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EMILY LAU: Some people are genuinely worried that they may lose their freedoms. So, then they begin to think, “Wow! So what must we do to make sure our freedoms are more entrenched? So maybe we should have a more democratic form of government.”
KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, we examine the seemingly simple but highly complicated concept of democracy worldwide.
KEITH PORTER: On paper the definition of democracy is straightforward. In practice it is subject to interpretation.
TOM CAROTHERS: Russia experts are bending themselves into pretzels trying to figure out if Russia has become a democracy or not. And there’s a huge debate among people who follow Russia as to whether it is.
PORTER: This week we travel the globe to learn how such diverse countries as China, Russia, Iran, as well as the United States practice democracy.
MCHUGH: Our special report, “Defining Democracy: A Global Perspective” is coming up next.
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PORTER: Common Ground is radio’s weekly program on world affairs. I’m Keith Porter.
MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. Democracy is taught lessons each and every day in civics lessons across the United States. But what does it really mean? The dictionary says democracy is “government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.”
PORTER: Here, the Bill of Rights guarantees all Americans the right to assemble and the right to petition government with their demands. But these tools are not unique to the United States. They are also being used by the citizens of Hong Kong struggling for democratic change. The world’s attention jolted to Hong Kong in July when half a million residents took to the streets to form the territory’s biggest public protest since the British colony was returned to the People’s Republic of China. But despite this brush with democratic action, experts wonder if it will really bring even greater political freedom for Hong Kong. Celia Hatton traveled to Hong Kong and talked with people at the heart of the democracy movement.
[The sound of a noisy street protest]
CELIA HATTON: The sheer size of the protest surprised almost everyone—the organizers, the people in the streets, the media and most of all, the Hong Kong government. On July 1st of this year, at least 500,000 Hong Kong residents from all walks of life turned out to voice a laundry list of complaints—growing despair over the economy, the seemingly out-of-touch Chief Executive Tung Chee-Hwa, and most of all, the imminent passage of a security bill that demonstrators believed was a threat to their personal freedom.
[The sound of a noisy street protest]
HATTON: And it was a protest that got results. The government first promised to water down the bill, then to delay it indefinitely, and finally, to withdraw it altogether. And, although Tung kept his job, two of the government’s most unpopular ministers resigned from their posts.
EMILY LAU: If you had been up there on July 1st, interviewing the—some people say—the 600,000 or 700,000 people marching, many of them would tell you, “Yeah, we’re marching but it’s not going to mean anything.” But then suddenly, it meant something!
HATTON: Hong Kong Legislator Emily Lau is one of the territory’s most vocal democracy advocates.
EMILY LAU: People were encouraged and I think Beijing found it very alarming. Alarming for the Chinese people, at least in Hong Kong, to see that, “Oh! If you protest, it could lead to something. Wow!”[laughs] What’s next?
HATTON: Hong Kong residents have long had a reputation for being more interested in business than politics. However, some analysts argue that this assumption just isn’t true. Michael DeGolyer is the Director of the Hong Kong Transition Project, a landmark study that has tracked the change in Hong Kong residents from British subjects to Hong Kong citizens. He says that the proposed security legislation was too extreme for anyone to ignore.
MICHAEL DEGOLYER: Certainly there is a relationship between politics and economics, there’s no question about that. But to assume and to assert that as long as Hong Kongers got money, they don’t care about whether you, for example, censor their newspapers or cut off their access to their relatives, or begin to restrict their various other personal freedoms and human rights. That’s totally wrong.
HATTON: Of course, others might argue that the people of Hong Kong waited for a string of injustices to build up before they hit the streets in anger. Record unemployment levels of more than eight percent and a distant response to the devastating SARS virus saw Chief Executive Tung Chee-Hwa’s popularity levels sink to an all time low. Finance minister Anthony Leung also riled residents when it was discovered he had bought a brand new car just before raising automobile taxes. But it was the strict laws within the proposed Article 23 and the government’s refusal to consult the public on the content of the security bill which finally broke the camel’s back. Under the original proposed law, police would have been able to search homes without a warrant and citizens could have been sent to jail for exposing vaguely defined state secrets. Many were worried that the Hong Kong government would have used the new law to persecute religious groups that are already banned in mainland China. Professor Ming Sing of City University is one of about 20 academics who works with the Democratic Development Network, a major organizer of the July protests. He says that in the weeks leading up to July 1st, the problems inherent in Article 23 were splashed all over the media.
PROFESSOR MING SING: People felt, you know, when they were bombarded with the messages of the leading barristers, the talk shows anchors saying that our liberties were undermined and then you can see the arrogant faces of our civil servants again and again—or ministers, I would say. So people really felt that there is a danger of losing their freedoms.
HATTON: As Emily Lau notes, the fear caused by Article 23 caused some people to think more carefully about the ways in which democracy can directly affect their lives.
EMILY LAU: Some of them would say, “Well, what is democracy for? Democracy is there to protect our freedoms. But we already are free! So why do we need democracy?” So, that’s the attitude. But Article 23 changed that. Because some people are genuinely worried that they may lose their freedoms. So, then they begin to think, “Wow! So what must we do to make sure our freedoms are more entrenched? So maybe we should have a more democratic form of government.”
HATTON: After July 1st, two smaller protests, which attracted between 30,000 50,000 people, focused more directly on the call for direct elections and the resignation of Tung Chee-Hwa, a man who had been appointed to his position by Beijing.
[The sound of a street traffic]
HATTON: On the streets of Hong Kong and on the mainland the possibility of a directly elected government in Hong Kong has serious implications. If Hong Kong residents continue their push for universal suffrage, many believe the Beijing leadership will go to any lengths to halt the protests, with the worry that the rest of China will witness political developments in Hong Kong and will begin to question their own lack of political freedom. On the other hand, a decision to clamp down on Hong Kong residents would lead to international condemnation, a negative impact on China’s booming economy, and an end to Beijing’s hopes of luring breakaway Taiwan back into the fold by displaying Hong Kong’s success with the concept of “one country, two systems.” However, Michael DeGolyer argues that the development of political freedoms in Hong Kong is actually a testing bed of sorts for all of China.
MICHAEL DEGOLYER: Hong Kong has gone from being theirs to being ours. It’s gone from being a threat to being a problem. It’s gone from being, in some ways, an opportunity to loot, to where now it’s become an opportunity to learn. In fact I think what has happened is they know that they must learn, they must adopt, they must adapt, they must change, they must solve “the Hong Kong problem.” And they must solve their own problem. And I think increasingly they are being narrowly funneled down to realize that the solution to their problems lies in political reform as well as economic reform. And they’ve pushed the economic form that they’ve had about as far as they can go without doing political reforms.
HATTON: For democracy advocates in Hong Kong, there is no question that they need to gain on their current momentum. Next year, the number of directly elected seats in the 60-seat legislature will rise from 24 to 30. Democracy advocates hoping to win all 30 seats so that they will have the power to force the Hong Kong government to live up to its vague promise of direct elections for Chief Executive in 2007. Professor Ming says that activists and academics plan to draft a democratic constitution for Hong Kong in the next few years so that they are ready by 2007 with a concrete set of political demands.
PROFESSOR MING SING: People realize that the clock is ticking. If you are really serious about implementing democratic reform, you have to make your decision either next year or the year after next. Otherwise it will be too late to make the necessary arrangements.
HATTON: Many say that the landmark protests in July were the start of Hong Kong’s political consciousness and a true opportunity for residents to shed their reputation for political apathy. In this bustling landscape, only one thing seems for certain—the showdown for increased political freedom in this territory is only just beginning. For Common Ground, I’m Celia Hatton in Hong Kong.
MCHUGH: Hong Kong’s democracy movement has caught the attention of the leadership in Beijing. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao recently stated publicly for the first time that Hong Kong needs gradual development of democracy to safeguard its rights and freedoms.
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PORTER: The evolution of democracy around the world has been uneven at best. Some fledgling democracies flourish while others slide back into authoritarianism. I recently spoke with a man who has made it his life work to track the progress of democracy around the world. Tom Carothers is Director of the Democracy and the Rule of Law Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. We discussed the state of democracy in many countries, beginning with Russia.
TOM CAROTHERS: Russia experts are bending themselves into pretzels trying to figure out if Russia has become a democracy or not. And there’s a huge debate among people who follow Russia as to whether it is. They’ve had elections. They’ve elected a president. They have a lot of freedoms. They have political competition, different political parties. But they have a lot of authoritarianism. The president is very intolerant of opposition. There’s a lot of political manipulation that occurs behind the scenes. The way he’s raising money for the elections that will be coming up late in 2003 is not too pretty, not too democratic. And there’s a feeling in Russia of still a desire on many part of the, of the Russian population for the strong hand, the heavy hand and a feeling that that’s what Russia needs. So Russia presents a very mixed and troubling but still in some ways hopeful picture.
PORTER: So do you think at the, at sort of the grass roots the people will grasp the concepts and cling to democracy?
CAROTHERS: It’s taking a long time. Russians feel that in 1991 when Communism ended that way they really experienced was their state collapsed. Their basic services, whether it was garbage or collecting taxes or providing heat in the winter. That’s what they lost. And they weren’t so much concerned as getting democracy immediately as getting an effective government. Now if Putin can show that that can be done with the democratic government they’ll embrace democracy. If he shows they can do it with a strong hand and an authoritarian type government they’d probably accept that too, in the medium term.
PORTER: The next place I want to ask you about is South Africa. Here’s a country that went through a grass roots constitutional process. They had the Truth and Reconciliation process. Has democracy really taken hold there?
CAROTHERS: Democracy has taken hold but South Africa has some deep structural problems that are going to plague it for the next 10 or 20 years. Certainly the South African people as a whole have voted clearly and strongly for the African National Congress and support President Mbeki. But, they face real economic deterioration. The economic miracle that many hoped for once apartheid ended and the economic isolation of South Africa ended hasn’t really come about. Foreign investment has not skyrocketed as people hoped it would. South Africa faces the same challenges of being a developing country in a global international economy that make it hard to compete from the bottom up. And a lot of the basic sort of state structures that they enjoyed in the 1970s and ’80s and they hoped it would spread the benefits to all the people of South Africa have been warn pretty thin in that process. So a lot of South Africans are actually not too happy about how things are going. They still certainly believe the African National Congress is the political force they want to represent them. But they don’t really feel it’s necessarily producing the kind of goods day to day that they hoped for.
PORTER: The African National Congress has in its roots sort of a, a be all things to all people kind of group. I mean a group that they’d embraced an awful broad range of philosophies. Do you think they can still hold it all together?
CAROTHERS: Well, that’s another problem with South Africa’s democratization, is that ultimately they face the risk of whether or not you’ll turn a dominant party into a one-part state. Not that the African National Congress has shown itself yet to be too intolerant. Instead, what’s tending to happen is that blurring of the sort of line between the ruling party and the state. So pretty soon you have a hard time telling on say a state-controlled bank and you look at the board of directors and notice they’re all friends or family of top political leaders in the ANC, or things like that. The longer one party is in power like that, even a well intentioned party, it’s pretty hard to avoid bad habits of corruption and a kind of oozing tendency to bleed into the state. We certainly saw it in many American cities that were under the control of one political machine for many years. The same thing can happen in a country.
PORTER: Next stop is China. Here’s a place where the conventional wisdom is that, at least that economic liberalization will lead to democratic reforms. Do you think that will really happen in China?
CAROTHERS: I think if China manages to continue to grow economically it will produce increasing pressure for political openness. Yes, it’s true that most wealthy countries are democracies, with the exception of the oil-rich states in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and places like that. Everybody else in the world who has more than $10,000 or even $8,000 per capita is a democracy, other than those oil-rich states, and Singapore, which is a bit of an exception. So if China could continue to grow and develop it will create strong pressure for democratization. Can it do that, though, without cracking and having a moment in which there isn’t some kind of real political upheaval or the harsh fall of the Communist regime producing, you know, social protests and maybe even civil conflict? That’s pretty unpredictable. And the Chinese leadership is so far very defensive, very worried about any break in its monopoly of political power in the country. They are, yes, they are reforming gradually on the economic front. They’re really not doing so on the political front. They’re avoiding the hard steps that would be necessary. They’ve come down really hard for example on the Falun Gang, this religious group. The reason they did that, it was getting big, it was not under the control of the government, and it was the only kind of group not controlled by the government that was organizing itself and that scared the Chinese leaders. And it’s a sign of their political nervousness and lack of self-confidence politically that they can’t even handle essentially a nonpolitical religious group that wants to get together and, and meet and talk about those things. So the pressure is building. But whether there’s going to be a straight line and peaceful path between where they are and a kind of established democracy remains pretty questionable.
PORTER: Next, in the Islamic world there’s an ongoing discussion about whether or not Islam and democracy are compatible. Whether or not democracy can ever take root in a truly Islamic country. What are your thoughts on that?
CAROTHERS: There’s a lot of confusion I think about in people’s thinking about that. Because if we separate the Islamic world into two parts, there’s the Arabic part, or the Arab part of the Islamic world, and the non-Arab part. Actually Arabs represent only about 18 percent of Muslims around the world. Something most Americans sometimes get mixed up thinking about that. Arabs are a small minority of the Muslim population. If you look at countries where there’s large Muslim populations like Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, for example you do see significant democratic progress in some of these countries. Indonesia, for example, is now, you know, it’s the largest Muslim population in the world, is now somewhat democratic. India has been struggling with it but is still, is still a democracy. Pakistan is not, they’ve had a military coup and gone backwards. Bangladesh is struggling but somewhat democratic. There’s nothing incompatible about Islam and democracy. Now the Arab world, it’s not very democratic. There is no Arab country that’s really a successful democracy. And so often Muslim politics or Muslim sort of the Muslim mobilization of some political movements gets the blame. But the blame there really is just bad leadership since decolonization in the Arab world. Authoritarian leadership, that most of it is not very pro-Muslim or very Islamist, most of it’s actually fairly secular. But they’re entrenched regimes that don’t want to give up power and sometimes use the Islamic bogeyman as an excuse to stay out. So we really shouldn’t be blaming Islam for the lack of democracy in the Arab world and we shouldn’t sort of paint with too broad of a brush and think that Islam and democracy are somehow incompatible.
PORTER: The next question for you is about the feasibility of exporting democracy. Is it possible to impose democracy from the outside on any society?
CAROTHERS: The United States and other Western countries invest, they invest collectively, the United States and Europe almost $2 billion a year in trying to promote democracy in other countries. And they do so through a whole variety of programs. Generally my experience has been—I’ve visited a lot of these places and studied a lot of these programs—that you can help another society that wants to move in a particular political direction towards democracy. You can help it do so. In a sense you can put more gas in the car. But you can’t steer the car. That’s up to them. Now, can we impose democracy by force in limited circumstances? Through military force you can remove a dictator. You can beat a dictatorial regime and smash it and knock it out of power. What comes in its place isn’t necessarily a democracy. It can be, if the country has some signs that it was moving in that direction before hand. And some willingness on the part of the current population to really try to do that. If the country’s population doesn’t really want to have democracy or you have a number of elites in the political life there who are not very democratic and the forces are aligned against you, even if you occupy the country it’s not likely to become democratic. In Germany and Japan, which are the examples that people often like to cite, we defeated fascistic regimes. Both those countries, though, before fascism has arose, had arisen, had been developing democratic regimes. They’d had parliaments, they’d had political parties, they’d been having elections. Germany was in a process of democratization from the late 19th century on, interrupted by the rise of Hitler. So once Hitler was defeated they went back to that process of democratization. Unfortunately Iraq can’t go back to such a process of democratization because it didn’t have one. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be impossible to promote democracy in Iraq but it means we’re starting at ground zero and that’s a lot more difficult.
If you look at Haiti, where we invaded the country in 1994 and knocked out an oppressive regime, it’s not very democratic today. So sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. So there’s no guarantees here and a lot depends on what you have there on the ground in the country itself.
PORTER: The last thing I want to talk to you about is this concept that I see at least, I want to know if you see it also, that sometimes policy makers here in Washington are rather intolerant of other forms of democracy that don’t line up with what we see as orthodox democracy as we practice it here. A sort of “our way or the highway” kind of thing. Do you see that? And if so why is that?
CAROTHERS: I do see it. Sometimes it’s, it’s a kind of aggressive intolerance and sometimes I think it’s really based on ignorance. A lot of Americans tend to associate the particular forms of the American government with democracy itself. So they say, “If you want to have a democracy, well, let’s see, you’re gonna need a senate with about say 100 people and a house of representatives with maybe 400 or 500. Then you’re gonna need a supreme court. Let’s say nine people.” They start going through the particular institutions of America. I was once, kind of as a joke in a group of people who were democracy promoters and I said, “Let me tell you about a country I was in recently. And how much help it needs with democracy. This is a country that is trying to be a democracy. They don’t even have a constitution, first of all. They haven’t even bothered to write down a constitution. So that’s pretty inexcusable. Secondly the members of parliament are allowed to work. At the same time that they’re members of parliament they’re allowed to work as private lawyers, or, you know, work for consulting firms. Which obviously makes no sense. They have really draconian sort of public information laws and the government is allowed to bring journalists in on pretty flimsy excuses in many cases. Very tough things. A lot of their television is dominated by the state and by state funding.” So I was going on and describing this country and I said, “You know, this is England.” No constitution, members of parliament do this, they’re television and the, you know, parts of their television are dominated by the state. Their freedom laws are not what they are here. They don’t have a bill of rights.
So there are different forms of democracy for different people. And Americans do sometimes when they go abroad tend to try too hard to reproduce specific forms. There, there are certain principles that have to be there if you’re gonna call another society or country democratic. You have to have a government in which the people choose the government and the leaders that they choose have the real power to rule, so there isn’t some opaque group of people behind the scenes with all the power. Beyond that, and that government has to respect basic freedoms and rights. So if you have a government that’s chosen, has real power, respects basic rights, and puts its power up for regular, regular voting by the people that’s a democracy. Now whether they have a unicameral or a bicameral parliament, whether they have a bill of rights in particular or not, whether or not they have a certain relationship of church and state—England also has a state church, something that we can’t imagine here. They have no separation of church and state in England. So there are a lot of things that can be quite different. And Americans grow up thinking, say, separation of church and state, fundamental to democracy. Well, it’s not, actually. Neither are a lot of other things. So we need to sometimes separate a bit more clearly the underlying basic principles from the particular forms in American life and be sure when we go abroad that we’re not mixing up those two things.
PORTER: Tom Carothers is Director of the Democracy and the Rule of Law Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
MCHUGH: Iran’s Islamic democracy—next as Common Ground‘s special report on democracy worldwide continues.
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MCHUGH: The Islamic Republic of Iran is a practicing theocracy. The country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatolla Ali Khamenei, is appointed for life by the religious advisory board known as the Guardian Council. But Iran’s president and legislative leaders are popularly elected, although the ballot is set by the Guardian Council.
PORTER: During Iran’s local elections this February, around 49 percent of voters showed up at the polls nationwide, but only 12 percent cast ballots in the capital of Tehran, much lower than in the municipal elections of 1999. Many eligible voters say they stayed home on election day to show their disillusionment with the slow pace of reforms. While some observers say this helps depict how democracy in the Islamic Republic is failing, others including the country’s Supreme Leader say the system is strong and effective. As Roxana Saberi reports from Tehran, after more than 24 years of advances and setbacks, Iran’s test of Islamic democracy is at a critical crossroads.
ROXANA SABERI: Iran has a history of dabbling with democracy. In the early 1900s, Iranians wrote a constitution establishing a parliament. Years later, they removed their monarch, Mohammad Reza Shah, in an Islamic revolution. They overwhelmingly voted in favor of creating the Islamic Republic of Iran. The new constitution ratified in 1979 reflects concerns over transparency and public participation. But at the same time, the system has been marked by internal debates and power struggles. The result, says T?h? H?shemi, who heads the moderate-right-wing Entekh?b newspaper, is a system like no other in the world.
T?H? HASHEMI: [via a translator] Even the democracy in Japan is different from the US and Europe because democracy is a method and it is affected by beliefs, cultures, and tastes. Therefore we cannot say that the Western pattern of democracy can be applied to Iran.
SABERI: Here, as in the West, local and national elections are regularly held. During the last two presidential elections, voters showed overwhelming approval for reformist President Mohammad Khatami. They have also voted a reformist-dominated parliament into power. But in other ways, the notion of democracy in Iran is not the democracy known to the West. The country’s Council of Guardians interprets the Constitution and has vetoed bills passed by the Parliament that it sees as contradicting Islamic law. The indirectly elected council, now controlled by hardliners, also vets candidates for national office. It approved only four of 238 candidates in the 1997 presidential elections. And the country’s Supreme Leader, who has the final say on all domestic and foreign policies, is also the cleric chosen as the best qualified to understand Islamic law and tradition. This leader is appointed for life and oversees security and intelligence, armed forces, and the judiciary.
[The sound of lout street protests]
SABERI: Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has held this position since 1989, says his country’s enemies criticize Iran’s version of democracy because they see that it is succeeding.
AYATOLLAH ALI KHAMENEI: [via a translator] Our enemies believe a good Muslim has nothing to do with politics. But in no place in the world can we find an Islamic democracy like Iran, and it is a bitter experience for our enemies, who can’t accept this. In Iran, the leader himself and the president and other officials are directly and indirectly selected by the vote of the people. And during these 24 years, more than 20 elections have taken place in Iran.
SABERI: But some analysts disagree. They say Iran’s current system is not democratic. Some, like Dr. Davoud Hermidas-Bavand, an Iranian professor of international relations, believes Islam is incompatible with a democratic republic.
DR. DAVOUD HERMIDAS-BAVAND: An element of democracy is individualism, rationalism, secularism. So there is apparently free elections in Iran, but it’s not free in its genuine sense, because we talk, all the citizens, all the Iranians, ought to be equal before the law and all of them should have equal opportunity, but there is not such a thing.
SABERI: Some critics also say the country’s hardliners, who hold much of the power in Iran, have blocked reformists’ attempts at democracy by vetoing bills, blocking many electoral candidates, and imprisoning political activists. They also complain that student movements are suppressed and reformist newspapers have been shut down. Some analysts say the low voter turnout in this year’s municipal elections proves that many Iranians, like this young Tehrani, have become frustrated with the slow pace of reforms.
IRANIAN MAN ON THE STREET #1: [via a translator] Nothing has changed since the reformists came to power. I myself didn’t even know when election day was for the local elections!
SABERI: Still, other Iranians say establishing democracy takes time.
IRANIAN MAN ON THE STREET #2: This base is still not mature in Iran. It needs time. And a higher level of social information in our country. Of course I believe that in past 20 years in Iran, the general social information in Iran has been very much increased. And I think the best country in Middle East to settlement of democracy is Iran.
SABERI: The system, many experts here say, is at a crossroads and that the internal power struggle will either give in to or crush the democracy movement. At the same time, Iran is facing international pressure to prove it’s cracking down on terrorism and not pursuing nuclear weapons. Many analysts believe the way Iran deals with these internal and external factors will be judged in next February’s parliamentary elections—a true test, they say, for the system in terms of its popular legitimacy. For Common Ground, I’m Roxana Saberi in Tehran.
MCHUGH: This is Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: I’m Kristin McHugh.
KEITH PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. Coming up this half hour on Common Ground, our special examination of democracy worldwide continues with Russia’s new trial by jury system.
LEV PONOMARYOV: [via a translator] Here, the number of acquittals equals one percent. That’s much less than anywhere in the world. This is because of the judges’ mentality; they are taught to punish.
PORTER: Plus, the European Union debates democratic reform, and America’s controversial efforts to foster democracy around the world.
CARL GERSHMAN: There’s a great deal of political theory to show that countries that are democratic tend not to go to war, tend to have more peaceful relations.
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MCHUGH: The Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees Americans the right to trial by jury. In developing democracies, especially the nations in the former Communist Bloc, jury trials remain in their infancy.
PORTER: For decades, Russia’s judicial system was fully controlled by the state. And although the new Russia is nothing like it was in the Soviet times, experts say that there’s been very little progress towards reforming the judiciary. Still, some things are moving, and among of them is the introduction of jury trials in Russia. The very first jury trial in Moscow took place this summer. Anya Ardayeva examines whether the new trials will help the Russian judicial system become a vital part of democratic government.
[Sounds from a Russian court room]
ANYA ARDAYEVA: At the Moscow City Court, A jury trial is taking place for the first time in 90 years. Twenty-five-year-old Alexander Bortnikov is charged with murder, and a retired air force officer, a pipe fitter, an unemployed person, an engineer, and several homemakers and pensioners are learning how it feels to be jurors in a country, which until recently was reluctant to give such authority to its people. Although jury trials were first introduced under Russia’s 1993 constitution, it took nearly a decade before Moscow conducted its first trial by jury. The introduction of the jury trials has been heavily advertised by the government as one of the major steps towards reforming the country’s judicial system. Russian President Vladimir Putin said that increasing the transparency of criminal procedures was one of the most important tasks.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: [via a translator] Creating jury trials and improving the quality of the judiciary’s work remain on the agenda. Increasing the transparency of the judges’ work is one the most important tasks. It is obvious that accessibility is one of the main factors in strengthening trust in the courts and increasing their authority. Ways and means of legal protection must become not only clear and accessible, but also people have to get used to them.
ARDAYEVA: And speaking on one of the state-run television channels ORT, Valeri Stepalin, a Supreme Court Judge, went even further. He claimed that the time of lawlessness in the country was over.
VALERI STEPALIN: [via a translator] Thanks to the jury trials, as well as to the reform of the judicial system, our criminal code has changed, and the investigators are totally different people now. The prosecutors are totally different an the attorneys are different, too, thanks to the jury trials. They’re now doing what they are supposed to be doing, what the lawyers are supposed to do; they strictly follow the law.
ARDAYEVA: But many Russians are still skeptical. Earlier this year, 70 percent of people in a poll say they did not believe that courts in the country were independent and guided by law. But the new, more enlightened code of criminal procedures was adopted two years ago. Under the new code, jury trials are a cornerstone of judicial reform in the country. though only the most serious crimes, such as murder, treason, and unusually violent rape are subject to trial by jury. Experts estimate that jury trials will amount to no more than half of one percent of all cases. However, human rights activists welcome the introduction of the trials, saying they may help to make Russian courts more objective and democratic. Lev Ponomaryov, head of the advocacy group For Human Rights, says that juries may help to lower the number of guilty verdicts in a country, which already has one of the largest prison populations in the world.
LEV PONOMARYOV: [via a translator] Here, the number of acquittals equals one percent. That’s much less than anywhere else in the world. This is because of the judges’ mentality; they are taught to punish. This is how they were brought up, they were taught to charge and imprison. And ordinary people are more humane, they are more likely to come up with acquittal.
ARDAYEVA: Only nine of Russia’s 89 provinces have had jury trials. Juries acquitted defendants in some 20 percent of cases. But those verdicts were not always enforced. Prosecutors appealed the juries’ decisions, and the Russian Supreme Court overruled more than a third of jury acquittals last year.
[Sounds from a Russian court room]
ARDAYEVA: A Russian jury trial may still seem very strange from the Western point of view. The first thing the jurors see when they enter a courtroom is a massive iron cage, where the suspect is sitting. The jury is given only three hours to deliberate, and the decision is made by simple majority. Jurors are paid the equivalent of $3 a day. Human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov says that environment scares many people away from performing their civil duty.
LEV PONOMARYOV: [via a translator] Becoming a juror means making a sacrifice. Many of our people are barely surviving. There are not that many rich people here. And ordinary people normally have several jobs, and becoming a juror is a sacrifice for many, because they get paid very little for that and it means that their family income will suffer.
ARDAYEVA: But perhaps the main problem that the courts here are facing is that Russians are very apathetic about participating in the jury trials. Lev Ponomaryov says people simply do not believe that their voice will count.
LEV PONOMARYOV: [via a translator] People don’t believe that their role as a juror will be important. They think that their opinion means nothing. They believe that the judge makes the final decision, not the jury. It’s just like with voting—people don’t believe that their voice counts and will change anything.
ARDAYEVA: This doesn’t come as a surprise. In recent years, Russians have witnessed many cases in which the courts have ruled in favor of the authorities despite their obvious violations of the law. From the closure of independent television stations and other media outlets critical of the Kremlin, to the sudden investigation of Russia’s oil giant Yuikos, which financed opposition political parties, many recent events here prove that real reforms, which make both ordinary citizens and their rulers equal before the law, still has a long way to go. For Common Ground, I’m Anya Ardayeva in Moscow.
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PORTER: Over 200 years ago, the American states joined together to form a federal union which protected citizens’ democratic rights. Can the European Union accomplish the same thing?
MCHUGH: The European Union has, in fact, reached a major turning point. Next May 10 new nations will join the alliance, the biggest membership intake since its inception in 1957. Last month, governments from the existing 10 countries and the accession states met to discuss exactly how the larger organization will function. But what impact will the changes have on European democracy? Suzanne Chislett reports from London.
SUZANNE CHISLETT: What began as a six-country trading bloc has grown into a major alliance with its own currency, parliament, council of ministers, law courts, legal and social directives, and cross-border cooperation. The European Union is seen as a beacon to which similar economic alliances in Africa and South America in particular aspire. But although it has led to millions of jobs, millions of euros of aid being given to the poorer regions, and helped break down cultural borders, the EU is not without problems.
BRIAN GROOM: How can an entity of that size be anything other than remote to the people within it?
CHISLETT: That’s Brian Groom, editor of the European edition of the Financial Times newspaper.
GROOM: It is perfectly feasible that the institutions of enlargement will be made to work. The European Union will not seize up. Its decision making will function. But the real challenge is making that, that broader union work economically and politically for the people it is intended to serve.
CHISLETT: Four hundred and fifty million people in 25 member states will be part of the European union beginning next May. From Romania in the east to Spain in the west, Britain and Estonia in the north, to Italy and Greece in the south. Each nation has a number of diverse cultures. There are socialist, conservative, and coalition governments, dozens of languages and religions. And making the European Union work for all is a very difficult task. The most accessible layer of government is the European parliament. Its representatives are elected regionally by the people of the EU. But voter turn out is poor at best. In Britain around a third of eligible voters cast their ballots in the last round of elections and the picture is similar across much of the Union. Nevertheless, Charles Jenkins, Director of the Economist Intelligence Unit, believes it is the most democratic form of government for the future of the EU.
CHRIS JENKINS: There is really quite a long way to go to make the European Parliament a more effective democratic institution. Though I mean, having said that it’s a lot better than nothing, it does work, it’s there. If people are interested they can vote and they can lobby their member of the European Parliament.
CHISLETT: At the highest level, the European Union is overseen by a Council of Ministers, made up of heads of government from the member states. Every six months the EU presidency rotates through the member states, but that will not be practical after enlargement. It’s proposed that a chairman, probably a former national leader, will be elected by the council to serve for several years. That means the people of Europe will have no say in their new leader.
BRITISH WOMAN ON THE STREET #1: Well, I think it has an impact on individuals if we don’t get a say as to who we want elected. To be honest I don’t really feel that we’re informed enough about what exactly is going on.
BRITISH WOMAN ON THE STREET #2: Well, I guess there must be a reason for it. Maybe it’s because some nations are so big that it would be an advantage for them if we got to vote. I mean the Germans, all the Germans would vote for a German president, probably. So all the other small countries wouldn’t have a chance.
BRITISH MAN ON THE STREET #3: I would probably go if I knew more about it but I really have no idea about the whole system so I don’t really care.
CHISLETT: Across the rest of the world, the European Union is increasingly being seen as a mini-continent within Europe. But it is not the same entity and when enlargement occurs next may, the new EU will have a dramatic effect on its new members as well as its new neighbors. At a fundamental level the new border around the 25 nations will lead to changes in lifestyle for hundreds of thousands of people, particularly along its eastern edge where former Soviet border agreements which had allowed some free movement will cease to exist. Dr. Kataryna Wolczuk is a lecturer in Ukrainian studies at the University of Birmingham. She says those outside the EU are in danger of being forgotten by the organization.
DR. KATARYNA WOLCZUK: Lots of people in the new European Union’s border lands live off the border. They benefit from the ability to cross the border.
CHISLETT: [now interviewing Dr. Wolczuk directly] As far as crossing borders go, are we in danger as the EU enlarges and the border tightens of actually reverting back to the days when there was an Iron Curtain separating Europe which meant that traveling from one side to another was very, very difficult if not impossible?
DR. KATARYNA WOLCZUK: Absolutely. This is, for many people in the countries which are excluded, it means basically that the Iron Curtain is going to move several hundred kilometers to the east. So actually, freedom of travel, being able to move freely to a neighboring country. the right, the fundamental human right which they were denied under communism, now is going to be taken away from them, but this time it is by a democratic European Union.
CHISLETT: Exactly how the European Union will work in the future has yet to be confirmed and the new draft constitution has yet to be tested. It will mean closer integration in many areas and more majority voting with less national vetoes. But the true democratic impact on individual citizens is as yet, unknown. For Common Ground, I’m Suzanne Chislett in London.
PORTER: Coming up next, our special report on democracy worldwide continues with America’s role in spreading democratic ideals. You’re listening to Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.
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MCHUGH: The United States has long considered the export of democracy to be a major part of its national mission. But it’s not just altruism that drives US democracy programs. In some cases, Washington has bent over backwards to protect governments that are anything but democratic. Cliff Brockman reviews the history, philosophy, and motivations of America’s efforts to promote democracy around the world.
[patriotic American music]
BROCKMAN: Some say America has been involved in democracy promotion since its founding days. Indeed George Washington spoke of the destiny of the republican model of government which he hoped could serve as an example to the rest of the world. But it wasn’t until after World War II when hundreds of thousands of Americans were killed fighting some of history’s worst dictators that the US came to think of democracy promotion as more than just a moral calling.
CARL GERSHMAN: Certainly from that point people saw that countries that were democratic were much, much more likely to be friends with the United States. They would share our values, than countries that were dictatorships.
BROCKMAN: Carl Gershman is the President of the National Endowment for Democracy.
GERSHMAN: Now, of course, there’s a great deal of political theory to show that countries that are democratic, you know, tend not to go to war, tend to have more peaceful relations, and that we can have friendlier relations with countries that share our values. And I think that’s now an established part of our thinking about the world.
BROCKMAN: America’s determination to promote democracy was cemented in the aftermath of World War II as the ideological conflict with the Soviet Union began to heat up. President John F. Kennedy’s famous speech at the Berlin Wall in 1963 illustrated a growing tendency in America to encourage democracy abroad.
PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY: [giving his Berlin Wall speech] So let me ask you as I close, lift your eyes beyond the dangers of today to the hopes of tomorrow. Beyond the freedom merely of this city of Berlin or your country of Germany, to the advance of freedom everywhere. Beyond the Wall, to the day of peace with justice. Beyond yourselves and ourselves to all mankind.
BROCKMAN: By the early 1980s Washington was heading towards making the export of democracy an official national objective.
PRESIDENT REAGAN BEING INTRODUCED TO PARLIAMENT: It is my privilege to welcome to the Palace of Westminster the President of the my mother’s country; my lords, ladies, and gentleman, Mr. President Reagan.
BROCKMAN: In a speech to the British Parliament in 1982 President Ronald Reagan laid out that objective for all the world to see.
PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: [speaking to British Parliament] We must be staunch in our conviction that freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings. So states the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Which among other things guarantees free elections. The objective I propose is quite simple to state: to foster the infrastructure of democracy—the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities—which allows a people to choose their own way, to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means.
BROCKMAN: One year after that speech the US Congress created the National Endowment for Democracy for the express purpose of promoting democracy abroad. While the organization is funded with government money it is an independent actor and it works mainly with grass roots organizations that are trying to bring about democratic change in their home countries. The US government began to work at the top levels of power to try to pressure authoritarian regimes to open up. But America has also opened itself up to charges of hypocrisy. Even as Washington was insisting in democracy in Central Europe during the Cold War, it was allying itself with dictators and military leaders in places like Chile and the Philippines. Carl German with the National Endowment for Democracy says the US has often been forced to choose between the lesser of two evils.
GERSHMAN: One just has to think about the Second World War, where we considered Nazism and fascism to be the greatest evil that we were facing at the time. And in confronting that evil we were in alliance with a communist totalitarian dictatorship. Nobody ever points to that. We think more about, “Well, weren’t we, you know, allied with South Korea under the military government, or Chile?” But you know, the, obviously the most egregious example was the Second World War where we were allied with, you know, one of the most murderous governments in history, but we did that in order to defeat Nazi Germany.
BROCKMAN: Indeed, the US alliance with Stalin’s Soviet Union quickly evaporated after Germany was defeated. And Gershman points out that many of the oppressive governments that Washington was friendly with during the Cold War have now become democracies, in part because of the work of his endowment. Now the US is locked in a new struggle, this time against international terrorism. And again democracy is being held up by the American government as an antidote to this latest threat.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We’re helping the Afghan people to build free institutions after years of oppression. We’re working with the Iraqi people to build a new home for freedom and democracy at the heart of the Middle East. The spread of freedom is one of the keys to the victory against terror.
[The sound of a noisy street demonstration]
BROCKMAN: But not everyone agrees with President Bush’s reasoning or with his methods of spreading democracy. In the streets of the Jordanian capital, Amman, earlier this year, demonstrators voiced their opposition to the impending US led war in Iraq. Jordan’s Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher explained the skepticism of many in his country.
JORDANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER MARWAN MUASHER: Democracy, as the United States is very well aware of, is an evolutionary process. It is not a process that just happens overnight because of a certain event. It is a culture that needs to be embedded in people and needs to evolve over time. So I don’t think that anybody is expecting democracy, full democracy to suddenly occur in the region. I think if one keeps insisting on that what we will see is full radicalization of the region rather than full democracy.
BROCKMAN: Many Middle Eastern governments were wary of the idea that American imposed democracy in Iraq would transform the whole region. But Carl Gershman of the National Endowment for Democracy says their skepticism may have stemmed from a fear of that very democratic transformation.
GERSHMAN: Maybe some of the countries don’t want that. And they can sort of point to the United States as trying to impose it as a way of, as a way of legitimizing what they have now, which is authoritarianism.
BROCKMAN: Just as in the Cold War the US is also being accused of hypocrisy in its latest democracy promotion efforts. Many are asking why Washington is insisting on democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan but declaring its solidarity with countries like Pakistan, a nation whose self appointed President, Pervez Musharraf, came to power in a military coup in 1999.
[The sound of street traffic.]
BROCKMAN: On the streets of India’s capital New Delhi, the US-Pakistan alliance is especially hard to swallow. India and Pakistan have been bitter rivals for decades.
L.K ADVANI: Today, I feel surprised sometimes that a country like America, it doesn’t lay stress on the need to make Pakistan a democratic country.
BROCKMAN: L.K. Advani is India’s Deputy Prime Minister.
L.K ADVANI: In fact, on the very day my Prime Minister Vajpayee took oath here, on about the same day the elected Prime Minister of Pakistan was shunted out, dislodged, and a coup took place there. And the present military ruler took over.
BROCKMAN: But like it did during the Cold War era the US is again balancing the broad goal of democracy promotion with its short-term strategic objectives. In this case Pakistan’s border region with Afghanistan is used as a hideout for Al-Qaeda and former Taliban members. And the US needs Pakistan’s cooperation in tracking down those fighters. It is once again a question of choosing the lesser of two evils. And as in every case history will judge whether the country’s choices have been the right ones. For Common Ground, I’m Cliff Brockman.
[The sound of patriotic American music]
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