Latest Articles


23.10.2014
Martha Nussbaum

Liberalism needs love

A conversation with Martha Nussbaum

A ban on the burqa in a country such as France, if applied consistently and without bias, would lead to bans on numerous practices in the majority culture, insists Martha Nussbaum. But while tolerance is essential, what liberalism really needs right now is love and compassion. [Spanish version added] [ more ]

23.10.2014
Alain Finkielkraut

Damn security!

22.10.2014
Fréderic Neyrat

Critique of geo-constructivism

New Issues


23.10.2014

Glänta | 2/2014

Migration #2
23.10.2014

Mittelweg 36 | 5/2014

Politische Tiere [Political animals]
20.10.2014

Esprit | 10/2014

Eurozine Review


15.10.2014
Eurozine Review

This revolutionary moment

"Index" looks into the future of journalism; "Transit" keeps alive the memory of the Maidan; in "Syn og Segn", climate optimist Kristin Halvorsen calls for a global price tag on pollution; "Kulturos barai" talks to urban ecologist Warren Karlenzig; "Rigas Laiks" congratulates Reykjavik's first anarchist mayor; "Merkur" discusses photography and the definition of artistic value; "La Revue nouvelle" braces itself for more European political deadlock; "Kritiikki" profiles Russian émigré author Sergei Dovlatov; and "Nova Istra" remembers the Croatian émigré poet Viktor Vida.

17.09.2014
Eurozine Review

Independence in an age of interdependence

03.09.2014
Eurozine Review

Was Crimea a preliminary exercise?

06.08.2014
Eurozine Review

What are you doing here?

23.07.2014
Eurozine Review

The world's echo system



http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2011-05-02-newsitem-en.html
http://mitpress.mit.edu/0262025248
http://www.eurozine.com/about/who-we-are/contact.html
http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2009-12-02-newsitem-en.html

My Eurozine


If you want to be kept up to date, you can subscribe to Eurozine's rss-newsfeed or our Newsletter.

Articles
Share |


The perils of procedural democracy

A lesson from Bosnia

At the beginning of February, violent protests swept through Bosnia-Herzegovina: demonstrators clashed with police and government buildings were set ablaze. But then, independent citizens' assemblies began to be organized to formulate demands to be made to the government.

Recent unrest in Bosnia has exposed the age-old dilemma about democracy once again: is democracy procedural or substantive? In other words, are certain procedures required in order to uphold basic democratic standards, such as political equality, freedom of speech and free elections, sufficient for democracy? Does it matter what kind of outcomes result from democratic procedures? Is democracy a matter of a particular way of doing politics, or a matter of the specific content of democratic decision-making?

As political philosophers like to stress, mere procedures do not make democracy. Decisions made by democratically elected governments will be legitimate only if they reflect certain principles that derive from democracy's conceptual content. However, a procedural understanding of democracy is often taken as the dominant standard of value judgments and political assessments. It is often easier to look at institutional procedures than to judge the character of their outcomes, which are often ambiguous or complex. But, is this a good way of making judgments about democracy? Looking through this lens at recent events in Bosnia may provide an answer.

Flags of Bosnia and Herzegovina flying before the parliamentary offices in Sarajevo. Photo: Jennifer Boyer. Source: Flickr


By procedural standards, Bosnia and Herzegovina is a democratic country. Its institutions are populated through free elections; there is freedom of speech, and the citizens are nominally equal to one another. There is no visible violence of institutions towards the citizens, few (if any) political prisoners, and most of the citizens are free to live their life the way they see fit. The biggest procedural problem of Bosnian democracy is the exclusion of minority citizens from political representation: groups other than the three main ethnicities (Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs), such as Jews and Roma, cannot have their representatives in the institutions. After the European Court of Human Rights ruling of 2009 to the effect that Bosnian institutions need to rectify this violation of human rights, the politicians have been in constant, yet so far unsuccessful, negotiations about changing this procedural provision.[1]

However, the content of Bosnia's democracy is deeply problematic: the political elite is corrupt and unaccountable;[2] elected representatives do not care about the needs of the citizens; there are striking levels of inequality,[3] mainly caused by poor public policies and the gigantic bureaucratic apparatus; the outcomes of political procedures are unfair – they usually benefit small groups of politicians and their friends and not the population at large.

The lack of substantive democracy is what has brought protesters in many Bosnian cities into the street over the last weeks.[4] They did not object to the way Bosnian democracy is procedurally executed, but the way the decisions are made by elected representatives. They wanted more fairness and social justice; they wanted better democratic outcomes.

One may still ask, however, why did they choose to hit the streets instead of polling stations; the general elections are around the corner, in October this year? The answer to that question is simple. Namely, Bosnian procedural democracy depends on the prevalence of ethnic nationalism. Main political parties ride on the ethnic sentiment of the majority of the populace and win votes through scare tactics and the exploitation of wartime memories and antagonistic narratives.

Instead of substantive issues of public policy, election campaigns focus on the power struggle between three competing ethno-nationalisms. The result of every election since the country gained its independence in the early nineties was the same: the rule of ethnic parties and the predominance of ethnic categories of political practice. Even the non-ethnic parties, such as SDP, very often succumb to the lure of ethnicity. The distribution of institutional power between ethnic groups is the main concern in Bosnian politics.

Bosnian citizens who wanted change did not have any other option but to go out to the streets and ask for better contents of democracy because the procedures did not allow them to shift the nature of political discourse to any other issue. In a system saturated with ethnic categories, in which elected representatives are unaccountable to those who have elected them, there is no other way to express concern and struggle for equality, justice and fairness. There are no platforms for debates about accountable (and non-ethnic) policy-making.

On the other hand, substantive democracy alone, as many political scientists know, is not sufficient either. One cannot bring about democracy through non-democratic means. Procedures also matter.

The initial thrust of Bosnian protests tilted towards violence: several buildings were burned, including the seats of regional (cantonal) governments in the cities of Tuzla and Sarajevo. While not justified (and clearly non-democratic), the violence of Bosnian youth against government institutions is comprehensible: systematically neglected, exploited and poorly educated masses lack other means of political expression. The fault was theirs, but only indirectly. Fire was their only voice at that moment. The passion for democracy's contents took them in the wrong direction.

But, what is particularly interesting about the protests is the reaction from the local and international political elites. For the first time in twenty years, afraid for their positions of power, local politicians resorted to amazingly colourful demagogy aimed at discrediting citizens' claims on the basis of variety of assumptions.

Bosniak political elites claimed that the protests were orchestrated by Serbs to destabilize the country and bring about the secession of the Serb entity; Serb and Croat elites claimed protests were organized by Bosniaks to destroy the federal organization of the country and make it unitary; all of them together claimed that protesters have no legitimacy to demand changes in government, since they are the sole democratically elected representatives of all citizens, and not just a handful of angry hooligans who set fire to government buildings.

Not surprisingly, the representatives of the international community and the neighbouring countries, showed cold disdain for the citizens' demands and decided to uphold the values of strict democratic proceduralism. Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic visited the town of Mostar (the stronghold of Croat ethnic nationalism) and expressed support to the existing political establishment."[5] The High Representative of the international community, Austrian diplomat Valentin Inzko even went so far as to warn the citizens that if unrest continues, EU military forces could arrive in Bosnia to maintain peace.[6] There was not a single expression of sympathy with the demands of Bosnian citizens for substantive values of democracy: only empty praise for democratic proceduralism and a perfunctory acceptance of the freedom to protest.

The perils of procedural democracy are not only a characteristic of contemporary Bosnia. Many other countries and political associations face the same problem. The lack of substantive democracy has been bringing citizens onto the streets throughout the European Union, the Middle East, and even United States for many years now.

The rising popular unrest everywhere clearly indicates the problem of a minimalist and procedural understanding of democracy and points to the need to rethink the consequences of democratic decision-making. What kinds of consequences are sufficient to justify the democratic nature of political institutions? How can we accommodate the procedural and substantive requirements of democracy? These are questions not only for Bosnians, but also for democrats everywhere.

Finding answers to these questions is difficult. This is a task for political theorists as well as for political practitioners, since every context will be specific and will demand unique solutions. But, it is safe to say that democracy cannot, and should not, be understood in an exclusive way: both procedures and the content matter.

This is important if we wish to use democracy as a standard for making value judgments about different social movements and events that take place in the world, from Bosnia to Ukraine.

As for Bosnians on the streets, they have taken a step forward in trying to bring the two dimensions of democracy together. After the initial incidents leading to violence and demolition of government buildings, they have consolidated themselves, refrained from further violence and started organizing independent citizens' assemblies that will serve as forums for public deliberation and formulation of substantive demands to be made to the government.[7]

With a due respect for the democratic procedures that have brought the existing political elite to power, they will try to contribute to the development of Bosnia's democracy by offering ideas about the content of democratic governance that should advance social justice and bring more fairness to Bosnian society.

By organizing assemblies at local levels, citizens are aiming to go beyond entrenched ethnic categories and change the nature of political discourse in the country. The main questions now are not ethnic but social. They do not ask for a better or different ethnic representation in state institutions: they ask for better social outcomes of functioning institutions. Better social standards and services, more fairness and accountability.

The solutions will take some time to emerge. Democracy is a messy process, not a set of clear-cut measures that can take effect immediately. The recent protest is one of the best learning exercises for the young Bosnian democracy. What we all should do is help Bosnians learn the lesson at their own pace and try not to hamper them by insisting that democracy is only about procedures and not about outcomes. We may be surprised to see them find answers that we all can learn from.

 



Published


Original in English
First published in openDemocracy, Can Europe make it?, 18 February 2014

Contributed by openDemocracy
© Eldar Sarajlic / openDemocracy
© Eurozine
 

Support Eurozine     click for more

If you appreciate Eurozine's work and would like to support our contribution to the establishment of a European public sphere, see information about making a donation.

Focal points     click for more

Russia in global dialogue

http://www.eurozine.com/comp/focalpoints/eurocrisis.html
In the two decades after the end of the Cold War, intellectual interaction between Russia and Europe has intensified. It has not, however, prompted a common conversation. The focal point "Russia in global dialogue" seeks to fuel debate on democracy, society and the legacy of empire. [more]

Ukraine in focus

http://www.eurozine.com/comp/focalpoints/publicsphere.html
Ten years after the Orange Revolution, Ukraine is in the throes of yet another major struggle. Eurozine provides commentary on events as they unfold and further articles from the archive providing background to the situation in today's Ukraine. [more]

The ends of democracy

http://www.eurozine.com/comp/focalpoints/democracy.html
At a time when the global pull of democracy has never been stronger, the crisis of democracy has become acute. Eurozine has collected articles that make the problems of democracy so tangible that one starts to wonder if it has a future at all, as well as those that return to the very basis of the principle of democracy. [more]

The EU: Broken or just broke?

http://www.eurozine.com/comp/focalpoints/eurocrisis.html
Brought on by the global economic recession, the eurocrisis has been exacerbated by serious faults built into the monetary union. Contributors discuss whether the EU is not only broke, but also broken -- and if so, whether Europe's leaders are up to the task of fixing it. [more]

Time to Talk     click for more

Time to Talk, a network of European Houses of Debate, has partnered up with Eurozine to launch an online platform. Here you can watch video highlights from all TTT events, anytime, anywhere.
Dessislava Gavrilova, Jo Glanville et al.
The role of literature houses in protecting the space for free expression

http://www.eurozine.com/timetotalk/european-literature-houses-meeting-2014/
This summer, Time to Talk partner Free Word, London hosted a debate on the role that literature houses play in preserving freedom of expression both in Europe and globally. Should everyone get a place on the podium? Also those representing the political extremes? [more]

Eurozine BLOG

On the Eurozine BLOG, editors and Eurozine contributors comment on current affairs and events. What's behind the headlines in the world of European intellectual journals?
Simon Garnett
Britain flouts the European Court of Justice

http://www.eurozine.com/blog/
The UK has passed legislation on data retention that flouts European concerns about privacy. The move demonstrates extraordinary arrogance not only towards the Court of Justice of the European Union but towards the principle of parliamentary deliberation in Britain, writes Simon Garnett. [more]

Vacancies at Eurozine     click for more

There are currently no positions available.

Editor's choice     click for more

William E Scheuerman
Civil disobedience for an age of total surveillance
The case of Edward Snowden

http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2014-04-18-scheuerman-en.html
Earlier civil disobedients hinted at our increasingly global condition. Snowden takes it as a given. But, writes William E. Scheuerman, in lieu of an independent global legal system in which Snowden could defend his legal claims, the Obama administration should treat him with clemency. [more]

Literature     click for more

Olga Tokarczuk
A finger pointing at the moon

http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2014-01-16-tokarczuk-en.html
Our language is our literary destiny, writes Olga Tokarczuk. And "minority" languages provide a special kind of sanctuary too, inaccessible to the rest of the world. But, there again, language is at its most powerful when it reaches beyond itself and starts to create an alternative world. [more]

Piotr Kiezun, Jaroslaw Kuisz
Literary perspectives special: Witold Gombrowicz

http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2013-08-16-kuisz-en.html
The recent publication of the private diary of Witold Gombrowicz provides unparalleled insight into the life of one of Poland's great twentieth-century novelists and dramatists. But this is not literature. Instead: here he is, completely naked. [more]

Literary perspectives
The re-transnationalization of literary criticism

http://www.eurozine.com/comp/literaryperspectives.html
Eurozine's series of essays aims to provide an overview of diverse literary landscapes in Europe. Covered so far: Croatia, Sweden, Austria, Estonia, Ukraine, Northern Ireland, Slovenia, the Netherlands and Hungary. [more]

Debate series     click for more

Europe talks to Europe

http://www.eurozine.com/comp/europetalkstoeurope.html
Nationalism in Belgium might be different from nationalism in Ukraine, but if we want to understand the current European crisis and how to overcome it we need to take both into account. The debate series "Europe talks to Europe" is an attempt to turn European intellectual debate into a two-way street. [more]

Conferences     click for more

Eurozine emerged from an informal network dating back to 1983. Since then, European cultural magazines have met annually in European cities to exchange ideas and experiences. Around 100 journals from almost every European country are now regularly involved in these meetings.
Law and Border. House Search in Fortress Europe
The 26th European Meeting of Cultural Journals
Conversano, 3-6 October 2014

http://www.eurozine.com/comp/conversano2014.html
Eurozine's 2014 conference in southern Italy, not far from Lampedusa, addressed both EU refugee and immigration policies and intellectual partnerships across the Mediterranean. Speakers included Italian investigative journalist Fabrizio Gatti and Moroccan feminist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Rita El Khayat. [more]

Multimedia     click for more

http://www.eurozine.com/comp/multimedia.html
Multimedia section including videos of past Eurozine conferences in Vilnius (2009) and Sibiu (2007). [more]


powered by publick.net