Jewish World Review Dec. 9, 2004 / 26 Kislev 5765
Tide of democracy sweeps the globe: Prospects for free elections becoming a trend
The news from Ukraine is that Viktor Yushchenko's side is probably going to win. Things were already looking good last week. But the supreme court's weekend decision to order a Dec. 26 presidential election rerun tells us that, whatever the fate of Yushchenko and his pro-European "Our Ukraine," the prospects for true democracy are strengthening in yet another of the globe's nations.
Nor is the Ukrainian outlook rare. That is the theory of Adrian Karatnycky of the democracy advocacy group Freedom House. Karatnycky, an American, has worked at democratizing nations since the period when that meant smuggling mimeograph machines from Brussels to Gdansk. In the summer issue of the magazine National Interest, Karatnycky lays out a simple thesis. Chaos, violence and great uncertainty often follow political disruption, especially the toppling of dictators.
And certainly democratization happens very slowly indeed, more slowly now than at other points. Nonetheless, it does happen. Countries that hold relatively free elections once tend to repeat the effort. This shift to democracy transcends political party and individual regimes.
Two things make us overlook this pattern. Television and computers have strengthened our craving for instant positive outcomes. Anything gradual we label a failure. The second is the aversion of the Western intelligentsia to finding themselves in the same camp as the White House. The virtue of anything that the Bush administration supports and democracy is a big objective of President Bush must therefore not be recognized.
Even if that means downplaying a revolt that would free a large country from a post-Stalinist regime. Hence a recent headline in the Guardian: "U.S. behind turmoil in Ukraine." And Britain is not?
Consider the period of 2000-2004 a period which, we are being told, is a foreign policy disaster. Serbia saw the democratic overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic; in Peru, Alberto Fujimori fell. So did Liberia's Charles Taylor, and, in March , Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti. Eduard Shevardnadze resigned in Georgia's "Rose Revolution." Iraq's Saddam Hussein was removed.
Afghanistan had elections. Iraq, for all its anguish, plans them.
In its 2004 survey, Freedom House found that 25 of the world's nations had made significant steps toward democracy, while 13 slid back toward despotism. The ratio of "free" to "not free" countries has been more favorable each decade: in 1973, there were more unfree countries than free ones and in 2003 the "frees" dominate. The truth is that free countries for example, not China account for 89 percent of global output.
The push for democracy comes from a variety of places.
Sometimes it comes from the White House Democratic or Republican. Sometimes it comes from rebels at home or the governments of neighboring states. Australia and New Zealand suspended aid when there was a coup in Fiji. They then provided help for new elections. Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo traveled to Sao Tome and Principe to dress down the officers who had staged a coup there.
But there are setbacks and exceptions. Egyptian politicians talk about slowly democratizing, but their schedule refers to millennia, not years. More often, coups halt the democratic march (the Middle East). The central Asian "Stans" Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, for example moved more or less directly from communism to one-man rule.
The populations of China and the Muslim nations grow faster than in the West, pushing up the population in unfree places.
Then there is the threat of a contest between the West and fundamentalist regimes that support terror.
Still, the trend of state-by-state democratic expansion tells us that terrorism does not necessarily halt freedom's momentum. Even deeply flawed war strategies can be followed by good results. The West failed Yugoslavia, yet it also helped bring about a democratic outcome. Such records inspire the Ukrainian opposition. The events in Ukraine, for their part, may in turn inspire Russia to create its own opposition hero, a Russian Yushchenko.
The trend ultimately tells us something important (albeit obvious): that the democratic cause is not the brainchild of three Republican guys in the Pentagon. Democracy is rather a non-partisan global movement that antedates both Bush and his father and, one can argue, the modern French, British and American states. A significant share of the money flowing into the pro-Yushchenko camp comes not from Washington but from Russians who are not supportive of Russian President Vladimir Putin. What's more, we can safely wager that this very morning dazed U.S. administration officials are trying to square their support of Putin and their sympathy for Yushchenko.
All of which makes the accusation that Washington puppeteers are running the "Orange Revolution" sound odd. Once again, anti-Americanism trumps reality.
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