Democratization and Conflicts in russia and The newly independent States Essay
The second Russian coup de’etat took place in October 1993. The conflict between the two branches of political power the “nondemocratic” Parliament and the “democracy oriented” president kept escalating to the point where one of the parties used military force. Without speculating about who was right or wrong, this case serves as an example of how nondemocratic means like storming the Parliament with tanks can be justified by so called democratic forces. Under the ‘banner of reestablishing the constitutional order and protecting human rights, the Russian government sent troops to Chechnya to fight Dudaev’s “undemocratic” regime. This decision resulted in a two year war with no clear outcomes other than growing hostility between Russians and Chechens. In exercising their democratic right to self determination, countries that had ‘been unified under the former Soviet Union became fragmented by interethnic conflicts. Many people blame democracy for “provoking” these conflicts. In short, the relationship between conflict and democratization remains unclear and resembles the ancient dilemma about the chicken and the egg. One approach to this dilemma is found in the following statement.
Pluralism is the belief in the value of diversity. And believing in diversity in a dialectics of diversity is antipodal to believing in conflict. Hence: what the theory of democracy derives from its pluralistic matrix is not, and cannot be, a praise of “conflict” but, instead, a dynamic processing of consensus based on the principle that whatever claims to be rightful, or. true, must hold its own against, and be revitalized by, criticism and dissent.More accurately, democracy is about the process that transforms the former into the latter. According to Emmanuel Kant’s model of “pacific union” between democratic states, “peaceful ‘ways of solving domestic conflicts are seen as morally superior to violent behavior, and this view is transferred to international relations between democracies” .Logically, the question arises, If democracy is the panacea for violent conflicts, why do ethnic, religious, political, and other conflicts mushroom in countries that pursue democratic policies? One explanation of this contradiction draws upon the distinction between democratic transition and consolidation. “The new democracies cannot be seen as consolidated; on the contrary, they were described as restricted, frail, and unconsolidated, It follows that the norms of a democratic culture for the peaceful resolution of conflict have not yet become characteristics of the new democracies. “
If this suggestion about democratic consolidation is valid, how should countries handle these transitional conflicts? Should they wait until democracy is consolidated in order to resolve them in a peaceful way? On the one hand, without a strong rule of law, economic prosperity, and other factors that might facilitate resolution of the conflicts accompanying democratization in the former Soviet Union and Eastern and Central Europe, a sufficient basis does not exist for the comprehensive resolution of large social and political conflicts. On the other hand, how can one possibly not deal with these conflicts when people’s lives are at stake? In the former Soviet Union, where here is no rule of law, expecting just and legal solutions to the severe interethnic conflicts is unrealistic. Moreover, political leaders are currently unlikely to consistently promote peaceful resolution of conflicts for a number of reasons:
1. Conflict can be a tool for geopolitical hegemony; for example, provoking ethnic violence in a neighboring state can prov~e an excuse for annexing its territory or maintainir g political obedience though a divide and rule strategy. One of the j.istifications for Russia’s entry into the war with the Chechens was the discrimination against the Russian speaking population there.
2. Conflict can be a vehicle for power struggle. Very often the political opposition exploits interethnic conflicts by escalating military encounters and then seizing power in the crisis situation. Such was the case in Georgia and south Ossetia with Shevardnabdze Gamsakhurdia’s supporters.
3. Conflict can be a means for power holders to maintain the status quo, by lighting a fire of interethnic conflict in order to distract people’s attention from internal social and political problems. This may explain the conflict in the Moldova Transdnestria regions.
Despite these political uses of conflict, the potential role for cooperative conflict resolution theory and practice should not be underestimated in the post Soviet context. Many non violent conflict management strategies are still in use in traditional societies within the former Soviet Union. For example, Chechen and Dagestanian elders had made significant progress in negotiating and persuading Chechen terrorists to free hostages from the Dagestanian city of Kizlyar in December 1995. They might have been successful had not Russian troops begun their unjustified attack, ruining any hope for a peaceful resolution of the crisis. Further, some mothers of Russian prisoners of war found a creative way to negotiate with Chechen military commanders for the release of their sons. These mothers mobilized members of the Chechen Diaspora in their home cities to negotiate with their compatriots in Chechnya. Mass media in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States can play an important role in the escalation or resolution of conflict. For example, during the period of glasnost, newspapers reinforced the schism and escalated the conflict between old and new thinking. Working with journalists who belong to opposing and sometimes warring parties in ethnic conflict situations has highlighted the interface between journalism and conflict resolution.
In the case of the Ossetian Ingush conflict, in which hundreds of lives were lost and thousands of people were forced to seek refuge outside their homeland, the workshop for journalists resembled, in its beginning stages, a mediation session. Initially, the meeting was filled with sharp and bitter attacks. However, the participants were respectful to the facilitator and the process, and eventually they were able to shift discussions from political declarations toward professional sharing. The most exciting moment of the workshop occurred when the participants began thinking about future joint projects they could initiate. The idea of joint coverage of their common predicament emerged as an important result of the workshop. In a Macedonian project, interethnic journalist teams have been reporting on the volatile social and economic issues that plague different ethnic sectors. The project has helped demonstrate to the participating journalists the importance of gathering different perspectives in a situation before jumping to conclusions. These cross cultural teams help balance the natural subjectivity involved with understanding a conflict that challenges one’s identity group. In almost every workshop, journalists mentioned that their ethnic identity has prevented them from having access to certain perspectives of the conflict and has impeded their ability to provide balanced, noninflammatory, and still honest coverage of interethnic relations.
Lack of open dialogue between Tatar and Russian mass media in tatarstan was mentioned as contributing to problems in Tatar Russian relations. A workshop involving journalists from both groups was productive, though emotionally charged. After some initially bitter discussion, journalists decided to found a press club where Russian and Tatar journalists from Kazan and other cities could meet to talk to each other. Although many of the journalists at this workshop had criticized and insulted each other in their respective publications and programs, they seemed surprised to meet each other in a different context and find smart, nice people instead of the monsters they had created in their imagination. Clearly, the mass media plays a large role in shaping people’s attitudes toward various events, especially’ those with which people have no direct experience. This influence is particularly dangerous where highly inflammable interethnic or interfaith conflicts are concerned. Very often journalists do not consider the role they play in the escalation or reduction of tensions. Conflict resolution workshops offer a new perspective journalists, especially those in Russia and the former Soviet Union. There is no unanimous opinion regarding the role of civil society in democratization. Some believe that civil society brings about democracy; others say that “only a democratic state can create a democratic civil society; only a democratic civil society can sustain a democratic state”.
The idea of building a civil society is becoming increasingly poplar in Russia, and the NGO’ sector of society has gained surprisingly powerful momentum. This force is: increasingly recognized by national governments and intergovernmental organizations in the region. For example, the Organization for-Security and Cooperation in Europe recently organized a series of trainirig sessions for human rights NGOs in the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union. An international team of trainers from Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Russia have been training activists from the Baltic states, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. These trainers share with the participants the experience of living through totallitarian regimes and transitions to democracy. They are able to train NGO leaders in advocacy; campaign organizing; how to communicate one’s message to the power holders, to their community, and to mass media; and ultimately, how to promote social change. NGOs can play an important role in these societies by forming coalitions and developing advocacy campaigns for integrating cooperative conflict resolution skills and processes into politics. At least it is worth trying .