The Cable

The Institute of Current World Affairs

The Cable with Gregory Feifer - saving democracy one podcast at a time! We address the threats to democracy in Europe and the transatlantic relationship, with a particular focus on backsliding countries in Central Europe.

All Episodes

Belarus is at a tipping point as the authoritarian President Alexandr Lukashenka’s regime crumbles under the weight of mass popular protests. The European Union has pledged support for the opposition, which is preparing for a transition, but Lukashenka is clinging to power. And with fears that Russian President Vladimir Putin will prop up his Belarusian ally, what comes next is anyone’s guess. Joining Susan and Greg to discuss what’s going on, possible future scenarios and what Western countries must urgently do is David Kramer, Franak Viachorka and Vlad Kobets. First, ICWA managing editor Dan Peleschuk describes his arrest in Minsk during a brutal crackdown by the security forces.

Aug 20

34 min

The internet has changed how democracy functions. With digital platforms fueling divisiveness and enabling manipulation by individual bad actors and states alike, liberal democracies are struggling to keep up. Marietje Schaake and Tomicah Tilleman join Susan and Greg to discuss how to ensure the right architecture to guarantee the free exchange of ideas, fair voting and other key conditions for democracy.

Aug 7

25 min

Europeans have looked on in disbelief and dismay as America’s alliances with its most important transatlantic allies have come under attack by an isolationist president who sees personal political gain in undermining common liberal democratic values. But after the Black Lives Matters protests and with hopes for transformation in US politics after November’s presidential election, Reinhard Bütikofer and Ben Haddad join Susan and Greg to discuss what Europeans think of the United States now and how they see America’s future role in a changing world.

Jul 16

28 min

Vladimir Putin has done virtually everything to ensure he’ll be able to remain Russian president for life after a referendum last week, when officials said a majority of voters approved a series of changes to the constitution. The veteran human rights activist Tanya Lokshina joins Susan and Greg to discuss what process revealed about politics under Putin, what’s changed in the constitution, and what it means for the country’s future.

Jul 9

23 min

With the coronavirus pandemic raising serious challenges for voting and other vital democratic functions, the threat from disinformation is becoming especially acute—not least in the United States ahead of the November election. Leading experts Karen Kornbluh and Spencer Boyer join Susan and Greg to describe the problem and what transatlantic alliance countries must do to ensure the functioning of democracy. (This episode was recorded as webinar on May 20.)

May 28

26 min

Poland is wrestling with a political crisis after its ruling Law and Justice party agreed to postpone Europe’s first presidential election since the outbreak of the coronavirus. The 11th-hour decision stopped the party’s chaotic drive to hold a ballot by mail—denounced as a power grab by critics—but the matter is far from resolved. Wojciech Przybylski in Warsaw and Emily Schultheis in Berlin join Susan and Greg to discuss what happened, what may lie ahead and what other countries can learn.

May 14

32 min

The spread of Covid-19 is confronting Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan with unprecedented challenges to their autocratic rule. David Kramer and Soner Cagaptay join Susan and Greg to discuss how the outbreak is hitting two countries that pose the transatlantic alliance some of its biggest challenges, how each government is handling the crisis and how the two historical rivals are cooperating as well as competing in Syria and on other fronts.

Apr 30

23 min

Democracy has been in global decline for the past 14 years. Now it’s confronted with a crisis not seen in the modern era. Autocrats are seeking to exploit the Covid-19 pandemic as democracies grapple with their own various responses. But could this be a pivotal moment, when liberal democratic leaders and transnational institutions such as the EU begin to restore trust after a decade of rising global mass protests over lack of faith in politicians and institutions? Mike Abramowitz and Sam Brennan join Susan and Greg to discuss the effects of the coronavirus crisis and potential future scenarios.

Apr 1

26 min

The coronavirus has starkly illustrated how the internal governance of nation states matters to international affairs. So after years of American retreat from promoting democracy and human rights around the world, how should a new administration return to supporting the core transatlantic values that have long underpinned our security and prosperity? Greg and Susan talk to the author of a new George W. Bush Institute report, Nicole Bibbins Sedaca, her colleague Lindsay Lloyd, and Dan Baer, US ambassador to the OSCE under the Obama administration.  

Mar 26

25 min

If a new administration takes office next January, the monumental task of restoring America’s democratic reputation and tattered alliances will become a major priority. Greg and Susan talk to Democratic campaign advisers Anthony Robinson and Max Bergmann about the immediate future for a new foreign policy what the candidates should be doing to prepare. 

Mar 19

26 min

Judges in Poland have been taking to the streets to protest the ruling Law and Justice Party’s crackdown on judicial independence. Susan moderates a Transatlantic Democracy Working Group roundtable discussion at the German Marshall Fund in Washington to discuss the latest target in the government’s systematic dismantlement of democratic checks and balances.

Mar 12

30 min

Voters in Slovakia go to the polls next week in the first parliamentary elections since anti-corruption protests over the murder of an investigative reporter helped catapult the progressive Zuzana Caputova to the presidency last year. But many believe this month’s vote will do more to determine the country’s democratic future, with a new wave of pro-European liberals competing against an increasingly extremist far right in a contest that will have ripple effects across Central Europe.

Feb 20

20 min

Most foreign policy is carried out by governments and their diplomats. But elected members of national legislatures also play important roles influencing foreign policies, especially in democracies. Joining Susan and Greg are the presidents of the parliamentary assemblies of NATO and the OSCE to discuss what they do, the state of the transatlantic alliance and challenges for both organizations.

Feb 13

25 min

The United States established Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty during the Cold War to broadcast news and information into countries behind the Iron Curtain in their own languages. Today, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty—which reports news in 22 countries and 26 languages—is about to relaunch its Hungarian service for the first time since it was shut down following the collapse of communism. RFE/RL’s new president, Jamie Fly, joins Greg from Prague to discuss that and what else RFE/RL is doing three decades after the fall of the Soviet empire.

Dec 2019

22 min

The Open Society Foundations of the financier and philanthropist George Soros has given tens of billions of dollars to civil society groups around the world, promoting democracy in some 120 countries. Now OSF is starting a new effort to build a progressive grass-roots constituency among Americans for pressing issues in foreign policy such as climate change and human rights. Greg speaks to the program's founder Stephen Rickard about his plans and why he thinks they will succeed.

Dec 2019

22 min

Starting three decades ago this Sunday, people in Czechoslovakia threw off communism with remarkable speed in the heady days of 1989. The Velvet Revolution soon swept out one of the most rigid of Soviet Bloc regimes, in place since the crushing of the Prague Spring two decades earlier. But thirty years on, the euphoria and seeming certainties that came with the ensuing integration into the European Union and NATO are gone. The former student activist leader Vaclav Bartuska joins Susan and Greg to look back at the birth of a free society in Czechoslovakia and discuss the Velvet Revolution’s significance today.

Nov 2019

21 min

Three decades ago in 1989, people in East Germany took to the streets to protest communist rule. The “Peaceful Revolution” led to the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, paving the way for German reunification the following year. But the euphoria soon wore off for many in the former East, and it’s having political consequences today: eastern Germany has become the bastion of the far-right Alternative for Germany party. Karen Donfried and Jeff Gedmin join Susan and Greg to discuss the legacy of 1989 and serious challenges facing the country’s political establishment today. Then ICWA fellow Emily Schultheis reports from Germany, where she speaks to young eastern Germans born in 1989 about their identity.

Oct 2019

29 min

Anti-Semitism is rising together with the wave of right-wing populism on both sides of the Atlantic. The context is also changing, with Israel turning away on a two-state solution to the Middle East crisis and accusations in Europe of a so-called new anti-Semitism by Muslim immigrants. Joining Greg to discuss the growing regional developments and political debates affecting what had recently seemed a relatively straightforward battle against anti-Semitism are Stacy Burdett, Andrew Baker and Susan Corke.

Oct 2019

27 min

As Turkey steps up air strikes and a ground offensive launched this week against Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria, we take a look at the context of Turkish domestic politics. Greg talks to Jonathan Katz about the military campaign, then Jonathan speaks to Turkey experts Lisel Hintz and Ozgur Unluhisarcikli about what’s driving President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Oct 2019

31 min

Voters in Poland and Hungary are taking part in parliamentary and local elections this week that could add significant momentum to the right-wing populist movements in both countries. Joining Greg to explain what’s at stake, likely outcomes and the latest state of affairs in both Central European countries are Susan Corke, Melissa Hooper and Dalibor Rohac.

Oct 2019

26 min

When Vladimir Putin first became Russian prime minister two decades ago in 1999, few people had even heard of him. But the stern-faced former KGB officer soon triggered a love affair with the Russian population. Two decades on, after re-imposing authoritarian rule and a new confrontation with the West, he shows no sign of leaving. Ekaterina Egorova joins Greg to discuss his character traits and those of other authoritarian-minded rulers currently having their day.  Ekaterina Egorova is a founder and the president of the Niccolo-M Strategic Communications Agency, the leading Russian political consulting and public relations firm. She is also head of the Political Profiler, a political and psychological consulting firm based in Washington.

Sep 2019

25 min

With the rise of mostly right-wing populism around the globe, democracy is in retreat. Last year, more countries became less free than freer for the 13th consecutive year, Freedom House says. Larry Diamond, one of the world’s leading scholars of democracy, joins Greg to explain what he calls a “global democratic recession,” his new book Ill Winds, and why he believes we may be approaching a new progressive era.  

Sep 2019

25 min

In Russia, people have taken to the streets in their largest numbers in years to protest the barring of opposition candidates from local elections next month. The scope and brutality of the crackdown has marked a new level of repression. Journalist Karina Orlova talks to Greg about what it says about the Kremlin’s direction and Russia’s current political climate.

Aug 2019

26 min

Russian President Vladimir Putin is waging a cold war against the West to boost his popularity at home and legitimize his inner circle’s appropriation of Russia’s state industry. Anders Aslund joins Greg to discuss his new book,Russia’s Crony Capitalism, in which he investigates how many tens of billions are being stolen, where they’re going and what effect it’s having on democracy and rule of law around the world.

Jul 2019

22 min

Greg Satell—author of the new book Cascades: How to Create a Movement that Drives Transformational Change—talks to Greg about what’s behind successful political movements, and Susan Corke raises some democratic breakthrough moments amid backward slide in Central Europe.  

Jul 2019

27 min

It’s no secret Russia is using campaigns of influence to confront Western democracies and their allies. But it’s also intensively seeking to undermine one of its own closest allies: Belarus. Greg speaks to the country’s leading opposition politician, Andrei Sannikov, about what’s going on in Belarus. Then he’s joined by Olga Zakharova, Uladimir Kobets and Jonathan Katz to discuss a new report detailing what they say is a major Kremlin campaign to coerce the country to give up its independence.

Jun 2019

34 min

Moldova is under fresh leadership following a serious political crisis this month when the oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc tried to force the new government out. The country’s richest man, he had captured government institutions for his own purposes, ultimately uniting the pro-Russian Socialist Party and pro-European ACUM bloc against his ruling Democratic Party. But can the ideologically opposing partners deliver on their promise to root out the country’s deep corruption and establish democratic institutions and rule of law? Victoria Bucataru, Stephan Gligor and Jonathan Katz join Greg to discuss the start of a new political era for Moldova and what’s at stake for Russia and the West.

Jun 2019

21 min

Poland’s nationalist Law and Justice Party has attacked democratic institutions, the judiciary and the free press and sought to criminalize criticism of Poland’s role in the Holocaust. Still, the country’s democracy remains more robust than Hungary’s, and even critics back a US military cooperation agreement that would put more troops in Poland to deter Russia. Harlan Mandel discusses press freedom, then Irena Lasota makes the case that Western observers hold a simplistic view of Polish politics. Susan also joins Greg to discuss the Globsec security conference, the Czech Republic, Moldova and the Russian reporter Ivan Golunov.

Jun 2019

32 min

Last year, Petr Marki-Zay won election as mayor of a medium-sized Hungarian city, defeating the candidate from Viktor Orban’s ruling Fidesz party after pulling off the feat of uniting all other opposition parties behind him. He went on to found the movement Hungary for All to replicate his success across the country. He and co-founder Zoltan Kesz join Greg to discuss their strategy. Greg and Susan also discuss last week’s European Parliament elections and a new congressional resolution on Hungary.

May 2019

27 min

Voters across the European Union go to the polls next week to elect representatives the European Parliament. The elections come at a pivotal time, with right-wing parties seeking to build on their national successes in a number of countries, part of the populist wave sweeping the continent. Erik Brattberg, director of the Carnegie Endowment’s Europe Program, joins Greg to discuss predictions, the elections’ significance and how they’re likely to affect the European agenda. And Greg and Susan discuss Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s meeting with President Trump in Washington and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Russia.

May 2019

24 min

The election of the comic actor Volodymyr Zelensky as Ukraine’s president is prompting widespread speculation about the country’s future. Can the brand-new politician finally tackle the country’s massive corruption as he promises or will he become a tool for financial oligarchs? Can he help resolve the conflict with Russia-backed separatists in the east? And how long will he remain popular with Ukrainians? Jonathan Katz of the German Marshall Fund talks to Ukraine Analytica editor Hannah Shelest and Chatham House’s Anna Korbut about the role of the media, the conduct of Ukrainian democracy and how it shaped the elections. Also, Greg talks to Susan about Hungarian President Viktor Orban’s planned meeting with President Donald Trump next week. And a few voices from a talk on Capitol Hill this week on NATO, security and democracy.

May 2019

32 min

Journalists are under mounting pressure not only in countries like Russia and China but also Western democracies. PEN America’s Tom Melia talks to Greg about the threat from fake news, social media and rising autocrats ahead of World Press Freedom Day on May 3. We also hear from journalists Emily Schultheis, Anastasia Kirilenko, Roman Badanin, Karina Piser and Karine Orlova about their work and what the date means to them.

May 2019

26 min

With populism driving the political narrative across Europe, especially Central Europe, what do the region’s generations of future leaders think about it? The National Democratic Institute’s Zuzana Papazoski talks to Greg about a public opinion poll tracking the views of young people in Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. First, Greg speaks to David Kramer about who is Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Apr 2019

31 min

The Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are a bulwark against Russian attempts to undermine democracy and stability in Europe. Why did they follow different paths than other former Soviet republics of Eastern Europe since becoming independent in 1991? Greg speaks to Freedom House’s director in Lithuania Vytis Jurkonis about that and the challenges they all face from Kremlin aggression and corruption with the rise of nationalist populism. Greg also talks to Susan about Notre-Dame, Hungary and Ukraine.

Apr 2019

28 min

The fatal stabbing of the liberal mayor of the Polish city Gdansk earlier this year sounded alarms about the effects of hate speech by populist politicians. Democratic Representative Marcy Kaptur joins Greg to discuss that and others threats to democracy in Europe, and what Congress and ordinary Americans must do to push back against the White House by shoring up the transatlantic alliance.

Apr 2019

22 min

As NATO marks its 70th anniversary this week, the world’s preeminent military alliance faces threats from the backsliding governments of some member states as well as attacks by US President Donald Trump. Former NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow joins Greg to discuss the danger to the alliance from inside, as well as its external challenges from Russia, China and elsewhere, and how NATO must adapt in the future. First, Susan and Greg discuss other events of the past week, including elections in Ukraine and Slovakia and the latest in Brexit madness.

Apr 2019

30 min

Ukraine faces a pivotal moment with a presidential election next week, the first since the events surrounding the 2014 Maidan revolution. Evelyn Farkas and Jonathan Katz of the German Marshall Fund join Greg to discuss the leading candidates, corruption, Russian aggression and what the West must do. A major battleground between the Kremlin and Western democracies, Ukraine remains a litmus test for the liberal world order’s commitment to the common values of democracy and self-determination.

Mar 2019

31 min

Transatlantic Working Group Director Susan Corke and host Gregory Feifer start by discussing the latest Brexit developments, Congressional resolutions on Russia and Hungarian President Viktor Orban’s standoff with the European People’s Party group. Then Zselyke Csaky of Freedom House joins Greg to explain Hungary’s downgrading from “free” to “partly free” in this year’s Freedom in the World Report. Why is the authoritarian Orban popular? Why is the opposition weak? What must Western democracies countries do to discourage democratic backsliding?

Mar 2019

25 min

Transatlantic Working Group Director Susan Corke and host Gregory Feifer start by discussing recent developments, including a new Brookings report on the rise of illiberal states, protests in Montenegro and more evidence of Russian money-laundering.  Then Amanda Sloat of the Brookings Institution joins Greg to explain the uncertainty over the looming March 29 date for Britain’s exit from the European Union. With shifting positions in parliament and the government, will the deadline be extended? Could there be a second referendum? What are the technical issues and stakes, deal or no deal?

Mar 2019

34 min

Will postponing the date for Brexit change anything? Host Gregory Feifer and Transatlantic Democracy Working Group Director Susan Corke discuss the latest developments along with Sunday’s elections results in Moldova, when the pro-Moscow Socialist Party won the most votes but not enough for a majority.  Then the Brookings Institution’s Bill Galston joins Greg to talk about the nature of populism. Populist nationalist parties in Europe on the left and right have more than tripled their support in the last two decades, winning enough votes to put their leaders into the governments of 11 countries and challenging the established political order. But does that mean liberal democracy is really facing a crisis or simply experiencing part of a regular cycle?

Feb 2019

31 min

Poland was recently the poster child of success among post-Communist countries of the former Soviet bloc. In a region rife with corruption and murky ties with Russia, Poland had very little of either and its economy was essentially unaffected by the global financial crisis of 2008. But with the rise of the right-wing populist wave sweeping Europe, Poland’s election of the Law and Justice Party in 2015 has thrown into question the country’s previous commitment to open society and the rule of law. That may seem baffling: immigration is negligible and GDP per person has nearly tripled since 1990. Joining the podcast to discuss the seeming paradox is Leszek Balcerowicz, the former finance minister who was the main architect of Poland’s so-called “shock therapy” in the 1990s.

Feb 2019

24 min

Join host Gregory Feifer as he discusses the little-known former Soviet republic of Moldova, one of the important battlegrounds in the mounting confrontation between Russia and the West. Joining Greg are Jonathan Katz of the German Marshall Fund, Corina Rebega of the Center for European Policy Analysis, and Valeriu Pasha of Watchdog.MD. Elections next week will be a key determining factor for whether the country can push ahead with democratic reform or slide back into Moscow's corrupt orbit. The stakes are large. Moldova is a so-called "grey zone,” where money laundering, trafficking and other crime is rife. If Western democracies don't do enough to support their interests and ideals on Europe's periphery, what will it say about their influence and the strength of the transatlantic alliance?

Feb 2019

23 min

The post-Cold War era in Central Europe is coming to an end. Democratic reform, socioeconomic development and Western integration once taken for granted are being replaced by uncertainty amid resurgent nationalism and the rise of illiberal politics that are hollowing out democracy and the rule of law. And how it all plays out will be central to the future of the European Union and the transatlantic alliance. That's the argument of Joerg Forbrig and Wojciech Przybylski, the authors of an important new report called Central European Futures. After many discussions with scholars, journalists, civil society members and others, they distill five different scenarios for the region along with recommendations. Joerg and Wojciech join Greg to discuss their conclusions and the what they mean for Central Europe, the rest of the continent and the transatlantic alliance.

Feb 2019

28 min

The Cable is a production of the Transatlantic Democracy Working Group and the Institute of Current World Affairs in Washington. In the inaugural episode, Greg discusses the working group’s mission with its leaders: Addressing threats to European democracy and the transatlantic relationship—with a particular focus on backsliding countries in Central Europe—in what may be a pivotal year ahead. Launched in April 2018, the bipartisan Transatlantic Democracy Working Group (TDWG) includes more than 65 former senior government officials, national security experts and others committed to the protection of democratic institutions and principles in defense of collective security. The group is led by Director Susan Corke, featured in this interview along with founding steering committee co-chairs Jeff Gedmin and Norm Eisen. With democratic erosion mounting in key NATO and EU countries, TDWG and The Cable seek to prioritize a core value of the transatlantic alliance: that our democratic foundation is our security.

Jan 2019

29 min

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