The past ten years have been a period of intense international change. Many aspects of international life have experienced rapid transformation, but one central trend stands out: the increasingly intense interchange of people, ideas, goods, information, and money across national and regional borders. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as globalization and a number of commentators have christened the contemporary period as ?the era of globalization.? While globalization is often discussed as a predominantly economic phenomenon, in reality it has many other facets, including the global trend toward democracy and the revolution in information and communications technology. All of these issues are highlighted in the work of the Global Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Globalization remains a somewhat disquieting phenomenon for all countries, including the United States, creating fears that states will lose their sovereignty and that many of the regulatory institutions that are in place now will become ineffective and obsolete before new ones have been developed. One aspect of globalization, however, has been welcomed unconditionally by the United States and other industrial democracies: the global democratic trend.
The last ten years have seen a dramatic change in the number of countries developing democratic political systems. A wave of democratization?the third such wave historically?that started slowly in the late 1970s with the transitions in Spain and Portugal and extended to many Latin American countries in the 1980s gathered momentum in the 1990s, engulfing Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, and parts of Africa and Asia. As a result of this change, the United States and other established democracies made democracy promotion one of the goals of their foreign policies. They also started funding extensive programs of support for democratic change. Democracy is thus no longer the political system of a few western industrialized countries. It has become a global trend and countries all over the world are experiencing considerable pressure to conform to it.
But democracy remains a controversial and even threatening idea in many countries. Resistance to it comes not only from dictators afraid of losing their power, but also from ordinary citizens, who welcome the increase in personal freedom but also fear that the change will have negative repercussions on their culture, their identities, and even on their standard of living. International aid efforts designed to support democratization sometimes unwittingly contribute to these fears, because pressures on a country to democratize go hand in hand with pressures for it to open its markets and become part of the global economy.
In this working paper on Russian views of democratization, the distinguished Russian political scientist Yuri Fedorov explores many of these issues. The paper was written as part of a project that brought together at the Carnegie Moscow Center a group of senior associates of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Russian analysts to exchange views about different aspects of globalization.
Several points emerge clearly from Fedorov?s paper. The first is that Russians believe that choosing democracy implies much more than adopting a political system that allows greater personal freedom and guarantees greater government accountability; it also involves opening up their culture to different ideas and their economy to market forces and foreign competition. Ordinary citizens, although not necessarily all members of the more ideologically motivated elite, welcome greater freedom. But ordinary citizens and elites alike appear leery of the consequences of globalization, of which democracy is part. Their fear of globalization is heightened by the perception that the process is not driven by the impersonal forces of the information revolution and the market, but controlled by the United States as part of a hegemonic project.
There are many lessons in this paper for democracy promoters. We highlight two here. First, many democratization projects are based on the assumption that the process hinges on the building of appropriate governmental institutions and civil society organizations; Fedorov, on the contrary, stresses the importance of cultural attitudes?what he calls the Russian psyche. This is delicate ground for democracy promoters to tread. Second, the slow progress of democracy in many countries is often attributed to the weakness of civil society and the poor articulation of interests in the political process. Fedorov shows, however, that in the case of Russia the opposite is true. Some interests are very well articulated, and this is what slows down democratization: many important groups believe their interests would be threatened if Russia joined the community of democracies and, with it, the global economy.
—Thomas Carothers & Marina Ottaway
Co-Directors Democracy and Rule of Law Project
Click on link above for full text of this Carnegie Paper.
About the Author
Yuri Fedorov is a professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation (MGIMO) and head of the Section of Systemic Analysis of U.S. Military Policy, Institute of U.S.A. and Canada Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences (ISKRAN).