“What is pure democracy? It is a question of … whether you want to see the glass half full or half empty.”
Said by Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, merely hours ago at the EU-Russia summit in Samara on the river Wolga. An interesting quote, so I think. Don’t you know, minutes after the press conference, columnists all over the world have comdamned the line as a sign of Putin’s nearly-despotist approach to running the country and his unwillingness to enter dialogue with his political opposition. Not that I blame the columnists, they write for specific papers in specific countries and want to be paid and published.
Others have discovered a sense of political verständnis in Putin’s quote and praise him for his actions. The size of the country and the danger posed by mobs and organized crime, they argue, do not allow for a soft president who loses himself in seemingly democratic procedures and bureaucratic nonsense while his country is going down the drain. Legitimate point of view. Not that I’d agree whole-heartedly, but you gotta try to think from this point of view. At least occasionally.
What Putin’s quote is really signalising is that democracy is, in a sense, like terrorism. Everybody uses the term, as a matter of fact, it might just be the most overused term in political literature, not too mention political journalism. Yet, there is no common definition, and every single attempt to do so has been heavily disputed. Let’s check answers.com:
- Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives.
- A political or social unit that has such a government.
- The common people, considered as the primary source of political power.
- Majority rule.
- The principles of social equality and respect for the individual within a community.
Quite an interesting concept within the first definition given: majority rule. While in many democratic systems, this does not even have to be given – quite a few minor European countries are governed by a minority government – it is an intersting thought to take further. Minority protection, for example comes to mind. The German notion of the State as a “Rechtsstaat” considered the potential conflict between majority rule and minority interests and based the German idea of democracy on the rule of law. The Americans obviously think in comparable ways. So law plays a part as well, right? I’d definitely agree. This fellow wouldn’t. And he’s not the only one. But I’m feeling cynical tonight, not like getting into details. You’ll therefore have to postpone hearing me bloviate on my perception of democracy.
The point I was trying to make is that for Putin, Russia’s clearly not ready for “complete democracy” – and neither is the rest of the world. As much as Putin needs to be open for criticism on some of his practics, the EU should accept when he shows them the mirror. To speak in his analogy, the democratic glass is certainly far from full in Heiligendamm these days.
Hoffnung means hope…
PS: Of course, the obligatory “from ancient Greek: demoskratia, rule of the people” can be found somewhere in the footnotes of answers.com as well. Interestingly enough, the true Greek sense of the word can only be found in Switzerland and other small, unimportant places of the planet these days. On top of that, not even Aristotle liked the concept very much… I’m starting to think he’d make a great world leader these days.