Battle for Democracy

Battle for DemocracyRichard Haas, the Chairman of the Council for Foreign Relations, expressed R.I.P. to the liberal world order in his recent article published by Project Syndicate. Similar statements could be found in publications of Russian strategist Sergei Karaganov and even in statements of the Russian fascist Alexander Dugin. The thesis that the liberal world order is gone is very disturbing in our tumultuous times.

But, fortunately, democracy is very much alive around the globe. Notwithstanding some reported missteps and retractions it is even spreading. As analysis of 167 states conducted two years ago by the Pew Research Center shows, since 1976 a number of democratic regimes in the world grew from 24 to 58, while number of authoritarian states declined from 62 to 13 and “mixed” systems can be attributed to 26 states and that is twice higher number than 40 years ago. Similar analysis conducted by Freedom House estimates number of current democracies as approximately 87 out of 195. But what is true is that nondemocratic alternatives also have received increasing support and in several cases deterioration of freedoms in some countries was registered.

Those results confirm that in recent years democracy found itself under siege. Nowadays among three major powers strangling for global dominance two are clearly challenging liberal values. One third of the richest countries listed by GDP are either orthodox monarchies or autocracies. Ideologists and political movements in Russia and Serbia, Hungary and Italy, Poland and Germany are arguing for a new order based on populism, nationalism and isolation. As notorious Russian “philosopher” and “thinker” Dugin claims, “the libertarian ideology is totalitarian. It wants to destroy traditions. Many nations discard it in order to protect their culture, language and religion”. From his point of view Russia, China, Iran, Turkey and the Eurasian Union present the true and rightful path to the just future of the world. There is no need to argue with Dugin since his vision is well known. More important to realize that even inside the most libertarian Union ever, the EU, there is a growing number of nations and Governments that question the validity of so-called universal values. Not less important to stand for democracy and defend it. We need to talk honestly about what went wrong and how to change the current state of affairs.

Probably, the problem is not in values, but in absurd application of those values. As well, contrary to the common believe the democracy is not a power of majority and that could be clearly seen from mathematics of any electoral results. Therefore, no wonder the democracy strives to defend minorities. But that should not be overstretched as it is happening now. Neither minority nor majority should impose their will without proper consideration of alternatives. Rules must be accepted, not imposed. There are universal values, as basic principles, but there could not be universal applications of those values. Monarchy can be democracy as in Britain, Denmark, Belgium or Japan, and Republics can represent autocracies if not dictatorships as in Russia, Belarus or Serbia. Democracy should not be absurd and it can take endless variations from a theoretical model of ideal liberal democracy that exists only in dreams to populist and nationalist regimes of realpolitik. Unsurprisingly, there is no clear and universal definition what the liberal democracy exactly means. In a nutshell, liberalism simply puts individual in the center of everything. In so-called illiberal democracies the State chooses the way everyone lives. In liberal democracy, nobody gets exactly what he wants but everyone broadly has the freedom to lead the life he chooses. State vs. Individual Liberties – that is a formula of the current fight.

Usually when we speak about democracy the definition “liberal” is being omitted since it is assumed without saying that if we call a political system “democracy” that means liberal values lay the very foundation of it. However, there are persistent attempts to re-define democracy. Democracy is difficult. It is challenging. Its values are not easy achievable. There are much more then distracting 50 shades in between authoritarian rule and true democracy. But illiberal democracy is a ghost. It does not exist in flash and blood and yet it hunts world’s politics. Very recently a senior Russian diplomat has again accused the US of trying to export democratic values to Russia - something he said Washington has already been doing in parts of Europe and the Middle East and even in Asia over the past few decades. He mentioned Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya and Ukraine as brightest examples of such “exporting” just in this century. But if American model of democracy is wrong, what the chorus from the Russian Foreign Service is talking about? There is no alternative coming from Russia. The globalization of capitalism and democracy in the aftermath of World War II and after the formation of the United Nations and the NATO made the United States the center of world affairs in a natural way.

For almost seven decades, Washington has been a leading force for promotion of liberal values even in times the US itself needed much of improvement. It is true that liberal international order faces new challenges in a multipolar world. There is a perception in the West that authoritarian countries like Russia, China, Iran and North Korea are testing the foundations and rules of the liberal order. In promoting President Trump’s ‘America First’ concept the White House has drastically limited the United States involvement in the world stage creating the vacuum in leadership that allows illiberal regimes like Russia to challenge it. Russia supports Le Pen, California independence, Northern Star and movements alike not because it shares their values or cause but as a vindication for Western support of democracies in what Moscow calls its sphere of influence. Unable and unwilling to build a nation based on truly democratic values Russia is doing just what you would expect it would be doing to survive – undermining those values in every possible way. It puts “family values” against sexual minorities rights, adherence to mainstream religion against freedom to choose appropriate individual spirituality and – what is more important – a right of few in power to unaccountably restrict personal freedoms against clear separation of powers and balanced relations between the electorate and elected. It is safer to drive a bicycle rather than a space ship but that does not mean that space exploration program should be abandoned.

Best minds have to sit and think thoroughly what went wrong. Democracy is a good thing. And as many other good things it must fight to survive. Ukraine should be on the right side of this battle.

Sergiy Korsunsky
Ukrainian diplomat, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
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