Speeches delivered at the First Global Forum of the New Democracies, Taipei, January 25, 2008
The initiative of convoking a Forum of the New Democracies, where former chiefs of states from 4 continents, representative for the first democratic changes of the power in their countries, should share their experience as leaders and as people trained in different cultural environments is more than welcomed.
The collapse of the Stalinist type communism in the end the 20th century did not represent an ordinary political failure of some totalitarian regimes, but it was a social revolution in favor of the socio-cultural pluralism, a historical statement in favor of the complexity and of the dynamism opposed to the economic rigidity, to the collectivism and to the isolation.
The way out from the bipolar logics of the cold war has been, and still is, a good opportunity to treat the democratic changes in the contemporary world not as a common theoretical and practical imitation of the Occident, but as a creative approach which to delimit itself both by postmodern western theories and by residua of the communist ideology.
The democracy still remains a global challenge for all people: for those living under totalitarian or authoritarian regimes, for those living in countries in post totalitarian transition and also for those living in advanced democracies.
Even if the ideologies of the authoritarianism have lost their power of attraction, the hostility towards democracy has not disappeared. The political-economic interest groups whose interest may be in danger justify the authoritarianism by the peril of domestic or foreign subversion, by the need for order and social peace.
Yet the modern history has shown us that the synergy of the positive individual values gathered by faith into moral principles gives strength to a nation, and not the blind obedience to a saving leader
At every man’s level the democracy could be ironically perceived, cynically treated or tragically ignored, but it still essentially remains a form of self knowledge.
Postcommunist Europe Democratization: Political Project, Moral Revival or Pragmatic Adaptation?
Since January 1 2007, ten formerly communist European states are full members of the European Union, the adhering treaty with consolidated democracies qualifying them as functional market economies. The approximately two decades since the collapse of the communist dictatorships represent a sufficient lapse of time for drawing up a chronicle of those radical changes of political regime with considerable impact in the contemporary world might.
Chronicle of an Unannounced Death
If politics is currently defined as the art of the possible, the democratization of post-communist Europe could be included in Havel’s notion of the art of the impossible.
The collapse by implosion of the communist bloc as the result of vast mass uprisings has surprised the whole world, both East and West. In his book Will more Countries Become Democratic?, published in 1984, Samuel Huntington had sententiously asserted that the possibility for democratic regimes to be introduced in Eastern European countries was practically nil. The solidity of the Soviet Empire seemed so certain that, hidden behind the futility theory any research on the prospect of change was ab initio blocked up. Consequently there was no theoretic evaluation of the ways of overthrowing totalitarian regimes of communist type more perverse than the cynical right dictatorships. There were no models for the transition to market economy simultaneously with political transition. “What would come after” projection was not so clear either in the Western chancelleries where Reagan’s accelerated arming policy was confined to diminishing the economic force of the USSR and consequently of the Eastern military threat. The famous meeting between Bush and Gorbachev at Malta never went beyond the acceptance of Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika policy.
Neither did any pressure for change arise from the corporatist area. The great Western corporations were satisfied with the safety margin provided by the communist totalitarian regimes for recuperating their investment profits and with the stability that a weakened and cooperating Soviet Union could offer the world trade they dominated. Perestroika, the only political project at hand at that moment aimed in fact at saving the Soviet Union from the economic debacle, by freeing the USSR from the burden of energetic support to the Eastern European satellite states. But the communist leaders of the respective states fiercely opposed any political or even economic reforms and, paradoxically, Nicolae Ceausescu excepted, they opposed even a greater independence from the USSR.
So I can firmly assert that the merit of the collapse of communist totalitarian regimes lies with the peoples of the respective countries. 1989 marked a year of cosmic importance in the history of humanity when millions of people risked their lives and freedom for their ideal of democracy.
Birth on the Battlefield
According to Popper democracy is moral as it “permits a change of governance without bloodshed.” The 1989 -90 people’s movement enriched the concept, proving that in an age of pragmatism and consumerism the moral imperative may transcend democracy which it thus precedes and founds. The events of 1989-90 proved that the totalitarian regimes become powerless when tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands and even millions of people subject to isolation in different countries and communities simultaneously rush out into the streets not for economic or social claims, but for freedom, truth and justice. Such regimes collapse when their most dependable weapon, the fear of the oppressed, is even temporarily overcome by faith. Those who, like myself, went out and marched in the streets can testify to it.
Popper, and later on Havel, developed the idea of the morality of democracy as a framework wherein ,by changing the world you change yourself and become able to accept your own errors. Starting from this idea we can clearly discriminate between the pro-democratic movements in 1989 and 1990 and the leftist and rightist pro-totalitarian extremist movements that tragically marked in the first part of the 20th century the destiny of the same countries and peoples. It is the difference between fanaticism and the courage to fight for the everlasting values of man. This offers a key to the peaceful character of all the East European changes, the blood-shedding exception of Romania included, where the victims were the exclusive outcome of the repressive communist armed forces and political police.
Council of the Parcae, or Fates
The communist regimes once overthrown, the moral foundation of the change was going to become a source of risk. The management of hope is difficult. Enthusiasm has always been a perishable resource in history, especially when the difference between ideals and illusions shows, and the responsibility for the latter is thrown upon the Other. Under these circumstances the rhetoric of success has rapidly been replaced by the rhetoric of failure. And after a very brief period of euphoria, “the (liberal) end of history”, the blow came from where we least expected it: from the Western intellectual elites, that replaced optimism by a somber state of pessimistic anxiety .A young researcher at Princeton University in his splendid book of political philosophy, In Praise of Liberty, gives a survey of the way the revolution in Eastern Europe has been presented in the American academia: “a moment of insanity”, “uncreative destruction”, “one of the lost moments of history”, “the new barbarism”, “Pandora’s box”, “extinction on a mass scale”, “a gigantic act of boot-strapping”, “ a Speenhonilond –like situation”, “Nachholendende Revolution”(which brought nothing new),”counter-revolutionary uprisings”, “refolution”, “unachieved revolution”, “conservative revolution”. Overlooking the excess of metaphor one can detect the placement of these syntagms in the often invoked area of “peril and perversity”. Of frustration, I should add, following the idea that what has not been foreseen cannot happen and what we cannot understand does either not exist or is wrong.
In my capacity of Bucharest University Rector I soon discovered through my European travels that the Berlin Wall also “had a different face from that we knew”, and that, as regards the understanding of the Other, the West’s misunderstanding of the East was greater than the East’s misunderstanding of the West. At the same time, as visiting professor at Duke University in 1991-92 as well as on the occasion of several lectures at various American universities, I noticed behind polite kindness a thinly hidden low interest in what we believed had changed the world in those years, as practically all research topics in political science, sociology, recent history referred to World War II and the Vietnam Warand to nothing else. This low interest was actually confirmed to me only in 1996 by Jeffrey Isaac’s essay “The Strange Silence of Political Theory”, which he also names “the deafening silence”. There were also exceptions and it is my duty to recall the1991 economic plan of Jeffries Sachs, a positive commitment of the Nobel Prize for economics winner which was rapidly labeled as “a new totalitarian temptation”.
I have undertaken this late survey not because of any past frustration, but to offer a necessary moral reparation to the Eastern intellectual elites. And, at the same time, in order to signal to the leaders and actors of oncoming democracies that they will have to rely mainly on themselves.
The great chance of the Eastern European peoples freed from communism was their own intellectual elite which rejected Gorbachev’s theory of limited reform controlled by the one-party communist regime and put forth a programme of radical political and economic reform in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, or the Baltic States. Well-known personalities from the academic, literary and scientific world were propelled into the sphere of political and economic decision to fill the power void created after the removal of the former communist apparatchiks .
The identity card
If I am asked today what the bound of the democracy is, I answer without slightest hesitation: a pluralist system represented by powerful parties with well structured ideologies, able to ensure an alternation to power and a civic society able to control the power, whatever it would be.
This firmness could seem strange for a person who comes from university environment, who was elected president of the republic after running for a large coalition of political parties and civic associations, without being member of any party, who refused to found an own presidential party and who returned into civic society. My stand is the result of the experience acquired during my entire life in a totalitarian regime and during two decades of transition towards democracy.
The anticommunist dissidence in Central and South Eastern Europe and the huge popular movements in the end of the 8th decade of the past century were built with the slogans: free elections, democratic constitutions, freedom of mass-media. The reality after the collapse of communist dictatorships has shown us that what we leveled up to myths were necessary but not sufficient conditions for a real democracy. Moreover, we have soon realized that they were used with ability by the former communist nomenclature and by the former political power that put into stage an “imitation of democracy”. The new democratic constructions, free elections and a part of “free” mass media have become tools of promoting the interests of the new oligarchy still in forming.
The experience of the former communist countries in Central and South Eastern Europe illustrates the fact that democratic constitutions with no support from active democratic institutions – political parties, civic associations – and restricted only to the act of governing do not lead to political freedom.
The transition towards democracy had to confront with the mentality generated in communist time by the dissolution of individual political liberty into people’s power and into national consensus.
The psychology of the masses was prepared for entrusting a new saving leader with the society. The temptation of a presidential regime which to apply direct democracy by referenda prepared by populist messages corresponded with the collective mentality. The representative democracy could be killed in the egg.
Long before communism, Oscar Wilde had understood that the power of people could mean “cudgeling people by and for the people”. In Romania we would feel on ourselves what this cudgeling meant. The neo-communist governing which confiscated the power by popular revolt after the fall of the dictatorship would bring miners to the capital in order to suppress the protesters. These protesters were not willing to understand the national consensus as a national unique front led also by the former communists.
The politics of the consensus and of the slogan “who is not with us, is against us” is a fatal peril for democracy and, in order to thwart it was essential the establishing of some new political and civic identities able to negotiate agreements in order to protect the meeting between democracy and pluralism. The civic space was in Eastern Europe the privileged center of the evolution from the collectivism of the totalitarian societies to the communitarian spirit of the consolidated democracies. This difficult evolution could not avoid the recovery of individual personality before the setting up of the associative spirit.
An unexpected difficulty in developing the political project of the transition came from the superposing in time of the collapse of East European communist dictatorships and of a theoretical controversy, which left a mark at philosophical level on the end of the 20th century. There is about the controversy between monist modernism and postmodernist pluralism, or more exactly, about the controversy between the proponents of similitude politics and those of difference politics.
Left-wing ideology was based upon similitude politics, generated by common consciousness that would derived form the affiliation at the same social class. The class politics ruled out the differences of sex, race, and ethnics and froze the potential conflicts without ever solving them. The post communist transition found itself in front of the simultaneous outburst of all these conflicts.
Postmodernist excess also excluded the appeal to human nature, to ration or to moral law which is fundamental for the spiritual and moral rebirth. By exaggerating the difference politics for groups smaller and smaller and contradictory, the West shows us how it could come to what Roth mentioned as indifference politics.
That is why the reconstruction of political politics, as pillars of pluralist representative democracy, was necessary in order to counteract both the integrator tendencies of the totalitarian left or right – wing ideologies and the tendencies of excessive crumbling of postmodernism.
To the political reforms the failure was predicted. It was also the case of economic reforms. Ralf Dahrendorf wrote in 1990, in his “Reflections on the Revolution in Europe”: “We are the witnesses of a process of dissolution where nothing comes to replace the old structures …how could political parties appear …when the ones of 1946 and the older ones in interwar period had no connection with the present, and the new parties are incapable to find necessary support?”
Birth or rebirth of the political parties was fundamental for creation of the representative democracy and for the reinforcement of state institutions. The fact they ensured the functioning of the pluralist democratic regime did not mean they also contributed to its good functioning. Mainly based on the personality of their leader and managed by his entourage, in many cases they were not able to establish a solid relationship with an electorate with social and ideological affinities.
As a general feature, for Central and Eastern Europe we notice three stages: the attempt of constituting a popular front (as a variant to the unique party), the outburst in number of the political parties and numeric decreasing tending towards the European pattern (Franco-German) with 4-5 parliamentary parties. Till the consolidation of electorate concentration at a reasonable number of parties, the governing in the former communist countries was based on a consensual frail majority.
The strengthening of the parties has as risk the transformation of the democracy into a particracy. According to D. Barbu, the type of the scrutiny on list gives rise to a partisan system of selection of the candidates which rewards the attachment to the party to the detriment of fidelity towards the electorate and punishes the independence of thinking.
Such an evolution of the parties, if it is amended by an uninominal or mixed vote, could create a fracture between parties and civil society, with negative effects on the process of strengthening the democracy. A new effort from the civic society is necessary in order to impose a correct relation with the citizens upon political parties.
Message at the graduation ceremony
The message of the presidents directly engaged in democratic changes in Central and Southeastern European states and who entered into politics from intellectual elite is quite positive. It is more positive than the message coming from the theoreticians who interpret today phenomena they did not participate in. It is a message that could offer to the actors engaged today in the democratization of the totalitarian and authoritarian regimes a support equally based on concepts and on a high-lived experience of assumed risks.
The lesson we have learned on the fly specifies that an advanced democratic society should have some essential characteristics such as: political complexity, and also political inclusion; a functional market economy and also wide dispersion of richness, education, power and authority; a public control upon the political agenda where those affected by a decision to be able to participate to the deliberations about it; mutual respect for autonomy and difference, a general attachment of the citizens for the type of state organization that could support and encourage diversity, without any resentments.
Of course this is the ideal picture. The democratic construction is an open process and many of the rigid conditions associated to democracy reflect only failures and resentments of Western democracies, in a continuously changing world.
I conclude with good news: the political culture knows rapid evolutions in moments of trial of the history that may change the destiny of a nation. “Nothing could stop an idea which time has come,” wrote V. Hugo who had lived such a moment in the middle of the 19th century.
In our turn, we lived it in the last decade of the 20th century
The Forum of the New Democracies has established that more and more people to live it, in the beginning of the 21st century.
Now that we have reached the conclusion of the New Democracies Forum, what might be the message of those former Presidents that had the happy chance of introducing or restoring democracy after authoritarian or totalitarian regimes?
What would be their message to the present or future heads of state who would like to take the same path, and what would be their message to the peoples whose option is a democratic society?
To the former presidents I should like to specify that it is only democratic societies that guarantee the status of “former head of state”. Central Europe, oppressed for six decades by totalitarian regimes, had no ”former heads of states”: they were either assassinated or held their position to their natural death, and then they were eliminated from history to make room for the exclusivist ambitions of the new heads of state. Only in democratic societies can the leaders who respect the rule of law enjoy life, freedom and prestige.
To the peoples that yearn for democracy I shall be outspoken and say that democracy carries a social price which has to be paid. Many countries favour the “fill stomach” slogan according to which economic rights should be given priority over political and civil rights. I consider this theory totally wrong, as the civil and political rights are necessary at least for three reasons:
to ensure economic development;
to preserve the social order and the rule of law;
and finally, they are intrinsically necessary as they create the system of individual values that defines us as free individuals.
This last argument mentioned touches upon a sensitive point: which system of values? We are here in the Far East, the cradle of the oldest civilization in the world, with a sophisticated social and moral system, and consequently one cannot speak of democratic institutions without considering the ethos of democracy.
The Chinese outlook of the world has been shaped by the Taoist ideal of universal harmony, by the Confucianist ideal of the compassionate man and the Buddhist notion of universal benevolence. Is it compatible with the concept of democracy created by Western European civilization, rooted as it is in the Judeo-Christian spirituality, Greek philosophy and Roman law?
My answer in the affirmative relies on their agreement on two fundamental values: truth and freedom.
When asked, “How should I serve a prince?”, Confucius answered : “Tell him the truth even if it might anger him”, while the Buddhists developed the idea of free will to choose.
In the Old Testament, God says to man: “The choice is yours”, and Jesus
states” Know the truth and the truth will make you free”.
I am heading for the conclusion of a life that has taken me through three dictatorships, a revolution that took a toll of bloodshed and a transition to democracy that has taken a toll of social sacrifices. I believe that the ideal of democracy enshrines the possibility of choice after one knows the truth.