Espreso. Global

Caught between a lion and a crocodile in the clash of civilizations

5 November, 2023 Sunday

Science - especially social science - is quite like journalism and social media. An eye-catching headline or neat turn of phrase distinguishes one person's work from all the rest and it takes on a life of its own.

And sometimes it plays jokes with the author. Often bad ones, like with Fukuyama, who proclaimed the "end of history" after the fall of the communist camp, a statement that hasn't been without its critics. After all, history had no intention of ending. And it doesn't matter that Fukuyama didn't mean in the way everyone read it. The catchy slogan did its job.

But the Clash of Civilizations by Huntington brings the author new waves of recognition and fame. Even though he included religion as one of the determining factors, he placed Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, the Balkans, and even Greece in the same Orthodox camp. And the "front" of the clash between Western and Orthodox civilization was supposed to be somewhere along the Zbruch River. It is very good that he was wrong about this. However, he was not mistaken in his approach - and here the catchy headline is quite relevant to the realities. Although the realities fill it with a different meaning.

Culture, history, religion and traditions are certainly important for understanding every society because they influence how roles are distributed, who gets positions and why.

“However, the current conflict of civilizations has a different institutional expression: the political system. It seems that, for various historical and cultural reasons, democracy has taken root and is working (albeit with its share of problems) in some countries, while in others it is not.”

This may not be the cause of the conflict that is unfolding in the world, but it accurately describes each side of it.

On one side there are democracies. On the other - despotism.

“For democracies, the individuals', communities', and societies' opinions are important. For despotism, the desires of only a group of people in power are important.”

And there is one "but" here: in the modern world, democracies face a very serious internal challenge - populism.

It actually devalues the benefits that democracy provides to individuals and communities. Because under populism, a group of people in power effectively deceives citizens, replacing their interests with imposed clichés and cultish slogans.

This kind of democracy degeneration is not new; it was known in the ancient world and in interwar Europe in the twentieth century. But in the twenty-first century, communication technologies open up many opportunities for it.

“Thus, the civilization of democracies is caught between the external "roaring lion" of despots who felt strong enough to attack directly, and the internal "vicious crocodile" of populism, which is destroying its advantages in the struggle.”

Populists are making every effort to steer the country away from the imminent challenges and avoid necessary preparations. Instead, they allocate resources towards fulfilling their own desires and interests, which were the driving force behind their acquisition of power at any cost.

As a result, the country is not ready for a war brought by an external enemy. This means casualties and losses.

Corruption, which is receiving so much attention now, does not seem to be directly related to populism. But this is only at first glance! In practice, they go hand in hand.

Because corruption is illegal enrichment through a power position. And this is a motivation for populists, a tool for bribing followers, and a resource storehouse for manipulating society.

“Therefore, fighting corruption alone is not enough as a way to overcome ineffective government (which is an inevitable populism consequence). In order to eliminate populism, it is necessary to pull out all its roots”.


Corruption - by transparency of procedures, control and exposure mechanisms;

Monopoly - through freedom of speech, media and journalists, experts and activists' protection, through community and active opposition;

Lies and manipulations - by campaigns of clarification and explanation; spreading information and fighting fakes.

This raises the question of whether such a fight against the internal “crocodile” might result in a weakened stance in the face of the external “lion”?

After all, we remember how well Russian propaganda manipulates the issues of corruption, justice, freedom, and others.

To avert such a situation, it is imperative to combat populism while simultaneously addressing external threats and enhancing preparedness for them.

And society - that is, each of us - must be as critical as possible in perceiving corruption, populism, hypocrisy, and the lack of response from those in power.

Every democratic country has to cope with both the “crocodile” and the “lion” as it gets involved in the clash of civilizations.

Ukraine has to make a desperate breakthrough to escape the jaws of the “crocodile” while fighting off the “lion.”

The chance for success lies in the fact that this approach will be supported by its allies. At least because it will help them overcome their own “crocodiles.”

If we want to win the clash of civilizations, there is no alternative.

Specially for Espreso

About the author. Rostyslav Pavlenko, Ukrainian MP, member of the European Solidarity faction in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.

The editors do not always share the opinions expressed by the blog authors.

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