Thursday, April 08, 2010

Bishkek Bop

The news out of Kyrgyzstan is that protesters have stormed government buildings and offices Bastille-style, declaring that they have taken control of the country. This comes five years after the Tulip Revolution of 2005, in which popular protests ushered out a dictator. The new leader, it seems, is a dictator.

Whether that's true or not is another matter, but the degree of political engagement in Kyrgyzstan is heartening. It's a country that, like its neighbours, has been dealt a bad hand. The area is mountainous, remote and suffered under communism for almost a century. In the power vacuum that followed communism and the annexation into the Russian empire before it, it's not surprising that all the -stans of Central Asia became dictatorships, most notably Turkmenistan, which ranks with North Korea, Zimbabwe and Eritrea as one of the most reclusive in the world.

The Kyrgyz, for whatever reason, will produce the sort of democracy that the Greeks feared: untempered mob rule where windows are smashed and officials are lynched. In a desperately poor country where you can find a surprising number of young able-bodied men standing around doing nothing, that's not surprising. Mob-rule democracy, the literal translation of the word, is generally preferable to an oppressive dictatorship, at least until it turns into an Iraqi election, which is a bit like trying to go out for dinner with some people who are vegetarians and others who only eat meat.

Much was made of the march of democracy in the 90s and in the early part of the last decade as the various coloured revolutions swept across the world. It was fantastic in former Soviet bloc countries and others who had an existing culture of democracy, or were able to adapt well. However, the end is not democracy, but living well. For this purpose, a centralized, far-sighted dictatorship is probably better than an open democracy.

India is a shining example today of a country that is developing rapidly while also being an open democracy. It is the gold standard for development, no doubt, lacking many of the travesties seen over the Himalayas in China. At the same time, dictatorship or authoritarianism worked well in all of East Asia (Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, Singapore) so long as it wasn't communist (North Korea, China until 1979). Let's also consider the fantastic growth in Chile, the UAE, Qatar and even Pakistan under Pervez Musharraf. Even much of the development in Central Asia (Uzbekistan has a subway!), now decaying infrastructure from decades past, is the result of Soviet central planning

In the end, authoritarianism will always suppress development, particularly at the point where continued development demands the existence of civil society and the possibility of innovation, and exposes the limits of government-directed development. Until that point, going from the Third World to the Second World, can often be accomplished acceptably, if not ideally, by one person who knows what he's doing than a bunch of people who don't.

1 comment:

Shan said...

Yes, unfortunately, people are obsessed with their right to have a say, even when they don't have anything good to say. Sometimes, a little trust would go a long way.

And I was hoping you'd use the word "ochlocracy". I like that word.