Political Rights in Eastern Europe
John R. Hibbing
Acccording to documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 21) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 25), a person's most basic political right is to "take part" in the government. Meeting this right almost always means, among other things, the election of representatives to some kind of meaningful legislative body. Without belittling either the importance of the right to participate or the fact that many polities still deny persons this basic right, establishing mechanisms for widespread public participation in politics is the easy part of the equation.
The hard part is balancing the right of individuals to provide real input with the realization that, unfettered, this popular input would sometimes produce unstable and insensitive governmental policies. History has shown that the public mood can be volatile, nonsensical, and intolerant of minority rights. How can political systems be structured so that people are involved in a meaningful way, yet prevented from doing damage to the principles of sound public policy and minority rights?
The new democracies of Central Europe are striving to achieve this balance. Though these regimes are relatively young, their struggle is ancient; unfortunately, although the problem of simultaneously assuring public input and minimally sound policy is as old as democratic government, solutions currently available are fuzzy and incomplete.