Midhat Ridjanović, Ph.D.
DEMOCRACY IS SOMETIMES IDIOCRACY
My dear fellow Americans,
I am not an American citizen, I am a citizen of a phantom state called Bosnia-Hercegovina. I believe that all human collective problems arise from divisions of people on racial, ethnic, religious and a dozen other criteria, so the first step in solving these problems is to ignore the divisions and treat everybody else just as fellow humans. People like myself, who believe that all humans should treat each other as if they belonged to the same extended family, are simultaneously Bosnian, American, Ugandan, Chinese, Japanese, Djiboutan, Somali, Mozambiquan, Chilean, Mauritian and nationals of every other of about 195 countries around the world. So, ‘My fellow Americans’ simply means ‘My fellow humans called Americans’.
I have been a careful observer of democratic systems of government for over fifty years now. Democracy is universally touted as the best political system. Some say that it has its drawbacks (Churchill said wittily, „Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.”), but few question its superiority over all other political systems. Well, my own view of representative democracy is that it is the second worst system, immediately after cruel dictatorship, such as Hitler’s or Stalin’s. Also, I am convinced that political life can be organized in ways that are more beneficial to the masses than democracy as practiced in the U.S.A.
It is not necessary to enumerate crimes perpetrated against innocent citizens of “democratic” countries by a particular country's police, because they are almost daily news in the media around the world. America has an abundance of them, from the Haymarket massacre of Chicago steel workers in May 1886 to the killing of more than a hundred black people last year. And let's not forget that Hitler was elcected German Chancellor in free and relatively fair elections.
The word ‘democracy’ originates from the Greek demos ‘people’ and kratia ‘power, rule’. But if people rule, why do the ruling people often decide to kill their fellow ruling people? Or is it that some people rule and others are ruled? There is no way that all the people of a state or country can vote every time an important political decision is to be made. Okay, say defenders of democracy, you elect somebody who will make those decisions on your behalf. Ah, there’s the rub – who guarantees that the elected representative will decide in a way you think is appropriate? Nobody. And in a majority of cases the elected politicians make political decisions which are contrary to the interests of the people who voted for them. When they decide to wage war without adequate justification, they make innocent citizens of their country fight the war and thus literally kill many of the people who voted for them.
Obviously, then, democracy is not rule of the people and the very word is a misnomer. Besides, it is a “nice” word which politicians use whenever they wish to sell something to the masses, whether it is war or conquest of the cosmos. Politicians everywhere are very good at using nice words to brainwash the masses into believing in the fictional world they are selling to the predominantly uneducated and often dumb people. Thus, if a country has the word “democratic” in its name, you can be sure that it is not democratic. One possible translation of the official name of North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea) is People’s People’s People’s State of North Korea. The irony is that the country is governed by a despotic clique which uses all kinds of abuse and torture to keep its citizens obedient. Remember also the German Democratic Republic. In most cases, the true meaning of “nice” words as used by politicians is obtained by interpreting them in the opposite sense – when you hear “people’s,” read “totalitarian”; if a country has “democratic” in its name, its government is dictatorial. In my last book (written in Bosnian) I give a list of about thirty nice words which I call dangerous words because politicians use them to win over the masses; when they achieve that, they can do pretty much anything with impunity. Other dangerous words include freedom, sovereignty, patriotism, justice, independence, law, United Nations, NATO.
Let’s face it, a large proportion of people in every country are poorly educated and of inferior intelligence. Yet we trust them to decide, by proxy, whether to start a war or to invest in a multi-million dollar space program rather than use the money to feed millions of Americans who go hungry. I am not saying that there aren’t intelligent and educated voters who cast their votes after careful weighing of all options, but they are definitely a minority. The best proof of this claim is the rise of Donald Trump in the polls to the top position among Republican presidential candidates. He has made what most normal educated people would call outrageous statements, but the more outrageous they are, the greater the number of his supporters among voters. His popularity rose dramatically after he announced that he would ban Muslims from entering the United States. Now every sensible person knows that such a ban is blatantly impractical. There are over 40 countries with significant Muslim populations, but most educated Muslims, especially in Europe, are not even religious, and are vehemently opposed to terrorism of every kind. How will would-be President Trump distinguish such “Muslims” from prospective terrorists? My own family background is Muslim but all I have left from that background is an Arabic name. I have published a book in the States and several articles in American linguistics journals; I was also a Fulbright Visiting Lecturer at the Ohio State University in 1984-85. What if I am invited to lecture at an American university, or if I decide to attend a linguistics conference in America – will President Trump let me in? Also, my three lovely grandchildren live in America with their next of kin – will Trump deprive a loving grandpa of the possibility to visit them? Do any of those who started supporting Trump after he declared that he will ban Muslims from entering the U.S. know that there are Christian Arabs whose names are mostly indistinguishable from Muslim names? I doubt that they do, in fact I doubt that many of them know that there are Christian Arabs.
Last but not least, a prospective terrorist can have a forged passport, s/he can even “order” one that is most pleasing to American immigration officials. (Trump’s political opponents respond to his Muslim ban by saying that it is unconstitutional; such responses are vacuous in view of the fact that American governments have routinely disregarded the American Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights; two recent examples are the New York Police Department's widespread spying on mosques, which violates the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of religion, and the NSA's widespread spying on just about everybody, which violates the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure.
The big rise in the number of Trump’s supporters after his announcement that he would ban Muslims from entering the States clearly shows that the easiest way to gain mass political support in a democracy is to pander to the majority of voters, i.e. to people of meager education, of limited cultural horizons, of inferior intelligence, and often of bigoted political and religious views. Such a state of affairs leads us to an irrefutable logical conclusion: the better candidate in an election is the one with fewer votes. I therefore believe that democracy would be a better political system if the counting of votes is reversed so that candidates with fewer votes are elected to positions for which they ran. American democracy has given rise to a situation in which the most likely candidates in the final race for the presidency will be a fascist-leaning Republican and a proven liar on the Democratic side (I watched Hillary and Chelsea on Bosnian TV as they were coming out of their plane in Tuzla during the Bosnian war on a peaceful sunny day, which Hillary later described as a dangerous episode with bullets criss-crossing over their heads. Her other big lie is connected with the slaughter of four American diplomats in Benghazi in 2012; that was followed by a stream of mendacious statements to the media. She also broke the law by using a private e-mail server to send messages containing classified information).
So how do you like a political system in which you are stuck with a choice between two evils? But let us imagine that there are no political parties in America and that three candidates are competing for the presidency, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders. If we go by current election polls, Bernie Sanders would get the lowest number of votes. Yet he is the only candidate who is genuinely committed to reducing the shameful economic disparity between the rich and the poor, he is the only candidate genuinely committed to making higher education free for everyone, he is the only candidate genuinely committed to securing a living wage for everyone, he is the only candidate genuinely committed to a humane immigration policy, racial justice, women’s rights, LGBT equality… Isn’t it obvious now that America would have a dream President if only my suggestion were accepted to elect the candidate with the fewest votes?!
My main message is that, in politics in particular, we should stop listening to words and start looking at deeds. Between 1945 and 1992 former Yugoslavia was under a communist dictatorship; true, a “milder” form of dictatorship, but still a dictatorship. In the course of forty-odd years a primitive agricultural society was transformed into a mid-developed industrial state. Thousands of peasants living in shacks with no flooring moved to modern apartments, became educated, and worked in well-paid jobs. All education was free, health care was free, and apartments were given for free to all deserving employees – especially those with expert knowledge important to the society at large. (When I came back from the States in 1985, I was welcomed by the dean of my Faculty with keys to a brand new apartment.) True, you couldn’t say “Down with communism” or insult Tito, but you had to be foolish to do that – what’s the use of freedom of speech if there is no freedom to eat? Now we have a “democratic” multi-party system which is responsible for probably the worst economic situation in Bosnian history – out of a population 3,800,000 people, close to a million don’t have enough to eat. Throughout former Yugoslavia there is general nostalgia for Tito’s communism. Surveys indicate that the masses would be happy to revert to the political situation we had before 1992; the masses, of course, do not include current rulers, who literally plunder the people.
I would like to invite Americans with a right-wing political orientation to come to any part of former Yugoslavia and carry out surveys asking people which political system they prefer, the current or the former one. I am sure they will be shocked to find that nearly all ordinary people will say that they yearn for “communist dictatorship.” I personally don’t believe in communism, especially not in its utopian goals, but I refuse to be blinded by words and ready-made interpretations of political systems and ideologies. The facts are not in words but in flesh-and-blood human beings.
I said earlier that I believe that political life can be organized in ways which are more beneficial to the people at large than democracy as practiced in the U.S.A. I will now give two examples of political systems that I believe are closer to the rule of the people (unattainable in the literal sense) than the American system. I am doing this although I don’t believe that American political life, run by the military-industrial complex, can be changed. The American power wielders are so deeply entrenched that nothing short of a nuclear war can remove them from their positions of power.
Some American corporations are very well organized and function in a way which brings satisfaction and decent earnings both to employers and employees. Why not organize the government of the United States in a similar way? Congress announces a vacancy for the President (corresponding to the CEO of a corporation), people who feel they can fill the vacancy apply, and Congress appoints the best candidate as President of the country. S/he hires assistants and advisers for various activities needed to carry out the business of government. S/he is given a mandate for a particular period of time but is constantly watched and supervised by Congress. Just like a bad CEO, the President can be sacked for bad work or any negligence of her/his constitutional duties. A possible name for this political “system” could be Semi-Democratic Supervised Benevolent Dictatorship.
In 1950 the Yugoslav government introduced self-management as the pivotal principle of the country’s political system. The main idea was that people working together for a common goal, say in a school or a furniture factory, should elect a workers’ council which will make all important decisions related to the functioning of the particular institution. I am aware of a couple of American Ph.D’s who produced researched evaluations of the system. Some were affirmative, some less so. But Yugoslav self-management was in operation long before the advent of the computer. I am sure that the system would function much better with the Internet, the social networks, and other technical advances such as smartphones that have made communication easier and faster. Self-management could eventually do away with “important” people because all decision-making would be done in workers’ council meetings, chaired successively by individual members of the council. Councils at the lowest level would elect councils at the next higher level; the same procedure would apply to all levels of government and would ultimately reach the highest level, i.e. the country’s parliament. This of course is only a rough outline, with details to be worked out in accordance with the particular political environment.
The main advantage of self-management is that it doesn’t need political parties, which have often been an end unto themselves and, especially in less developed countries, a source of income for corrupt politicians. Governments usually assist political parties financially and the money often ends up in politicians’ pockets (that is why we have over fifty parties in Bosnia). Besides, there is usually no significant difference between a country’s parties, which means that elections are generally a huge waste of money. Insightful American political analysts say that America doesn’t have a multi-party system but a single party with two right wings.
Midhat Ridjanović, Ph.D.
Professor emeritus of English and linguistics
University of Sarajevo
Two Bosnian jokes
Milošević, Tuđman and Izetbegović, the Serbian, Croatian, and Muslim leader in the Bosnian war of 1992-95, died and are to be sent to Hell for their responsibility in killing thousands of innocent people. They're met by St. Peter who says to them: “Before I throw you into the eternal fire, I will grant one wish to each of you.” Milošević says: “I want all Croats out of Bosnia.” Tuđman says: “I want all Serbs out of Bosnia.” Izetbegović turns to St. Peter and says: “You go ahead and grant their wishes, I'll just have a cup of coffee.”
A Serb is crossing the border to go to Bosnia. The Bosnian border policeman asks him: “Your name?”. The Serb says Milan Milanović. Then the policeman asks: “Occupation?” “No,” answers the Serb, “just a visit.”
Published as „Dictatorship Nostalgia“ in the Anderson Valley Advertiser on January 8, 2016.
 We must be careful not to interpret ‘family’ in the above sentence in its biological sense. If we do so, many individuals (including myself), would be guilty of (multiple) incest :-).