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The challenges of building a new democracy in a place that has been resistant to it.
Almost from the day Yushchenko took office, his government fell into irresolvable bickering and infighting that continues even now and leaves the government paralyzed. No one is willing to compromise. Ukrainian politicians regarded the elections as just one more tactical stratagem. Now Yanukovich is favored to win the election in January.
Georgia’s leaders, too, fell into unending political squabbles that paralyzed the government after the Rose Revolution in 2003, prompting President Mikheil Saakashvili, in 2005, to warn his ministers: “There is no place for quarreling people in the government of Georgia, the country which should get back on its feet, which should do for the people what we promised.”
Or, consider Cambodia. In 1992 and 1993, after two decades of genocide and war, the United Nations occupied the state. The world’s major nations contributed $3 billion to stabilize Cambodia and stage democratic elections. Cambodia had been an absolute monarchy for more than a millennium. With democracy suddenly thrust upon them, Cambodian politicians also regarded the elections as just another political stratagem. Its leaders continued fighting for control after the vote was in and the winner declared— just as in Ukraine and Iraq. Cambodians, of all people, may be the least willing to compromise.
A few weeks ago, the government put up lights so tourists could visit Angkor Wat at night. The president of a private foundation concerned with Khmer heritage suggested that the installation might damage the 12th-century temple. Immediately, the government sued him for defamation. A court found him guilty, fined him $3,000 and sentenced him to two years in prison.
Democracy, in fact, requires compromise. How can any government pretend to be democratic if every minister, every legislator, clings to his own point of view, refusing to bend, so that every policy debate turns into an angry argument with no conclusion?
Working the art of compromise into a culture can take years. Japan is a thriving democracy — but only after the United States and allied nations occupied the state, nurtured democracy and compromise, for seven years.
In Iraq right now, the government is trying to enact a censorship law, monitor internet use and ban books under a national security pretext. Government censors asked Saad Eskander, head of the Iraq National Library and Archives, to destroy dozens of books, NPR reported last month.
He didn’t debate, appeal or suggest a compromise. Instead, he simply declared: “If the Iraqi government imposes censorship, the National Library will not obey the orders.”
And so Iraq’s democracy lurches forward, governed by bombs and bombast.