Tuesday, June 07, 2005

An open letter to Alexander Solzhenitsyn 

Dear Aleksandr Isaevich

Let me at the outset express my admiration for your work and your courage over the years. No history - and certainly no moral history - of the twentieth century can be written without the mention of your contribution to the struggle against totalitarianism.

This is why I read with interest that a few days ago you gave your first interview in three years to a TV program "Vesti Nedeli" on Russia's Channel Two. In that interview you mostly discussed the conditions in your country and your disappointment with the political process there, but you also had this to say about the current US foreign policy:
"[Over ten years ago, the US] launched an absurd project to impose democracy all over the world... The US has a strange idea of democracy - they first interfered with the Bosnian situation, bombed Yugoslavia, then Afghanistan, and then Iraq... Who is next, perhaps, Iran? ... The US must understand that democracy cannot be introduced by force, by the army."
In the past, you were certainly right about communism, now you're probably right about the state of contemporary Russia - but I'm afraid you're very wrong about the American foreign policy.

There is nothing strange about the American idea of democracy and nothing absurd about the American project to "impose" democracy all over the world. I certainly rather have people going around and introducing democracy than going around and introducing tyranny - a proposition that you, a victim of communism and a former islander of the Gulag Archipelago, would hopefully agree with.

Since you are a Russian and a son of the Orthodoxy, I can understand - though not share - your partiality towards Serbia in the Balkan wars of the 1990s. While it's true that all sides have committed atrocities in these conflicts, it was Serbia, under the leadership of that despicable opportunist, communist-turned-nationalist, Slobodan Milosevic, who was the aggressor, first against the Slovenians and the Croats, then against the Croats and Muslims of Bosnia-Hercegovina, and finally against the Muslim people of Kosovo. Milosevic's dream of the Greater Serbia has only led to an European comeback - after forty five years' absence - of concentration camps, ethnic cleansing and genocide. The fact that the Americans have finally "interfered in the Bosnian situation" and then bombed Yugoslavia over Kosovo, means that today the region is finally peaceful, reasonably stable, and that its people - including the Serbian people - can now enjoy some freedom, and yes, even democracy. Without the mainly American intervention, the slaughter would have gone on - more territory grabbed by Serbia, another few tens of thousands murdered, another few hundred thousands - or even millions - ethnically cleansed and displaced. Is this the free, post-communist world you were fighting for?

Then the United States bombed Afghanistan and Iraq - although I regret your emphasis on the means without considering the end - the freeing of some 50 million people from the tyrants and oppressors who were as vile as anything that the Soviet communism had ever spewed out in its ignoble history.

Which brings me to your broader point - that it is impossible, or in any case wrong, to try to spread democracy by force. Japan and Germany both strictly speaking prove you wrong, although we can quibble about whether democracy there was introduced or merely restored by force. More importantly, though, what happened in 1945 and afterwards shows something far more important and demonstrates that you are missing the point about what America is doing right now: the US is not imposing democracy on the end of a bayonet, it is not parachuting parliament buildings and carpet bombing with politicians -– no, it is creating some basic conditions in which democracy can grow. And the most basic condition is ending dictatorship. All the other prerequisites aside, democracy has no chance to develop while tyrants - like Saddam or Mullah Omar -– maintain a stranglehold over their people. We all wish that transition to democracy could always be peaceful - like it largely was across the Soviet empire. But your own people had to wait for over 70 years for that to happen, and mine for forty five. How long would the Iraqis and the Afghans, and how much more slow, lingering suffering could the world tolerate?

You are right, in a way, that democracy can't be imposed - that is, if the people don't want democracy, no one - not even the mighty America - can force them to embrace it. But America doesn't have to impose democracy - the people of Iraq and Afghanistan want it and are choosing it for themsleves. Now that America has removed the biggest roadblocks, the people of Iraq and Afghanistan are building that democracy by themselves, with some small assistance from foreign friends.

You might recall that in October last year millions of Afghans, and then in January this year millions of Iraqis, went to the polls, most of them for the first time in their lives. They did not do so under America's gunpoint - American GIs were not forcing people to vote - quite the opposite: people went to the poling stations under the gunpoint of terrorists who did not want them to vote. Millions chose to cast their votes risking death from the enemies of democracy.

Democracy is a process - its road is long and often uneasy, and its success in the end depends on the willingness of the majority to embrace, protect, and defend the system. I wish the people of Iraq and Afghanistan the best of luck on that journey. And in the end, all that matters is not that America wants to see democracy spread around the world, but that the Iraqis and the Afghans -– and others elsewhere -– want, and deserve, freedom and democracy just as much as the Poles and the Russians. Thanks to America's "absurd" policy, they now finally have a chance to work on that dream.

I'll leave the last words to Helen Szamuely, who a few years ago, wrote this about your attitude towards the American intervention in the Balkans:
His horror at Western interference would have been somewhat more acceptable if he had not spent many years of his exile in the United States excoriating the West for not carrying out the allied intervention in the Russian Civil War with greater effect and getting rid of the Bolsheviks. Apparently he does not think that what happened in 1918 was an unjustified interference in another country's internal affairs.
History is full of "ifs", but one of the most intriguing - and the painful ones - revolves around the question of the Allied intervention - had it been more forceful when the Bolsheviks were at their weakest, maybe the world would have been saved the horror of the Red Plague.

We did not prevent the rise of Milosevic, or Saddam, or the Taliban, but at least we were able to put a sudden stop to their reigns - and that's better than sitting back and doing nothing. And one less "if" becoming a reality.

Sincerely yours

Arthur Chrenkoff


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