Astroturf or Grass? Civil Society, the EU, and the Eastern Partnership

By Emmet Tuohy

In the post-Communist political philosophy tradition, the concept of “civil society” (an ostensibly flourishing collection of independent organizations freely able to pursue their interests, ranging from activist groups to bird-watching clubs, from academic institutions to bricklayers’ unions) is distinguished from “political society,” i.e., that dominated by the personnel and ideology of the state itself.

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Thirty years of war over Nagorno-Karabakh: what are the challenges for democracy?

By Licínia Simão

The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh started in 1988, initially as a political demand by the Karabakh authorities for formal inclusion in the Armenian Socialist Soviet Republic. It rapidly escalated into violent confrontation, as Azerbaijani authorities refused this demand and Moscow proved too absent to manage the contestation. The final days of the USSR were particularly violent in this region of the world and thirty years after the conflict escalated into a violent confrontation there has been no peace and there are no perspectives of a way out of the status quo. Besides the obvious human costs of the war, the permanence of this protracted conflict has had an immense negative impact in the post-Soviet transition of Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as of Nagorno-Karabakh. Democratic institutions have been pressured to produce leaderships that have the management of war as their main priority; democratic choices have fallen victim of militarisation; regional partnerships have been skewed to produce alliances and balances of power. In this scenario, what challenges does democracy face in the region, thirty years into this war?

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Helsinki 2.0 – An Old-School Solution to an Old-School Problem?

By Emmet Tuohy

Commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act in 2015, OSCE chairman-in-office Ivica Dačić (then, as now, foreign minister of Serbia) called the agreement a “historic triumph of cooperation over conflict that set the stage for the end of the Cold War.”  In historical context, that is certainly true enough. Yet, even then, given the well-known events in Ukraine the previous year—specifically Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the military intervention in the Donbas region—there was ample cause to prompt a reassessment of the long-term impact of the Helsinki agreements. Former Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves argued that the main principle of the Act—that hat state borders cannot be changed by force—was „no longer valid.”  But if the problem is the emergence of a „new Cold War,” then perhaps the Cold War era can be the source of a solution?

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To Sleep, Perchance to Reform: The Continued Relevance of the EU’s Eastern Partnership

By Emmet Tuohy

Much as the related “Ukraine fatigue” pandemic swept Washington in the aftermath of the 2004-05 Orange Revolution, Eastern Partnership (EaP) fatigue is alas an increasingly common illness among many contemporary observers, both within the EU and in the six partner countries. Even in Tallinn—the capital of one of the most enthusiastic and effective supporters of the EaP—one occasionally hears critiques (if more often whispered or off-the-record) that the initiative is “irrelevant” or “ineffective.”  And its showcase event, the biennial Eastern Partnership Summit, was (accurately) described as “low-key” and “aimed at avoid[ing] drama.”  Following Shakespeare’s Danish prince—who was actually, frequent misquoting aside, talking about a rather more final state of repose—are the EaP’s dreams of ever-closer European integration eastward  simply dead?  Or, like Hamlet, has the initiative found a reason to keep going?

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