced with a crisis of democracy of grave proportions, and it remains to be seen if our country can rise to the challenge. This crisis has three dimensions.

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Four Trends That Could Put the Democratic Peace at Risk

US Flag

Courtesy AK Rockefeller/Flickr

This article was originally published by Political Violence @ a Glance on 14 October 2016.

Political scientists generally agree that democracies have a foreign policy advantage, particularly when it comes to conflict. Democracies – at least when compared to autocracies – make more credible threats, fight less, and win more.

There’s a lot more debate about why this might be the case, but in research with Matt Baum I argue that it comes down to institutional constraints. Free and fair elections are fine and well, but unless political opposition and an informed public are up to the task of forcing leaders to be responsive, the democratic advantage fades away. Driving the point home, some autocracies are so institutionalized that they effectively constrain leaders and, when they do, those countries look more like democracies in their conflict behavior and outcomes.

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The Right to Decide: Exit and Basque Self-Determination

Basque Country Needs You

Basque Country Needs You. Credit: Iker Merodio via Flickr

This article was originally published by the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) on 28 June 2016.

Five years ago, the Basque militant group ETA (Basque Homeland and Freedom) announced a unilateral and permanent cessation of operations. Since then, the disappearance of political violence has given rise to a new debate on Basque nationhood: more inclusive, more open, more civic, and at the same time stronger in its affirmation of the legitimacy of popular sovereignty and the democratic demand to exercise ‘the right to decide’, as against the earlier radicalism of immediate independence.

A new book edited by Pedro Ibarra Güell and Åshild Kolås, Basque Nationhood Towards a Democratic Scenario, takes stock of the contemporary re-imagining of Basque nationhood in both Spain and France. Taking a fresh look at the history of Basque nationalist movements, it explores new debates that have emerged since the demise of non-state militancy. Alongside analysis of local transformations, the book also describes the impacts of a pan-European (if not global) rethinking of self-determination, or ‘the right to decide’.

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Enver Hoxha: The Lunatic Who Took Over the Asylum

arge grafiti art in "the block", downtown tirana, albania.

This article was originally published by openDemocracy on 15 March 2016.

Enver Hoxha: The Iron Fist of Albania tells the extraordinary story of how one man held an entire country hostage for 40 years – and got away with it.

Between 1944 and 1985, the small Balkan nation of Albania was ruled by a strange, sociopathic and, frankly, completely mad dictator by the name of Enver Hoxha. While Stalinism effectively ended in Europe with the death of its namesake, or at least with the Khruschev reforms that followed, it continued unabated and unquestioned in Albania until 1990.

When Hoxha died in 1985, Albania was officially the third poorest country in the world, with the GNP of a small town and an average income of 15 USD a month. Four decades of collectivisation had led to near starvation in the countryside, where Hoxha’s aggressive isolationism meant people were still using farming technology from the 1920s. When the regime finally collapsed a few years after Hoxha’s death, it left behind a tired, hungry, confused and fearful population.

As Albanians marched towards democracy, like proverbial moles blinking into the sunlight, few had the time or will to reflect upon the man who had ruled them with unimaginable cruelty for over four decades.

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