Arab News
Dec 1 2004

Editorial: Democracy Games


The political drama in Ukraine is being replicated across the Black
Sea in Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia. There too, Moscow has
been deeply involved. There too, its candidate faces defeat but is
busy pulling as many strings as possible in order to turn the
democratically expressed will of the people on its head - with
Moscow's full support.

In last month's presidential elections, opposition candidate Sergey
Bagapsh was widely thought to have defeated the Kremlin-backed
candidate, Raul Khadzhimba. That was recognized by the region's
Supreme Court but it then reversed its decision because of pressure
from the outgoing government. The government has demanded a repeat
election and the outgoing President Vladislav Ardzinba now refuses to
step down until one has taken place. Bagapsh, however, intends to
have himself inaugurated this Saturday and he has a massive army of
supporters to back him.

Last Friday they stormed government buildings in the capital,
Sukhumi. The next day, perhaps sensing the direction things were
moving, Parliament recognized him as the new president. But matters
are getting messy: Moscow has threatened to intervene in Abkhazia
despite the fact that the province is part of an independent country.
Were that to happen, it would trigger a major international row.

Moscow of course cares not at all. It has done it before. It backed
the occupation of the disputed Armenian-majority region of Nagorno
Karabakh to weaken Azerbaijan; it supports the Russian-dominated
breakaway region of Transdniester to undermine Moldova; it supported
the Abkhaz breakaway from the very start to punish Georgia for
leaning toward NATO and the West. Now it is busy stirring up threats
of secession in Ukraine if the pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko becomes
president.

On Saturday, the Ukrainian representative to the EU said that Ukraine
was an old nation but a very young democracy. He could just as easily
have been talking about Abkhazia or Azerbaijan or any of the other
former Soviet states that are experiencing so many difficulties with
democracy. Not that being `a young democracy' is any guarantee of
things working well, as the row over who won the US election four
years ago proves.

There are lessons to be learned about democracy in places where it
does not have roots. Before condemning Russia for its own retreat
from democracy or its unashamed meddling in its former empire,
however, we should not ignore the evident hypocrisy of the rest of
us. In 1996, when Boris Yeltsin defeated the renascent communists in
the Russian elections, most of us breathed a heavy sigh of relief
- because we did not want the communists to win. But the election was
fixed. Likewise, the world said nothing in 1991 when the Algerian
elections were quashed after the Islamists had won.

Definitions of democracy, it seems, are not unlike definitions of
terrorism. They can too easily depend on where we stand and who else
is involved.