The Rollback on Pro-Democracy Parties

Writing at the New Republic, Paul Berman has seven thoughts about the war in Georgia.

2) The vast and irreversible effects of the invasion of Georgia will be felt everywhere in the ex-Soviet bloc, and not just there. Each of the ex-bloc countries has what could be called its own pro-Russia party, which is hostile to the democratic revolutions. The pro-Russia parties stand on several solid and distinct foundations: ethnic Russian minorities in the countries bordering on Russia; a variety of business interests linked to Russia, based either on Russian gas and raw materials, or on networks descended from the Soviet-era military and police agencies; nationalist groupings in the old Slavophilic style; and some (not all) of the heirs to the old Communist political tradition.

From atop those several foundations, the pro-Russia parties derive strength from a variety of physical threats: a threat of cyber-attack (already waged against Estonia on behalf of the Russian ethnic minority there, and, shortly before the invasion, against Georgia); a threat of a cut-off in gas supplies, which Russia has already wielded against Ukraine; and, more vaguely, a threat of murky political tension. Today, the pro-Russia parties in each of Russia’s immediate neighbors and in some of the more distant neighbors can add to those the ultimate threat. The one involving tanks. The pro-Russia parties in every country have therefore emerged from last week’s events massively reinforced, and they will remain so for years to come even if every one of those Russian tanks were to exit Georgia tomorrow.The strengthening of the pro-Russia parties will be met, at first, by an increased hostility from the democratic parties–the genuinely democratic parties, and some of the not-so-genuine ones. Political tensions are therefore bound to rise all across the region, not just between the ex-bloc countries and Russia, but within each of the ex-bloc countries. A rise in domestic tensions will have the unavoidable effect, however, of yet again increasing, in the short term, the credibility of threats from the pro-Russia parties. The pressure on the democratic parties to relinquish their hostility to the pro-Russia parties will therefore grow in the months to come. And a degree of power will shift to the pro-Russia parties on a regional and not just a local level.Poland will be an exception to this development, if only because Poland appears to have made a fundamental national choice to go down fighting, rather than submit yet again to Russia. But Polish defiance has merely meant that Poland, instead of undergoing the political tensions that are about to embroil the other countries, has leapfrogged to a still higher stage of tension, which is military. The Poles have already found themselves being threatened overtly with military assault and even nuclear attack by top figures of the Russian military–a shocking development.The greater the danger of violent attack on Poland, the more acute will be the political tension within each of the other countries, and the less predictable will be each country’s frightened and panicked response.