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July 13, 2013

For Whom the Democracy Tolls in Eurasia?

(This is a reprinting of my own contribution to the Carnegie Moscow Center's site at http://carnegie.ru/eurasiaoutlook/?fa=52351&lang=en

Democracy is an old thing, inherent in any community where members have an equal status (for example a rural community consisting of independent farmers). Yet modern democracy with elections and plural political parties is a specific product of the West European civilization.

It is a decision-making system specifically designed for a society of autonomous individuals with decent wealth and intellect. Such individuals came into being as a result of the Renaissance and the Reformation, and they later formed the middle class in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. In other words it is not that democracy brought development; in fact, the economic development gradually and even slowly brought the democratic system into being.

A country with underdeveloped economy is apt to an autocratic and authoritarian rule, as the meager wealth easily gets monopolized by the elite few, and the ordinary people have to live at their mercy.

And such is a country with a strong legacy of a socialist planned economy. The planned economy was originally designed for the benefit of the proletariat, but when all means of production fell into the hands of the party elite, the system became autocratic--with all its ingredients of servility and bigotry.

If "democracy" is forcibly imposed upon such societies, it causes fierce fight between the establishment and the "have-not" sub-elite to gain the control of the meager wealth. Such was the situation in Russia in early 1990s, and in Ukraine after the Orange Revolution. The Chinese leaders today cannot start a serious democratization for fear of disorder which the fighting over control of the wealth may engender.

In such a milieu, where the elite are occupied only with their own well-being, the "democracy" propagated by the Western NPOs loses its proper target--the ordinary people. And some NPOs have their own problems; many NPOs are working under pressure--if they do not realize "democratization" somewhere, they will lose (private) funding in their home country. When I worked in the United States, I periodically received "fund-raising letters" from local NPOs with a list of their achievements. Many of them get government funding as well, but it is not sufficient in most cases.

Therefore, some Western NPOs have to toil for "democratization" in one or another country for their own survival. For their home government their activity may be counterproductive as the former prefers maintaining friendly relations with the respective local government.

But the Western diplomats have no capacity to stop excessive activities of the NPOs, even less so if the NPOs turn out to be off-shoots of the political parties in their home country. And whenever an issue is caused by an NPO, the respective Western government has to support it; otherwise it will be blamed by the opposition parties and the liberal press in their own country.

Authoritarian governments do not make distinction between the Western government and NPOs. Whenever a problem occurs, they square off against the Western governments, starting diplomatic war and rallying their own people.

In this charade the "democracy" functions as a bargaining chip among governments--local and Western--and the Western NPOs; the ordinary people do not count. For a Japanese person like me this seems to be a vain exercise. Since the cases of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and others show that economic growth brings democracy and not vice versa.

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