Democracies and war: the Ukrainian and European responses
In the latest entry in the GSoD in Focus series, International IDEA argued that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has set in course a series of events that mark “a turning point in European history.” The immediate evidence for this is overwhelming: a historic refugee crisis, unprecedentedly swift sanctions, and the remilitarization of Europe’s largest economy. The invasion is indeed an attempt to remake the global order, but it also delivers a reminder of the intrinsic strengths and capabilities of democracies. To judge from the increasingly elevated rhetoric of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the work of Kremlin-affiliated analysts to develop a post-hoc strategic justification for the invasion, and a since-deleted piece celebrating a swift Russian victory, the Kremlin envisioned the invasion as a bold stroke that would mark the end of Western geopolitical dominance, and help bring about a new, multipolar, and post-liberal international system. The decline of American unipolarity had opened a space for Russia to behave, once again, as an empire. Russia would act, create new realities, and leave weakened democracies to simply study what it has done. Putin’s drastic underestimation of both Ukrainian resistance and western resolve has, for the moment, scuttled these plans. But the aim of this blog is not to analyse one man’s motivations. The above should not be taken as definitive, but as a prominent narrative that the Russian state, which has often been ideologically eclectic, may return to in the future when circumstances demand. Authoritarians are not free from domestic pressures, and those drivers, as well as the nature of popular support and protest, are the subject of fierce debate. What is more interesting is the rapid transformation of Ukraine’s political geography and its echoes across the continent. Ukrainians have organized mass demonstrations in the face of Russian military occupation in Kherson, Melitopol, and Kharkiv, and videos of unarmed civilians physically confronting Russian troops are commonplace. Defying pre-war understandings of Ukraine’s political cleavages, many of these cities largely sat out the 2014 protests, or previously routinely supported political parties that advocated for an accommodationist resolution to resolving Ukrainian and Russian tensions. The breadth and strength of Ukrainian resistance is a vital reminder of the mobilizing power of democracies under threat. The roots of this mobilization can be observed in a post-2014 rise in the participation in civil society organizations, which has not followed the trend of decreasing or inconsistent participation in formal electoral processes: Given this demonstration of the resilience of a democracy roused in anger, it is worth dwelling on the paper’s warning that European democracies should pay close attention to how Kremlin-friendly right-wing populists react; it is difficult to envision the Russia-led “right internationale” surviving its hegemon’s sudden shift to imperial revanchism. Russia did not prepare international audiences for its invasion with a propaganda campaign comparable to the one which preceded the 2014 annexation of Crimea, leaving its international allies without a consistent, defensible narrative for their local constituencies. Accordingly, far-right (and left) parties in Europe that have publicly embraced Putin will have to account for their past support in the coming elections. One well-worn path, at least for the far-right, would be to resort to demagoguery: anti-Russian sentiment may prove to be fleeting, but it could serve as a springboard for politicized discussions on which populations are and are not “European.” However, as tempting as the thought may be, the risk of mass democratic enthusiasm leading to undesirable ends is not limited to one extreme of the political spectrum. More sober-minded politicians may channel popular support for Ukraine into increasingly tough sanctions, which despite their non-violent reputation, can cause serious unintended harm to ordinary Russians or the countries in its “near abroad”, or a rash response by the Russian state itself. International IDEA’s The Ukraine Crisis and the Struggle to Defend Democracy in Europe and Beyond is available here. This blog reflects the personal opinions of the author and does not represent the official position of International IDEA.
Pandemic states of emergency: Changing approaches over the course of the pandemic
With a novel virus quickly spreading worldwide in early 2020, many countries invoked emergency powers (either statutory or constitutional) to facilitate government responses. The legal mechanisms ranged from new legislation directed to this pandemic (as in Czechia and Germany), to the invocation of constitutional provisions originally envisaged for wars, insurrections, and natural disasters (see Latvia and Portugal for example). In the first half of 2020, a number of legal and political scholars published articles that detailed the legal measures used in particular countries (see the excellent collection of posts at Verfassungsblog), and comparative analyses of the world (see posts at ICONnect and Harvard Law Review). Now, at the end of the first quarter of 2022, having faced at least four waves of rising and falling daily caseloads in most countries, we can better understand the connection between containing the pandemic and the use of emergency powers. Data collected by International IDEA’s Global Monitor of COVID-19’s Impact on Democracy and Human Rights show how emergency legal responses changed over time. While many countries invoked a state of emergency (SOE), which in many cases allow for a temporary derogation of rights and give the executive more powers, in the first pandemic wave (as many as 93 in March 2020), relatively fewer invoked a full SOE in the second, third, and fourth waves (averaging 51 active SOEs after 1 July 2020). Some countries in which a first SOE had expired or been affirmatively ended in the middle of 2020 invoked a second SOE in the later months of the year. The relative stability in the number of active SOEs after August 2020 seems to indicate that the optimism of the summer of 2020 has been replaced by governments staying the course and repeatedly renewing a SOE. The surprising finding from our data is that the early peak in the number of countries invoking an SOE in response to the (relatively lower) caseloads of the first wave has not been matched as governments have sought ways to contain the much larger subsequent waves. However, there has been some variation here, as some governments responded to the Omicron wave by bringing in their third or fourth SOE of the pandemic. The characteristics of the countries where SOEs were declared are also interesting. What is most striking is relationship between the level of democracy as measured by the GSoD Indices and the use of emergency powers. Countries at the top and bottom of International IDEA’s democracy classification (i.e., high performing democracies and authoritarian regimes) were less likely to invoke an SOE. However, mid-range and weak democracies, and hybrid regimes, were more likely to invoke a constitutional SOE. Authoritarian governments are unlikely to be as bound by constitutional or statutory constraints as even hybrid regimes, and certainly less than democracies. It may not be necessary to declare an emergency in order to impose significant restrictions on rights. In contrast, high-performing democracies are more likely to have a political culture that enables inter-partisan cooperation in moments of national peril, and to have a higher capacity within the government to respond to crises making the invocation of an SOE unnecessary. It is in the middle where the exigencies of the pandemic seem to have required an SOE in order to empower the government to take action. The use of SOEs may also be predictive of how democracy may fare in various countries as the pandemic ends. High-performing democracies are likely to emerge from the pandemic with their institutions and political cultures intact. There is, however, some danger that the restrictions on rights (and particularly freedom of expression) instituted in weaker democracies and hybrid regimes may have longer lasting impacts on democratic consolidation. In particular, laws restricting freedom of expression and media freedom passed in some countries (for example in Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Hungary, Russia, Serbia, and Turkey) which were ostensibly created to deal with the wave of misinformation around the pandemic, could also be used to clamp down on dissenting opinions and aid anti-democratic actors now and in the future.
A Sad State of Stagnation: Gender Equality around the World
The latest round of GSoD data shows steady improvement in gender equality over time, but progress has been slow. Today, International IDEA’s worldwide gender equality score is squarely in the mid-performing range, a disappointing state of affairs on International Women's Day. Some of this is due to the pandemic, which has had a disproportionate impact on women. Women have suffered from a Covid motherhood penalty, unequal job losses and a concomitant increase in poverty, loss of access to education, an increase in rates of domestic and gender-based violence and a greater risk of contracting the virus. At the same time, they are under-represented on taskforces that are charged with responding to the virus and developing recovery plans. These findings come at the same time as an alarming decline in the number and power of democracies around the world. In fact, our latest report demonstrates a decline in the number of democracies and a rise in both the prevalence and strength of authoritarian regimes. Democracies cannot thrive or reach their full potential when half the population is deprived of equality. Indeed, freedom and equality are the cornerstones of democracy. A Potential Game Changer In order to reverse the declining strength of democracies and to ensure the strongest possible pandemic recovery in those parts of the world that are embarking on such a phase, gender equality must be a central priority. Indeed, addressing gender inequality could be a game-changer. First, new research shows that women are less likely to be corrupt than men. In fact, some countries have hired women specifically to stem corruption. Second, studies show that societies that treat women badly are more likely to be poor and unstable. Third, the political empowerment of women is positively associated with higher human capital, especially health and education outcomes. Fourth, women govern and make decisions differently from men. They tend to be more collaborative and bipartisan, and some research shows that they sponsor not just more legislation than men but that this legislation is more likely to benefit women and children or address issues like education, health, and poverty. Overall, they build coalitions and reach consensus more quickly, and – because they are better at picking up on and listening to nonverbal cues and less likely to interrupt – they have more democratic leadership styles. Finally, prioritizing the fight for women’s rights just makes good economic sense. According to the IMF, overall productivity will increase if women’s skills and talents are used more fully, giving women greater control over household resources can enhance countries’ growth prospects by changing spending in ways that benefit children, and empowering women can change policy choices. The Way Forward It seems that some of these lessons are finally being heard. Both the US state of Hawaii and the Canadian government have developed feminist pandemic recovery plans, which seek to address historic harms that are perpetuated by, male domination, gender-based violence, economic insecurity, and poor health. These are the kinds of innovations the world desperately needs for a future grounded in human rights, equity, justice, and security.