Thursday, July 09, 2009

One-and-a-half-party democracies

A year old post on the News from Serbistan blog has a critical approach of Tadic and at one point calls him Serbia's Putin. It made me think that just as in Russia Serbia's opposition has been thoroughly demonized by the Western press:
- Just imagine how horrible it would be if the communists in Russia came back to power! Never mind that communists did come back to power in Poland and they proved quite able administrators who reformed more and ruled better than their liberal collegues.
- Probably even worse - the Radicals winning the Serbian elections! But we will never know how bad it really would have been. Having to rule might just as well had a positive effect on both the party and the electorate.

Both countries have now a situation where it is unimaginable what would happen if the voters got tired of the government and wanted something else. In this respect their democracy is not that different from that of Iran. They may use more refined means to prevent the unthinkable. But what all three have in common is a lack of faith in humanity. In my opinion that faith is the basis of democracy.

But what about the NSDAP, Hitler's party that won the elections and used its position to abolish democracy? I think that this kind of parties are very rare. After World War II you saw communist parties rising to power in Eastern Europe and then abolishing democracy - but this was led and coordinated by Russian troops. We will never know whether the FIS in Algeria would have really been so bad as it was painted in 1991 and it is hard to imagine that it would have been worse than the 160,000 casualties civil war. Turkey's Islamists had been painted in similar terms but since they rule the perception seemed to have changed. When Haider in Austria became in involved in government it caused a big upheaval in Europe. But in hindsight one has to ask what was the problem.

It regularly happens that democratically elected leaders become dictators. But usually they have rather midstream ideas and it is greed and love of power - not some absolutist ideology - that makes them cling to power.

What made Hitler special was that he had his own militias that he used to attack his opponents. I think it is very dangerous when a democracy allows some people to have military power outside state control. Iraq's Al-Sadr is an example. His militia has now been tamed a bit, but if he had gotten enough votes in the elections a few years ago I doubt whether Iraq's democracy would have lasted. With the help of their militias people like Hitler and Al-Sadr already exert power outside the democratic structures. Getting control over the government allows them to combine the two sources of power and take over everything.

I think that as long as we make sure that there are independent centers of power (like the army and the justice system) we shouldn't worry too much about radical parties getting some government power. And to be sure we should focus on building the foundations of a democratic state like an independent judiciary.

This does not mean that I condone extremist policies (of whatever type). But I believe we should fight primarily the policies - not the people. Of course one should avoid having ministers making racist slurs, but often that is possible.

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