Documents on Democracy

Issue Date October 2014
Volume 25
Issue 4
Page Numbers 180-185
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Europe

On September 2, in Oslo, Norway, Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves delivered an eloquent address analyzing the crisis in Europe. We provide some excerpts below, but the full speech is well worth reading:

We in our part of the world celebrate the 25th anniversary of our own annus mirabilis, 1989, the year when the Berlin Wall came down, and the then Communist world had its first almost democratic elections in Poland. … That was when we dared to dream of a “Europe whole and free,” a reunited and democratic Europe.

But when we look around in Europe today, we see that not only is Europe not whole and free, we see the ghosts from the painful 20th century returning to our midst. Ghosts that we thought we’d never see again, that we had buried deep in history’s trashbin.

Today, when we look around us, we see it all again. The annexation of territory, the violation of borders, religious conservativism pairing with political authoritarianism and imperialist bravado. 80% of Russians support annexation through military agression in Crimea, where the Anschluss—and I use that term most seriously here—of territory was justified by the presence of co-ethnics. Moreover, there is widespread support for an anti-liberal attack against decadent Western “permissiveness,” be it in freedom of speech or choice of life-partners. Indeed, we see that liberal democracy has not only failed to win the battle of ideas against authoritarianism, it has failed even to prevent the resurrection of that once vanquished demon, fascism. …

Sadly, these illiberal moods are resurgent not only in Russia, where a generation has grown up since the end of communist rule, but even in what we thought of as bastions of liberal democracy, in Western Europe, which should know all too well the demons of fascism and the ideologies of hatred. Not in Ukraine, where the two neo-fascist candidates in the elections of 25 May received about 1 percent each, as opposed to [End Page 180] Western Europe, where we saw how countries voted in the European parliamentary elections—a number of neo-fascist, right-wing nationalist, often racist parties not only overcame the threshold for getting into the European Parliament but did rather well, and were even among the most popular parties.

It is the likes of the French National Front, the British National Party, the Freedom Party in the Netherlands, the Golden Dawn in Greece or Jobbik in Hungary who currently support the actions of the Kremlin. They were the ones who went to observe the so-called referendum in Crimea, and they are the ones who currently arrange “international conferences” with Kremlin ideologists to share their imperialist and racist geopolitical fantasies. …

We are living now, in Europe, in a Hobbesian state of nature, in which, whether the bullets are flying or not, agreements don’t count and life is a war of all against all. And on top of that we are also abandoning the prospect of economic progress and enrichment, which has also been one of the strengths of liberal democracies—that you can make more money in liberal democracies (unless you get paid by Gazprom). In this radically new situation, the liberal democratic West is still confused about what to do. …

It is now in Ukraine that Europe’s meaning and identity is fought over. If some part of Europe is not free, no part of Europe is actually secure. Will Europe and the world understand this time around that Eastern Europe is Europe too—that Europe extends beyond the borders of the so-called old members of the European Union—those that were members before 2004? Will they recognize that Ukraine and each European country is entitled to respect for their sovereignty and for their territorial integrity, granted to them by international law that has been signed on to also by countries that are currently engaged in aggression, and by agreements that we have all signed?

I speak of these conundra because the liberal order is being challenged by authoritarian, illiberal, yet often successful market economies in ways we did not foresee when the Berlin Wall was torn down and history was supposed to end. …

Maybe we can convince Russia that homophobia, censorship and repressions at home, and little green men, and accusations of fascism in Ukraine, and the disdainful mocking of prisoners of war that we have seen on video in East Ukrainian towns, and sending uninvited “humanitarian convoys” and Russian troops “on a vacation” to Ukraine—that it was all a big mistake. That we still can wake up from a bad dream and restore the status quo ante at the end of history.

But … peace, love and Woodstock is over. We’ve just had our Altamont. And if you got that reference to Altamont, you’re about to enter, if not already have entered, retirement. To those who don’t know, it was a massive concert in the U.S. a year after Woodstock, during which a [End Page 181] man was stabbed to death—that’s what the Altamont was known for, but it signalled the end of the good feelings of Woodstock, and I think we are in the same moment right now. So 25 years after the hope of a whole and free Europe seemed to be almost possible to realize, we are further from it today than we might have imagined just a year ago.

So we must realise the we find ourselves in a Hobbesian world again. … The key to restoring stability in Europe is a sound transatlantic relationship—U.S. engagement and leadership and a Europe willing to assume more of the burden of providing collective security. The unity of the liberal democratic world, within Europe and between Europe and the U.S., is more important than ever.

India

On August 15, newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered an address to the nation to mark India’s 68th Independence Day. (For more on recent political developments in India, see the articles on pp. 20–60 above.) Excerpts appear below:

My dear countrymen, this nation has neither been built by political leaders nor by rulers nor by governments. This nation has been built by our farmers, our workers, our mothers and sisters, our youth. The country has reached here today because of generation to generation rigours undertaken by our sages, our saints, our maestros, our teachers, our scientists and social workers. These great people and these great generations, who had worked for the country throughout their lives, deserve our deepest respect. This is the beauty of India’s Constitution, this is its capability which has made it possible that today a boy from a small town, a poor family has got the opportunity to pay homage to the tri-colour of India at the ramparts of Lal Quila [Red Fort]. This is the strength of India’s democracy. This is an invaluable legacy which we have inherited from our architects of the constitution. I pay my respects to those architects of the constitution of India today. …

Brothers and sisters, for one reason or the other, we have had communal tensions for ages. This led to the division of the country. Even after Independence, we have had to face the poison of casteism and communalism. How long will these evils continue? Whom does it benefit? We have had enough of fights, many have been killed. Friends, look behind and you will find that nobody has benefited from it. Except casting a slur on Mother India, we have done nothing. Therefore, I appeal to all those people that whether it is the poison of casteism, communalism, regionalism, discrimination on a social and economic basis, all these are obstacles in our way forward. Let’s resolve for once in our hearts, let’s put a moratorium on all such activities for ten years, we shall march [End Page 182] ahead to a society which will be free from all such tensions. And you will see that how much strength we get from peace, unity, goodwill and brotherhood.

Brothers and sisters, the youth of India has completely transformed the identity of India in the world. Earlier, in what manner did the world know our country? Till only 25-30 years back, if not more, there were many people in the world who thought that India was a country of snake charmers, it was a country which practiced in black magic. The real identity of India had not reached the world, but my dear brothers and sisters, our youngsters… have mesmerized the whole world with their skills in computers. Our young IT professionals have given a new path of making a new identity of India… Our dream is, therefore, of “Digital India.” When I talk of “Digital India,” I don’t speak of the elite, it is for the poor people. … I say that today it is IT that has the potential to connect each and every citizen of the country and that is why we want to realise the mantra of unity with the help of “Digital India.”

Hungary

On July 26, in a surprising speech for the prime minister of an EU country, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán called into question the case for liberal democracy, speaking in favor of an “illiberal state.” Below are excerpts from his speech:

The defining aspect of today’s world can be articulated as a race to figure out a way of organizing communities, a state that is most capable of making a nation competitive. This is why, Honorable Ladies and Gentlemen, a trending topic in thinking is understanding systems that are not Western, not liberal, not liberal democracies, maybe not even democracies, and yet are making nations successful. Today, the stars of international analyses are Singapore, China, India, Turkey, Russia. And I believe that our political community rightly anticipated this challenge, and if we think back on what we did in the last four years, and what we are going to do in the following four years, then it really can be interpreted from this angle. We are searching for and we are doing our best to find—parting ways with Western European dogmas, making ourselves independent from them—the form of organizing a community that is capable of making us competitive in this great world-race. …

In order to be able to do this in 2010, and especially these days, we needed to courageously state a sentence, a sentence that similarly to the ones enumerated here was considered to be a sacrilege in the liberal world order. We needed to state that a democracy is not necessarily liberal. Just because something is not liberal, it still can be a democracy. Moreover, it could be and needed to be expressed that probably societies [End Page 183] founded upon the principle of the liberal way to organize a state will not be able to sustain their world-competitiveness in the following years, and more likely they will suffer a setback, unless they will be able to substantially reform themselves. …

[The] Hungarian nation is not a simple sum of individuals, but a community that needs to be organized, strengthened and developed, and in this sense, the new state that we are building is an illiberal state, a non-liberal state. It does not deny foundational values of liberalism, as freedom, etc. But it does not make this ideology a central element of state organization but applies a specific, national, particular approach in its stead.

Vietnam

On July 28, 61 senior members of the Communist Party of Vietnam sent an open letter to all party members calling for an end to communism. Excerpts appear below in a translation by Dr. Cu Huy Ha Vu, a recently released political prisoner who is now a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at NED:

For many years, the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) has been leading the nation in an erroneous direction by building socialism on the Soviet model, based on so-called Marxism-Leninism. The Doi Moi [“Renovation”] which began thirty years ago attempted to correct the mistakes in economic policy, but this was not radical enough as it maintained the totalitarian regime which restricted freedom and democracy and kept our people divided. This erroneous policy, when combined with a bureaucratic and alienated system, has led to gross abuses by illegitimate interest groups in collusion with corrupt officials, with the end result that we now have a comprehensive crisis putting Vietnam ever behind other neighboring countries. …

The Chinese leadership has long since sought to put our country in a dependent position which serves Chinese interests. … By now, the Chinese expansionist forces have accomplished many important steps in their plot to transform Vietnam into a vassal. …

We must express our thoughts, the thoughts of faithful CPV members who had pledged our loyalty to the country and to the people when we joined the Party, asking for the following primary demands:

In the face of the great danger confronting our nation at the present time, that the CPV should awaken to its own responsibility and, from its platform, actively alter its agenda, abandoning the erroneous policies of building socialism and decisively veering towards a national and democratic direction, focusing on a moderate transformation of the political regime from its present totalitarianism to a democratic system. … [End Page 184]

The public authorities must immediately end their harassment, repression, and arbitrary condemnations of patriotic demonstrators, of freshly established civil society groups, and release at once those who have been and are being legally charged simply because they have expressed their political opinions.

Colombia

In the June 15 presidential runoff, Juan Manuel Santos, who campaigned in favor of continuing negotiations with the FARC guerrilla movement, was reelected president of Colombia. Below are excepts from his August 7 inaugural address:

Colombia needs a new social compact that takes the best of what we have known as the left or the right to build—in a Third Way—a prosperous and equitable country. A country that believes in private property and protects it; a country that encourages investment and economic growth … but one that does this with a heart and with social awareness … I firmly believe that Colombia today should set a goal to which all of us can commit. And what is that goal? To be, in the year 2025—in a decade: A country in total peace … A country with equity … And the most educated country in Latin America. …

We are … in the midst of a responsible and sound process that the Colombian people supported this past June 15 … I will devote all my energy to fulfill that mandate for peace! Peace demands that everyone should contribute his or her share. The guerrillas will have to start—with no more runarounds—the process of laying down their arms and reincorporating themselves into civilian life. …

Above all, the Government will devote itself to implementing the major reforms we have agreed to in Havana … It will be the Colombian people who will ratify the final agreement reached there. You, the Colombian people, will be the ones who will have the final say! And here I want to issue a warning: the violent events of the past weeks are an unacceptable contradiction, and they place the process itself at risk. …

The patience of the Colombian people and the international community is not infinite. To the FARC I say: You have been warned … Colombia will continue to move forward with a social justice and peace building agenda; it will continue moving forward on rural development, on strengthening democracy, on fighting against drug trafficking, in repairing the victims … with or without the FARC!

While the world catches on fire, Colombia—which is searching for peace—can and should be the good news that humankind needs so much: the news that the last armed conflict remaining in the Western Hemisphere is coming to an end! [End Page 185]