The development of democracy after socialism

Urpo Kivikari,
Professor Emeritus,
Pan-European Institute,
Turku School of Economics,
University of Turku,

Thirty years ago, Europe´s socialist countries were on the brink of a new era. In the 1940´s, the Soviet Union had been the rough mentor to new socialist countries in their transformation. In the 1990´s, the European Union became the guide in transition towards a market economy and democracy. The EU designed strict guidelines and offered remarkable financial aid to countries, which manifested their will to join the EU. Moreover, the CIS countries received assistance from the EU.

The question about forming party map in new democracies was topical in the beginning, before the first democratic elections. Could these countries follow old European democracies by establishing similar parties as came into being in the beginning of the 1900´s or by imitating their contemporary parties? How big will be the role of national peculiarities in different states? Or could new democracies innovate new party compositions on the basis of prevailing social and economic conditions?

The answer to all questions is a qualified ”yes”. While the party structures reflect national differences, three common features are especially remarkable. The green movement/party, a newcomer in Western democracies, did not get a footing in new democracies. Environmental issues were not highly ranked on their agenda. Until now, only individual environmental problems have attracted attention while a comprehensive view on the environment and climate policy is often defective. Second specific feature, and disappointment, was the lack of a holistic innovation on policy-making related to a modern society. New democracies could not radically reform frozen political composition and thinking of old democracies. Thirdly, besides moving voters, new democracies have produced ”moving parties” which either maintain original name or under a new title have radically remodelled their character in different elections.

In Poland and Hungary, christian-conservative nationalistic parties have been in power for years. Similar populist parties have come up in most EU member countries in past few years, but in Hungary and Poland only, these parties alone have been in power for many years. Politics pursued in these two counties have violated fundamental EU principles. EU decision-makers have been powerless to solve this problem. Poland and Hungary were pioneers in transition from socialism to democracy, therefore their separation from liberal democracy and its values has awaken embarrassment in the EU. The majority of the people in these two countries support EU membership, and thus political leaders pursue two-faced policy, they blame ”Brussels bureaucrats” but support generous EU membership.

In Russia, democracy has taken a step backward as well. In the State Duma, one party, United Russia, is now the only real decision-maker, while other parties are fellow travellers or a harmless nuisance. One party in power is enough in the light of fact that Russia´s political target is to promote the interest of the Russian state, not the interests and welfare of different population groups. In the name of the state benefit, Russia has taken possession of neighbouring areas in Georgia and Ukraine.

Why Russia despises democracy? In the periods of transition after both the First World War and the Second World War, many European countries adopted democracy. In the beginning of the 1990´s, socialist countries had an opportunity of transformation to democracy. Russia did not utilized any of these possibilities to espouse democracy.

Are the Russians reluctant to absorb foreign ideologies? Karl Marx was not a Russian, but despite this fact, his doctrine was accepted as the state ideology of the Soviet-Russia, which the Soviet Union further seasoned with Leninism, Stalinism and other domestic additions. All global inventions and innovations, as well technical as mental ones, have spread at least to some extent in Russia.

Russia´s prerequisites to take in democracy look in principle better than those of two quite young democracies, namely India and Japan. When compared to Russia, national cultures of these two Asian countries differ much more from the culture, which has been basis for democracy in Europe. When internal conditions become favourable for change, maybe with the help of a suitable mentor, democracy possibly may win in Russia as well.

It is said that democracy and its values become more widely accepted and supported when general level of education among people rises. Of course, higher education level is desirable development, but it is not enough alone. As an example, one may mention persons who have come from other parts of the world to Europe to study in our universities. After their acquaintance with democracy and graduation, some of them have become cruel dictators in their home countries. Among leaders and supporters of Nazi-Germany and the Soviet Union, there were highly educated people. In fight against anti-democratic populist movements, we should call more attention to the education of values.

Expert article 2748

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