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Mykola Zharkikh (Kyiv)

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Threats to democracy

Nicholas Zharkikh

Should the hint at the end of the previous article be understood as a sign of my joining the «America must die» project? No, democracy in a country with such colossal traditions and reserves will not disappear in an instant, but the future of this democracy does not look clear.

Threats to democracy vary depending on whether the democracy is conquered or borrowed.

Conquered (self-built, own) democracy is the result of the efforts of a particular nation / society / state. It is often the result of over-efforts (as in Ukraine) and is just as often accompanied by fierce internal struggles, a series of Maidans and Anti-Maidans, revolutions and counter-revolutions, but both the gains and defeats of such a democracy are primarily the people’s gains.

Examples of such democracies are Great Britain, France, the United States, and today Ukraine and Georgia.

Borrowed (forced, imposed) democracy arises even when the people / society / state do not have their own traditions of political organization. This organization borrows ready-made institutions from some own democracy, perhaps with some cosmetic changes. Under the rule of such a democracy, the people understand neither their rights nor their responsibilities, nor, at worst, they understand the need for over-efforts to uphold democracy.

The positive side of such democracies is that they are established quietly, peacefully, without any revolutions or counter-revolutions, by agreement of a small group of democrats who decide to "live like in America." The downside of such democracies is that they can be replaced by another system of government just as easily and with the consent of a small group (political class, political leadership).

Examples of such democracies are most of the post-Soviet countries, all the newly formed African countries (there, even the cannibal emperor Bokassa ruled not somewhere, but in Central Africa republic).

Democracy in a country without democrats (which I wrote about in the previous essay) degrades either to endless populism or to an imitation of democracy.

The best example of such imitation was the late Soviet Union, in which all the attributes of democracy, such as the constitution, elections, parliament – were not only at the level of world standards, but in particular even surpassed them. It was not just democracy itself. Again, we have to remember the current model of life-size steam locomotive: everything is very similar to the real thing, just does not work. This democracy was introduced in the USSR in 1936 – and no one noticed, no change took place.

In later times, newly formed states often chose this "democratic development" – in part because local elites themselves studied at Harvard universities, in part to gain US support, which was and is crucial to the existence of these new states. It is primarily a matter for political recognition, which will be impossible with the opposition of Harvard professors and their students, who joined the US administration.

And how can one refuse a request for recognition when the petitioners say, "We have a constitution, an election, and a parliament – everything is as clean as in America"? Harvard professors and graduates are overjoyed and say, "You see, both the savage Tungus and the Kalmyk (steppe son) are all modeled on our democracy."

Meanwhile, there is nothing to be particularly happy about: borrowed democracy in conditions when there are no democrats in the country (people ready to fight for democratic values) often degenerates into imitation democracy.

This imitation democracy is so good that it does not affect or influence anyone, and any dictatorial, authoritarian and totalitarian regimes can hide behind it.

If Harvard-style democracy is about holding regular elections in the country, let’s hold them regularly, and everyone will be happy, especially the picky Americans. The latter do not like to cooperate with countries where there is not even a semblance of democracy, but are willing to cooperate with those where such a semblance exists.

All the enemies of democracy around the world have recognized this rule perfectly and drawn practical conclusions from it: there must be elections (well, imitation elections) and the chief must be called "president."

Fans of authoritarianism have learned from the experience of France, where Napoleon was once elected president, and he proclaimed himself emperor and canceled the election. And he ruled in this way until the Maidan (well, the Paris Commune). When Adolf Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany, he also canceled the election and ruled Germany for the rest of his life (which lasted less than he thought – due to circumstances beyond his control). Machiavelli in the distant 16th century had asked – can such a system be considered democratic, when voters voted quite democratically for the establishment of a dictatorship? It seems that the 20th century has given a very convincing answer…

Now there are no such brave people among the authoritarian bosses, and everyone prefers to run again and again for the "elections" that are expected to win, but do not dare to abolish the institution of elections. America will threaten with a finger!

Thus, only imitation democracy stands firm and nothing can threaten it. If the country’s political elite decides to play "democracy", it can continue, because the people, seeing that nothing depends on their "choice" and change, lose interest in elections and see them not as a way to determine government in the country, but just some little-understood game.

An imposed democracy without elements of imitation will always be threatened, and it is threatened by the same people who vote indifferently or elect the most vocal populists.

And the self-built democracy is also always threatened by the same people, the "inner proletariat" of A. Toynbee, who lives in society but does not belong to it. The threat grows when democrats in such a country say to themselves: well, nothing threatens our system, then we can reduce our efforts and plunge into the much-coveted dolce far niente.

The 2020 election in the United States showed that people who like authoritarian rule make up half of the electorate. 74 million voters voted for Trump – despite all his clear authoritarian actions and even impeachment. It used to be that impeachment erased a figure from American politics, and now we have what we have: impeachment like to many voters who look at it as a cravat of a new, as yet unseen style.

And now political analysts planning the next election are seeing what voters like and are looking for candidates who could attract the attention of voters and win the election. And who better than clowns is able to attract the attention of viewers? They were specially trained for this.

Thus, the threat to a self-built democracy is that people who are able to win elections come forward, not people who are committed to democratic values (the same elections). And when such "players" come to power somewhere, you can expect anything from them.

The story of the good old Hegel, who had once discovered an ideal social order in the form of the Prussian monarchy, has been forgotten. The Prussian monarchy fell in the aforementioned 1918, and with it all its apologists lost credit, although they built very convenient systems, and eloquent German monarchical professors surpassed the liberal Harvard щтуы.

If democracy in the United States falters or falls, it will indeed be the "End of History," but not quite as Fukuyama wished. I don’t think it will happen at all, but the threat is always there, and it requires thinking – is there something that needs to be repaired in the old democratic system?

June 14, 2022 in Kyiv.