During his first official trip to Europe representing the new administration, U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden highlighted the importance of re-energizing democracy promotion efforts in East Europe. Yet, since the postcommunist transition began 20 years ago, not only the methods but also the actors involved in democracy promotion have changed considerably. Most strikingly, postcommunist countries that have been relatively successful in their own transitions to democracy have emerged as key players in democracy promotion in the Western Balkans and former Soviet states. Tsveta Petrova identified these new actors, analyzed their motivations, and characterized the methods they use to promote democracy beyond their own borders.
Petrova defined democracy promotion as "purposeful actions which are meant to support a democratic breakthrough, or to improve the quality of the regime once such a breakthrough has occurred." She observed that states use a variety of means to promote democracy abroad, ranging from diplomacy, technical and material aid, as well as conditionality, including positive conditionality, sanctions, and military intervention.
Within the constellation of democracy promoters, several characteristics of Central and East Europe (CEE) donors separate them from the rest. First, the Bush administration's use of military intervention to promote democracy seemed to generally discredit democratization projects generally, and many countries around the world began to down-grade democracy promotion in their strategic priorities. By contrast, having so recently experienced the positive effects of a peaceful democratic transformation, CEE maintained its zeal for democracy promotion. Second, CEE countries had the unique vantage point of being able to see the process of democratization both as recent recipients and as donors. Moreover, first-hand experience of democracy promotion by both the US and the EU enabled them to evaluate best practices that can now be exported to democratizing countries. Needless to say, CEE faces certain challenges as well, namely limited credibility in the foreign policy sphere and limited financial resources. Petrova contended that in the next few years, CEE donors will need to find their own niches to avoid duplicating the work of larger donors.
Petrova described several distinctive features of CEE governments' democracy promotion methods. Geographical proximity and a shared history allow CEE actors better access to their neighbors to the East, and they use long-standing networks and cultural knowledge to better adapt their democratization policies. Moreover, while the West has traditionally favored imposing sanctions on anti-democratic countries when they were able to unite on the need for action, the experience of the postcommunist democratic transition makes CEE donors suspect the utility of sanctions. Rather than imposing sanctions that tend to harm dissidents, they prefer to engage in a "critical dialogue" with undemocratic regimes, in the spirit of the Reagan administration's position towards Eastern Bloc countries in the 1980s. Critical dialogue keeps the lines of communication open between autocratic governments and dissidents which allows external democracy promoters to criticize troublesome regimes while supporting nascent pro-democratic forces in the country.
Petrova also noted the distinct approaches and motivations by the various CEE actors. These differences depend largely on their unique democratic breakthrough experiences as well as on the motivations behind their democracy promotion projects. Using Poland as a case study, Petrova showed how her theoretical frame usefully described that the roots of the Polish desire to export democracy to Belarus and Ukraine has its roots in the Solidarity movement, when a national consensus developed around increasing security by encouraging democracy in the states along its eastern border, rather than attempting to change its borders to where they had been before WWII. This national consensus meant that every government since Polish independence was strongly behind the democracy promotion agenda, and that this agenda was motivated by security (rather than ideological) concerns. Petrova's research also confirmed that in practice, Polish democratization projects tend to export the Polish experience with democratization, which was clearly seen in the Orange Revolution when Poland lobbied heavily for "roundtable talks" between the main parties in Ukraine, modeled after the talks that ended communism in Poland.