Will authoritarianism help UkraineTaras Semeniuk
Economic instability and impunity would shake any democratic system. When people have no money for food and entertainment, when they feel they are in high danger, then they demand changes that are often boiled down to a will to have a "strong hand" on top of the power vertical. Indeed, the latest polls by Rating Group has shown that, despite a positive shift in the direction of democracy in terms of human values, almost 70% of Ukrainians are increasingly demanding "order." At the same time, Ukrainians are even ready to sacrifice their rights and freedoms.
Why is this happening? Great inequality in the incomes of citizens and a huge gap between the rich and the poor is incompatible with democratic principles. It is not about Socialist equality, it's about equal opportunities, protected and guaranteed by law. In democratic societies, everyone has equal opportunities and rights for development, which ultimately leads to the formation of the middle class.
Therefore, there is nothing surprising in the fact that a shift in public demand toward authoritarianism is relevant only when a country is going through an economic crisis. Democracy is a costly thing, therefore, the country's economic development is key to the strengthening and operations of democratic institutions.
The latest polls by Rating Group has shown that, despite positive shift in the direction of democracy in terms of human values, almost 70% of Ukrainians are increasingly demanding "order"
Professor Ronald Inglehart of the University of Michigan recommends that, rather than to pursue corporate profits, governments need to raise the level and quality of life to preserve democracy. This is in fact a major challenge of today for the authorities both in Ukraine and EU where in some member states, the voice of populists and supporters of authoritarianism is gaining strength.
However, democracy remains, perhaps, the most effective and bloodless method of economic growth and development of society, as well as of geopolitical weight. A striking example was seen in the United States and Europe after World War II. Although there is a number of authoritarian countries where the economy is stronger than in some democracies. China and Singapore are examples of high-quality economic competition with democratic regimes, but let's not forget that authoritarianism carries a range of restrictions on human freedoms. In authoritarian regimes, all focus is on the power vertical. This style does not provide citizens with equal economic opportunities, therefore, they do not fully enjoy benefits that the economy is building up.
In addition to the economy, an important role in people's perception of an authoritarian regime plays the safety/security factor. This was clearly evident in the EU amid the migration crisis and anti-Islamic protests.
For example, Hungary completely and instantly closed its borders to migrants from Syria. Besides, the country's leadership sabotaged the so-called migrant allocation quotas citing the "danger of strangers," which the government used to protect its nation's borders. This led to Viktor Orban's Fidesz party winning the latest elections in April.
There is nothing surprising in the fact that a shift in public demand toward authoritarianism is relevant only when a country is going through an economic crisis. Democracy is a costly thing, therefore, the country's economic development is key to the strengthening and operations of democratic institutions
Another example: Denmark was a completely tolerant state until 2006, when anti-Islamic moods took lead in their society due to a wave of acts of arson at the country's embassies (over caricatures of Prophet Muhammad published in one of the Danish publications). Anti-Islamic rhetoric with notes of authoritarianism enabled the Danish People's Party to win 14% of the vote in the elections. In 2015, the same party saw support of 21% of the population due to its strong anti-migrant rhetoric.
What do these examples show? The threat that is looming from behind the border and the fear that someone else is encroaching on your territory unites people in support of politicians who propose closing down the borders and taking rigorous measures in managing the country. People want a "strong hand" when they feel they are in danger. This is also evident in Ukraine. Assassinations in Kyiv, knife attacks, and impunity of corrupt officials are all facts that shape people's will to rely on authoritarianism as a panacea against disorder and threats.
At a time when depression permeates society, statements come out of both populist and xenophobic nature. There are plenty of people offering answers to complex questions through seemingly easy solutions.
The ultimate goal is to create a public demand for an authoritarian leader so that citizens are ready to sacrifice their freedoms for the sake of economic prosperity, promised by a politician claiming to pursue an authoritarian style in power.
Will this be the trend in the Ukrainian political parties' upcoming campaign rhetoric? Most likely, it will.
However, there will be no absolute drop down to classical authoritarianism, since over the last four years, a rather strong civic society has already formed in Ukraine, the one that does have an impact on politics. In addition, the role is growing of united territorial communities that are gaining strength and start forming the agenda.
Taras Semeniuk is an analyst at KyivStratPro