What Kills Democracy?

In HBL of Sö 4.03.18, p.17, the very appreciable Torbjörn Kevin published a piece titled ”Hoten mot demokratin”. He based it mainly on a book by two Harvard professors, titled ”How democracies die”.

The book is obviously referring to the development of democracy in the USA and mentions as an important symptom of deterioration that cooperation between representatives of different parties has become ever more difficult, meaning, that blind followership to some party ideology has become ever more important than the intention to solve concrete problems. Thinking of the impressions which I get daily via email and facebook, I am inclined to ascribe this development (a) to the fact that we have in the Anglo-Saxon world (at the moment at least in the USA and the UK) easily political systems with exactly two important parties, each which hopes to govern alone – which very much promotes ”confrontational” thinking -, and (b) especially in the USA the Supreme Court ”Citizens United” decision plus the VERY unequal distribution of wealth, which together have made any election campaign a brutal big-money battle in which every side is expected to spend astronomical amounts of money on ads in the media – which may make it seem MUCH more important to a candidate never ever to arouse doubts in his financial supporters (thus, never to deviate from an ideological line which might please the supporters) than, e.g., to discuss the voters’ real problems in any helpful way. Further problems are of course the private-owned media (which tend to be in the hands of rather big money and whose owners can at any time fire journalists who arouse the owners’ displeasure), and the ruling, rather extreme ideas about the Freedom of the Media, which, together with the recent experiences just HOW much one is allowed to freely spread nonsense, results in floods of (mostly politically biased) bullshit.

Compared to the above, I think that the dangers for democracy in the EU are mainly based on other factors. One could begin with the very old claim that there is a shift in cultural habits from West to East. In HBL of 20.02., p.8, there was a quote from HBL of 2.03.1948, saying ”I det allmänna medvetandet i Västeuropa och USA intog Tjeckoslovakien en helt annan position än det kvasifeodala Polen, magnaternas Ungarn, bojarernas Rumänien, de sydslaviska diktaturerna och klanhövdingarnas Albanien.” Of course there is in all of these countries meanwhile also a younger generation of whom one can hope that they do not any more represent these stereotypes, but there is still the question what values people are picking up from the reactions of their parents and their further environment (which I think is the most important source of what we call ”neuroses”), of what they feel able to be proud when expected to be proud of their nation, what they learn at school, etc.. Being German, I shall now try to discuss the present situation in Germany, where the formerly big parties are shrinking and the rightist AfD is growing. And the first observation is that the AfD and racist tendencies are clearly strongest in the former DDR. Why that? As to racism, one factor may well be that people there are simply not used to see obvious foreigners in the streets. While West Germany was taking in millions of ”guest workers” from Turkey, Yugoslavia and many other countries, and also now leaves agricultural jobs mainly to Polish seasonal workers, the DDR took only a few Vietnamese and similar while the government was preaching ”friendship between nations” (”Völkerfreundschaft”). And when Germany was reunited, people took it as a failure of the DDR and felt free to return to the values of pre-DDR times (one WAS now free, after all). The trouble is, that the pre-DDR values are from Hitler’s or still earlier times (in the program of the AfD there are formulations which one would expect from, say, the times of the liberation wars against Napoleon). And the appeal to show some solidarity with refugees will by many be taken as another instance of government-official ”Völkerfreundschaft”, which ”of course” should be resisted, and similar. The result is then that the city of Köln has accepted as many refugees as the whole (former DDR) state of Thüringen… . – Well, I do not want to drag this discussion out endlessly. My preliminary conclusion anyway would be that when looking at the problems with various nations in the EU one should look very carefully at those nations’ historical and cultural background. This, quite WTHOUT feeling obliged to ”honour” all and every detail one finds there (even if some nationalists should demand that).

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5 Responses to What Kills Democracy?

  1. Anders says:

    So, looking at the historical and cultural background of Finland, where do we end up? Österlandet of Sweden, Storfurstendömet in Russia, Civil war, on and off alliances with imperial or nazi Germany, three wars aginst the Soviet Union (one won, two lost), postwar reconstruction or Hyvinvointisuomi? Is it correct to conclude that we really want to have a big protective partner even if that one might be involved in very dubious affairs – EU as well as NATO? Or to also conclude that we really do need big partner protection?

    • Ernst says:

      As to Finland with its history, I think that its democracy is threatened by only relatively few factors. Certainly there is neoliberalism (which gives undue influence to rich media owners), the usual lack of public awareness of even the simpler rules of political psychology (by which people are unable to recognize a demagogue if they sea/hear one), and also here the fact that people are simply not used to seeing exotic-looking persons around, but still the situation looks MUCH better than in the larger former Sovjet satellites of Eastern Europe.

      As to ”big protective partners”, I should think it best if one, instead of choosing one such partner (say, the USA via NATO) and submissively trying to please it in order not to loose its backing, rather could team up with other countries who are in a similar position as oneself, this way becoming a respected part of the thus-created big protective unit. It is of course such a question whether our and other countries’ polit broilers are able to create such a team (especially as just democracies are notoriously unreliable – just look at the USA), but still it might be worth while to spread the idea and try.

  2. Bert says:

    Östra rikshalvan om jag får be.

  3. anders says:

    Det är förståsd hur man ser på tidtabellerna – wikipedia: ”Om vi utgår från 1300-talets terminologi förefaller det som om man gärna nyttjade termen ”Österlanden” (lat. partes orientales) eller ”Österland”. Men redan under 1300-talets andra hälft började folk, åtminstone öster om Bottenhavet, använda termerna Finland och Österland som synonymer”

  4. Bert says:

    Åbo grundades på 1200-talet i den Östra rikshalvan eller Finland som då var området kring Åbo, dvs Egentliga Finland, i vars vapen finns den svenska flaggan. Eller kanske tvärtom; enligt en teori skulle den svenska flaggan ha sitt ursprung i den Östra rikshalvans dvs Egentliga Finlands vapen..


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