On Point: Democratization is a Messy Business

by Austin Bay
July 2, 2003

Democracy is as intricate and messy as it is precious. As wecelebrate the birth of our own this Fourth of July weekend, it's worthremembering that a functioning democracy isn't simply a creature of law --though the rule of democratic law is crucial. Creating and maintaining ademocracy takes political maturity, for example, knowing the differencebetween personal liberty and selfish license. The difference can be a zoneof shady gray, like the zone separating responsible police action and policerepression. Tempering license and thwarting repression, while protectingliberty and promoting public security, require experience, judgment and abroad societal confidence.

But it takes time, hard work and sacrifice to gain thatexperience, sharpen that judgment and create that societal confidence.

Remember what the pundits called the "era of emergingdemocracies"? In the welcome meltdown of the Cold War, Eastern Europeandictatorships disappeared. In Asia, economic liberalism fed politicalliberalization. In Africa and South America, multi-party politics slowlysupplanted one-party regimes.

It was a time of great expectations. Road maps to peace, justiceand prosperity directed nations through John Locke, Thomas Jefferson and theFederalist Papers, with Adam Smith paying the transport costs. Why, afterDesert Storm put Saddam in a U.N.-sanctioned box, even the Middle East'sfeudal autocracies showed signs of slouching toward democratic politics.Beltway Ph.D.s suggested history was over; democratic capitalism had won.

Then, something happened. Grim reality foiled greatexpectations. Eastern Europe discovered it was an ecological disaster aswell as a social and economic mess. In the mid-1990s, a crisis of confidenceeven struck the plucky little Czech Republic, when economic reform didn'tquickly produce capitalist bonanza. In Moscow, gangsters superseded thenomenklatura -- mafiya in lieu of Marx. Among the "Asian tigers," economiccollapse -- due in large part to cronyism and corruption -- punctured hopes.Then Venezuela's Hugo Chavez -- a man who prefers paratroopers toparliaments -- resurrected jack-boot populism.

The year 2000 saw Yasser Arafat reject Ehud Barak'sIsraeli-Palestinian peace deal and opt for intifada.

It certainly appeared as if we'd entered a long era ofdemocratic disappointment.

No doubt the "era of emergence" was oversold. In 1989, asEastern Europe's dictatorships shriveled, China's government slaughtered2,000 pro-democracy demonstrators in Tianamen Square -- a reminder of howquickly "emerging" can submerge in blood.

Saddam's broken statues, however, suggest that dictators arehistory's losers. The student-led political revolt inside the mullahs' Irandamns tyranny in religious robes.

Are people disappointed and complaining in Iraq? Of course --but complaints are a mark of emerging confidence. It's a relief to complainabout lack of electricity in Baghdad. It's simply a relief to complain.Nothing is more disappointing than tyranny, but you have to kick the tyrantsout before that truth is taught again.

Still -- after the initial joyous shock of freedom -- the taskof building a democracy is daunting.

Eastern Europeans say they knew Western democracy was no utopia.They didn't want a utopia -- they'd had it with Communism's utopian lies.However, rebuilding after the commissars' depredations is a multi-decadejob. The Russians point out they aren't rebuilding, they're creatinginstitutions that never existed. Russians fear resurgent fascism ifdemocratic reform flounders.

Russian democracy is a work in progress. The truth is, America'sdemocracy is a work-in-progress, a never-perfected experiment inself-government and self-administered justice. Arguably, a healthy democracyis always in a state of "emergence."

However, post 9-11 we are in another era. It isn't an era ofdemocratic emergence, it's an era of democratic emergency. This is a timewhen democratic change must be encouraged, accelerated and directly aided.America can't sit and wait. Building democratic nations does build worldpeace. Fostering democracy in Iraq is a massive undertaking, one that takestimes, money, sacrifice and confidence.

Eastern Europe's euphoria of 1989 faded. Fourteen years later,however, Poland is sending aid to Iraq.

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To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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