August 22, 2013

Aaron David Miller and Edward P. Joseph, in their Aug. 18 Sunday Opinion piece, “For an Arab E.U.,” suggested that the experience of Eastern Europe can serve as a template for Arab societies to follow toward democracy. But those parts of Eastern Europe that embraced a functional democracy after the downfall of the Soviet Union had a prior history of participatory democracy for many decades, and, in some cases, centuries, before their liberation from the Soviet grip.

Poland’s democratic traditions date back hundreds of years; by the 16th century its kings were elected by the aristocracy. The other countries that transitioned to true democracy, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia, had been part of empires in which they had representation in the occupying power’s parliament.

Those Eastern European regions that had been under autocratic rule, as part of the Russian and Ottoman empires, fared less well. Does anyone view Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania or Bulgaria as successful democracies?

Expecting countries that had experienced only autocratic rule for centuries to turn to true democracy as a sort of default position is absurd. Policies based on this faulty premise lead to the overthrow of despots, followed not by democracy but by a sort of chaotic vacuum, generally only resolved by the installation of yet another despot. A healthy respect for human rights is a precondition, not a consequence, of democracy.

Victor Cholewicki, Washington