Can a new country survive on democracy? Or is it something too complicated?
It's almost impossible, but necessary
Democracy is certainly not a new word and nations around the world have been trying to achieve this state for a long time now. The modern theory suggests that the government and high-profile officials should be elected by citizens to lead the country. More countries than ever before are democratic today, an extraordinary achievement of the modern world. However, “Freedom in the World” states that worldwide democracy is in a steep decline, shrinking at an alarming rate. With this in mind, is democracy still what contemporary states should be aiming for? Can it be beneficial for newly established nations?
Modern democracy at a glance
Whether democracy works in a certain country or not depends on different factors. They can be cultural, geographical or economical. It only takes a quick look at the Economist’s annual democracy index report to outline the geography of successful democracies. The vast majority of countries most committed to democracy are located in the northern hemisphere, have advanced economies and represent the so-called “western world”.
The first on the list come northern European countries, such as Norway, Iceland, Sweden and Finland. The only non-European nation among the first five is New Zealand. One other thing these countries have in common is their small size. None of them are mega nations with high population rates. Jack Corbett and Wouter Veenendaal claim that this is not without a reason. Their research, “Democracy in Small States”, published by Cambridge press suggests that small, low-income countries have a better chance of establishing sustainable democracies than bigger ones.
Young democracies can work
Recently we have witnessed numerous countries in different regions of the world transform into full or flawed democracies. We have seen quite a few continuously failing examples as well. Unfortunately for many, the chances of fast democratic transition are often linked to cultural and historical backgrounds.
In the early 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, many former Eastern Bloc countries became thoroughly committed to implementing democratic agenda in their nations. Overcoming beliefs deep-rooted in such societies throughout the Soviet rule for decades was not easy. Crucial changes in countries bordering the modern-day European Union were actively lobbied by western nations. Economic development and devotion to democracy resulted in rounds of enlargements of the union. With this, fairly elected representative governments gradually changed authoritarian leaderships in Eastern and Central Europe.
This process in the abovementioned countries can be explained by the modernization theory. It is based on the ideas of German sociologist Max Weber and has been reinvented by many other international researchers and scientists. The theory suggests that every country goes through the stages of social development from traditional to modern societies. Driving forces of the process are considered to be internal factors, such as economic development, accessible quality education and democracy. However, it also emphasizes the importance of external “assistance” for the successful transition. For this, the modernization theory is often being criticized for changing social structures in ‘traditional’ countries to more ‘westernized’ ones.
Why are some countries struggling on the path to democracy?
The introduction of democracy comes with mandatory respect for its core values. Defending human rights, freedom of speech, rule of law and tackling corruption is not an easy task for some national governments. Without comprehensive reforms and the shift in social beliefs, young democracies are likely to struggle.
Out of them all, corruption has the most significant influence over the country’s democratic transformation. Bribery and fraud in government offices reduce liability and cause major social unrest. Such leaders often go against the will of people to remain in the office, making unpopular decisions and rigging votes. Such developments have resulted in nationwide revolutions in many pos-Soviet countries, notably in Ukraine, Georgia and most recently in Armenia.
However, even after successful, peaceful revolutions, those nations struggle to reform unfair criminal justice systems, fight corruption and to make important shifts in their economic development.
Difficult social background and high poverty rates also contribute to the lack of trust in young democracies. Due to challenging economic circumstances and often difficult pathways to independence in many low-income nations, people have low awareness of many political and social matters that are crucial to be repeatedly discussed in democratic communities. Active citizenship and high political awareness among the residents are some of the most crucial factors for any democratic development.
Sometimes, something as potentially beneficial as natural resources comes in the way of democratization. Once again taking an example of a former soviet republic for a better comparison, Azerbaijan is considered as one of the most authoritarian nations in the region. The land rich in fossil fuels has not seen a single fair election since its independence in 1991. The country also has a record of journalist arrests and police crackdowns on the LGBTQ+ community. Being a member of the Council of Europe and OSCE, Azerbaijan took steps to guarantee some level of freedom of speech, however, due to the government’s monopoly over oil and gas industries, the nation remains quite resilient to the external criticism.
What is the future of democracy?
Throughout the article, we went through a number of examples of the former Eastern Bloc countries. The success of democracy is determined by many circumstances and sometimes it is quite a bit more difficult to make it work. However, looking at the successful examples, those countries have proven that obstacles can be overcome, fostering change and development.