English

THE UNNOTICED DEMISE OF DEMOCRACY

Jul 25 2017

 Roberto Savio* – Other News 

Rome, July 25 – Politicians are so busy fighting for their job, that it is shocking to see that they hardly notice that they risk to get out of business. Democracy is on the wane, yet the problem is nowhere in Parliaments. Common to all, is a progressive loss of vision, of long terms planning and solutions with politics used just for power.

In English, there are two terms: politics, which is term for the machinery, and politics, that is the vision.  In Latin languages, there is only one, politics, and that is now becoming the adequate term also for English speaking countries, from May’s UK, to Trump’s USA… 

In a few years, we have seen an astonishing flourishing of authoritarian governments. May be, Turkey’s Erdogan is the best example. He was elected in 2002, and hailed as the proof that you could be a Muslim, but also a champion of democracy. At the end of the decade, he started to take a more fundamentalist and authoritarian approach, until in 2013 there was the famous crack down on thousands of protesters, protecting a Park in Istanbul intended to host a supermarket. 

Since then, the tendency to use power has accelerated. In 2014, he was accused, with his son, to be involved in corruption (three sons of ministers were arrested). He accused for  this the Gulenist Movement, a spiritual movement led by an earlier ally, Fethullah Gulen, who lives now in the US. And when in 2016 some military sectors tried a coup against him, he has used the coup as a reason to get rid of gulenist and other dissidents. It has put 60.000 people in jail, and he has dismissed from public employment a staggering 100.000 people. 

What is reminiscent of Stalin and Hitler’s practices is how those 100.000 have been treated. They have been banned also from private employment, and their passports as well the ones of their families have been withdrawn. When asked how they will survive, the government’s reaction was to indicate that even eating roots would be “too good” for them. We are talking of hundreds of judges, tens of thousands of teachers, university professors, whom have been dismissed without any hearing and without any formal imputation . 

Europe’s reaction? Empty declarations, and since then Erdogan has become more authoritarian…He has built a Presidential Palace of 1.150 rooms, larger than the White House and the Kremlin, where there is a three-room office dedicate to taste his food to avoid poisoning…The palace has cost between 500 million euro (government’s declaration), and 1 billion dollars (opposition’ estimates). 

It could be said, in Europe’s defence, that Turkey is not a member of the European Union, and his actions have made extremely unlikely that his membership to the EU has now any possibility. But Poland and Hungary not only are members of the EU, but also main beneficiaries of his economic support. Poland since joined EU in 2004, has received more than 100 billion dollars in various subsidies: the double of Marshall Plan in current dollars, the largest transfer of money ever done in modern history. 

Yet the government  has embarked in a firm path  to dismantle democratic institution (the last, the judicial system), and even the sleepy EU  has been obliged to warn that it could take away the right of Poland to vote, to the total indifference of the government. Yet, nobody has formally proposed to cut the subsidies, which are now in the budget from 2014 to 2020 another 60 billion dollars: half of what the world spends for development aid for nearly 150 countries. 

Hungary Is run since 2010 by a prime minister, Orban , who campaigns for “ an illiberal democracy”, and like Poland PM Szydlo, has refused to accept any immigrant, in spite of EU subsidy. Hungary, despite its small population (less than 10 million, versus Poland 38 million) is the third largest recipients of EU’s subsidies, or 450 dollars per habitant. One third of the world populations lives with less than that.

In addition, the European Investment Bank gives a net subsidy of 1 billion EUR, and Hungary received 2.4 billion euro from the balance of Payment Assistance Program.  The two countries have formed with Slovakia and Czechia, the Visegrad group, which is in permanent campaign against the EU, and its decisions. Useless to say, subsidies to Slovakia and Czechia, largely surpass their contributions.  

Are Erdogan, Orban, Szydlo, dictators? On the contrary, they are democratically elected, like Duterte in the Philippines, Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Maduro in Venezuela and other 30 authoritarian presidents in the world. 

But in Europe this is new. And is also new to see an American President, Donald Trump, to present an agenda of isolationism and international confrontation, who was also regularly elected. A poll at the end of his first semester, revealed that his voters would re-elect him again, with the republican support going down only from 98%, to a 96%. Nation-wide, his popularly has declined to 36%. In other terms, if elections were held today, he would get a second term. 

Which brings us to wonder: why we still consider elections equivalent to democracy? Because this is how the people can express themselves. But people certainly do not like corruption, which in polls anywhere is considered the most prominent problem of modern governments. But unless it reaches a totally systematic level, like Brazil, several studies do not show a correlation between corruption and electoral punishment. 

Corruption, in politics, has been used by populists, who has promised to get rid of it to the electorate: exactly what Trump did in his electoral campaign, while now his conflict of interest and lack of transparency with his private interest, have no precedent in the White House. 

That bring us to the next question. If ideologies are gone, and politics have become mainly a question of administrative efficiency and personalities, not of ideologies, what is the link between a candidate and his voters, and keep doing so, despite everything, like those who vote Erdogan, Trump, Orban and Szydlo? 

Well, probably it is time that we start to look to politics with a new approach. What did we  learn from the last few years’ elections? 

That people are aligning themselves under a new paradigm, which is not political in the sense we have used until now: is called IDENTITY. Voters now elect those with whom identify themselves, and support those because in fact they defend their identity, no matter what. They do not listen at all to other’s arguments, that they dismiss as “fake news.” Let us see on what this Identity issue is based: the new four divides. 

There is first a new divide: cities against the interior, small towns, villages, hamlets. In Brexit, people in towns voted to stay in Europe. The same goes for those who vote against Erdogan, who is unpopular in Istanbul, but very popular in the rural areas.  Those who did  vote  Trump, were largely from the poor states The same has happened with Orban and Szydlo. None of those would be in power if the vote was restricted to the capital and the towns. 

There is a second new divide: young and older voters. Brexit would not have happened, if all young people cared to vote. Same with Erdogan, Trump, Orban and Szydlo. The problem is that young people have in serious percentages stopped to be active in politics, because they feel left out, and look to parties as self-maintaining machines, ridden with corruption and inefficiency. 

Of course, this plays in favour of those who are already in the system, which perpetuates itself, without the generational lift for change. Italy found 20 billion dollars to save four small banks while the total subsidies for young people are 2 billion euro. No wonder they feel left out… 

There is the third divide, which is also new, Ideologies of the past were basically more inclusive, even if of course the class system plaid a significant role. The third divide is between those who have done at least high school, and those who did not. This is going to increase dramatically in the next two decades, when the robotization of industry and services will reach at least 40% of the production.  

Tens of millions of people will be left out, and they will be those with less education, unable to fit in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Elites look with disdain at the choices of electors who are considered ignorant and provincial, while those consider the elite winners who reap whatever they can, and marginalizing them. 

Finally, there is a fourth divide, which is very important for the values of peace and cooperation as basis for a world governance. Is the divide between those who see the return to nationalism as the solution to their problems (and therefore hate immigrants), and those who believe that their country, in an increasing competing world, can be better if it integrates in international or regional organizations.  

Two extremely simplified example: Europe and the US. There was a survey done by the EU among the nine million Erasmus, or the students who with a scholarship from that exchange program went to make stages in other countries. They have generated more than 100.000 children by marrying somebody met abroad: the real Europeans. 

In the poll, they were at 92% asking more Europe, not less Europe. And in the US, the classical Trump voters, as white (a demographic group in decline: at every election 2% less of white vote), who did not get beyond secondary education, who do not read newspapers or books, coming from the poorer states. People who lost their job often for delocalization of their factories or mines, and strongly believe that they are victims of globalization, which created strong social and economic injustice, used by elite and those living in town, for their own benefit. 

This is a consequence of the fact that during two decades, only macroeconomic indexes have been used, like the GNP. Social indicators were largely shunned. How the growth that GNP indicated was divided, was not a concern for the IMF, World Bank,  the EU and most politicians, who blindly believed that market was the only engine for growth and would solve social problems:  only now have put on the reverse, too late. 

The world knows now an unprecedented explosion of inequality, which is helping nationalism and xenophobia to become a central part of the political debate. 

Nationalism is not confined to Trump, Erdogan, Orban and Szydlo, and to Brexit. China, India, Japan, Philippines Israel, Egypt, Russia, and several countries are now run by a nationalist and authoritarian governments. 

This bring us to a very simple conclusion. Either the transition to an unknown new political system, that will certainly replace the present unsustainable system, will be based on the values of social justice, cooperation and peace, (probably updating the present international organizations), or is difficult to see how we will avoid conflicts, wars and blood. 

Why the man is the only animal who does not learn from previous experiences?

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*Roberto Savio is publisher of OtherNews, adviser to INPS-IDN and to the Global Cooperation Council. He is also co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus.

 

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