Wednesday, February 27, 2008

On the Russian Elections

I'm listening to the BBC World tonight. Their series on "all things Russian" talks about the anti-Western feelings of many young Russians (how many is unclear, as usual in journalism). One young Russian tells the interviewer that the West wants Russia weak and wants to cram Western-style democracy down their throats.

I'm not sure what he meant by "Western-style democracy," but his distaste of it may have had something to do with that great scavenger feast of the 1990's when a few friends of the powerful were allowed to buy up the government-owned corporations for what amounts to a pocketfull of pennies.

But on a different level I started thinking about the alternatives that we have to "Western-style democracy." Is there an "Eastern-style democracy?" And if there is, who does it empower and disempower? Or are the real alternatives to any kind of democracy either theocracies or autocracies (say, Putinocracies)? And how can we tell what the people in various countries really want, in terms of democracy?

The points I'm trying to get at have to do with the way democracy has become one of those words which we rarely bother to define at all but which has very different, and highly emotional meanings to different people. Suppose that we could invent an alternative type of democracy to the Western model. How would it look like?

And can we ever really have democracy without the necessary civil society, the legal institutions and some practice and experience in how to vote? If those are lacking democracy often becomes violence through a majority rule.

But then neither do the Western countries often fare very well in practicing that "Western-style democracy." Still, the alternatives to that look even worse to me.