Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

What are the prerequisites for democracy?

What are the prerequisites for democracy?

It's an important comparative question to ask. The UK might be the exemplar, but if the features of Britain's history, political culture, and governmental structure are required for successful democratic government, then democracy will be limited to a very few states.

Dominique Moisi, a founder and Senior Advisor at Ifri (French Institute for International Relations), who is currently a Professor at the College of Europe in Natolin, Warsaw, expresses fears that Russia is not moving closer to a democratic regime. Moisi raises questions that should provoke good discussion or analysis by students of comparative politics.

This opinion piece appeared at the web site of Project Syndicate, an international association of newspapers.

From People Power to Putin Power
by Dominique Moisi

"As I attended a small but dignified memorial ceremony in Paris last week in honor of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya... I was reminded of... [the] hope that Russia was on its way to becoming a 'normal country.'

"What the small crowd of intellectuals gathered in Paris was mourning was... the collective dream... for a Russia where freedom and the rule of law would... take root and bloom...

"What we are witnessing today is a totally different story...

"Whatever the enormous differences that may separate them, post-communist Russia and fundamentalist Iran have much in common. Energy wealth gives them a sense of unique opportunity, the conviction that time is playing in their favor, and that they can now redress the humiliations they have suffered from the outside world...

"As long as the oil money keeps flowing, most Russians will express no nostalgia for the democratic opening of the Yeltsin years, with its accompanying combination of chaos, corruption, international weakness, and disrespect for the state.

"Are Russians so different from us in the western democratic world, or is democracy a luxury that only old, stable, prosperous, and satisfied societies can afford? In their quest for post-Soviet stability, Russians seem to have found reassurance in Putin. He does not match Peter the Great in physical stature, but he has proven to be a gifted politician, capable of grasping, then controlling, the mood of the Russian people.

"For a majority of Russian citizens, economic prosperity and televised entertainment have become the modern equivalent of the panem et circenses formula of Roman times...

"Russia is rich, but Russians, at least most of them, remain poor, with a life expectancy that is closer to Africa than to Western Europe. Eventually, they will have to recognize that modern nations cannot live by power alone."


And at the fringes of Russia's political culture:
Russian marchers defy Moscow ban

"Ultra-nationalists and far-right demonstrators have rallied in the Russian capital, Moscow, defying a ban on their march by the city's mayor.

"Fewer than 2,000 protesters turned up - lower than expected."

and

Russians Recreate Legendary 1941 Parade

"Russian veterans, soldiers, and others on Tuesday recreated the legendary Red Square parade of 1941 in a simultaneous homage to Russia's World War II effort and the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution...

"Parade participants on Tuesday were dressed in period costumes, with some riding horses and others marching in lockstep across Red Square.

"Some 3,000 Communists and others who want a return to the Soviet era later scuffled with riot police who prevented them from marching down a main street, relegating them to its sidewalk."


Supporters of the Russian Communist Party in Moscow during a flower-laying ceremony at the Lenin mausoleum on the 89th anniversary of the October revolution.

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