What happens in the Black Sea does not stay in the Black Sea. The region’s status as a crossroad linking Europe, Asia, and the Middle East is its most important advantage—and its greatest risk. It is the region with the highest density of protracted conflicts. Civil wars causing major migration flows are occurring at its doorstep. Disruptive security challenges in the Black Sea ripple immediately into Europe’s core, Russia, the Caucasus, and the Middle East. Security and stability in the Black Sea are crucial for the Balkans, Russia, the Levant, and Central Asia.
Since 1989, popular demands and large-scale protests in Eastern Europe helped to successfully topple communist regimes, usually with support from long-standing anti-communist civil society stakeholders. Every Eastern European country has since made significant advances in creating and strengthening its democratic institutions. Many, such as Poland, Lithuania, and (most recently) Croatia, became members of the European Union and NATO. Those still struggling—Albania, Serbia, Macedonia, and Moldova, for example—still see membership in the EU as the pinnacle of their democratic projects.
But upheavals over the past year are challenging many pre-existing notions about protest, democratization, the robustness of civil society, and paths to post-communist transition. Unlike the revolutions of 1989, which focused on such unassailable issues as democracy, human rights, and civic freedoms, the current wave of Eastern European discontent addresses the crippling and omnipresent effects of state-level and public sector corruption. In recent months, wide swaths of these societies have taken to the streets to demand varying degrees of government change, ranging from simple course corrections to full-scale revolution.
“During a crisis a woman can transform very quickly from being a politician to being a human being, and this can be bad”, Minko Gerdjikov, the deputy mayor of Sofia said in response to recent moves by the prime minister of Bulgaria to promote women to high-level positions in government and local administration, according to a New York Times article.
In a country known for its patriarchy and corruption, women, says the Prime Minister Boiko Borisov, are exactly what the country needs as “women are more diligent than men… are less corruptible than men… because they are more risk averse”. In an effort to clean his country’s act Borisov, an unlikely poster boy for the progressive forces in the country, has decided that it is exactly this ‘human’ characteristic that is required to overcome not only Bulgaria’s image problem, but also presumably its real problem of losing, rather embarrassingly, EU funds because of endemic and rampant graft.
To imply that being a ‘human being’ is somehow bad is a strange assertion not only because it implies that men are somehow less human and better off so, but because it implies that politics and ‘human values’ are incompatible. Politics in a lot of transitional countries are undoubtedly tough, but to categorically negate human values as components of successful and good politics is self-serving from the point of view of those who have a vested interest in the continuation of ‘business as usual’. Given the tendency for group-think and irrationality in crisis situations in particular, most often in male-dominated groups, should we not celebrate a more nuanced and independent form of deliberation that can come with the ‘human touch’, in women as well as men?
Even if women are more in touch with their humane side (buried deep in hardened male politicians), wired to perhaps see the world from a more communal point of view, does this bear out in the real world? Are women leaders any different when faced with the dilemmas of ruling the world’s countries, cities and communities? In other words, does the ‘X’ factor change anything?