It Is Parliament
It Is Parliament
During this new year, 2021, we will be reminded of three beginnings to three decades: 30 years ago, in 1991, when the Communist coup was defeated in the former Soviet Union; 20 years ago, in 2001, when al-Qaeda committed the crimes of 9/11 in New York and Washington; ten years ago, in 2011, when the Arab revolutions succeeded their forerunner that erupted in Tunisia toward the end of the preceding year.
Parliament, as a symbol of democracy, was part of these three major events, either directly or circuitously.
In 1991, the coup was defeated when it faced up against parliament. That day, Boris Yeltsin stood on a tank in what became an iconic image. The masses took to the streets and erected barricades, and the army did not appear cohesive enough for the coup to succeed.
In 2001, Osama bin Laden wanted to say many things with his suicide bombers. Still, one of those things was that western civilization, which revolves around democracy, is very fragile. Blowing up a building or two would blow it up and put the matter to rest.
In 2011, the winds of the “Arab Spring” blew, demanding a parliament and democracy. Though it did so very late, it wanted to break the Arab world’s “exceptionalism.”
As for today, in 2021, parliament has become an American issue. The center of events is the country whose constitutional path has not once been interrupted since it was established.
In 1991, developments in Russia seemed a gateway for a new world demanding parliament. The Soviet Union and its bloc collapsed. The adoption of democracy stretched from central and eastern Europe to Latin America and Africa. The end of apartheid in South Africa and the agreement that ended the sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland complemented this trend. The Oslo Agreement signed between the Palestinians and the Israelis came in the same context.
In 2001, al-Qaeda came to challenge this same broad tendency. It came to tell the Cold War’s victors that they are targeted by a “divine invasion.”
But the challenge to parliament had preceded this, to be precise, in the place where democracy had achieved its shining victory: Russia. Yeltsin himself, two years after his courageous stand, ordered the shelling of the parliament.
This latter event’s symbolism stemmed from two things: Russia, in its social configuration and its tradition of “oriental despotism”, was not equipped for democracy. The Soviet Union fell without a bourgeoise legally accumulating wealth. In Russia, there was only the old regime’s oligarchy, who made their fortunes by smuggling and cutting deals to share the state’s sold assets.
The other issue is that the West, in turn, was not equipped to help Russia take this path: Bill Clinton, egged on by the incitement of the new leadership in central Europe, which was haunted by a longstanding fear of Russians, insisted on stretching NATO as far as Russia’s borders. At the time, Francois Mitterrand was adamant that the alliance had done its job after the fall of the Soviet bloc. Since the 1940s, George Kennan’s position was that “containing” the Soviet Union would suffice to render NATO obsolete, to say nothing about the empire withering away.
Kennan and Mitterrand were proven right: NATO’s presence on Russia’s borders decidedly invigorated nationalism at the expense of democracy. The salvatory leader at the expense of parliament. Thanks to the oligarchy and NATO, Vladimir Putin’s reign was born.
The Arab revolutions were, in a sense, a reaction to what Bin Laden had done: we want democracy and a parliament, not to attack them. These revolutions were defeated as populist movements were winning victory after victory throughout the world. The collective migrations from these defeated revolutions’ countries added fuel to populism’s fire.
A lack of confidence in politics and politicians struck democratic countries themselves: Le Pen in France, The Alternative for Deutschland in Germany, and others in Italy and Austria. Donald Trump arrived at the White House and the British voted for Brexit. The triumphant populists heavily constrained democracies and parliaments: the media and the judiciary’s independence should be curtailed. Those in opposition are “enemies of the people.”
Democracy’s downturn between 1991 and 2021 was created by several factors that go beyond migration: neoliberalism took revenge on the social question altogether in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union. Globalization was accompanied by companies and firms relocating in Asia, which enriched Indians and Chinese but impoverished Europeans and Americans. The Arab revolutions’ defeat prevented the Arabs from breaking their exceptionalism and narrowed the world’s margin of freedom...
Whatever the case may be, it is no longer possible for the chokehold on parliament and democracy striking anywhere but the center, the United States itself. What happened at the Capitol a few days ago indicates the following: democracy, in today’s world, is ailing and in crisis. But it also demonstrates democracy’s strength and its ability to overcome its crisis. The solidity of its constitutional institutions. The presence and fortitude of democratic culture. The force with which pluralism is fighting.
These two contradictory realities clashed head-on in Congress, and the two will clash again and again in the next few years, especially after the US presidential election results demonstrated that the country is split in half. As for the final victory, it hinges on how Joe Biden’s administration will revise the past 30 American and global years.
The only thing we know for sure is that the whole world, in one way or another, is fighting the battle for parliament and democracy. And in contrast to optimists’ hasty predictions, it is not an easy battle.