04 December 2003

Russia's 'managed' democracy

Those in the Bush administration wishing to make a success of a democratic Iraq might do well to read the following article in The New Republic by Robert Lane Greene: "Muddling Through." He cites the example of Russia, where parliamentary elections take place in three days. Writes Greene:

As both Iraq and the former Soviet Union make clear, the legacy of totalitarianism is utterly debilitating. Not only are there no opportunities for political initiative--such as voting, referenda, political protest--in totalitarian societies; there is no room for individual initiative of any kind. (This is the key difference between a totalitarian society and a merely authoritarian society, like Franco's Spain or Suharto's Indonesia.) Free choice turns out to be a habit, not an inborn human trait. The result is that citizens of formerly totalitarian countries must first learn how to make personal decisions; only then can they even begin to contemplate political decisions. The process can be agonizingly slow. . . .

The lesson is that even under ideal circumstances (Spain, Portugal), it takes five to ten years to democratize a country fully. Russia (twelve years to get to "partly free") is an example of how long it can take when circumstances are less than ideal. Bush administration radicals intent on setting off a domino chain of democracy in the least democratic region of the world--the Middle East--should take careful note.

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