In Depth Politics Society, 08/11/2018

The Crisis of Liberal Democracy and the Way of Ukraine

Liberal democracies are facing a double challenge now. 

The first challenge comes from the outside from self-confident powers such as Russia, China, Iran or Turkey. They no longer see themselves as transitioning towards Western-styled democracies but as alternative models to the West. The concept of autocratic modernity is consciously represented and brings the states back into a global system of competition between autocratic and democratic models.

At the same time, an anti-liberal movement is spreading in Europe and the USA, in the core countries of the West. Trump, Brexit, the growing strength of right-wing political forces; all are a strong indication of this trend. But what impact do the crises of liberal democracies and the rise of illiberal forces within Europe have on Ukraine and the European Union? What does the internal weakness of the EU mean for Ukraine? Next year’s upcoming elections in Ukraine are fueling uncertainty about the country’s future path. Will the country remain on the way of democratic renewal or will the restorative forces gain the upper hand? What role do civil society and the media play in the Ukrainian path towards liberal democracy?

On November 1, the Crisis of Liberal Democracy and the Way of Ukraine Discussion addressed these questions at the Invite hub in Kharkiv. The event was organized by Zentrum Liberale Moderne, the International Renaissance Foundation and the Honorary Consul of the Federal Republic of Germany in Kharkiv.

Tetyana Gavrysch, Honorary Consul of the Federal Republic of Germany in Kharkiv, assured she was thrilled to have such a discussion in Kharkiv and by the interest expressed by the audience. She has emphasized that the level of state development is determined by the level of personalities who inhabit it.

Starting the discussion, Ralf Fuecks, the Managing director of the Center for Liberal Modernity, Berlin stated that in “talking about the crisis of liberal democracy, we face not only challenges but also opportunities.” He also acknowledged that we face a two-in-one challenge nowadays. First, authoritarian regimes such as China, Russia, and, in its own way Iran, promise prosperity, progress and stability without democracy; second, both in Europe and the United States, the wave of populism and nationalism seems to keep growing.

Serhii Zhadan, the writer, poet and translator, Kharkiv, confessed that when speaking about European and democratic values, Ukrainians mean good education, qualified medicine and big supermarkets with high-quality products. There is less understanding, however, if you start talking about following the law and your responsibilities, which was identified as a result of a lack of experience. Serhii compared the relations between Europe and Ukraine to a grandmother-granddaughter pattern. The latter loves and respects the former one but tricks her sometimes to do what she wants.

“Democracy for Ukrainian politicians is like clothes,” admitted Zurab Alasania, the Chairman of the National Public Broadcasting Company of Ukraine, a Kharkivite now residing in Kyiv. “You can change them. Or, just like a safety belt in the car,” he continued, switching his metaphors, “people don’t wear them or, if they do, they don’t really believe it helps.” Zurab declared that for the past 15 years the world has been changing extremely quickly, which has influenced a crisis of liberal values.

According to Oleksandr Sushko, the CEO of the International Renaissance Foundation Ukraine, some values have to be defended. However, at the same time, there’s a chance for new historical creativity and not just following the existing model. Ukraine is a part of this historic process. “This is where I see an opportunity for an exit from the crisis,” he asserted.

Text: Olena Rozskazova

Edited by Peter Cribley,

Photos: Andriy Yarygin


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