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The IMF, the EU, China, Ukraine, Poland and why culture may not determine democratic success

Just learned from EurActiv that the Chinese Central Bank may support Ukraine in funding its state debt, while Ukraine may be suspending talks with the IMF after IMF report of slowed down reforms. The same Euractiv piece links the outcome of the next round of talks between the Ukrainian government and Russia on cheaper Russian gas for the Ukraine with the continuation of IMF talks.

The story’s immediate impact is to make one wonder about the replacement of the EU’s, imperfect but useful conditionality towards democratizing states, by other kinds of relationships and conditions with China or Russia. It would appear to suggest that the EU’s economic crisis and diminishing importance in geopolitical terms due to its chronic inability to harness the member states’ economic clout and political experience are finally taking its toll. The EU just seems not to matter any more as much as it used to, when there are others, like China, who would provide financial support without setting conditions (but is there such a thing as free lunch?). We shall have to follow this development more closely, but the lesson for the EU is unambiguous – while we bicker amongst ourselves, others are engaging in diplomacy which may achieve their long-term economic interests better than the non-diplomacy of the EU or the short-sighted, short-term focus on own interests adopted  by some member states.

It is not all doom and gloom, however. The EU can take credit for some of recent success stories in democratization and economic development, such as Poland. Here, I cannot say it any better than Timothy Garton Ash in his Guardian comment, As Poland Shines, Ukraine Sinks. I particularly like his argument that democratic institutions can trump culture, with the inspiring quote from Daniel Patrick Moynihan:

“As the American politician and thinker Daniel Patrick Moynihan wonderfully observed: “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.” Good politics, good constitutions and good courts can, given time and luck, change the course of rivers. Degraded, drunken, corrupt societies – such as Poland might have seemed to the casual visitor 40 years ago – can become modern, open, democratic ones. And the liberal wager is that Orthodox, Islamic and Asian societies can transform themselves too.”

 

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