chapter  4
14 Pages

The continuing backlash against democracy promotion


In 2006, I and other writers called attention to an emergent international backlash against democracy promotion (Carothers 2006; National Endowment for Democracy 2006). The backlash entails growing hostility and resistance on the part of authoritarian and semi-authoritarian governments to Western, especially US democracy promotion programs and policies. Of course, Western democracy supporters have long encountered a closed door or heavy resistance in many authoritarian countries. This current phenomenon is about governments that once allowed external democracy assistance in their country forcing out or greatly restricting such activities, or it is about governments that never paid much attention to the possibility of such activities on their territory suddenly taking steps to block it. The measures that governments employ against democracy assistance vary.

In some cases, governments impose legal restrictions that force democracy aid groups resident in the country to leave or prevent those attempting to work from a distance to do so. Restrictions on the funding and activities of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)—NGO laws-are a favorite such instrument although laws and regulations relating to political parties and/or elections are also used. Some governments do not force out or completely block external democracy aid groups but harass them. The harassment may be crudely physical-beatings, thefts, and threats against representatives of such groups or against their local partners. Or the harassment may be legal or administrative, such as intrusive tax inspections, administrative fines and office space refusals. Harassment may also take the form of public criticisms or denunciations by government officials of democracy aid groups and their work. The Russian government, under then President Vladimir Putin, was the

initial leading force of the backlash but governments in other parts of the world, including Central Asia, East Asia, the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America, quickly joined in. In the past few years the backlash has continued and spread. Russia remains the paradigmatic case. In his last two years as president before handing over in mid-2008, Vladimir Putin stepped up his assertive campaign against Western democracy promotion. He denounced Western democracy aid providers in harsh, blunt

language as political meddlers who violate Russian sovereignty. Shortly before the December 2007 Duma elections, for example, he denounced Western democracy aid in scathing terms: