Democracy Lite

By Singh, Anita Inder | The World Today, February 2004 | Go to article overview

Democracy Lite


Singh, Anita Inder, The World Today


DEMOCRACY IN POST-COMMUNIST EUROPE

Is democracy losing momentum in post-communist Europe? The conduct and consequences of recent elections have aroused concern about its future and the resurgence of illiberal nationalism in Serbia, Croatia, Georgia and Russia. These four countries are all divided by liberal parties and truculent nationalists. But maybe the west is just not spending enough on democracy; Europe is at risk of new insecurity.

AUTHORITARIAN MULTI-ETHNIC EUROPEAN STATES were broken up in 1991 when Croatia and Serbia seceded from the former Yugoslavia through war and Georgia withdrew as the Soviet Union collapsed. But the illiberal character of the secessionists in Croatia, Serbia and Georgia embroiled them and post-Soviet Russia - in wars against their own undemocratic separatists.

In Georgia and Russia, widespread electoral fraud produced different outcomes. In a peaceful revolution Georgians rose against what they regarded as a corrupt presidency, forcing it from office and necessitating fresh presidential elections last month. Russians accepted the results of a rigged election which could be the first step towards a new dictatorship.

DEMOCRACY ON TRIAL

In Georgia, inaccurate electoral registers sowed the seeds of electoral fraud in the November 2 parliamentary elections. A partisan election administration rigged the result which was annulled by the Supreme Court. In last month's presidential election there were fewer irregularities than in the November parliamentary polls and improvements were made in registering voters, but election officials were not all impartial. There was also less scrutiny by domestic observers and a continued lack of separation between state and party officials.

In these circumstances, the liberal leader Mikheil Saakashvili won 96 percent of the vote. However, it is uncertain whether liberals will overcome their differences and maintain the coalition. The commitment of any government in Tbilisi to democracy will be severely tested by the centrifugal and illiberal tendencies of regional leaders in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Ajaria: Abkhazia and South Ossetia boycotted the presidential poll while the Ajarian authorities did not guarantee essential conditions for elections. Whether an inclusive democratic nationalism can be forged in Georgia is therefore an open question.

EXTREME NATIONALISTS ROUTED

Croatia saw a good turnout - 66 percent - in the parliamentary elections on November 24. Political parties and the centre-left government of Prime Minister Ivica Racan agreed to observe international electoral norms and all were given fair access to the media. But the election law allowed only a month for parties to organise, election officials to be trained and voters to be educated. It is also vague on voting by minorities, and individuals belonging to minority groups who wished to change their ethnic affiliation - for example, from Muslim to Bosniac - had to go through cumbersome procedures.

There was a surprise defeat for the ruling coalition and victory for the Croatian Democratic Union, or HDZ. Under the late President Franjo Tudjman the HDZ engineered Croatia's independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, ejected most Serbs from the Krajina and Eastern Slavonia in 1995 and led Croatia in wars against Serbia and Bosnia. But corruption scandals led to its defeat in the 2000 elections.

The HDZ's current leader, Ivo Sanadcr, has expelled some uncompromising nationalists from the party and says that it is now a Christian Democratic organisation wanting to take Croatia into the European Union and NATO. Sanader projected the 'European' image during the campaign, but HDZ politicians played the nationalist card at the grass roots. The party's liberal credentials will be tested by its stance on the return of Serb refugees to their homes and its attitude to the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.

Nationalist parties opposing cooperation with the Tribunal were routed by Sanader, who is reluctant to align with parties glorifying Croatian fascists during the second World War. …

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