George Orwell once offered an insight into the source of double standards applied to violence when it comes to European pacifists. When confronted with facts of violence at home, they take a stand immediately, leaving no room for doubt and ambiguity. Yet they choose to keep a blind eye, if not their eyes wide shut, on violence practiced not in the Western world, or at least not in democracies.
Why? Orwell dropped a hint which can be most telling not only when dealing with violence, but with dictatorships as well. Pacifists and all fighters for peace fiercely oppose violence at home, since they don’t believe that violence can be successful in a democracy, that is, at home. Yet they secretly admire successful violence elsewhere, especially when and where it is possible to get rid of all Western influences – such as capitalism and the elite’s insensitivity to culture – nearly overnight.
In fact, some democrats secretly admire dictators. Incredible as it sounds, this is a fact of life. They feel that their inability to find a strong-hand in a democratic setting tells something disturbing about the deficiency, or at least the limitations, of democracy. At the same time, this only shows how little dignity, dissenting powers and belief in democracy a great many democrats have. They are unable to position and imagine themselves otherwise than as quietly accepting an established power structure, yet they are quite never prepared to fight hard for what lies behind that power structure – a blueprint for a viable social and moral order, and a value orientation.
Needless to say, human vanity also plays a role. Red carpets, pompous rituals, bombastic speeches, champagne and caviar, the delights of a leisure class, luxury – this is a set of something that is not necessarily taken for granted in a democratic politician’s life, unless she or he has high office, prestige, and unquestionable legitimacy. Those who don’t make up a local or international jet set, and who are more likely to be merely passing and temporary figures, find themselves hungry for credit and recognition.
Not every democrat is what she or he appears. What lies underneath frequently happens to be sheer opportunism and blind obedience to those who have power – not soft or sophisticated, but real and hard power with unlimited financial and military capacities. However, democrats who tango with dictators tend to rationalize these dangerous liaisons as their flexibility, long-term perspective on politics, a fine sense of responsibility, and their supposed ability to control dictators penetrating their mindset and predicting their actions. Who cares that this is sheer self-deception: dictators are good and skilled at fooling democrats, and not the other way around.
It happened to the author of these lines more than once that some shocking manifestations of forgiveness and solidarity to sinister autocrats and dictators came from the circles of people with unquestionable democratic credentials. If I ever exposed some conversations with high ranking and noted European politicians who shamelessly and overtly supported anti-democratic and dictatorial leaders, not to mention their standing and warm applause to various political crooks and adventure seekers from Eastern Europe, this would come as a piece of deeply disenchanting and petrifying news.
A politician with dictatorial inclinations and authoritarian leanings, in a democratic political setting, is being stripped of his dictatorial powers; he may remain an autocratic type, yet he ceases consolidating power solely in his hands. Keeping in mind the new decease of European politics, the emergence of several more or less successful leaders with obvious authoritarian leanings, such as Francois Sarkozy and Victor Orban, this is no longer a sensation. On the contrary, this is old news.
A choice between a corrupt democrat and a decent autocrat is an old dilemma. The new one is between a theatrical authoritarian who tries hard to reconcile himself to democratic sensibilities, and a dull democrat who loses in sound and fury yet who gains in legitimacy and difficult moral and educational aspects of democracy.
Technology, which has already outpaced politics making it into its chambermaid, increased and strengthened the sense of uncertainty and ambivalence, especially in situations when we are bound to choose between a Facebook hero and a clumsy congress animal, or between a virtuoso political actor and a decent, albeit hopelessly weak, petty mouse of a certain political party.
All these reflections are relevant in the light of what has recently happened between Hungary and Azerbaijan. As we know, an Azerbaijani military officer brutally murdered his colleague from Armenia during a NATO training event in Budapest. The murderer confessed to the murder and was serving a life sentence in Hungary until he was recently returned to Azerbaijan to be pardoned by President Ilham Aliyev. More than that, he was promoted to the rank of major and was greeted as a national hero. An example of this shocking insensitivity and barbarity is especially horrible in the face of allegations that there was an agreement between Victor Orban and Ilham Aliyev to release him, and that this was part of a package of important economic agreements.
And here comes a fact which may be shocking for Fidesz apologists and admirers. The fact is that Victor Orban is as much of a democrat as Ilham Aliyev. The only serious political difference between them is that the first operates in a flawed and endangered democracy, and the second in an overt tyranny which parades as a transitional democracy.
This is so, as many democrats nurture a dream about their pocket dictators. The reality is harsh to them, though it turns out that every dictator has his pocket democrats in the EU.
Leonidas Donskis, Ph.D., is a Lithuanian Member of the European Parliament.
© 2012 The Baltic times. All rights reserved.