Quarta-feira, 15 de Setembro de 2010

The international day of what?

By Vasco Martins

 

September 15th is the International Day of Democracy. It is also a good day to reflect on the meaning of the word and its recent development.

By principle, democracy would mean that the people hold the power. Not the king, the aristocracy or the oligarchs. The people have the right and the obligation to participate in state affairs, choose their leaders, laws and the overall future of the country. Democracy may represent the pillars of liberalism, open markets, capitalism, human rights and freedom.

Today there are several semantic issues regarding the word democracy. There are also several countries that use the word in their official name. But questions do arise: is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea a democracy? Was the former German Democratic Republic as democratic as the UK or France? Can Russia consider itself a sovereign democracy?

All these questions are important when one is to define and understand democracy. It is important not to lose perspective and accept that not all forms of democracy are actually democratic.

Fareed Zakaria makes the argument that democracy is fairly different from constitutional liberalism. The first recognizes the power of the people, regardless of the regime. The second encompasses a free, liberal, law abiding society.

However, in this important day, one can read the words “while democracies share common features, there is no single model for democracy” at none other than the UN’s website description of the event.

True, there are different paths towards building a democratic society. however, if no single model for democracy exists, how does one know his/her country is democratic? The ambiguities in this statement are overwhelming. Not only because of its abstract nature, but because it allows for a very broad understanding of the word and what it means.

If, on the one hand it empowers one to say that Sudan is a democracy because it holds elections, regardless of the situation in Darfur, on the other hand, it states that Spain is not democratic because the Basque people are not able to “determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems and their full participation in all aspects of life.” If so, does democracy itself mean the Basque people have the right to self-determination? Certainly not.

There exist several ways to understand and build democracy. However, stating that it does not have a single model only strengthens those who would use it to achieve or maintain their power, while casting a shadow on its true constitutional liberal value.

 

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