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World: Democracy And Security Conference Opens In Prague

The opening of the Democracy and Security conference in Prague today (RFE/RL) June 5, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Has the democratization process reached an impasse? Do the problems of Iraq and the Palestinian Authority show there are places where democracy is an unnatural form of government?

Those are some of the questions under discussion at a democracy and security conference that opened today in Prague, with a scheduled keynote speech from U.S. President George W. Bush.

The meeting has brought together dissidents past and present, as well as academics and politicians from many countries.

Today's panelists were not exactly bursting with optimism over the process of democratization. But neither were they sounding its death knell: Democratization is possible in Iraq; in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, democracies are evolving in harsh conditions, but they are evolving; problems can appear insurmountable, but let's not give up hope.

However, they spent much of their time listing what they considered past mistakes.

Good And Bad Analogies

"Democracy doesn't arise like [a] phoenix from the ashes, and that's basically how we are trying to build it in Iraq now," said Iraqi professor Kanan Makiya.

Makiya was one of several to point out the folly of using past democratic successes as an analogy for other countries.

Makiya, who teaches at a U.S. university, had been a strong proponent for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. He brought up an article he had written in 1991 that said Iraq's future democratization could be compared to what the United States did in Germany and Japan after World War II.

He says that analogy proved wrong. Germany and Japan were genuinely defeated and accepted that defeat, whereas "in Iraq we did not have this."

"We had what was quite correctly called a war of liberation, but it was fitted onto the rhetoric language of occupation," Makiya said. "And liberation and occupation do not mix well, and they were very difficult to explain and to justify. So there are other ways in which we should reexamine those kinds of analogies. But I wish to end, so it is not to be seriously misunderstood, that nothing I said now implies that the democratization is not possible in Iraq -- quite the contrary; but some of the conclusions I would come to is...[that] one does need to study the situation in the country beforehand."

'Overstated' Case For NGOs?

The panel also included Bruce Jackson, a former U.S. military intelligence officer, investment banker, and Lockheed Martin executive who is currently president of the Project on Transitional Democracies. Jackson's area of expertise is eastern Europe and former Soviet Union.

Jackson, too, said it was a mistake to use a success -- in this case, Central Europe -- as an analogy for other countries in transition.

Eastern European countries must be looked at differently from their Central European peers that transformed to democracy in the 1990s, he said.

They are younger, with weaker governments, and the idea of a future in Europe does not have the transformative impact it did with Central Europeans, he said.

"Georgia is not a sunny version of Estonia. This is a completely misleading analogy," Jackson said. "I think we have got to work at the countries, each democracy, in its own right, and basically devise policies that were responsive, they have to be regarded, all democracies that were generous and the idea that they were some sort of a continuation, I think the greatest error in the last few years of how we are looking at the democracies is this historical determinism that they begin [democracy's] path and, either nine years or 11 years, and they go the same way. They do not, they are completely unto themselves."

He also took issue with a panelist who stressed the importance of building up civil society to nudge countries on the road to democracy.

"I do think we overstate the civic-society case," Jackson said. "Civic society confirms democracy and might be a condition of democracy, but it does not cause democracy. There are more [nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs] in Belarus today than there are in Georgia; and if fact if the NGOs alone [could] cause democracy, [failed presidential candidate and recently displaced opposition leader] Alyaksandr Milinkevich would be president of free Belarus."

But Jackson had some suggestions, too.

Soft power could be used more smartly, Jackson argued, with the organization of free trade zones or even a cartel of energy consumers to offset Russia's monopoly.

Jackson added that criticism should be aimed at those most deserving of it -- not, as he said is currently the case, at countries that have done the most in democratic transition.

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Democracy In Russia

Democracy In Russia

Demonstrators in Moscow carry a coffin with a television in it to protest government control over broadcasting (TASS file photo)

DO RUSSIANS LIKE THEIR GOVERNMENT? During a briefing at RFE/RL's Washington office on November 15, Richard Rose, director of the Center for the Study of Public Policy at the University of Aberdeen, discussed the results of 14 surveys he has conducted since 1992 on Russian public opinion about democracy and the country's development. He discussed the implications of these opinions for relations with the West and for Russia's 2008 presidential election.


Listen to the complete discussion (about 42 minutes):
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