Relaciones Internacionales – Comunicación Internacional

Pathways to freedom

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Over the past three years, the world has witnessed a number of democratic transitions take root across the Middle East and Asia. Millions of oppressed people in countries once ruled by autocrats are struggling to realize freedom and shared opportunity. Other countries around the world also now teeter on the edge of transition to more free and open societies.

These movements for political freedom and broader prosperity come at a time when democracy appears to be receding, as experts such as Larry Diamond in The Spirit of Democracy and Joshua Kurlantzick in Democracy in Retreat have noted. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, democracy surged, reaching a high-water mark in the first years of the twenty-first century with various «colored revolutions» in former Soviet Bloc countries. But then democratic gains in eastern Europe, Africa, and Latin America stalled or even deteriorated as fragile democratic institutions buckled under the enormous challenges of governance. The failed U.S. attempts to impose democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan and the economic rise of autocratic China further undermined confidence in the inevitability and even desirability of democratization. As Freedom House reports in its Freedom in the World 2013, global levels of freedom have declined for the seventh straight year. Noted democracy scholars now talk about a «democratic recession.»

If successful, the nascent democratic openings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Myanmar, along with steps toward greater freedom in other countries such as Georgia, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, and Malawi, could help reverse the recent regressions in democracy. Yet the transition from authoritarianism to democracy is notoriously difficult. Many countries that once seemed budding with democratic promise now appear mired in political infighting and power grabs by ousted elites, or trapped in downward spirals of poverty and unemployment. History suggests that many transitioning countries will move only slowly toward substantive democracy—one characterized not only by majority rule through free and fair elections, but also by strong minority and civil rights protections. For quite some time, many will remain in the democratic purgatory of what experts Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way call «competitive authoritarianism» in their book of the same name—hybrid regimes with elements of both democracy and authoritarianism.

Despite a vast academic literature on democratization, the factors that allow some democratic transitions to succeed as others stall or backslide remain poorly understood by policymakers. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the relative importance of economic development and modernization, economic structure, inequality, governance and rule of law, civil society and media, structure of government, and education have been exhaustively debated. Rather than advancing a new one-sizefits- all theory of democratization, this book looks carefully at the statistical evidence, and backward at eight landmark country transitions over the past twenty-five years—some successful, others not so successful— to distill practical lessons for reformers in transitioning countries and policymakers in supportive outside states. By understanding the trade-offs, sequencing, and critical economic and policy decisions that transitioning countries have faced in the past, policymakers can make smarter choices to improve the chances of successful democratization in states undergoing transitions today.

The eight studies presented in this volume—Mexico, Brazil, Poland, South Africa, Indonesia, Thailand, Ukraine, and Nigeria—are not intended to be a representative sample, but instead encompass a range of experiences and outcomes with geographic diversity and high geopolitical relevance. The authors highlight the critical inflection points of each transition, rather than present an exhaustive record of each country’s trajectory. The tangible examples from the case studies, combined with insights from the statistical research, illuminate why some democratic transitions have succeeded while others have stumbled.

Each case study is organized around six themes that previous research indicates are clearly important to the process of democratization:

■ socioeconomic exclusion and inclusion
■ economic structure and policies
■ civil society and media
■ legal system and rule of law
■ government structure and division of power
■ education and demography


Editors: Isobel Coleman, Senior Fellow and Director of the Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Initiative; Director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program, and Terra Lawson-Remer, Fellow for Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy
Authors: John Campbell, Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies, Grzegorz Ekiert, Professor of Government, Harvard University, Joshua Kurlantzick, Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia, Shannon K. O’Neil, Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies, Carlos Pio, Professor of International Political Economy, Universidade de Brasilia, Adjunct Professor, Australian National University, George Soroka, Ph.D. candidate, Harvard University, Jan Teorell, Professor of Political Science, Lund University, and Andrew Wilson, Senior Policy Fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations, Reader in Ukrainian Studies, University College London




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