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Review & Outlook - 06/14/2005

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AUTHORITARIAN DEMOCRACY

Armenian News Network / Groong
June 14, 2005

By Tugrul Keskingoren


We have been experiencing so-called democratic revolutions around the
world today. These opposition movements from the Caucasus to Central
Asia, from Iraq to Ukraine, are toppling the old regimes and their
state structures. Inexperienced opposition movements and their leaders
are taking over the state and have continued to control the entire
society on behalf of democracy in the Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia,
Iraq, Lebanon and many more countries both now, and more to come [1].
However, no one questions the social nature of the democratic ideas
contained in these opposition movements. Where are they emerging from,
and what exactly do they attempt to achieve? Is the problem in these
countries really democracy, or perhaps instead the exploitation of the
market and natural resources through the use of these so-called
democratic movements. The purpose of these movements is not really
democracy, but use of political goals to achieve economic means.

The process of colonialization involves many different stages that
take place within different historical time periods. As part of this,
both political and economic methods are used as tools in these stages
of its development. For instance, the cultural, political and economic
occupation of Sri Lanka and India in the 18th century, or similarly
the method of `divide and rule' in Africa was undoubtedly similar to
today's tragedy in Central Asia and the Middle East. As Franz Fanon
points out in his book describing this dynamic, titled `Blacks Skin,
White Masks,' [2] democracy is a mask used as exploitation by the
powerful. We have been witnessing the neo-colonialization process by
colonialist powers and Trans National Corporations (TNC) in the
context of the so-called democratic structure and movements. The
meaning and the real notion of democracy have changed, and today
democracy and civil society are part and parcel in a process that
serves the interests of the powerful, rather than creating freedom and
equality within modern society. Freedom, free speech and civil society
are the true nature and characteristics of a democracy; however
replacing dictators with puppets will not bring democracy and solve
the socio-economic issues for these underdeveloped and developing
nations, but will only serve to sustain further relationships of
exploitation.

The recent cases of the Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, and Iraq have
shown us that old and corrupt, anti-democratic regimes cannot survive
by disregarding the people's democratic demands and sustaining
economic equality. On the other hand, the opposition movements of
Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, and Iraq stepped up and demanded more
democracy supported by other exploiters. A dichotomous situation for a
so-called democracy.

In contrast to the argument of some scholars, democracy is actually a
very vague term that is defined in the context of cultural parameters
rather than within a universal pop-culture. Democracy in Iran may be
exercised differently than that of Western Europe, because there
exists in Iran a unique cultural and historical development of
democratic structure and institutions and socio-economic paradigms
that are specific to the Iranian context. Therefore, we must define
and understand the democratic ideal within its appropriate cultural
context.  Democracy does not serve the interests of TNCs, but that of
the people in these countries. Yet, today some neo-liberal scholars
argue that the meaning of `democratic' openness has transformed into a
description of democracy as a political approach that is unable to
survive without the free market. However, the state structure in
developing countries has become dispersed and polarized by NGOs and
their financiers, the TNCs. The state has been weakened in this way
and has lost control over the society in favor of the interests of the
elite or petit bourgeois. For the TNCs, in order to sell more
products, the state structure should be weakened and tariffs should be
abolished for their own good, not for the good of the people of these
countries. This was the beginning of the decreasing power of the
nation state regarding the neo-liberal capitalist policies.  According
to some views, such as those of Thomas Friedman, foreign direct
investment (FDI) and free market capitalism bring more opportunities
and democracy to the underdeveloped and developing nations. In
reality, FDI has not brought freedom to the developing nations, but
has produced an environment in which there results cheap labor, the
existence of workers without unions, socio-economic chaos, more debt
to the IMF and World Bank, and last but not least, meaningless
independence and sovereignty. There has been an increase in the power
of the nation-state and national borders in the developed nations,
whereas the economic, cultural and political borders of developing
countries have been weakened. Moreover, invisible borders and the
diminishing power of nation state in the developing nations have
generated socio-economic anarchy and chaos for these nations.

In the context of imperialism and neocolonialism, democracy cannot be
imposed on nations from the `outside.' In his book, `Democracy in
America [3]' Alexis DeTocqueville argues that American democracy has
been developed and constructed within a democratic societal and state
structure, which is by the people for the people. It took a long time
to build and construct American democracy and the free institutions
and democratic behavior that support this. This was influenced by the
ideas of freedom and equality. Some other scholars argue that American
democracy has developed just within the last two hundred years. If
this is the case for the development of the democratic process in
America, then one must argue that it will take a long time to build
democracy and to shape a civil society in countries such as Iraq or
Kyrgyzstan. Most importantly, Americans built their democratic state
after they received their independence from England. Democracy was not
begun under British colonialist rule because democracy cannot be
exercised under military or `civil' occupation. Each is examples of
the occupation of both mind and culture and prevents democratic
political organization and idea of civil society.

It is important to note that the next colorful revolution may take
place in the Caucasus region. The case of Azerbaijan in the context of
democratic struggle is also a good example of and reflects the power
struggle between the puppets of colonialism (so-called democratic
opposition movements) and the authoritarian state structure. This
conflict will have a considerable impact on the region, because
colonialists do not discriminate between the exploitation of either
Armenia or Azerbaijan. How do you define democracy within this class
of power struggle?

Democracy is neither a product of pop-culture nor exercised by
colonialist powers. Colonialism cannot be the watchdog for any
democratic structure and ideas, because the power holders' economic
interests overlap with anti-democratic movements and paramilitary
organizations, as we have seen in Latin and Central America. In this
sense, how can colonialism protect the real nature of a democracy,
when the `black skin white masks' attempt to sell their products or to
exploit the countries they have occupied? It is a dichotomic process.
We are within a certain historical stage of human development;
therefore in order to improve our society and to continue along this
path of social and economic achievement, we cannot live without
democracy.


NOTES:

1 http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/05/20050527.html
2 Franz Fanon, Black Skin White Masks 
3 Alexis DeTocqueville, Democracy in America


--
Tugrul Keskingoren is a Ph.D. Candidate and Graduate Teaching
Assistant at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University,
Department of Sociology. He may be reached at tugrulk@vt.edu

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