Friday, June 25, 2010

Democracy and Trust

Hey, it's global affairs day here at Telling Secrets!

Recognize this place? (Map from Lonely Planet). Even people who don't follow events in Central Asia may be aware of recent instability and violence in Kyrgyzstan. I haven't spent a lot of time there, but it's got a special place in my heart. The Kyrgyz may be my favorite people group, ever; I found them delightful. I've been staying in touch with events in the country ever since making two trips to the capital in the late 1990s. Later I lived just across the border from the currently troubled area, traveling about once a month to the city where the recent violence happened. The family that took me in, though ethnic Uzbeks, were from K'stan and still had a lot of relatives there.

For many years it seemed the most stable of its neighbors, and it seemed to have the "best" government structures in place - the most democratic ones - though they were compromised by a considerable level of corruption and bureaucracy. But what's going to become of the place, now? Things have been dicey for some months now, and in April there was a change in government, the second in not many years. Politics and ethnicity have become intertwined, as happens in so many places, and something happened to spark off tensions in the South. Reports of what caused this, vary.

I've been getting at least a dozen emails a day about how the events are unfolding, most via a Kyrgyzstan-focused network to which I belong. And here's one today from the New York Times, passed on by my friend Paul M.
"A major crisis is taking place in Central Asia, but much of the world — and most governments — would prefer not to think about it. Kyrgyzstan has lost control of a significant part of its country.

"Initial violence has caused many hundreds of deaths and, as of the latest count, over 400,000 refugees. This from a population of five million. The calm that has come over the area is temporary combat fatigue. Kyrgyzstan’s new provisional government is looking increasingly incapable of taking any measures to restore homes, livelihoods, destroyed infrastructure or trust. It can barely impose order. Yet world leaders are looking elsewhere."

> Keep reading.
The first-hand reports of the slaughter have been horrific. I know some people who are there on the ground, ready to do what they can, but it must be overwhelming. So many dead. So many living in fear.

About a year ago I blogged about a book whose author suggested there's a strong link between having an environment of trust and being able to the pull off a democracy. I'm not saying socialism, tribalism, or totalitarianism are better options, but this rings true to me. What do you think?
"For years, political scientists assumed that people living under democracies were happier than those living under any other form of government... but the collapse of the Soviet Union changed all that... Happiness levels did not rise. In some countries they declined, and today the former Soviet republics are, overall, the least happy places on the planet. What is going on? That old causality bugaboo, political scientist Ron Inglehart concluded: It's not that democracy makes people happy but rather than happy people are much more likely to establish a democracy.
"The soil must be rich, culturally speaking, before democracy can take root. The institutions are less important than the culture. And what are the cultural ingredients needed for democracy to take root? Trust and tolerance. Not only trust of those inside your group - family, for instance - but external trust. Trust of strangers. Trust of your opponents, your enemies, even." 
(The Geography of Bliss, by Eric Weiner, p. 198)


Dean Smith said...

When such trust has been long established, can it be dissolved? In other words, could what you describe happen here?

Marti said...

It could, but I think it would take something really big to get America from a country that bickers to one that's actually going to fall apart. People complain a lot about the system but I don't think they want to pitch the whole thing, just influence it.