Lucan Way: “It`s not the strength of populists but the weakness of their opponents”

5 August 2018, 11:07

In recent months we have seen some dramatic changes in rhetoric of Kim Jong Un. He have even expressed his readiness to stop his nuclear program. Do you believe in tat words? Can we trust his truthfulness?


– I’m not an expert in North Korea. But the options for North Korea of what other countries like US can do to resolve the conflict are very little. So we have to take advantage of every opening he provides. I think his idea of denuclearization is very different from Trump’s idea, cause I think from his point of view it means that both sides should give up the weapons. And I think we will never see the United States to reduce its nuclear arsenal. So it’s hard to imagine that that’s working. Another hand, simply having a dialogue and the more you can extend it out – that’s better. Even if in the end there will be no stable agreements. Their goals are very different obviously. Since the lesson of Libya and actually of Ukraine as well for North Korea is that if you give up your nuclear weapons you will get attacked. Many countries already suffered from invasion, since they give up the weapons. And Kim Jong Un is very aware of this. I cannot imagine on any circumstances, that he will give up his nuclear arsenal. But this not means that he will use it. So the best that we can have is kind of “cold peace”.


Do you think the North Korean regime can change for better or to be more democratic? And also what about the society and the people?


– Everything is possible. But if its gonna happen – its probably gonna be very sudden, unexpected, cause we have no idea of what’s going on inside North Korean leads. Maybe that will be similar to Romanian scenario in 1989. When Romania was a very conservative communist country, unlike other European countries. But then they shoot Ceaușescu. So that process will be not gradual and unexpected.


But in some European countries we see a reversed shift from democracy to more authoritarian style.  Is that a new trend wit a request from people or just a temporary and not connected coincidence?


– I think it’s a bit a trend. And we should see two things. First, if look to overall democracy in the world it is not going down, it is very stable. You have the same number of democracies now, that you did 15 years ago. So it’s not quite bad as we think. So overall there is no wide discussion of democratic decline. Same time, I see especially in Hungary that we have a real democratic decline, there is no doubt. And it is a part of a broader populists wave, that is in some way a product not so much the popularity of these leaders (except the Hungary where the populists have circa 30% of support). But the issue is that old established parties in example in France or in the UK have weakened substantially. The lefts in much Europe have disappeared and this is an opening for these new forces. So it’s more about the weakness of established parties, than about the rise of the strength of populists. This is the reason of current populists crisis in Western Europe. Hungary is a particular case. There you can see the negative effect nationalism. What’s interesting about Eastern Europe, Hungary and Poland is that during the Cold War, when Hungary and Poland were both occupied by Soviet troops, nationalism was very much a force for democracy. Because to be European means to be democratic. So for that moment nationalism and democracy were for one. But it’s been a long time since 1989, already a generation. So when the totalitarian Moscow used to be the enemy, now it’s Brussels. And the nationalists are turning to fight against bureaucratic, but democratic European Union. So once they were a force for democracy, but now, because people just forget how bad the communism was, now they focused their distrust on democracy.

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Regarding Ukraine, do you see this trends or changes here?


– I was for the last time there in year 2015 and I see now some changes, both good and bad. The good part is that Ukraine is much more open and democratic, than it was under Yanukovych. In some ways it’s very similar to Yuschenko times, which were very democratic. And the oligarchs under Kuchma or Yanukovich they served one master. Now the oligarchs serving many masters, it’s very fragmented and as a result there is much more democracy. At the same time obviously like in Yuschenko times, the corruption is rampant. And also I hear some abuses of democracy by Poroshenko, I’m very disturbed by attacks of NGOs by e-declarations and other measures to suppress NGOs, that we see in countries like Kazakhstan or Russia and that normally do not belong here. I’m also abused by sort of politicizing of depriving of Saakashvili’s citizenship. I mean you may like him or not, but it was a clear use of administrative resource against political opponent, which has no place in democracy. So there are a number of abuses emerging last couple of years.


One of the topics of Russian propaganda is that Ukraine is ruled by kind of junta, an authoritarian military power, without any rule of law. Do you see some signs of that?


– No, absolutely no. Comparing, Russia is a junta, simply authoritarian. First of all, the elections in Ukraine matters a lot, they are sensual to those who are in power. And in Russia elections doesn’t matter at all. Also in Ukraine you have a real opposition, which they have not in Russia. And this is a real dynamic politic of democracy. Of course we should be aware of negative and positive sides of it. And you have democratic institutions, which are much stronger than in Russia. This is something you have to preserve. Sometimes we can say – no, we cannot criticize the Ukrainian government, because that fall into propaganda of Putin. But the only way we can preserve the democracy is by holding leader accountable. And if it is a dictatorial action – you have to call it a dictatorial action and stop doing that. And Ukraine deserves much better than it now has. Even these abuses are much more minor than they are in Russia. 


How to solve the dilemma between creating a strong vertical government with centralized control as a more effective way of ruling the country in conditions of undeclared war and not to transform to the same undemocratic authoritarian Russia-like state against what we are fighting now.


– You have to keep the soul of Ukraine, like it is written on Maidan – Freedom is our religion. That is important. You don’t have to sacrifice Ukrainian identity to Putin. He wants Ukraine to become autocracy, he wants to polarize Ukraine, and he wants to actively encourage a violent overthrow of government. We want none of that. The other thing is that there is also a practical reason. The autocracy is very opaque. What we saw at Kuchma era, which was very opaque, it was much easier for Putin to use bribering, he could secretly deal with it, pay people off. He would love that. But since Ukraine becomes more democratic and transparent you would not do that, because politically that would mean death, this person will loose an election.


Which tendencies you see in Russia?


– Obviously the elections were very depressing. And the protest is so relatively small. But Putin will be around not forever, he is quite old. Just because Russia is an autocracy for a very long time does not mean, that it will be in that way forever. But in a short term it is hard to be optimistic.

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Can we call the events in Armenia a real revolution?


 – We can call it a political revolution. But I think it’s too early to say that Armenia is a democracy. But what I think is most interesting for these events is Russia’s attitude. In previous times Russia was very oppose to sort of changes when you have a kind of pro-Russian government in power. They tried to sort of defend government from the opposition. But in that case I think Russia feels comfortable, that whichever government comes to power will be also pro-Russian, so they can be indifferent, they just don’t care. My understanding of Russian foreign policy is that they ultimately don’t really care so much whether the government is a dictatorship or a democracy. What they care about is will it be a pro-Russian or not. Maybe they slightly prefer dictatorship, but they are able to work with anybody. But for Armenia it is a positive shift, which opens a room for pluralism, at least the possibility of transforming to democracy, is opened down, even regarding that country is so much under Russian influence. And this is a change in Russian foreign policy. The most relevant example is Belarus. I think Lukashenko must be scared. Because the fact that you are pro-Russian doesn’t mean that you will stay in power. 



Lucan Ahmad Way received his B.A. in Harvard College, Cambridge in 1991, then M.A. at the University of California, Berkeley in 1995. In 2001 he received his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. Way’s research focuses on democratization and authoritarianism in the former Soviet Union and the developing world. Author of multiple books and articles, winner of the Best Article Award from the American Political Science Association’s Comparative Democratization Section in 2006. He is Co-Director of the Petro Jacyk Program for the Study of Ukraine and is Co-Chair of the Editorial Board of The Journal of Democracy. He has courses about Democracy and Dictatorship and Introduction to Comparative Politics. Professor of political science at the University of Toronto

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