The Day Democracy Died in Europe 77


11 November is rightly a poignant day. I wear a red poppy, always have, for the reasons I used to 40 years ago, ignoring the overlay of militaristic propaganda, which was always there but has been hyper-amplified of late.

But this is the day the music died for European democracy. It is of course a mistake to choose a single day or event as the day any historical grand process unfolds. But a single day can symbolise it, like the fall of the Bastille.

I didn’t notice it at the time, but democracy actually stopped meaning anything in England some years ago as all the main English political parties were bought for the neo-con agenda.

In Europe, today is one of those symbolic days as the former Vice President of the European Central Bank is imposed on the Greeks by the Germans as their Prime Minister, and as former EU Commissioner Mario Monti is forced upon the Italians, in neither case with any voter having a chance to do anything about it.

15 years ago, as First Secretary of the British Embassy in Warsaw, my main job was to help move Poland into the European Union. I attended many conferences organised by the EU – and some organised by me – to promote this. At one Konrad Adenauer Foundation organised conference, speaker after speaker outlined what they called “the role of elites” in promoting EU integration. That was the title of one of the sessions. The thesis was put forward, quite openly, that European Union was a great and noble idea which had always been moved forward by great visionaries among the elite, and that popular opinion may be relied on to catch up eventually, but should not be allowed to stop the project.

If you haven’t seen and felt it from the insde, you cannot understand the reverence the eurocrats feel towards the names of their founding fathers, like Schumann and Monnet and Spinelli and a host of others you and I have never heard of. Participants at conferences like the one I was at in Poland, run by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, are made very much to feel that they are a part of this elite, a kind of superman with a superior knowledge and insight to the ordinary pleb. It was heady stuff for ambitious young Polish politicians of the mid 1990s.

I made a speech at that conference in which I warned against the elitist model and spoke of the need for informed consent in a democracy. This was viewed as rather quaint, though I did make a great many rather good jokes. I remain broadly in favour of European integration in principle, and entirely in favour of Europe’s open internal borders, but still very mindful that those driving the European project do not really believe in democracy if it means that common people can tell great minds like them what to do.

11 November may go down in history as the day that helped the ordinary people of Europe realise that.


77 thoughts on “The Day Democracy Died in Europe

1 2 3
  • Daniel

    Stephen,

    Formal democracy means little if the net outcome is essentially an oligarchy or plutocracy. Craig was right to allude to the fact that UK parliamentry democracy is effectively illustrative of a single-ideological state in which virtually identical political parties vie for the reins of power.

    Moreover, democracy is necessarily predicated upon a genuinelly properly informed population. Mainstream television news and current affairs programmes are not providing the public with a pluralistic cross-section of impartial and objective views from which informed decisions can be made. An example of this, as Craig pointed out, was the scandalous ‘Question Time’ “debate”.

    Professor Greg Philo and his colleagues at the University of Glasgow’s Media Group have analysed media output in the UK. They conclude that the BBC is institutionally biased in favour of establishment views, putting a lie to their claims of impartiality as outlined in their charter. This is consistent with Herman and Chomsky’s seminal ‘propaganda model’. Censorship by ommission is one of the major impediments towards maintaining a healthy democracy.

  • Quelcrime

    Abe Rene – it’s an interesting question. Would you rather live in a society where no-one challenges the government because they’re not allowed to, or one where no-one challenges the government because they’re blinkered, although in theory they’re allowed to (but not in the streets any more, unless they want to risk a cracked skull and 9 hours in a kettle). How long do you think the appearance of democracy would last if by a miracle someone with a radically different agenda seemed on the verge of winning an election? There are plenty of ways to do it beyond monopolising the media – people do get bumped off you know.
    It’s a softer form of totalitarianism, and all the more frightening for that. In Russia and China people know all is not quite right and they can see the possibility of change. In the UK there is no sense of that. Because of course all you have to do is convince a majority of the electorate that the media are deceiving them. Our political freedom is notional.

  • OldMark

    ‘So democracy is dead – but what would you replace it with then? Nihilism? Theocracy? A benevolent dictator (they are always benevolent at the start)?’

    A ‘democracy’ compromised by a corrupt, outdated party system, and overriden by an unelected, elite body of technocrats (the EU Commission) will never thrive. The alternative to this kabuki style ‘Democracy’ in the UK context is not replacement, as you suggest. Our democracy rather needs to free itself from the dead hand of the two party system, and the suffocating entanglements with a European Union (as opposed to a ‘Common Market’) to which the UK electorate never consented.

  • Quelcrime

    The other reason for the emphasis on WWII in schools is that Hitler is a very useful figure for indoctrinating kids. It gives them a sense of good and evil, black and white. If you have a symbol of unquestionable evil, then
    a) anything you do is ok because of course, you’re not to be compared to Hitler, even when you invade a succession of countries for spurious reasons and massacre vast quantities of people.
    b) in order to justify those invasions and massacres it’s useful to be able to demonise the enemy – just associate them in people’s minds with Hitler in some way – it was done with Milosevic, with Saddam and with Gaddafi.
    .
    If I were designing history courses I would make the first emphasis be on British history, especially the dark side of the empire, to teach them that we can do bad things too. If they have a sense that anyone can do evil – the British are not somehow exempt – then they’re more likely to recognise it when it raises its head, and more likely to reject propaganda, more likely to stop crimes being committed in future.
    .
    Instead we have this formula – [insert name of latest bogeyman] is about to massacre a lot of people – we must send in the military to stop it – we’re the good guys – you mustn’t question the military in time of war – whatever harm we cause, it would have been worse if we hadn’t intervened – you can’t let Hitler happen again.
    .
    The formula is repeated again and again, and the people swallow it. They almost came a cropper over Iraq because the excuse was WMD, which unlike ‘there’s going to be a massacre’ could be easily disproved. So as soon as the WMD didn’t turn up it was ‘we got rid of Saddam the evil tyrant’ ie they went back to the old formula.

  • Stephen

    Hence his fatuous, puerile and circular argument, that in the absence of a “democracy” (I should cocoa) what would be the choices; “theocracy”, “benevolent dictatorship” , etc.?

    They were questions as to what you would see the alternatives as being – hence the question marks. You have engaged in your usual rant as to what you are against – perhaps for once you might wish to reveal your true colours and say what you are and what you actually believe in – and what you intend to replace the current system you so clearly detest with? Or is that a fatuous and puerile question that you are unabe to answer.

    “Finally the anti theocratic Stephen will unstintingly defend any and all things Jewish, because as we all know in his bizarre world Jewish is a “race” and not a religious affiliation, and Israel is not a theocratic state because Jews area a race, and therefore Israel is a secular state”

    Just not true the Israeli state and some of the Jews in that government have behave absolutely disgracefully and violated the norms of any human rights standard in the past – and the individuals responsible should be held to account for their actions. Just as those in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Bahrain, Saudi, Yemen , the Palestinian Authority, Uzbekistan etc. should also be held responsible for their abuses of human rights ( read the Amnesty/HRW reports if you dont believe). That said all those countries have the right to exist and ordinary people in those countries should have the right to run their own affiars and go about their lives without fear of torture and abuse. You and your neo fellow travellers however constantly seem to live with one eye blind to the failings of your heroes – give me my imperfect democracies with flawed leaders which I can at least try to do something about.

  • Stephen

    “a lot more of Islamic banking, in which investment for profit is separated from banking for security”

    Komodo

    I think you need to read a little more about how Islamic banking works – there is a lot more tying up of the banks returns on investments to that provided to depositors – the depositor in theory is meant to take more risk from their investing in the bank not less – taking a guaranteed return woiuld be seen as usury.

  • Stephen

    Ingo et al

    I want my kids to be educated to think for themselves rather than have yours or anyone elses opinions shoved down their throats.

    My son has just been studying the Indian mutinies – so they don’t just study WW2 – and fortunately he wasn’t given just the one perspective as you and others with differnt axes to grind might like.

  • Stephen

    Old Mark

    I didn’t suggest democracy should be replaced, I was asking others waht they wanted to see. I agree that it should be improved, but how and using what means appears to be a question that many of the comrades here don’t appear to wish to consider.

  • mary

    ZBC have been so busy today pestering six and seven year olds about what they think of Remembrance Day and reporting that the Deputy Chair of BSkyB backs James Murdoch (he would, wouldn’t he – see below) that they have COMPLETELY ignored this large protest by electricians taking place around London today.
    .
    Sparks national day of action: police run ragged all over London http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUaA3dBuZWs&feature=player_embedded
    .
    In the continued battle over a 35% pay cut and the tearing up of the national agreement, rank and file sparks battle through police lines to hold pickets at 5 building sites, visit the occupation at St. Pauls, occupy Cannon St. station themselves and almost join the student demo before being stopped by huge numbers of police…or were they?? Email [email protected] to keep up with the most important industrial dispute for years.

    .
    {http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-15696883}
    Nicholas Ferguson – Deputy Chairman and Senior Independent Non-Executive Director, Remuneration Committee Chairman
    .
    Nicholas Ferguson was appointed as a Director of the Company on 15 June 2004, Senior Independent Non-Executive Director on 12 June 2007 and Deputy Chairman on 16 June 2010. Mr Ferguson is Chairman of SVG Capital plc, a publicly-quoted private equity group, and was formerly Chairman of Schroder Ventures. He is also Chairman of the Courtauld Institute of Art and the Institute of Philanthropy.
    {http://corporate.sky.com/about_sky/our_board_and_management/board.htm}
    .
    The Philanthropy bit made me smile.

  • mary

    Anti War Groups Welcome the Inauguration of an Anti-War President
    Thu, 10/11/2011 – 15:55
    .

    Peace and anti-war groups in Ireland including PANA, the Irish Anti War Movement (IAWM), Shannonwatch and Galway Alliance Against War (GAAW) have expressed their hope that the inauguration of Michael D Higgins as the 9th President of Ireland will further the cause of peace, and will bring a renewed focus on the importance of Irish neutrality. These are issues that he has passionately defended throughout his political career, and it is hoped and expected that he will continue to do so as president.
    .
    Michael D Higgins has consistently opposed the use of Shannon, a civilian airport, for the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. He was critical of the apparent Irish collusion with the US government in relation to suspected rendition flights through Shannon, and in 2010 he called on the government to withdraw the Irish military personnel serving in Afghanistan. However there are still up to 600 armed US troops a day passing through Shannon Airport, and there is no oversight or inspection of planes suspected of carrying illegally kidnapped prisoners, CIA assassination crews or dangerous munitions. This is despite the fact that the current programme for government, which Michael D Higgins’ Labour Party signed up to, says they will enforce the prohibition on the use of Irish airspace, airports and related facilities for purposes not in line with the dictates of international law.
    .
    It is hoped that as Head of State Michael D Higgins will continue to articulate his lifelong anti-war message. While the Irish president does not have a direct executive or policy role in Irish affairs, he nonetheless represents the people when undertaking official engagements at home and abroad. PANA, the IAWM, Shannonwatch, GAAW and other anti-war activists are confident that President Higgins will take every opportunity to stress his own and the Irish people’s wishes for peace and justice at home and abroad. And they look forward to seeing a return to an Ireland that supports peace, not war, during his presidency.
    .
    http://www.shannonwatch.org/story/anti-war-groups-welcome-inauguration-anti-war-president

  • Komodo

    http://www.islamic-banking.com/islamic_banking.aspx
    Islamic Shar’iah principles prohibit the charging or receiving of interest (Arabic: Rib’a). Therefore, contrary to the modern economic life and financial system where the cost of borrowing (usury) occupies a focal position, Islamic banking and finance cannot be founded on interest-bearing capital nor dealing with interest-sharing funds.

    Allah has condemned and prohibited the charging or receiving of interest (usury) in the strongest terms possible:

    O believers! Do not consume usury; doubling and multiplying your wealth, but fear Allah, that you may truly prosper. Guard yourselves against the Fire, that is prepared for those who reject Faith. And obey Allah and the Messenger, so that you may obtain mercy.
    [The Holy Qur’an, Surah 3:130-132]

    Even after the such clear instructions and prohibition some do not comprehend the meanings of true prosperity yet others try to find excuses to re-define the term usury, differently, for their own benefit. But God knows the human the best. Therefore God explains in the Book and guides us further on the subject:

    Those who take usury will rise up before Allah (on the Day of Resurrection) like one whom Satan (the Evil One) by his touch has driven to madness. That is because they claim: “Trade is the same as usury.” But Allah has permitted trade and forbidden usury. Those who after receiving admonition from their Lord, desist, will be forgiven for the past; their Judge is Allah. But those who go back to usury are companions of the Fire; they will abide therein for ever.
    [The Holy Qur’an, Surah 2:27

  • stephen

    Komodo

    Nothing wrong with your latest quotes – and how does Islamic banking get around the problem of offering interest to depositors (which would involve them in usury) – well they seek to tie that return to the return achieved on the investments made by the bank. This is the opposite of what you said in your previous post where you wanted the two to be split. You should be aware that quite a lot of people take the view that is the banks had stuck to their more traditional activities of borrowing and lending for interest – rather than going off and getting involved in the speculative investment activities involved in investment banking then we might have avoided the banking crisis.

  • Jeremy Poynton

    Larry
    As well as being an extreme nationalist, and I’m afraid nationalism plays a part in many of the world’s conflicts – I think you should also note that the basic predictions Powell made in his rivers of blood speech were actually pretty rubbish and did not come to fruition.

    Yet

  • Scary Biscuits

    “I remain broadly in favour of European integration in principle.”

    There is no ‘in principle’ decision to be made, only a practical one. Until you realise this, you are as bad as the other intellectuals. Europe’s recurring affliction has returned, the beautiful theorism of the Jacobins, the Nazis, the Communists. Alas far too many people supported these too, in principle.

  • David H

    Some great thoughts – thanks all.

    To get back to the subject of Europe and democracy. You are quite right, the take-over of Greece and Italy by appointees of the banks and markets is not democratic. It may even be part of a grand conspiracy by the financial institutions to appropriate everything they can and devalue anything they can’t. But you still can’t get away from the central fact that it’s the elected politicians that borrowed their voters into this mess, even if it was a trap set for them by the evil bankers. Countries run by elected politicians seem to have been living in financial never-never land for a long time and if bankers saw their chance to lay a few bets and strip some assets then whose fault is that? It’s the voters that need to wake up and use more sense when choosing leaders. Elected politicians borrow money for the country, not for some carefully planned investment program that will pay back calculated dividends, but to fund ongoing expense deficits that have no end in sight. Elected politicians fund social security programs not by investing deposits and calculating what returns people may expect, but by using current deposits to pay off current demands – a ponzi scheme. And we are surprised when the loans are called in, credit runs out, the ponzi scheme collapses and we lose our right to self-determination?

    This is reality, unless someone more clever than me can seriously explain why common sense financial rules for individuals and businesses just should not apply to countries…

  • David H

    Oh, here’s a possible reason why common sense financial rules for individuals and businesses may not apply to countries.

    – Because countries can print their own money and have their own central bank.

    Errr, or they used to, in the case of the Euro zone…

    Again, it’s the elected politicians that took this well-advised step and the voters who elected them that now have their voting rights repossessed as punishment. And to continue the theme of democracy in Europe – be careful what you vote for, because that’s what you get.

1 2 3

Comments are closed.