On 8 January 2020, Turkey and Russia sought to broker a cease-fire between warring factions in Libya, calling on both sides to resume negotiations and end this new phase of the conflict raging since April 2019. While the cease-fire remained a dead letter, with talks moving to the international conference in Berlin, the effort underscored Moscow’s and Ankara’s growing influence in the country, with each actively supporting opposing sides in Libya.
This article was originally published by the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and the Silk Road Studies Program on 10 May 2017.
Turkey and Russia have recently both turned to an aggrieved nativism that delegitimizes democratic opposition. This nativism is nationalist, anti-elitist, protectionist, revanchist/irredentist, xenophobic and “macho”. Despite three decades of post-Cold War transition both countries have failed to be at peace with themselves; have not been able to adjust to their neighboring regions and come to terms with their respective histories.
Background: The world political order is under great duress. From Russia to India, Turkey to Hungary, Poland to Great Britain and France – and most recently in the United States – populist and authoritarian politics is making a strong comeback. Liberal democracy is no longer “on the march” while the once famously prophesized “end of history” now seems to be a very distant prospect. Pluralist, centrist and moderate politics are on the defensive. What we have at hand is a nativist wave, a reaction against roughly three decades of intense globalization.
A new “aggrieved nativism” that is thoroughly opposed to liberal values such as pluralism, freedom of expression and minority rights is appealing to majorities in many countries. Turkey and Russia are two prominent examples of this international trend. Populism, authoritarianism bordering on dictatorship, virulent nationalism imbued with a distinct contempt for liberal values has gained traction among the electorate in these two countries.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
At the beginning of the century, the spread of the internet, satellite television, and other media technologies was expected to break down old monopolies and political boundaries, making it nearly impossible for those in power to control what people read, watch, and hear.
Digital media have indeed expanded around the world at lightning speed in the years since, reaching populations that previously received news only from state broadcasters.
Nevertheless, press freedom worldwide deteriorated to its lowest point in 13 years in 2016, according to Freedom House’s latest annual report. Just 13 percent of the world’s population lives in countries whose media environments are ranked as fully “free.”
What the optimists failed to take into account was that forces interested in maintaining control over news and political discourse would not simply accept the inevitability of their own demise, but would fight back and look for new opportunities to increase their dominance.
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.
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.