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24 October, 2012

Is Democracy a Solution to All Problems?

Democracy is not something you simply declare and then everything is fine

And after all their troubles, they had democracy, and then they lived happily ever after.

That could be the happy ending to a fairy tale – especially one told in Western societies.

But democracy is not something you simply declare and then everything is fine. A majority can make bad decisions, and minorities can have better ideas. And everyone risks being manipulated.

Winston Churchill once said: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried.”

Democracy is a method - an important tool for solving conflicting interests and bringing to life ideas in an inoffensive, decent way. It is a method for ending a dispute with a decision approved by the majority. And - very important - it is a way to get rid of governments, when the majority so desires, after an election.

Democracy is not the goal as such. It is a never ending process, and it does not necessarily solve problems. Paradise is not something for democrats - on our Earth - because in a pluralistic democracy there are always some people who disagree.

In the process of nation building, one should realize that democracy is a method, and it is the content of the process that matters.

The state has to deliver a predictable, accountable, transparent framework for people to improve their life conditions.

This begins with the rule of law, trustworthy institutions and freedom of speech.

The constitution of a nation should first of all secure limitations on legislative power, thus ensuring citizens’ rights within the framework of both human rights and the rule of law. Equally important tools here include separation of powers and checks and balances.

Twenty-one years ago, Ukraine started from scratch after surviving a totalitarian history of tsars and communists. Meanwhile, the network of old comrades from the Soviet era became the nouveau-riche oligarchs of today.

It takes time to learn from the lessons of recent history - with its "trial and error" of good and bad experiences - to build up a nation with trust in society and its institutions.

It also takes time to be educated for citizenship.

In my own country, Denmark, the transition from autocracy to democracy started with the Constitution in 1849. Nikolaj Grundtvig, one of our prominent poets and thinkers of that time, was initially skeptical about democracy, but accepted it slowly. The most important thing for him was that people had a self-reliant, independent voice vis-a-vis the authorities.

This required freedom of expression, but it also demanded an informed population, one that was able to be critical.  And this required the building of a broad political culture and teaching based on debate, exchange of experiences and broad knowledge of both the past and present society.

Grundtvig's vision was that the large, lesser-educated part of the population should be able to be involved in society as responsible citizens.

Despite disillusionment, Ukrainian voters must act in the forthcoming election! Indeed, the disappointment of Ukrainian voters is huge. After the discouraging developments of recent years, many feel powerless and unable to trust the opposition after so few reforms took place after the Orange Revolution.

Still, Ukrainians should not repeat what happened in February 2010 when, after the election, many people regretted that they had stayed at home! Today they can see how not voting paved the way for an autocrat to take over!

The way the election commissions are being formed and administrative power is being misused allow us to predict that this will not be a free election - even if conducted under the supervision of thousands of election observers.

It will also be a strange election, since two of the main opposition leaders are behind bars. And the election law constitutes a systemic error where fairness is impossible.

So, the upcoming election will be neither free, nor fair!

But there is still something to do for the Ukrainian voters. They can use the time remaining to find out how to get the best out of a bad election system.

And they should participate, because in the worst-case scenario, the election will allow one side to completely take over a constitutional majority of two-thirds of parliament.

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