Wednesday, 02 November 2016 13:24

People must build their own democracy

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Syria is a tragedy. How did we allow it to become so hopeless?
I do believe in democracy, but it is a messy system. It requires informed citizens and their ability to live with difference. Founder of the Fifth French Republic, General Charles de Gaulle, said, “How can you conceive of a one-party system in a country that has over 200 varieties of cheese.” It has taken centuries since Enlightenment for the West to achieve today’s democracy: it has taken millennia since the ancient democratic Athens. Building a democracy takes time. We cannot expect it to be successful in a few years.
Even the United States, the most advanced democracy, somehow managed to produce Donald Trump; the Russian revolution begun by liberal democratic groups was quickly taken over by Bolshevik dictatorship in 1905; Germany, Italy and Japan democratically elected fascist dictatorships during 1930s. History is full of failed democracies. Democracy is still work-in-progress, often causing much suffering like the current Middle East.
The mistake the West keeps making is we assume we can build a democracy for other people: “Just get rid of dictatorship and unleash people power.” It’s not that simple. Once stability is lost, the chaos ensues. Then it is very difficult to bring back order like shattered Humpty Dumpty. Chaos produces fatalities — Iraq and Syria. This is why Chinese leadership is trying to maintain order and stability at any price, even indulging North Korea. I don’t condone it, but I understand it. I am also critical of the West’s hubris which makes us think that outsiders can create a “people first” political system for them. That’s a delusion.
Democracy cannot be imposed. It has to come from people who would build it in their own way and in their own time. The Western allies are proud of the Second World War’s success in creating democracy in Germany and Japan. You have to remember, however, that both countries had thriving democracies during the 1920s. They were destroyed by nationalists who stirred up hatred towards the countries that humiliated them. Democracy requires people to be informed and have the ability to live respectfully with oppositions. It takes time to develop such consensus.
It is frustrating to watch people struggle and suffer while working toward democratic society, but intervention from outside rarely helps them. Often foreigners make the situation worse.
Tadashi (Tad) Mitsui, Lethbridge

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