Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Right to Vote Right

Parliamentary elections is said to be a sort of high time for democracy. Today it happens in Latvia. This time it will be a little bit special. It seems that many voters are tired of the established parties (and rightly so, in my opinion), so the radicals of both right-wing nationalist and pro-Russian parties have some real chance of getting enough votes to get seats in the parliament.

Democracy is, of course, power of the people. Or at least majority of the people. Though, as we know, this entails a risk - no less than risk to lose democracy altogether. Some of the people would love to use democracy as a tool for killing democracy. For example, some of the right-wing parties in Latvia, while frequently referring to their "right to opinion", want to severely restrict rights of sexual minorities. National Power Unity has gone so far as to call homosexuals "sexual criminals" and proposing criminalization of "homosexual propaganda". This very same party has the guts to claim that they are directly continuing the heritage of Latvian human rights group from the 80-ies, "Helsinki-86". Nothing from the goals back then has changed, the claim... Which is a plain lie. While Helsinki-86 stood for human rights, including the rights of national and linguistic minorities (even proposing minority schools in order to prevent assimilation), National Power Unity boldly claim on their website: " We do not support any multi-national policy with liberal tendencies as it serves not to interests of the nation." What do they really claim - the right to opinion or the right to lie?

Now back to the question of democracy. If by democracy we mean simply majoritarian rule, it is easy to see that such rule has the potential of becoming a majoritarian tyranny. We often see also that groups that want to restrict the rights and freedoms put forward bold and radical claims about their own rights and freedoms. In other words, the only interest they have in democracy and human rights is demolcracy and human rights as a way to get power. Not very conducive for the democratic process, to put it mildly... One way to go about it is to say that such claims are not valid, since rights are not to be used for damaging and destroying these very rights ( as is done for example in the European Convention on Human Rights, art. 17). Though we have to admit that determining such abusers of rights sometimes might be very tricky (people will of course try to claim that they have no intention whatsoever to limit or abolish rights), and it also presupposes that people do actually endorse human rights as such (which is not always the case).

Another possible way would be to reshape our understanding of democracy - democracy as a certain political regime. French philosopher Jacques Derrida argues for understanding democracy as a concept (and, notably, one of a kind) that inherits the valuable quality of self-reflection, and thus is indefinitely self-improving. Secret of democracy lies in the process, not in creating some static structure that will later be called democracy. What he means is thus that democracy, in order to be democracy, should never stop, never become static. Rather, it should be always moving, always changing, refining and improving itself. That is why Derrida opposes to democracy defined as a certain political regime. Not because we see variation of different manifestations of democracy in the world today - these different "democracies" could analyzed, compared and evaluated, thus leading to choosing the best model. Derrida takes another turn, for him the heart of democracy lies in its ability for self-reflection. As soon as one regime would be called “democracy”, it would mean the end of democracy itself. Therefore democracy does not exist as a thing, but does exist as a mode of doing things and as a direction.

So the question about radical right-wing parties is not spinning around their right to hold their opinion - it is a question of the existence of democracy and rights altogether. How to deal with such undemocratic democrats is another question, but only legislative measures (criminalisation of hate speech, forbidding racist organisations, etc) will surely not be enough.

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