romanian literary monthly

~ Viorel Roman: „Western Democracy Confronts Orthodoxy and Islam“

In 1989, after the peaceful conclusion of the Cold War, the world at large became euphoric, on the account of no longer having to contemplate the ravages of a global nuclear confrontation. Suddenly all prospects turned fine and dandy; the Westminster type democracy practiced in the First World — the accepted winner of the forty-year old conflict — will have naturally spread into the Second World — the Orthodox realm — also into the Third World, the latter largely living under the tenets of Islam. Finally the proverbial lamb was about to lay down with the lion. Perhaps, many people still remember Fukuyama’s famous quip: The world has arrived at the end of history. The fact that both The Second and The Third Worlds were — and are — rich in energy resources, some say, happened to be just a very lucky coincidence. For anybody who remembers those wonderful times, and cares to look at the world as it turned out be, that hasty euphoria seems now, in hind sight, rather phantasmagoric, not at all realistic. Let us review what happened in the interim.

The former Communist, and mostly Orthodox, countries went through a so-called transition period, which can aptly be branded as a farce. Actually, this tragic-comedy is continuing, and is being played as an endless joke on the economic backs of many millions of disappointed peoples, for whom the end of misery is not even barely visible on the future’s horizon. The former Communist party hierarchy, under the leadership of the former state security apparatus –made up by high-ranking members of the famous Nomenclature, — in a very short time managed to turn around their former ideology, by beginning enthusiastically and conveniently to mimic the majority of the noisiest democratic slogans. One has to admit, they gave a masterful performance since, with a few notable exceptions, they are still ruling in many of those countries today, where they obtained, this time around, also the blessings of the Church, of the Patriarchs, while the situation of the masses at large continues to deteriorate steadily. During this period, the operating concepts, for instance in Romania, might be reduced to two, very simple phrases: privatization, and we do not sell our country — (to foreigners). Many, more serious analysts, might consider this approach as an oversimplification. Maybe so, but these two simple phrases can sum up essentially what happened. Under the guise of privatization the new political classes acquired, sold, degraded or liquidated most of the county’s wealth, while — in the light of a catchy slogan, — we are not selling out our country, — they skillfully kept at bay the inflow of serious foreign investors and capital. It is not at all surprising that some called this type of transition piratization (in Russian prikhvastiatzia). Consequently, the State budgeting process, the bulk of the remaining industry, as well as the mass-media –Television included — remained and still are in the hands or under the influence of the old-new oligarchs. Essentially nothing has changed. The newly made, suddenly-turned-pious Orthodox capitalists, — rejoined in their same former clans and groups of interests, which manipulate everything in politics, control the flow of information, and disperse their brash propaganda almost with the same success as in the past, if not more so. Welcome to the Orient, dominated as ever by informal networks and not so informal mafias!

So why should anybody be surprized when the common folk in The Orthodox world appear now flabbergasted by the newly born individualism (which they see as a sinfully aggressive selfishness), absolutely foreign to their faith and norms of acceptable behavior. Is it then so miraculous that people have taken refuge once again into their proverbial apathy, and relinquished their salvation into the hands of the Redeemer? Man, be patient, thy kingdom will come, the last will be the first, and the meek will inherit the earth. Although under the leadership of Boris Yeltzin, Slobodan Miloshevitch, Ion Iliescu, Vladimir Putin and the KGB, the respective countries managed to stay economically afloat, while Communism seemingly had suffered a great defeat, in spite of the piracy inflicted on them, by the same token, these same countries, when it comes to Western imports, are still subjected to many of the COMECOM prohibitions, decreed against them during the past. Can these barriers contribute to an honest process of development? Probably not. Naturally, this sorry Cold War leftover today proves to be more troublesome for Russia and Serbia, because there it was superimposed on top of the other handicaps, inherent to the code of behavior everywhere else in the Orthodox inspired world.

In the 22 countries of the Arab League the social, political and military situation is equally caught in an impasse. Across this part of president Bush’s axis of evil — Iran, Irak, and now, Lebanon, Syria — the implementation of Democracy looks more as a “Dream of One-Thousand-and-One-Nights” than a fairly feasible outcome. After the neo-conservatives’ unexpected success with the Oriental, Southern Slavs, as well as with the Moldo-Valahs at the end of the Cold War, it is suddenly very hard for them to understand why installing democracies among the Orthodox and the Moslems proves to be a task impossible to carry out overnight. For both religions acquiescing to the principles of competition –inherent to democracies — is equally difficult to accept, which in their minds can produce mostly undesirable social discord, or lead to the creation of counter-productive political adversaries. Instead they favor the subtleties of the less formalized, more oriental structures, inherited respectively from Bizantium the Caliphates.

This state of mind may be simply illustrated by an example. When sometime ago, between the Orthodox and the Moslems a conflict ensued, which ended up by the Hezbollah organization taking a Soviet diplomat as hostage, the latter camp’s response had been conceived in a manner absolutely different from the way that challenge is expected to be answered in the West. Responding promptly to the provocation within the principles of tit-for-tat, the KGB went on to take a hostage from among the ranks of the Hesbollah, than castrated the victim and sent his testicles back to the same guerilla organization with the following message: This surgical operation will be readily applied to other Hezbollah members if the Soviet diplomat will not be immediately freed. Naturally, the diplomat quickly regained his liberty, and since then, hostage taking from among the Orthodox folk became taboo. This is exactly why, when Romanian hostages were taken in Irak, the news elicited both in the West and East nothing less than perplexity.

What would it take for the neo-conservatives to wake up? It is high time for them to learn and accept the customs, traditions and the sensitivities of the Orthodox and Moslems before forcing upon their peoples democracies, either through deceptive transition processes or military actions.

VIOREL ROMAN, advisor at the Bremen University, Germany

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