Conference “The Rise of “Left” and “Right” Forces: the Collapse of Democracy?”

On December 20, 2016, the Opera Hotel (Kyiv, 53, Bohdan Khmelnytsky Str.) hosted the conference “Rise of the ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ Forces: Curtailment of Democracy?”. During the event, directors and graduates of the Schools of Political Studies from Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, representatives of civil society and international organizations discussed the results of recent elections in Western Europe and the Eastern Partnership countries.

dsc_2959The conference was organized with the support of the Division of Electoral Assistance and Census of the Directorate General II – Democracy of the Council of Europe. It was aimed at improving the quality of democracy via the dialogue between the Eastern Partnership countries and at discussing the processes that contribute to the decline of democracy.

dsc_2881The panel discussion of the conference “Rise of the ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ Forces: Curtailment of Democracy?” was dedicated to global trends in consolidated democracies. It invited guests and participants to reflect on the crisis of ideologies and parties, causes of the rise of the “right” and “viability” of right-wing ideologies among Ukrainian voters. The conference was opened by the Honorary Director of the Ukrainian School of Political Studies Ihor Kohut, who urged the participants to reflect on the challenges facing Ukraine, EU and Eastern Partnership countries after the elections in Moldova and Bulgaria and the risks that the upcoming election in France might be fraught with.

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Yevhen BYSTRYTSKY, PhD, Head of the Department of Philosophy of Culture, Ethics and Aesthetics of the Institute of Philosophy of the NAS of Ukraine, who started the first panel, voiced the opinion that there are representatives of leftist ideas in Ukraine, but at the moment they are not an organized political force. They insist that there is no freedom of speech in Ukraine. In addition, such representatives argue that there is no space in the media where one could express their thoughts. He also noted: “There are certain things that have contributed to the revival of the neoconservative wave. I’m talking about the elections in Hungary and Poland, where nationally-driven right forces have consolidated, and the election of Trump. In fact, the conservative wave has captured voters in America”. He added that one of the factors contributing to this was the conflict of worldview and ideological interests. “In Europe, it is a response to the dangers that have arisen: refugees, Russia’s pressure, and the imposition of sanctions. It is also important to mention the wave of resistance to financial and industrial globalization. For instance, at the beginning of the XXI century the European world is full of local conflicts that are cruel and devoid of respect for human rights. They involve confrontation aimed at destruction of another culture”.

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Natalia AMELCHENKO, PhD, associate professor, lecturer of the Department of Political Science, National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, started her speech by pointing out to problems with identifying the ideologies of political parties, particularly in Ukraine, because we use old terms and try to impose them onto new phenomena. She argued, “Today, classical ideologies are in crisis. The neoconservative wave has existed before and exits now. Today the challenge is to survive it.” The speaker went on to say that few of voters, in fact, read the statutes of the parties. The statutes are read only by students who are studying these issues. They exist only for the purpose of registration and contain no clear ideology. The program of the political party Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) contains the notion of subsidiarity, but the media and talk shows are not aimed at explaining significant problems to the public, rather they exist to create an image of the politician”.

Oleksiy HARAN, Research Director of the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation, pointed out that in the world there was a global tendency of populism, including left-wing populism. In Ukraine, the niche of the Left is vacant and there is a need for a normal left-wing Ukrainian party. “We live in the period after the collapse of the USSR and the end of the Cold War. What we now see as the total slippage of democracy has already happened in history. Europe and its capitalism have manifested great adaptability. The PACE, which adopted our position in the European Parliament, gave an example how to establish relations with socialists. Yes, there is a crisis, but we should not underestimate the potential of Europe, which we can also develop here,” Mr. Haran said.

Angela SEDELL, Senior Researcher at Oxford University, reminded that on June 24, 2016, Britain announced its withdrawal from the EU based on the results of the referendum. “Britain was divided into 2 camps – those who campaigned for and against Brexit. Proponents of remaining in the EU appealed to expert opinions and economic arguments. Everything suggested inflation, uncertainty in doing business, and a decline in economic growth. Their opponents said that if we left the EU, 350 million euros (EU contributions) would be transferred to the public health care. Surveys say that this message was decisive,” commented Ms. Sedell. She added that populist messages such as the restriction of migration to Britain had proved to be very effective. Consequences include the decline of the national currency and trust in the law, British Constitution and European treaties. According to Ms. Sedell, the referendum put the authority of judges and parliament in question. Another result is the mistrust of voters.

Alexandra DANCASIU, political analyst at Go-Governance (Austria), began her speech as follows: “We see many politicians talk about fear, hatred, threats, appealing to emotions rather than objective facts. We heard Trump emotional speeches during his campaign and things he appeals to now during his winner tour. Now he tells his voters things that run contrary to what he promised.” According to Alexandra, today many people can vote, but we do not have real political debates and not all voters can join them, as it used to be before. True debates do not take place because many people do not even vote. Are those who vote well-informed? Is it legitimate for them to elect politicians? Is this still the choice of the majority? Alexandra emphasized that democracy tries to gather all points of view and work out a long-term strategy. Only before elections politicians think what they should do to remain in position.

Democracy still guarantees equality, the right for everyone to express their opinion, freedom, human rights. But if we do not make an effort to find ways to reach out to the people who are not involved in the political debate, we will lose them and populists will be able to come to power,” said Ms. Dancasiu. The speaker concluded, “It’s very difficult to understand what people want, but they are not happy. So they are protesting, and populists take advantage of it. Today’s politicians need to think in a contemporary way, using technologies (Facebook, Instagram), generating a political dialogue, and engaging the public in the discussion.

dsc_3092 dsc_3113Panel II was dedicated to the “rollback” of democracy based on the results of elections in the Eastern Partnership countries and close neighbors of Ukraine. The moderator of the session, Alexander Dabravolski, urged the speakers to share their views on the popularity of “left” ideas as a result of the Soviet legacy or demand for a fair social distribution.

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Olga MANOLE, coordinator of the Human Rights Program, coordinator of civic and electoral education of Promo-LEX Association (Moldova), as a member of an organization that monitors elections in Moldova, began her speech by saying that the last presidential election in Moldova in November 2016 differed from all previous elections as soon as politicians relied heavily on false and populist arguments broadcasted through the media. Candidates appealed to traditions used propaganda and backing of the church to receive support from voters. In this election they did not rely on administrative resources and bribes as heavily as before. In comparison with the parliamentary election of 2014, the electoral process in Moldova has improved a lot. Ironically, however, the methods which were used to achieve the improvement still involved an influence on voters. In this respect, the intervention of the church was especially aggressive. Olga said, “There is a probability of canceling the results of the presidential election because the gap between the candidates is very small.”

Yevhen RADCHENKO, Development Director of the NGO Internews-Ukraine, said that based on statistics there was a major shake-up among those elected to Parliament in Belarus, among old politicians in particular. It indicates a certain trend. He also suggested focusing on the situation in Armenia and the referendum of 2015, when Armenia became a parliamentary republic. “The parliamentary election of 2017 will take place on a proportional basis, and in 2018 the president will be elected in three rounds by the parliamentary assembly,” said Mr. Radchenko. He further argued that the referendum, which was held in Azerbaijan on September 26, made the power of Ilham Aliyev absolute and gave him the right to appoint the first vice president and two vice-presidents, who are essentially his economic advisers. According to Yevhen, these actions undermine the importance of Parliament. Mr. Radchenko concluded his presentation with the thesis that Europe and the Eastern countries were immersing in authoritarianism and the crisis of democracy.

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Anastasia DARAFIEIEVAChairwoman of the Belarusian Green Party, alumnus of the East European School of Political Studies (Belarus) said that the results of this election campaign were new to Belarus. Two opposition candidates entered the parliament. “Europe is interested in maintaining stability in Belarus and taking steps to simulate democracy. This is an alarming signal that attests to the depreciation of European values,” said Ms. Darafyeyeva. Civil society is the only thing that can change the current political situation; the only way out for these representatives is to become actors and go to the level of decision-making. In Ukraine, the left-wing party niche is vacant, but there are people who could unite into such a party. “There is a lack of vision. What parties can do is to give a vision. In the situation with the EU, we are witnessing a crisis of values ​​and vision in part because it has been implemented. Similarly, in the post-Soviet countries, there is a demand for an ideology. This should be a vision of the future based on the processes of the present.”

 Hennadii MAKSAK, Chairman of the Board, Head of the Foreign Policy Council “Ukrainian Prism”, USPS alumnus, started with the fact that the Eastern Partnership countries had 2 systems: corrupt and authoritarian-oligarchic. “In Belarus, there are appointments rather than elections, there is no decent control over local elections, and OSCE commissions keep telling about that. In Moldova, there was a vote, socialists won, but sometimes they used pro-Russian methods again. In Armenia, before the parliamentary election it was clear which 2 parties would be in power. Under such conditions, the president said he would rather be the head of a party than president”, he added. According to Mr. Maksak, it would be better to without disguise about the lack of democracy or substitution of concepts. In Armenia, there is a platform for public initiatives they want to close. Unfortunately, in Azerbaijan civil society activists are behind bars.

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Panel III actualized the concept of gender in politics as an indicator of democratization and the role of women in the democratic process.

Olha VESNIANKA, human rights activist, journalist, USPS alumnus, said that it was very difficult to talk about gender equality and its legal implementation in European countries. There is a large number of human rights organizations operating in the field of discrimination in Ukraine. Talking about Ukraine, we need to remember the sexist statements of former President Yanukovich and Prime Minister Azarov, whose Cabinet was known as the “Cabinet without women”. Instead of ratifying the Istanbul Convention, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine initiated meaningless discussions on the topic of “What is gender?” The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine believes that it is not important to talk about a camp for those who suffer from violence. Ukraine’s goal was to reach the indicator of 30% of women in politics, but at the moment the percentage of women in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine is only 12%.

Olha AIVAZOVSKA, Chairwoman of the Board and Coordinator of Electoral and Political Programs at the Civil Network OPORA, representative of Ukraine in the political subgroup of the Trilateral Contact Group on Donbas, USPS alumnus, said that after the decentralization most of the money would stay in regions enabling women to take seats in local councils. Women in Parliament work more, preparing initiatives and providing feedback.

Parliament or any council should represent people, but this is impossible without gender and ethnic equality. In any negotiation, 25% must be women protecting the rights of women. Woman can work effectively also in military affairs. Pregnancy or gender are only pretexts for paternalistic attitudes. Talking about quotas, there are many different stances. Germans believe that “the quota principle creates quota women”. However, only the countries that have no problems can afford to say that. There are stupid women and men in Parliament. I do not agree that men are smarter than women. But it is certainly true that women do not have the same access to resources as men. If a party goes to politics to increase resources rather than champion voters’ interests, it is sure to be interested in players who have more resources, and usually these are not women. The question of the openness of political funding directly concerns the quality of staff and the gender issue. If the party receives money from citizens and the country, it will not be interested in whether a candidate has a million or not. Many parties take into account the issue of gender. I’m not a fan of the topic of womankind, but I’m a fan of the issue of quality of people. In fact, this is the same as with people with disabilities – if we do not see them on the streets, it does not mean that they do not exist.

Valentina POLIEVIKOVA, Manager of the East European School of Political Studies, founder and Chairwoman of the Belarusian Women’s Party Nadzieja (1994-2002), stated that a lot of stereotypes and patriarchal attitudes still persist in Belarus. Women need help not only in fighting discrimination but also in engaging in the decision-making process. Belarus has only 2 female mayors. Some people do not believe in the effectiveness of gender quotas; unfortunately, we do not have even this in Belarus. However, having studied the experience of the implementation of territorial quotas, we can see that the more women work, the more they vote for women because they understand their problems.

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Participants of Discussion platform IV debated on the role of media in the shaping and consumption of populist messages in Western Europe, Eastern Partnership countries, and Ukraine.

The platform was moderated by Vitaly Portnikov, observer of the Radio Liberty, who stressed that the real danger wasn’t Trump’s words but rather his failure to act on them. Therefore, in the next election greater promises and populism will prevail. This is a question of the direction of movement – to new responsibility or to a triumph of irresponsibility.

 Serhiy HAIDAI, Strategic Planning Director at the social engineering agency Haidai.Com, believes that we live in a new world and don’t have to struggle with it. The only thing we need to do is to improve the culture of information consumption. Why have we begun to separate form and content? If you are not a populist, you should create a new influential form. I would rather stop pushing the panic button and get down to developing new technologies.

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Andriy ANDRUSHKIV, Coordinator of the project “Reform of Public Finance Control Use” at the NGO Center UA, USPS alumnus, spoke about the PR strategies of NGOs whose messages always appealed to emotions. He noted that in order to avoid this, we should improve the level of media culture among citizens.

 Ivan HODARSKI, media and legal issues consultant at MEMO 98 (Slovakia), pointed out that fake news did not emerge yesterday. The main reason for their appearance is a lack of critical thinking, which is the main skill to counteract propaganda.

 Vitaliy MOROZ, Head of the New Media Department at Internews-Ukraine, stressed that journalism today is not as exclusive as it used to be several years ago. This has both advantages and disadvantages. The former include the fact that journalists can use many new media.

 Andriy PROKOPENKO, Managing Partner at Prokopenko and Partners, political Management, USPS alumnus, summed up all the speeches and emphasized the importance of promoting a higher level of media culture not only among journalists but also among the public.

dsc_3313Conference photo gallery can be accessed on the USPS Facebook page. Photographer – Oleksandr Kovalenko.

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