Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The hidden cost of dictatorships

When the trial of Martin Jahnke who threw his shoe at the Chinese prime minister was scheduled for three days in June, "presiding magistrate Julie Ferguson said she had concerns about the proposed length of the trial and the cost to the taxpayer."There is a huge implication for the public purse here," Mrs Ferguson told the court. "We very much hope it (the trial) will not last as long as that (three days)."" The quote is from a Cambridge News report which was commented by two readers, both defending Jahnke and lamenting the "waste of time and money" for his trial. It was initially set for June 2-4 but, because June 4 is the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre and apparently some magistrates feel uneasy to side with the Chinese regime exactly on this day, the trial was moved to June 1-3; a report about its first day can be found at the BBC site. So I am reminding my readers to keep an eye on Cambridge to see what will happen. Meanwhile, I wish to write a short post about the cost of dictator regimes in general.
The impact of dictatorship on its victims is fairly evident - the lost lives, the lives crippled by repression, the lost happiness because some buraucrat orders you what to work and where to live, the lost peace of mind because you have always to look behind your shoulder, the lost prosperity because dictatorships invariably create and perpetuate poverty. All these effects are fairly evident, though most victims of dictators tend to whitewash the regime in order to justify their obedience without admitting the fear underlying it. I with to write about the cost leveled by dictators on people who are, or initially have been, outside their scope. This cost is less evident, so I am calling it "hidden", although it can easily be seen by anyone of the meanest understanding.
Like magistrate Ferguson, I am wondering why Jahnke's trial is scheduled to last 3 days, as if it is a complicated money laundering affair or a murder case with unusually messy forensic evidence. But whatever the length of the trial, it would cost time and money. We could also keep in mind the lost productivity of Jahnke himself and presumably of his co-workers. So part of the cost of a dictatorship is based on the suppression by democratic states of people protesting against this dictatorship on their territory. I wish to remind also that, according to Chinese dissident expatriot Shao Jiang, "some European governments abused police powers, out of shameful deference to the CCP, and violated the rights of peaceful demonstrators during Wen’s visit to the EU". So EU authorities had banned or quashed legal protests against the Chinese regime and this may have contributed to Jahnke's decision to resort to object-throwing.
One could argue that all these costs would have been spared if protesters hadn't tried to hold rallies and Jahnke hadn't thrown the shoe. This is another aspect of dictatorships' cost: creating abroad an accepting and "tolerant" mindset that has the same ultimate result - reduction of freedom even in democratic countries.
Dictator states have three major ways to subdue democratic states. The first is by open and plain force. Although current dictator states tend to lag in technology, they develop, buy or steal enough of it to develop devastating weapons (up to nuclear bombs). Democratic powers, or their alliances, could still defeat the dictators but usually prefer to appease them because of eagerness to avoid war at all costs. As a result, we witness pariah states like North Korea and Iran successfully bullying and blackmailing the so-called free world.
The second method is by economic pressure. We saw it e.g. during the cartoon crisis when Islamic countries pressed Denmark to renounce freedom of speech by boycotting its products. We could also remember how different companies doing business with Saddam Hussein strongly supported him and opposed any action against him. For that reason, I think democratic countries should minimize their economic ties with non-democratic ones. I know that many serious people would disagree here. They will say that any pressure by (democratic) governments not to do trade with this or that country is undue regulation of economy and so violates democracy by itself; and also that minimizing international trade would hurt the population living under the dictator's rule, which is hardly what we want. For that reason, many Americans who are not pro-communist at all want the embargo on Cuba to be lifted. However, my impression is that, when trade with a dictatorships occurs, we do not observe prosperity and democratization brought by the free market; rather, we see corruption of the free market by the dictator's regime. I realize that it is impossible and undesirable to cut all economic ties with undemocratic regimes, especially if we take into account how many countries deserve the label. (E.g. Turkey is often considered democratic, but it is still denying the genocide against the Armenians and so cannot be considered more democratic than Germany would have been if it were denying the Holocaust.) However, I think that at least we must keep a red light on when trading with a dictatorship.
The third method of dictatorships to influence the free world is by emigrants. As far as I know, this is a new problem. Dictatorships of past such as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union didn't enjoy much support by the people leaving (escaping) them. On the contrary, these expatriots were among the fiercest opponents of the regime. However, today's most important dictatorships - the Muslim states and China, manage to convince their people that the regime and its toxic ideology are the same as motherland and identity. Unfortunately, at the same time democratic contries brought down to zero their integration potential and opened their gates to anybody who would wish to walk in. Small wonder that we saw Danish Muslims fall over themselves to harm their country and appeal for help to their countries of origin (which they presumably had left screaming not so long ago). The reaction of Chinese expatriots to Jahnke's act also was telltale - little support and much condemnation. Apparently the majority of Chinese identified themselves with Prime Minister Wen and the Chines totalitarian regime.
The dictatorships' hidden cost also has another aspect which may seem negligible but in fact isn't. It is the impact on individuals who have had the luck to be born in the free world but have fallen in the scope of some dictator and have suffered the logical consequences. The first example coming to mind of course are those women who marry somebody from undemocratic country and then let their lord and master lure them to the hellhole he calls homeland, or kidnap their children and bring them there. Another example are the guest workers who carelessly accept a job in a dictatorship and then get into trouble, e.g. our medics who were convicted for infecting Libyan children with HIV. In all these cases, the democratic country has the lose-lose choice either to let its citizen in hell or try to negotiate his release by paying ransom and/or making all sorts of concessions. The negotiations in too many cases are not successful; and even when they are, the cost is extremely high, because the dictator quickly realizes the benefits of holding a hostage. In the case of the Bulgarian medics, Libya sucked tens of millions from Bulgaria and its Western allies. I guess that for some smaller dictatorships taking Westerners hostage in one way or another may be an important source of revenue and other goodies.
If you are asking what I am proposing to be done - well, unfortunately, nothing. Dictatorships are by definition almost impossible to reform or overthrow from inside (especially when they have oil or other resources and so have no problems with subsistence). As for democratization by external (military) force, it becomes increasingly more problematic. The average citizen of a democracy tends to like and support the dictators more than he would ever support democracy. On the other hand, the average citizen of a dictatorship, even when claiming to disapprove the (fallen) dictator, tends to oppose democracy fiercely. Both phenomena are excellently illustrated by the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and their aftermath. So for the moment I have no solution in mind; I hope that, when a solution appears, some bright mind will recognize and realize it. Of course this cannot happen until the White House is occupied by Mr. Obama whose idea of his duty is to apologize, embrace and go to bed with every single dictator he can find. However, his term will not last forever, so let's be optimistic and hope for a better choice next time.

1 comment:

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