G8 and sovereign democracy

MOSCOW, (RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Romanov) - The G8 summit in St. Petersburg is over, and everyone seems to be writing the same thing about it. I'll do my best to buck the trend.

In my view, one of the summit's priorities was the issue of independence and sovereignty in relations between democratic countries, although it was not on the agenda and none of the leaders spoke about it explicitly.

In a unipolar world dominated by the United States and its desire to be "generous" to humankind by forcing the North American worldview on it, this issue was bound to surface at bilateral talks within the G8 and during joint discussions.

This issue is also interesting because some members of the Russian political elite have coined a new phrase, "sovereign democracy," as a reaction to two opposing phenomena.

One of them is the unquestionable and rapid (in historical terms) strengthening of Russia, which is buttressing its independence and reinforcing its prestige on the international scene and in the global economy (although mostly in the energy sector so far).

The other is the equally unquestionable and rapidly growing concern and discontent in influential American quarters over the strengthening of Russia.

In an ideal world, it would be logical and correct to develop partner relations with a strengthening Russia, not seek confrontation with it. But life, especially in the political world, has never been ideal, and Cold War stereotypes are resurfacing increasingly fast.

Paradoxically, the U.S. democracy is becoming increasingly jealous of the rising Russian democracy, which it criticizes for not being its carbon copy. This is absurd, because all successful democracies, although they use the same democratic instruments, proceed in their own way, with due regard for national traditions and specifics.

France is not like Sweden, Spain is different from Japan, and the United States is not Switzerland. However, despite their successes, an objective observer will also see their weak sides, small sins and oddities.

This is also true of the U.S. The G8 summit in St. Petersburg began with President George W. Bush meeting with a dozen NGO representatives. President Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, had met and talked with hundreds of representatives of Russian and foreign NGOs ahead of the summit and later conveyed their requests to the G8 leaders, just as he had promised.

But it is not arithmetic that matters in this case. The odd thing is that Russian NGOs brought to President Bush a request from American NGOs, who want their president to meet with members of U.S. civil society. Isn't it shocking that the American president, who tries to teach Russians democracy, does not deem it necessary to hear the opinion of his own NGOs?

Another oddity: During a news conference on the results of bilateral talks with his Russian counterpart, the Chief Executive - even though he had promised not to interfere in Russia's internal affairs before the summit - said he had told the Russian president about his hopes for "institutional change" in the world, citing Iraq as an example of a new democracy.

The Russian leader, who did his best to act as a polite host, nevertheless retorted to the applause and laughter of journalists: "Frankly speaking, we would not want to have a democracy like the one in Iraq."

It is difficult to say if Bush's recommendation was an unsuccessful impromptu, or the U.S. elite is so far removed from reality as to think that the tottering Iraqi democracy, which is kept alive by the occupation forces, is what Russians want.

Do the Americans like the Iraqi semblance of democracy because it is a puppet government at Washington's beck and call? Is this the main gauge of a successful and correct policy?

Iraq should not be the only example in this case. President Bush could cite Ukraine or Georgia, which also do Washington's bidding. When Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko decided to sack Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, she ran to complain to the American ambassador. Why is it that Ukraine's leading politicians seem unable to act without advice from the U.S. embassy?

During the summit, all of the G8 leaders worked on their relations with Washington in one way or another. London did not need to do this, as it has long been traveling in the wake of U.S. policy, but France is fighting for the right to an independent opinion.

The joint news conference of Jacques Chirac and George Bush showed that the two leaders differ considerably over the situation in the Middle East. This is why France, just like Russia, is not one of Washington's favorite countries. Maybe the French should also learn democracy in Iraq?

So, the reasons for the appearance of the phrase "sovereign democracy" in the Russian political dictionary are clear. However, this term does not seem to be quite correct, because genuine democracy that respects the interests of all countries can only be sovereign, or else it would not be a democracy. So, "sovereign democracy" is "much of a muchness."

Spain is a good example of sovereignty in a democratic state. Acting at the request of its citizens, the Spanish government pulled out troops from Iraq without stopping to think whether this would displease the United States.

Russia will proceed into the future in its own way. Its apparent objective is to become a full and effective democracy, but ways towards that goal can differ. Russia can move in a Russian way, whereas France and Spain may be moving towards the same objective in their own manner. And the United States should respect their choice.

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