Lucan Way is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. He coauthored (along with Steven Levitsky) Competitive Authoritarianism: Hybrid Regimes After the Cold War. He has a new book also coauthored with Steven Levitsky due this fall called Revolution and Dictatorship: The Violent Origins of Durable Authoritarianism. He is the author of the chapter “Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine: Democratic Moments in the Former Soviet Union” in the book Democracy in Hard Places.
The war is never going to really end. Because even in the most optimistic scenario where Ukraine regains its territory and it goes back to the 1991 borders, Russia is almost certainly going to present a permanent threat to Ukrainian sovereignty. I think objectively it will. But even if objectively it wasn’t, after such an invasion, you can imagine the political environment’s going to treat it as one.
- What makes Zelensky such a special leader?
- Why wasn’t Ukraine considered more democratic before Russia’s invasion?
- How has the war impacted democracy in Ukraine?
- What role did Ukraine’s ethnic pluralism contribute to democratization?
- What challenges will Ukrainian democracy face after its war with Russia?
Thank you for listening to the Democracy Paradox: A podcast on democracy, democratization, and world affairs. Each week we talk about big picture insights to better understand political issues and events. These are complex ideas that might be unfamiliar, so I always provide a complete transcript at democracyparadox.com.
Today’s guest is Lucan Way. Lucan is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. His work with Steven Levitsky on Competitive Authoritarianism is among the most influential in a long time. He also has another book coauthored with Steven Levitsky coming in the fall called Revolution and Dictatorship: The Violent Origins of Durable Authoritarianism. Let me confirm their new book is just as impressive as Competitive Authoritarianism.
Today’s conversation returns to the subject of democracy in hard places. The last few episodes are largely based on a new book edited by Scott Mainwaring and Tarek Masoud. Lucan’s chapter is titled “Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine: Democratic Moments in the Former Soviet Union.”
Our conversation focuses on democracy in Ukraine. The war between Russia and Ukraine is often viewed as a conflict between democracy and autocracy. Yet the conflict does not provide for hospitable conditions for democracy to thrive. Moreover, democracy faced many challenges in Ukraine even before the Russian invasion. So, my conversation with Lucan considers how Ukraine has maintained its democracy in challenging circumstances and the difficulties it will face even after the war comes to an end.
If you want to hear more from my conversation with Lucan there is a short bonus episode available for patrons at Patreon. Monthly contributors can access additional bonus material like this for as little as $5/month. There is a link in the show notes or you can just look up Democracy Paradox at patreon.com. Like always feel free to email me questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Here is my conversation with Lucan Way…
Lucan Way, welcome to the Democracy Paradox.
So, Lucan, I’ve been doing this series on democracy in hard places and you’re familiar with the idea because you wrote a chapter in the book, Democracy in Hard Places. So, a common theme has been the role of leadership. Volodymyr Zelensky has really captured the imagination of so many people with his leadership after Russia invaded Ukraine. Can you tell us a little bit about him and whether or not he just has special characteristics as a democratic leader or if it’s just this moment of history that’s really given him an opportunity to shine?
Yeah. So, Zelensky is a fascinating figure. I mean, in many ways he is really outside the norm of Ukrainian leaders. Until he was elected in 2019, Ukraine was one of those political systems that was quite democratic, but in which every opposition was essentially from the political establishment. So, Ukraine was one of these countries that despite intense competition, I mean, genuine political competition and turnover. Still, there are basically the same cast of characters from 1991 until 2019 give or take. They almost all had some experience in the communist apparatus. They were already well known before they came to power. Zelensky was a totally different mold.
First of all, he was a real outsider. He really came out of nowhere. He was an entertainer. It was much more like what you see in some Latin American contexts like Fujimori in Peru. He was a school teacher. You just never saw that in Ukraine. But with Zelensky, he was really of that ilk. He was obviously successful and he was well known as an entertainer. He had this very successful and actually quite funny show (I encourage everyone to watch it on Netflix), The Servant of the People, in which he plays a history teacher who becomes president. He was just not kind of part of the political establishment. So, in that sense he really marked a break in Ukrainian politics at the time.
The second thing that I think was novel about him was that typically Ukrainian politics before 2019, and especially 2014, went back and forth between politicians in the east who were kind of more Russophile or pro-Russian, and then politicians in the Western part of Ukraine who were kind of more Ukrainophile or pro-European. I think part of what makes Zelensky so effective is that he’s very much culturally Russophile. His native language is Russian. He is the kind of guy who probably appreciates Soviet culture, you know, the best things that it had to offer. He is about as far away from a kind of ardent Ukrainian nationalist as you can imagine.
Indeed, when he was elected in 2019, the Ukrainian diaspora that I’m surrounded by here in Toronto were quite hostile to Zelensky partly because I think he came from that very different sort of culture than your typical Ukrainian Patriot so to speak. So, in that sense when he emerged was initially quite unsuccessful. I mean, it’s not surprising. Like many politicians who kind of emerge out of nowhere, everything seems so simple when you’re on the outside, but you get into power and things are really complicated. Moreover, because he really lacked a strong political organization, there was actually a decent amount of corruption within his own party which was quite new. You had a bunch of neophytes. In fact, there’s an online newspaper called The Kiev Independent. You look at the website under politics and you will still see older stories about bribery from within Zelensky’s party.
So, he was like many neophyte politicians. Things are much more complicated when they come to power. But I do think in the face of the invasion, he really obviously did step up. I think it was a combination of a variety of factors. I think he’s very good at media, so I think he was kind of in his element. This was as about a dramatic storyline as you could imagine. I mean, in addition, to its awfulness this is not a complicated storyline. This is very Star Warsy. I mean, he didn’t have to… It certainly wasn’t inevitable. He could have fled, but he chose not to. I think he has united Ukraine to an extent that Ukraine’s never been united before.
Were there any signs that he was going to step up like he did. Because I read a little bit about him, but it was all in the American press and from a few academics. So, I wasn’t reading the Kiev Independent at the time, but the impression that I was getting was that he was just a run of the mill kind of populist president that like you said was kind of disappointing at moments. I didn’t see this type of greatness in him before Russia invaded Ukraine. Did you get any sense of that from studying Ukraine closer?
Well, I wouldn’t call him a run of the mill populist if you mean kind of the populism that we’ve seen with Trump and others. He was already distinct from those figures in the sense that when you think of Trump or Orbán in Hungary. You know, they were all ethnonationalists.
I mean more populist kind of like a Barack Obama populist where you’re just running to get the broad support of the people. Then you come in and you find out that the person’s a little bit more of an institutionalist in the end.
Yeah. I think he certainly was an institutionalist. I mean, you can never know. I do think that ex-post, it’s sort of easy to see how he kind of was well positioned. Again, he has this media savvy, has an incredible sense of drama. His first speech, which was probably his most important speech, wasn’t really even a speech. It was two words. Russia had just invaded and people were like, ‘Well, where is the president? Where is the government?’ There were talks of him being in hiding. So, he had a cell phone in front of the presidential palace and the two words were “president tut.” The president is here. It’s really a kind of stunningly simple message, but the power of it was so important.
He didn’t have to say anything else, because that was really all that was necessary. That kind of inspired everyone, both in Ukraine and abroad. So, in that sense, I think he’s just a good actor. At the same time, I do think his background as being kind of Russian culturally, but an ardent supporter of Ukrainian independence made him uniquely capable of uniting Ukraine. Indeed, what some others have shown is that after he was elected, the fact that he’s from kind of a Russophile part of central Ukraine, already in 2019, this is something that professor Olga Onuch has shown, Ukrainian opinion began shifting much more towards support for the European Union and to NATO. That was really him. The fact that such a kind of Russophile, Russian cultural guy came out in support of those institutions pushed Ukraine in that direction. So, even before the war.
So, in this book, in your chapter, you write, “In 2021 Ukraine was very nearly democratic.” This war has been framed into a battle between democracy and autocracy with Ukraine reflecting democracy and Russia reflecting autocracy. But at the same time, a lot of measures of democracy like Freedom House and others saw Ukraine as either partly free or on the verge of democracy. Can you explain a little bit about what held Ukraine back from being what you would describe as fully democratic?
First of all. I think that a lot of the measures like V-Dem were quite unfair to Ukraine. I think some of the measures were oftentimes very opaque and some of the measures involved factors that were completely outside the control of the government like the democraticness of the separatist areas in Donetsk, which kind of reflect the overall quality of democracy in Ukraine’s sort of internationally recognized borders. But aren’t really a fault of Zelensky. He can’t control the fact that you have a kind of quasi-totalitarian dictatorship in the separatist areas of Donbas and Crimea. So, I think in a sense that part was unfair.
In general, Ukraine was hugely competitive. You’ve had five different democratic turnovers in a fairly short period of time. I haven’t looked at the data, but that’s got to be up there in terms of the number of turnovers in a short period of time. At the same time, I think there’s sort of two factors that have been problematic in Ukrainian democracy. First is that historically, they’ve never really managed to sort of settle on the fundamental rules of the game. So, there’s always a sense that the constitution was always being renegotiated. There’s always this sense that the next guy would come and upend the entire constitutional system. So, it created a kind of instability that you wouldn’t associate with consolidated democracy.
Second, there have been some issues around suppression of Russian media. At one level these are completely understandable given they’re being invaded by a much larger power. At the same time, I think all things equal, they could have sort of dealt with this a little bit better. But the only thing that was really keeping it in my mind from a full democracy is the fact that they sort of shut down some pro-Russian media in the capital. Still, in the grand scheme of things these are relatively minor, but still real.
So, usually when we think about war, we think of a country potentially becoming less democratic, because you have limitations upon freedom of speech. You have limitations upon the country and you already mentioned one, which is there was some concerns about free speech within Ukraine due to its ongoing conflict with Russia dating all the way back to 2014. But it feels as if Ukraine has really embraced democracy and embraced, at least, democratic ideals through this war. Do you think that the war itself has made Ukraine more democratic?
I would not say that. I mean, I think democracy is always fragile as we’ve discovered in the United States. I think it’s in the inherent nature of democracy that even in the oldest and most consolidated democracy in the world, it’s very much under threat. I think that we should never forget that. Democracy has been hurt in Ukraine by the war undeniably. In fact, Zelensky came to the University of Toronto about a week ago and virtually gave a presentation for the students.. One of the students asked about this: Ukraine instituted Marshall law with parliamentary approval at the end of February. On the one hand, completely understandable. This is not outside the norm. I mean, in Great Britain they didn’t have an election between 1935 and 1945.
It’s very hard to maintain a full democracy when you’re invaded. It’s not just the involvement in war, but the capital being bombed and facing existential threats. So, on the one level that is I think completely understandable. He’s suspended eleven different pro-Russian parties. Again, this is genuinely problematic and at the same time kind of understandable. But something that I think is important to sort of not condemn Zelensky for doing this (because we have to recognize the existential threat that he’s facing), but to let him know that we are watching. That there’ll come a point in time when, knock on wood, Ukraine will have victory in the war. At that point the West really needs to come in whole hog and demand that these measures be reversed.
Now, you mentioned the suspension of pro-Russian parties within Ukraine. It’s something I hadn’t heard about and it sounds very undemocratic just on the face of it. But I have had on Jan-Werner Müller on the podcast and he talks a lot about militant democracy. That old idea from Karl Lowenstein. Do you think that you can somewhat defend Zelensky and others within Ukraine as initiating a form of militant democracy in terms of expelling different parties that might be very pro-Russian within this moment of existential crisis?
Yeah. So, I this is actually where I think there’s some confusion. The issue isn’t per se that they’ve suspended these parties. Because it’s absolutely right that that is not inherently undemocratic. There are sorts of models of democracy preservation, certainly militant democracy, which you’ve seen most obviously in cases like Germany where that’s kind of a way of preserving democracy. So, that’s a completely legitimate way. The issue in Ukraine is more the process by which that decision was made. It’s not that Russian media were suspended. It’s the fact that it didn’t happen by a neutral court in a clear and transparent manner. It’s not that they suspended eleven parties, but that the presidential administration and people directly under Zelensky unilaterally decided to do this.
That’s the problem and this is the criticism with the suspension of pro-Russian media going all the way back to 2014 which is, again, totally understandable that you’d want to shut down an actively subversive media. But it has to be done in an extraordinarily transparent manner. The ultimate decision has to be by an autonomous body such as the courts, because this thing is open to insane levels of manipulation. So, I think that’s the issue.
So, Lucan one of the questions I ask everybody is what is it that makes Ukraine, in this case, a hard place for democracy. But I feel silly doing it because since 2014, it’s pretty obvious they’re in the midst of a conflict with a much larger neighbor and effectively in a war. So, I’m going to ask you to turn the clock back to before 2014, when there are still things that made it a hard place for democracy to thrive. What made Ukraine difficult for democracy to succeed before Russia became involved in Ukraine?
Yeah. So, there are two main factors here that are important. The first is the incredibly weak institutions that are common to many developing countries which make it very easy for incumbents to manipulate the rules of the game to their own partisan benefit. I mean, part of what made Trump so dangerous in the United States was not just abuse, but the fact that he’s trying to pack the state with his allies who will sort of do his bidding and do things like steal an election when he wants to steal an election or pack the media.
So, while that’s hard to do in an established democracy like the United States, it was extraordinarily easy to do in a post-Soviet Ukraine in the 1990s when they really had zero history of a state that was autonomous from partisan political conflict. That was the nature of the Soviet Union. It was a communist party that used the state as simply an arm of its authoritarian totalitarian power. So, that’s the first thing you have these weak institutions. This was sort of illustrated in the insane levels of corruption made it relatively easy for leaders to manipulate the rules of the game for their benefit. That’s the first thing.
The second thing is that Ukraine was a highly divided society. One of the standard points of wisdom going back to Rustow and his famous article in 1970 was that to have democracy, you needed nationally unity. Because if each side used the other as an existential threat and you have ethnic conflict, that’s going to fundamentally disrupt democracies. So, Ukraine by a lot of different measures was extraordinarily divided between a pro-Russian Russophile east which saw sort of itself part of a Russian civilization and the Western part of Ukraine that very much saw itself as pro-European. I think those two things that division and the weak institutions were serious obstacles to democracy.
Okay, let’s dive into those two ideas. Starting with the idea of the dual identity within Ukraine, do you feel that the war has actually changed that? Do you feel like Ukraine is much more united today as they’ve kind of fought back against Russia or do you feel like that dual identity still exists and it’s just waiting to kind of arise again once peace comes back to Ukraine?
I think Ukraine in this sense is becoming a much more normal place. You know, every country in the world has some divisions, but the invasion of 2014 and certainly this invasion has dramatically unified Ukraine. I mean, the most obvious and palpable way it has done that is what you saw at the beginning of the war. You know, literally sorts of traitors to Ukraine were there and they were exposed and then wiped out. So, you know, part of the Soviet legacy was that you had large numbers of individuals in the Ukrainian army and the security services who were basically spies for the Russians. I think that has kind of purged the Ukrainian state of disloyal elements.
So, it’s become much more unified, but also just all these public opinion polls when it comes to the European union, when it comes to NATO membership, have shifted dramatically in favor of Europe. Also, at the same time, part of the impact of the Russian invasion is that large numbers of the Russian ethnic population are now no longer part of Ukraine the way they were before 2014. So, literally a huge section of the pro-Russian electorate has gone. So, for those reasons, Ukraine is much more unified.
I don’t think this is necessarily a good thing for Ukrainian democracy, because as I’ve argued in my work on pluralism by default, which in part the chapter was based on, this division actually sort of helped preserve a level of pluralism in Ukraine. Because basically even absent strong parties, identity divisions acted as a kind of mobilizer on one side or the other. It made it harder for any leader to monopolize control over Ukraine. So, I think there really will be a danger for Ukrainian democracy whether or not it’s Zelensky who will use a victory to make Ukraine more authoritarian.
So that reminds me of what I talked about with Ashutosh Varshney when we talked about India, because he mentioned how Dahl argued that the vast pluralism, almost just dynamic pluralism on so many different cleavages, was part of what allowed Indian democracy to succeed the way that it did. But he also mentioned that Dahl made the case that India needed to have multiple cleavages. It couldn’t just be a bifurcated cleavage where it’s just two different sides that can polarize.
I get the impression that Ukraine was a society that had this bifurcated cleavage where it was the kind of European centric Ukrainians and then the Russo-centric Ukrainians that can create a very polarized conflict where there aren’t multiple cleavages, multiple levels, to be able to debate issues. Did that kind of wear away at the same time the idea of democracy, because it was only two sides rather than having 3, 4, 5 different sides in the debate?
I think partially that’s the case and here it’s important to remember the outcome you saw in Ukraine wasn’t a consolidated democracy. This is not the kind of ideal overlapping cleavages argument where there’s many different conflicts and they all kind of equal out. It certainly had some of the issues that Dahl mentioned. At the same time, while these cleavages made it almost impossible for Ukraine to consolidate democracy, it also made it almost impossible to consolidate authoritarianism. I think it did both at the same time.
So, it kind of depends on where you’re coming from. I mean, if somehow you think that Ukraine, despite its weak institutions could have plausibly consolidated democracy despite having a weak civil society, weak institutions, and a weak party system, then the cleavages are a problem. But if you’re coming at it from the other end where you see Ukraine as part of this Soviet space in which a much more plausible outcome was Belarus or Russia, then these cleavages are a net plus, because they prevent the consolidation of authoritarianism. You know, in Russian there’s a term, ni ryba ni myaso, neither fish nor fowl. I think in a sense these cleavages kept Ukraine in this sort of highly competitive, but unconsolidated state and I guess to me I see it as a success largely, because of what the neighboring countries around Ukraine experience which is something much worse.
So, you mentioned Belarus. I want to step over in this direction. There was an article you wrote about Belarus a few years ago in the Journal of Democracy and you actually cited a book by Serhii Plokhii and I went back and read it. It was The Origins of the Slavic Nations and it really helped me understand the differences between Ukrainians, Belarusians, and Russians and at the same time how those different groups have similarities and why they’re kind of considered the slavic peoples at the same time. So, I want to emphasize that they’re all very distinct, but they do have cultural similarities and cultural ties to one another all at the same time.
So, Ukraine has kind of shifted to become more democratic and you mentioned that about the pluralism. Belarus has done the opposite. It’s become incredibly autocratic. What is the difference between these two countries? Was it the pluralism that you’re talking about? The fact that Ukraine wasn’t able to consolidate either democracy or authoritarianism completely or is it more than just that?
I think there are a couple reasons. First of all, Belarus had a much more unified national identity. In Ukraine when one side would engage in autocratic behavior, it was fairly easy for the opposition to mobilize popular support, because you could frame the autocratic behavior in these kind of existential terms that motivated a much greater degree of popular mobilization than you would’ve had if you were just looking at the strength of civil society. So, it gave a kind of hot button issue that allowed each side to mobilize its own troops. So, neither side was able to monopolize political control which is the way in which these divisions manifested themselves over 25 years.
Belarus is not divided. So, when Lukashenko engaged in overt efforts in 1996 to shut down parliament, you just had a weak civil society that was unable to mobilize any broader ideational appeals to combat that. So, he was just able to basically waltz in and destroy the elements of democracy that you had in the early 1990s before Lukashenko won his election. Ironically, I think it’s the unity and this is what I’ve argued. It’s the unity of Belarusian identity that really in this context of very weak democratic institutions allowed him to consolidate democracy in a way that Ukrainian autocrats were totally unable to do.
So, some other post-Soviet states that have been fighting to be included within the European Union also include Moldova and Georgia. Ukraine’ application for membership was recently accepted. I mean, we’re a long way out before they move forward. They also accepted Moldova’s to my understanding, but it still feels as if Ukraine has really set itself apart from even these two countries. What has really set Ukraine apart from countries like Moldova and Georgia that have been trying to shift towards a more European identity, towards a more liberal democratic identity as well?
I think that the most obvious factor is that the war has been much more serious… I mean both Moldova and Georgia have been invaded by Russia. So, you have that. But the invasions were much more limited. So, when Zelensky came here, there’s a sort of a phrase going around that things have to happen by the speed of war. I think that war and crisis provides a tremendous opportunity for reformers in the sense that the existential crisis makes it much easier to overcome fundamental structural obstacles to institutional reform. I also just think there’s a kind of volunteerism or personalism in contingency. Leadership here does matter.
Zelensky is very committed to this. He didn’t have to be. He’s also surrounded, and I can tell you because a lot of them are good friends of mine, by a truly extraordinary generation of almost like Silicon Valley types who are profoundly unhierarchical and just willing to engage in these really rapid efforts to reform and even offend a lot of people in a way that I think would just be impossible in places that weren’t undergoing this kind of conflict.
Tymofiy Mylovanov who runs the Kiev school of economics, I mean, he is just like, if there’s a problem, he comes up with a solution. Moreover, because of the crisis, he’s able to get things through the Ukrainian political system that were just completely unimaginable eight months ago.
So, you’ve got a new book coming out called Revolution and Dictatorship: The Violent Origins of Durable Authoritarianism. I haven’t really brought it up, because to be honest, the most recent revolution in Ukraine, I don’t think that you define as being a quote unquote real revolution or a social revolution. But at the same time, it feels like there’s a lot of social change that’s happening, because the Maidan Revolution spurred Russia’s invasion and that has brought on more and more social change within Ukraine. I hear about people changing the language that they speak, changing senses of identity, and changing different ideas. In hindsight, with what you know now, do you feel like the Maidan Revolution might turn out to have become more of a social revolution than you had anticipated?
I don’t think it sort of matches our definition of social revolution. I mean, there isn’t the same kind of internally driven violence and sort of top down – I mean, there have been some social changes in terms of, as you mentioned, efforts to kind of rid Ukraine of some of its Soviet heritage. They banned the Communist Party. They changed a lot of place names. I mean, I don’t think this in any way approaches what you saw in Russia in 1917 with sort of abolition of private property and the killings of massive numbers of landowners and seizing of factories. But just because it’s not a social revolution in this sort of high bar it doesn’t mean that there isn’t some real social change going on.
I think that the revolution is one thing, but historically war has always been the instigator of major social change. I mean, World War II sort of generated demand for decolonization, because you mobilized large numbers of African troops and they’re fighting for Britain’s freedom from colonial control. So, why not us? You see the role of women changing. So, in a sense, I think you’re absolutely right, and I hadn’t thought of this, that there is social change that will go on. In fact, a lot of what I’ve heard from people like my friend Mylovanov and the sort of younger generation is that they kind of see this as an opportunity to have a wholly new Ukraine, to rebuild Ukraine.
So, I think there really is this kind of optimistic side. I mean, I do think that in terms of democracy, I think that the war presents a genuine threat that we need to be aware of. But I think in terms of other kinds of reform it’s much more of an opportunity than a threat.
Yeah, I think on the surface the Maidan Revolution fits what Mark Beissinger calls the urban civic revolutions, the more limited revolutions. And I’m not making the case that this turns into durable authoritarianism. I’m not going there, but I do think that a lot of people in Ukraine see Russia’s invasion of it as an extension of the Maidan Revolution. In a lot of ways, they see themselves as fighting a war of independence against Russia, because in many ways they feel like they’ve never truly become independent of Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. Am I understanding that right? Is that kind of a sense that some Ukrainians have?
Absolutely. Yeah. So, I don’t think it’s necessarily completely accurate. But I think that definitely that narrative has very much taken hold in Ukraine and there’s certain parts of it that’s certainly true. I mean, the war really began in 2014. This is sort of an extension of that war, but obviously a much more major scale. Still, I think absolutely the narrative of fighting for Ukraine hasvery much taken hold. But I think the difference though relates to these divisions I was talking about earlier.
So, Euromaidan in 2014 was a movement that was profoundly regionalized in Western Ukraine. So, the protesters in 2014 were not from Eastern Ukraine, but were from Western Ukraine. So, my reaction was always when they said in 2014 Maidan unified Ukraine that that was empirically wrong. It did not unify Ukraine. It divided it as did the Orange Revolution. But I think what’s going on now is that this no longer has anything to do with the east-west divisions that I talked about earlier. This is very much about Russian speaking Ukrainians, Ukrainian speaking Ukrainians, all those people which are very unified under Zelensky.
So, shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine you wrote a paper called “The Rebirth of the Liberal Order.” And if I remember right, it came out in maybe February in the Journal of Democracy’swebsite, maybe March. So, it was very early on and in this paper you wrote, “There remains a chance that the global liberal project may emerge from this darkness stronger and more invigorated than before.” It’s been a couple months now. There’s a lot of opportunities to be able to have doubts about that phrase or to feel even stronger about what you wrote at that time. Do you feel more or less confident about the global liberal project today?
I mean, I think it’s a great question. I think it’s still early. I do think certain things are incontrovertible. The west has behaved in a much more unified fashion in the first four months or so of the war than anybody would’ve predicted and in ways that go against their economic interest. I mean, a lot of times Germany is criticized and from the French government Macron is criticized by the Ukrainians, but these are democracies. There are countries that are genuinely hurt by higher energy prices. In that context, as much as one might wish Scholz to do more and Macron to do more, they are still much more unified in their response to the Russian invasion than you would’ve thought.
Remember that Germany was the place where the chancellor was deep in hawk with Russian corrupt interests. Even still while they have always remained neutral since World War II in conflicts and resisted military engagement, they are building what is maybe the third largest military in the world. So, that’s a revolution in of itself in a sense. I think that part makes me confident. A couple of things that sort of give me pause. The first most obvious thing, and this is something I mentioned in the piece, is that this is a marathon, not a sprint. I think just because you’re out ahead in the first part of the marathon doesn’t mean you won’t get exhausted. That I think always should be a concern.
The other thing that is of concern to me is the fact that the West is very unified. The developing world is not. My in-laws are from Pakistan and when I visited my in-laws in Halifax, in Canada, a few months ago, I heard disturbingly a lot of pro-Putin rhetoric that I was a little bit shocked at. The level of anti-Americanism in the developing world is so high that I think even if these countries don’t necessarily become strongly pro-Russian, Biden and others have not been able to create a kind of unified sort of global response in a way that one might have hoped.
So, Lucan, as we kind of wrap up, I do want to turn the conversation back one more time to the idea of democracy in Ukraine and the idea of it being a hard place for democracy to thrive. It’s kind of the theme of the last few episodes of the podcast. When the war eventually concludes or when it comes to some kind of conclusion, no matter what it might be, what additional challenges will Ukraine face in terms of bringing about a democracy or maintaining a democracy going forward after the threat from Russia is gone?
So, I think the biggest challenge is that Ukrainians are going to have to start seeing opposition as not being treasonous. This is not just to Ukraine, but it’s any country facing Ukraine’s situation. Because first of all, the war is never going to really end. Because even in the most optimistic scenario where Ukraine regains its territory and it goes back to the 1991 borders, Russia is almost certainly going to present a permanent threat to Ukrainian sovereignty. I think objectively it will. But even if objectively it wasn’t, after such an invasion, you can imagine the political environment’s going to treat it as one. Therefore, I think it’s going to be very easy for politicians in the government, not just Zelensky, but anybody who’s in power to frame the opposition as inherently treasonous, as dividing Ukraine, and making it more vulnerable to invasion.
I think that’s something almost inevitable and will have to be stamped out and I think here the west can play an enormous role in both supporting Ukraine, giving unconditional support to Ukraine, making sure that Ukraine wins this war. I think that is absolutely essential, but at the same time, letting Zelensky and others know that these certain limitations to democracy are understandable now. But we’re watching and when the security situation gets better, we expect Ukraine to go back to the vibrant democracy it was before the invasion.
Well, thank you so much for joining me Lucan. It’s always impressive to hear your thoughts on Ukraine and as always I think everybody’s hoping that Ukraine comes out and is able to defend their borders and win this war. So, thank you so much.
Revolution and Dictatorship: The Violent Origins of Durable Authoritarianism by Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way
Follow the Lucan Way on Twitter @LucanWay
“The Rebirth of the Liberal World Order?” by Lucan Way in the Journal of Democracy
Democracy in Hard Places edited by Scott Mainwaring and Tarek Masoud
Democracy Paradox Podcast
Sarah Repucci from Freedom House with an Update on Freedom in the World
Stephan Haggard and Robert Kaufman on Democratic Backsliding
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