Wednesday, January 05, 2005

A Total Lack of Respect!

The Grauniad's Jonathan Steele had more to say about Ukrainian elections at the New Year, here. He wasn't happy about the protestors' lack of "respect for constitutional procedures":
"The core of democracy is tolerance of other people's views. Whether it is Rosa Luxemburg's call for respecting the "freedom of people who think differently" or Winston Churchill's pride in British parliamentary debate, left and right agree on this principle.

Alas, it is not much on display in Kiev. Egged on by their favourite, Viktor Yushchenko, crowds have been blocking the main government building and doing all they can to humiliate his rival, prime minister Viktor Yanukovich. Their man won the presidential election, but where is the respect for constitutional procedures they claim to support?"
Where indeed? After all, I'm fairly sure that leaving office when you lose, not poisoning your opponents, and counting the other side's votes as well as yours all count as constitutional procedures too. There's more, and it's just as bad. He seems terribly exercised about the fact that people sent him emails disagreeing with his views. Apparently, his critics are anti-democratic and intolerant. Now, I think there is a problem here.

Democracy is not defined just by giving "both sides" of an argument as if they were by definition equally valid. It is entirely democratic to say that someone who you disagree with is wrong, so long as you can support it. This is the flaw enshrined but not mentioned in Fox News's motto - being "balanced" can easily be a nice way of not being at all "fair". This meme comes up further on in the column, too. Talking about something called "electoral interventionism", he has this to say:
"As with "humanitarian interventionism", which was much debated in the 90s, "electoral interventionism" needs to be thrashed out. Why is so much of it selective? Why do western governments (for they are the prime interferers) that claim to be fostering democracy take only one side, rather than being above the fray? Why are only certain countries picked? Georgia, but not Azerbaijan. Serbia, but not Croatia. Zimbabwe, but not Egypt."
What does it actually mean to be "above the fray" if you are meant to be promoting an honest election? If this refers to the exit polls in the Ukraine he was so angry about, surely the definition of an exit poll means that it is just that? Or does he think they were rigged, and if so why doesn't he say it? What would that mean in ground reality? "Well, the government have had canvassers beaten up and ballot boxes stuffed, but the other side have a really terrible taste in colours?" And what form of aid would you direct to the government side - after all it is generally the State that rigs the vote, simply because it has the lawyers, guns and money (not to mention tame media)? One suspects that such an exercise would run tamely into a puddle of bland communiqu├ęs issued after a decent interval to ensure irrelevance. By the way, I'm pretty sure that several of the organisations (the Open Society Institute, the National Endowment for Democracy etc) he attacks were indeed active in Croatia and Azerbaijan. And anyway, the Croats did indeed get rid of their dictator, back in 1999. And when exactly was the "post-modern coup" in Zimbabwe? What on earth is he on about?

This of "electoral intervention" needs unpacking. The analogy is clearly with "humanitarian intervention", the concept that in certain especially grave situations military intervention might be legitimate outside the cases of self-defence under Article 51 of the UN Charter or perhaps authorisation by the UNSC under Article 2(4). This first became publicised during the Kosovo war in 1999 and has also become a curse word for some parts of the Left. Not to go into the philosophical/legal debate, let us just note that he seems to be equating fairly minor and nonviolent assistance to people trying to exercise constitutional rights with - war. A largish leap. He is also using the same sort of logic traditionally deployed by such as Jaruzelski and Pik Botha to kick journalists covering things they didn't want revealed out for "interfering in our sovereign internal affairs". The full absurdity of this idea, though, is even greater. Recall that even the Soviet constitution itself guaranteed the rights of free speech, assembly and association. The post-Soviet constitution of Ukraine requires that citizens can elect their government freely and that the government obeys its own laws. Even if the sole motivation of the protests had been bundles of dollars (no doubt visibly dripping with the blood of Iraqi babies), they would still have been doing nothing more subversive than, er, what the government officially believes they should.

Where did he get this vacuous concept from? The Exile of Moscow reports that he accepted two expenses paid trips to Russia to meet with folk like Gleb Pavlovsky, a "political technologist" whose Fund for Efficient Policy advised the Kuchma/Yanukovich campaign and numbers Vladimir Putin among its clients. A taster:
"The Duma election campaign, according to Gleb Pavlovsky, President, Fund of Effective Policy, Russian Federation, is a short period of representative democracy in Russia. It allows the population to understand which programme the president is likely to follow in the future."
Or perhaps this?
"We can create a system of communications that can be switched between peace and war modes with maximum public support"

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