Eastern Europe – between democracy and conflict

On 6 November 2020, the Ukrainian Think Tanks Liaison Office in Brussels with the support of the International Renaissance Foundation and in cooperation with the “3 DCFTAs” Project and the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum organised an online-webinar “Eastern Europe – between democracy and conflict”.

The webinar assembled experts from all six Eastern Partnership countries together in order to provide a unique regional overview.

Steven Blockmans, Director of Research (ad interim), CEPS, opened the event, explaining the context of the discussion. The six Eastern Partnership countries have been simultaneously experiencing dramatic developments at home. Belarus has seen enormous turmoil after the falsified presidential elections; Ukraine is experiencing a fundamental constitutional crisis; Moldova and Georgia have gone through the elections, and Armenia and Azerbaijan are at war over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Blockmans: “All of the six Eastern Partnership countries now find themselves simultaneously at crossroads”.

Olena Carbou, Co-founder and Executive Director, Ukrainian Think Tanks Liaison Office in Brussels, emphasised the importance of the webinar taking into account the current developments in the countries. The six Eastern Partnership countries are facing similar challenges: dealing with the post-Soviet legacy, territorial conflicts, and ongoing Russia’s interference. According to Ms Carbou, the countries are united within the Eastern Partnership Initiative, which has been recently upgraded with the new reinforcing resilience proposals in order to reinforce the development of the states and make the cooperation between the countries stronger.

Olena Carbou: “All of the countries are going through political transformations, and hopefully it will end up with full-fledged democracy in each country”.

Andrei Yahorau, Centre for European Transformation, Belarus, EaP CSF, noted that the official election results in Belarus were perceived by society as a cynical falsification, which caused mass protests. Definitely, the elections were not free and fair. In particular, international observers couldn’t organise the full-fledged observation, and mass violations were recorded on election day. The main issue of the Belarusian elections was the change of the political leadership of Alexander Lukashenko. Society has accumulated the desire for change in direction of expanding democratic rights, civil liberties, and more economic freedom. The situation after the election has radically changed the Belarusian political landscape – new political structures came into the scene. As for now, there is a historically high level of political mobilisation of the society in Belarus.

Yahorau: “Extremely high level of political mobilisation during the election campaign and cynical falsification of election results pushed people into the streets”.

Veronika Movchan, Institute for Economic Research and Policy Consulting, Ukraine, has stressed that there are two major events that now form the political landscape in the country. On the one hand, the first local elections under the new Electoral Code and administrative structure were held in Ukraine on 25 October. Basically, the elections were democratic, competitive and clear. The informal public opinion poll initiated by the President was the most debated issue. Local elections showed that the support for the presidential party “Servant of the people” declined. As a result, the political situation in the country has become much more diverse. The second major event is the constitutional crisis. In a couple of days after the elections, the Constitutional Court of Ukraine has taken a decision that ruins the entire architecture of the anti-corruption reform in the country. The National Agency for Prevention of Corruption was deprived of the right to collect the e-declarations of public officials and judges, the criminal responsibility for false information in public declarations was abolished and the public access to the declarations was restricted. Attempts to resolve this crisis show that there is no strong political force led by the President now.

Movchan: “Unity between the President and parliamentary majority has been definitely lost”.

Denis Cenusa, Expert-Grup, Moldova, noted that the first round of the presidential elections was held in Moldova. Overall turnout in the first round was smaller than in 2016. At the same time, a huge mobilisation of the Moldovan diaspora and migrants was noticed. The quality of the elections was appreciated positively by international observers. Maia Sandu got about 36%, Igor Dodon – 32%. In the second round, both candidates will try to redistribute the votes that were collected by the other six candidates. There are two factors that may be very important for the results: voting of the diaspora and residents of the Transnistrian region.

Cenusa: “Right now the chances of both candidates are quite similar”.

Ghia Nodia, Ilia State University, Georgia, commented on the constitutional and political results of the parliamentary elections in Georgia. 8 opposition parties didn’t accept the legitimacy of the elections and refused to take up their parliamentary seats. Georgian Dream received 75 mandates out of 76 needed for the majority. The party of Mikheil Saakashvili confirmed its dominant position among the opposition. Other opposition parties collectively received about 15%. So, the Georgian political landscape continues to be polarised between supporters of Ivanishvili and Saakashvili. The opposition claimed that there were huge violations that affected the results of the elections. However, the international observers didn’t question the legitimacy of the elections.

Nodia: “The elections have triggered a political crisis”.

Benyamin Poghosyan, Political Science Association of Armenia, Armenia, pointed out that the war in Nagorno-Karabakh wasn’t surprising. However, active and direct involvement of Turkey in this war was surprising for Armenia and Russia as well. It was the reason why Azerbaijan had an advantage. As for today, the war is continuing. Obviously, Russia is not interested in the complete victory of Azerbaijan because it will send a clear message that not Russia but Turkey is a key player in the Southern Caucasus. Most probably, Russia will provide more armed supplies for Armenia in order to help it take advantage over the Azerbaijani army. Besides, there is a possibility that Russia will push the idea of deployment of its peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh, but it’s not likely Turkey is ready to accept this option.

Poghosyan: “In upcoming months we will see the continuation of the war”.

Shahla Ismayil, Women Association for Rational Development, Azerbaijan, Steering Committee EaP CSF, agreed with the previous speaker that the war in Nagorno-Karabakh was not unexpected. It was just a matter of time because of the failure of diplomacy, which was observed during the last years. Unfortunately, there are losses from both sides now. There is also a paradigm shift regarding the involvement of the third parties: Russia as a major third party has been replaced by Turkey. Ms Ismayil noted that it seems like people are ready to forget all their problems and challenges till the government gets back the territories.

Ismayil: “No matter how much national legitimacy of the ruling regime has been strengthened in the last few weeks, it should be backed up also by political reforms internally”.

Michael Emerson, Associate Senior Research Fellow, CEPS, has summed up that extremely vibrant political processes are observed in Eastern Europe now.