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I have to agree.  Government in the West has problems, but most of them stem from the refusal of the population to participate in the system.  Sure, they aren't exactly encouraged to do so, but nothing would turn the direction of government around in the US and several other Western democracies than the revival of mass participation in the political system at every level.  Simply being part of the system provides an education into the nature and content of politics and government that is worth more than all the campaign ads in the world combined, and the media machine would quickly find itself drained of its power to manufacture consent.

Yes, I'm a bit of a utopian idealist, but I really do believe in the power of the formal structures of democracy.

That said, comparing political freedom under East Bloc Communism to the defective and distasteful forms of democracy we find now in Eastern Europe is just ridiculous.  Belarus, anyone?  Or for that matter, North Korea?

by Zwackus on Thu Aug 25th, 2011 at 08:55:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That said, comparing political freedom under East Bloc Communism to the defective and distasteful forms of democracy we find now in Eastern Europe is just ridiculous.

Well again you are falling for western media propaganda a little bit. You have not lived under communism so all you know is from your media. Ok you are talking about "political" freedom and obviously there was not political freedom under communists. There was one party and if you wanted to enter politic there was no choice. Then again not many people wanted to enter politics or even bother with it and a lot of them entered not because they were interested but because then it would be easier for them to get job and promotion. Ok there were at some point's dangerous times (not in my adulthood) when it was better to shut up but it's not that we all was in fear to be jailed daily. Free speech...Generally at least in ex YU it wasn't big deal to criticize Tito (we didn't pay attention who is in government because they were puppets anyway) and system. There was a lot of jokes/satire published and movies and tether plays or songs in protest to system. It wasn't all doom and gloom. As for media , yes we wanted free media but now experiencing western media I can see that it was an illusion .Most of us wanted democracy but when it came (sort of) many were disappointed. Not they would like to go back seriously but it did not fulfil people's expectations. Many "hard core communists" just changed "their suits" and became hard core nationalists, so called democrats etc. and most of the are in power to this day. Then if it wasn't them enough to bear we have new parties ex dissidents and so called opposition that is now far right to extreme right looking more and more like fascists in many of those countries as we can see now.
I do not live there for quite some time but I am listening to people there. It would be interesting to hear from DODO on this topic.


Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind...Albert Einstein

by vbo on Thu Aug 25th, 2011 at 09:37:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
vbo:
It would be interesting to hear from DODO on this topic.

You can start by reading his diary:

European Tribune - Ostalgie today - by DoDo
Tue Jun 30th, 2009

Ostalgie was a word coined in the late nineties in Germany, for the nostalgia felt by part of the East Germans towards the lost artefacts, style, certainties, relative safety, and identity in the "German Democratic Republic". Something that was difficult to fathom for those in West Germany who saw it as nothing else but a big temporary prison -- and former East Germans who felt it like a big temporary prison. Hence, it is cause for emotional debates ever since.
by Bernard on Thu Aug 25th, 2011 at 04:00:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That diary is limited in its scope to East Germany. Democratic deficits felt by the population come up, though there is the more special context of German Reunification. IMHO the most relevant part to the discussion upthread is in this comment of mine where I take on the "nostalgia stems from unmet promises of material wealth" meme.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Aug 29th, 2011 at 04:39:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
1 - Yugoslavia was not Romania, or Belarus, or China, or North Korea, or the Soviet Union.  Different leaders created different socialisms, and Yugoslavia had a reputation for being different.  You know the Yugoslav and ex-Yugoslav situation far better than I ever possibly can.  Neither of us know what it was like in Libya under Gadafi - we just hear stuff.

2 - I have not, and will not, make claims about the economy or daily life being much better in post-socialist countries after the fall of global Communism.  The number look bad, and I don't have the personal experience to judge them.  However, the political system is different now, and objectively free-er.  Whether this really matters or not is another question entirely, but it is more one of political philosophy than current events.  Is an authoritarian regime that provides social stability preferable to an oligarchic democracy that does not?  Which matters more, guaranteed food and housing, or opportunity (no matter how dirty and corrupt it may be) and a chance (however small) of political participation?

I don't think there is an easy answer, and I wrote this diary because I am dissatisfied with the various easy, and perhaps a tad cynical, responses to the Libyan situation that I have seen here in ET.  I don't think the easy answers and quick responses are appropriate in response to the variety of new problems that have emerged as a result of the Arab Spring.

by Zwackus on Thu Aug 25th, 2011 at 11:28:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There are no easy or even at all good answers for Libyans. Qaddafi is gone, one way or another, so what is in front? I would consider democracy came to Libya if when election comes, Qaddafi's followers who would present ideas that had already been in place, are on a ballot paper too. And elections to be real not faked as in Iraq and Afghanistan and people choosing freely without presser. One can only dream about it.

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind...Albert Einstein
by vbo on Fri Aug 26th, 2011 at 12:21:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The best criteria for the arrival of "democracy" is when regular elections are held and incumbents peacefully turn over the reins of government to victorious opponents as a matter of routine. But that is only a necessary condition and is far from a sufficient condition, as the recent political history of the USA amply demonstrates. "Democracy" remains very much a work in process.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Aug 26th, 2011 at 01:42:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In the main time people are daying...

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind...Albert Einstein
by vbo on Fri Aug 26th, 2011 at 05:21:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Did you mean: in the meantime people are dying?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Aug 26th, 2011 at 05:28:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
OK yes that's it.

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind...Albert Einstein
by vbo on Fri Aug 26th, 2011 at 10:50:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I assume you do not call democracy what took place in Iraq and Afghanistan? Why would it be different in Libya?
Its same old story with puppet governments, fake elections and mass killing on a daily bases...


Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind...Albert Einstein
by vbo on Fri Aug 26th, 2011 at 12:25:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... just as in a past era legitimacy was claimed by finding some real or invented lineage with the previous monarch, or claiming that the past dynasty had lost the mandate of heaven and then whomever ended up on top of the struggle to establish a new one had the mandate of heaven demonstrated by virtue of winning that struggle.

Actual democracy, in which the governed select between competing potential ruling elites, is an inconvenience if you have just beaten a previous dictator and are the new ruling elite, so the sham election is preferred by those already in power, unless existing institutions have become established in which pursuit of sham elections will undermine the governing coalition or lay the governing coalition open to being undermined.

While a puppet government is likely to be installed with a sham election, simple observation of a sham election is not sufficient evidence to conclude that the country has a puppet government, since a sham election may also be of use to the current domestic ruling elite.

Establishing an independent government in the middle of a foreign occupation is a highly unlikely outcome, unless its part of a negotiated withdrawal of that occupying force. But when foreign forces never actually occupied the country, establishing a government with some measure of real independence is a real possibility, since if the countries were willing to the invade to stamp their authority on the country, they could have invaded at the outset.

Of course, while establishment of authoritarian rule is sometimes simplified as an event, its normally a process, and democratization is always a process. Establishment of a government with some democratic institutions and some measure of independence makes it possible for democratization to be pursued by people in that country, but its advance depends upon the successes of those pursuing it.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Aug 27th, 2011 at 01:41:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yugoslavia was not Romania, or Belarus, or China, or North Korea, or the Soviet Union.

But this argument applies to what you said originally, too. Yugoslavia was not part of the East Bloc except for its first few years, and Tito's brutal era was constrained to the same years, but "East Bloc Communism" itself was rather diverse geographically and in time. Say, North Korea was much worse than East Germany most of the time, East Germany was worse than Czechoslovakia or Hungary from the seventies.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Aug 26th, 2011 at 04:58:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I have not, and will not, make claims about the economy or daily life being much better in post-socialist countries

Read vbo again: she wasn't speaking about the economy. She was speaking about media freedom, old and new political elites, and rabid extremists. You probably read her "did not fulfil people's expectations" and thought of the standard Western mis-representation that assumes people expected economic Canaan.

However, the political system is different now, and objectively free-er.

Well, is it? When majorities don't participate in elections, when those who do vote for parties that take away the rights of parts of the population, when on the questions that matter all parties deviate from the popular will and/or the government defers to 'advice' from foreign institutions lacking oversight by an elected body, I have my doubts. Some forms of oligarchic multi-party pseudo-democracy can be worse than some forms of oligarchic single-party pseudo-democracy.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Aug 26th, 2011 at 05:16:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The definitive government in the west is the US.

Just how much freedom - let alone political freedom is there in the US these days? Are the stories of left wing activists being carefully monitored and framed on political charges really unknown.

No the US is not as bad as North Korea - assuming you are in the US and not - say Uzbekistan where political dissidents are boiled alive. Traditionally the US maintains its worst for its client states. As the US collapses that is changing with things like a president sign off on assassination of US citizens - at home and abroad.

We have Pravda criticizing the obsequious nature of US media. We have arbitrary arrest and detention. Political assassination. Torture (At least one crucifixion.)  Extreme poverty. Petty bureaucracy (eg TSA). Extreme security apparatus with spying on all its citizens. Government secrecy and a court system that shows its deference to that security. Corrupt ideologically driven Supreme Court judges (Some indication that Clarence Thomas would fall in this category for example). Multi tiered legal system. Multiple wars and secret wars - I hear rumours that there are 7. Hell I can't even name them all.

Maybe East Bloc Communism is worse but the comparison is anything but ridiculous.

aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Thu Aug 25th, 2011 at 10:03:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
edwin:
The definitive government in the west is the US.

That may appear to be true from where you're sitting, but to me it looks like an outlier. A two-year parliamentary term, infinitely renewable, and effectively no limit on campaign funding, etc... make for a degenerescence of democracy that I can't see any parallel for in other "western" countries. All have their specific or systemic problems, but for me the USA is the worst.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Fri Aug 26th, 2011 at 07:47:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
nothing would turn the direction of government around in the US and several other Western democracies than the revival of mass participation in the political system at every level

If that happened they would call it "a crisis of democracy".

Economics is politics by other means

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Aug 25th, 2011 at 10:10:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Zwackus:
nothing would turn the direction of government around in the US and several other Western democracies than the revival of mass participation in the political system at every level

As far as I know, the eastern bloc had a nominally democratic system without real choices. But what would have happened if there had been active mass participation in the party? Would the nominal turned real? And would it have been crushed as attempts at counter-revolution?

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Thu Aug 25th, 2011 at 05:17:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
was the system. Discussion is allowed, but majority decicions must be upheld by all. It's easy, in such a system, to identify dissenting elements and purge them before they can form a majority.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Fri Aug 26th, 2011 at 07:38:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As far as I know, the eastern bloc had a nominally democratic system without real choices.

Yep. In fact there were even examples of nominal pluralism. Eastern Germany had the so-called bloc parties (Blockparteien), which were the nominal (entirely under control) remains of some non-socialist post-WWII all-German parties, which formed part of an election 'alliance' with the communists originally called the Anti-Fascistic-Democratic Bloc. That is, although nominally parties on their own right, in elections, they ran on the same single list with the SED. (After Reunification, the block parties were merged with the West German CDU and FDP for the latter to gain a local party infrastructure in the East; a history conveniently "forgotten" by those conservatives always blasting the Left Party for its 'communist past'.) In Hungary, although all other parties were merged into the Party or abolished, the umbrella organization for elections (here called the Patriotic People's Front) remained. Thus candidates weren't necessarily Party members, and there were multiple candidates competing for some seats (and almost all seats in the last election in 1985). One could say that in the last decade or two, the Patriotic People's Front served as a venue for the regime to gain legitimacy from those who want to participate in public life but don't want to be Party members.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Aug 29th, 2011 at 05:08:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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