A time of testing for global democracy
Votes this month could mark advances in the Middle East, but history shows that democracy requires time, commitment.
The throngs of Ukrainians who braved repression and bitter cold in Kiev's Independence Square were ostensibly rejecting November's fraudulent elections.Skip to next paragraph
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But they stood for a truth the world is rediscovering as a new wave of democratization laps at resistant shores: Democracy is safe and solid only when it swells from the people and rests on counterbalancing institutions.
As the world has watched Ukraine, and prepares to turn its focus to the Middle East - Palestinians will elect a leader to succeed Yasser Arafat next week, and Iraqis are to hold their first open multiparty elections later this month - several larger lessons of what makes democracy take root and work are again being learned by the world, experts say. Among them:
• That democratization, unlike consumerism, can't be built on imports, but must be a home-grown process springing from fervent domestic desires.
• That people power isn't enough, but rather it is institutions - and especially a judiciary and legislative branch capable of standing up to an overpowering executive - that make a true democracy.
• That elections, while important as measuring sticks and for encouraging participation and a sense of stakeholding, do not alone make a nation democratic.
All of these points are reinforced by events in Ukraine, experts say, while they suggest that democratization in Iraq, as well as throughout the Middle East, have only just begun.
"The change in Ukraine is not coming because we or the Europeans are supporting it, but because there is a strong demand for it domestically, and that is something worth remembering as we look over our recent experience in Afghanistan or look towards Iraq," says Marina Ottaway, an expert in foreign policy and democratic processes at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. "Countries do not become democratic because someone outside demands it."
The stakes are obviously high, since economic advancement and the prospect of greater stability often accompany the spread of freedom.
The need for stakeholders and strong institutions doesn't mean the US effort to promote democracy in Iraq is doomed, but rather that the process can be expected to take a long time - perhaps longer than many Americans are prepared for.
"Will Americans have the patience to leave our troops in Iraq long enough to provide the conditions where democracy can grow? I have my doubts about that," says David Davenport, a specialist in the global ramifications of public policy at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif.
President Bush, too, appears to have growing concerns that Americans are becoming impatient with democracy's slog in Iraq - a slog that he warns will only begin with January's parliamentary elections. He recently asked Americans to be patient with the democratization process.
In thinking about democratization, Mr. Davenport says three words come to mind - "conditions," "time," and "messy" - all of which are factors that he believes can make achieving democracy more difficult in the 21st century than in, say, 18th century America. "Tocqueville reminds us that democracy requires certain conditions to be planted, watered, and to grow, and while those conditions existed ideally in America, they don't exist just anywhere now," he says. "We have to be mindful of the difficulties posed by competing ideologies, a globalized economy, and intense international competition."
While Ukraine is more than a decade into the process of building a new system of governance, Iraq is not yet two years into its post-Hussein era - and trying to create something new while under foreign occupation and facing a violent insurgency.