Friday, April 30, 2010

Democratic Society – the Recent Utopia

Guest Editorial by Yora Atanasova,

(please click for original article in Bulgarian)

1. The Lost Illusions during the Years after 1989
2. The World in April 2010
3. What is Coming?

I have twice experienced big disillusionment in my life – with “the real socialism” and with the “real” democracy, as I grew up during the socialism, experienced the transition, and gradually realized that as far as the democracy exists it is actually imitation and fake. Maybe, I will witness the emerging failure of the Anglo-Saxon capitalism, which I rather call individualism or extreme individualism.

Today, I feel like we live in two fantasy novels at the same time: The Futurological Congress by Stanislav Lem and Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. Realization of one suggested illusion is often prelude to another bitter one, and the reality increasingly looks like the one of Big Brother.

It is still unclear what will substitute the capitalism/individualism, and what will happen with the democratic ideas. Probably, the next utopia will be another negation of the previous one still keeping some of its elements.

Perhaps, it is utopian to hope that this time, finally, on the brink of ecological disaster, various social development projects will occur in different countries, and that the most efficient of them will gradually strengthen their position in a positive competition, rather than through hot or cold wars. 


In 1989, with the end of the "real socialism" and the beginning of the transition to democracy and market economy, everything seemed clear. We believed in the democratic ideology and values. We assumed that we had finally understood the truth, and knew who was good and who was bad.

During the first years of the transition, I was a student at Sofia University, and would suck in all on social sciences from both media and newly published Western literature. I would go to the rallies of all parties and organizations in order to feel the atmosphere and their spirit. I would reinvent the new for the Bulgarian society ideas, including spiritual beliefs and God.

Not just words but a reality were democracy, human rights, freedom of speech and expression, rule of law, division of powers, transparency of the political governance, the supremacy and the lack of alternative of the market economy and capitalism, individualism, fairness of the world order, free and fair elections, independent and objective media and journalism (at least CNN and BBC), the power of civil society and NGOs, state sovereignty...

I believed that the democracy, which “may not be perfect but is the best political system ever invented“, could be achieved by those who sincerely sought it and diligently fulfilled the requirements of the most developed democracies, respectively of those organizations, which the latter led. I was happy with the successes of Bulgaria towards membership in both NATO and European Union, because we had many examples of countries that had achieved prosperity, stability and security as a result of those memberships.

Capitalist society and democracy were synonymous. The U.S. and allies sincerely wanted peace in the world and prosperity of all countries, and they sympathetically helped both emerging democracies and developing countries. They were strong, and dominated the world because of the superiority of their ideology, political and economic systems. The U.S.A.'s leaders were more reliable because they had been already rich when were elected, and the British secret services were the best in Europe. I thought that although the U.S. played the role of world's policeman, any society needed police, and we were lucky that they themselves performed the job; because of both their democratic system and internal control by the civil society they could not abuse this role. The established democracies had outgrown the disadvantages of their imperial periods.

However, gradually I started seeing increasing discrepancies between words and media suggested, on the one hand, and reality - on the other. For Bulgarians, the events associated with the disintegration of former Yugoslavia, and especially with the affirmation and identity of the newly established country FYR Macedonia was like a litmus test. First I thought the biggest problems were caused by the Serbs and some individual Western countries allies of he U.S. as a historical recurrence due to deformations of their national psychology. Gradually, I realized that it was not about individual countries but about the system.

I myself wonder in which of the above mentioned I still believe now: perhaps, in spirituality and God? I also believe in humanity, morality and solidarity as the substructure of the society; however, I learned the latter from my family, my country's culture and socialist ideology, even though I find the utopian as a whole.


The Macedonian Issue

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is like a litmus test for the actual policy and values in today's world for anyone, who is at least a little informed or get interested in and read something of the history of the Balkans. Macedonia is a vivid embodiment of the Orwellian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

As known, the country split from former Yugoslavia in 1991, and Bulgaria first recognized it. Currently, it is in involved in name dispute with Greece, and Macedonian version of history of both nation and state are disputed by both Greece and Bulgaria. Positions regarding the ethnic identity of the modern Macedonians are not very clear, and have shades, but hardly Bulgaria or Greece would deny the right of the Macedonians, as well as ones of any other people to identify themselves ethnically.

The problem is that for political reasons the Macedonians identify themselves based on falsified history, including their neighbours' one, and that is seen as hostility, provocation, irritation and sowing future conflicts. A Big Brother' sentence, which is fully true to Macedonia is that who possesses the past, they possesses the future too; who possesses the present, they possesses the past. That policy started during the former Yugoslavia, and then it was explained with the Serbian intentions to keep the Macedonians away from Bulgaria and cleave them to Serbia. However, it is going on nowadays, with some lucid moments of rapprochement between Macedonia and Bulgaria, for example at the time of the deceased Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski, who died tragically in a plane crash in 2004. By the way, there was nothing nationalistic or chauvinistic in this rapprochement from the Bulgarian side; it was in European spirit.

Any objective and honest observer could at least compare Macedonian versions / translations of historical documents and fiction with the originals, and see that "Bulgaria", "Bulgarian" and their derivatives would be replaced by „Macedonia“, „Macedonian“, etc.

If today's Macedonians want to be Macedonians and not Bulgarians or any other, nobody and nothing could stop them, even the fact that their ancestors had Bulgarian self-consciousness. What is the logic for the Macedonian leaders to care for this falsified and fake version of history instead of for the actual and real modern Macedonian identity? What is their benefit from it, especially given the dispute with Greece and barriers to Macedonian integration into NATO and the EU to which they aspire?

A more precise question, however, is why Anglo-Saxon countries, Germany and other, obviously encourage it if judging from the appearances of their officials, journalists and other citizens on Macedonian media, where they confidently explain to the Macedonians how much they are right in the dispute with Greece, and suggest they must be united and speak with one voice. The latter is often repeated by the Macedonian politicians too. Furthermore, they put tremendous pressure on Greece, even knowing that it is not that much about the name but about the Macedonian provocative and hostile interpretations of history.

At the same time, the most logical solution of Greek-Macedonian dispute is to show those falsified sources and the own historic documents and records of Britons, Americans, Germans, etc., and to suggest to the Macedonians that they can be whatever they want, but not on the basis of falsification.

Unfortunately, the logical explanation for not doing it is that the falsifications and „Macedonism“ (as in Bulgaria they call the Macedonian aggressive nationalism based on fake history and crooked historical interpretations hostile to the neighbours) are necessary for the above mentioned big countries themselves, and serve their (geo)political interests. In our country it is believed that the Macedonian nation was created by the Comintern in the 40s of the last century, with the participation of Bulgarian communists. However, given that the official Macedonian language is written up by Americans, and the latter's more than controversial policy today, I wonder if it really happened that way.

Another paradox is that the media in Bulgaria do not show all this to the Bulgarians. While the Bulgarians as a whole know very well their history, and are aggrieved at and disappointed by the Macedonism, they are not aware of the attitude of their new allies on the Macedonian dispute, and therefore remain very positive about them.

Where are the correctives?

The democratic ideas still sound to me beautiful and attractive, but today's reality makes me doubt in their practical feasibility. If there was democracy some time in the past, where is it today, when every election is manipulated by controlling public opinion and moods, at the same time formally declaring it as fair? In such case, of course, it is hard to speak about independent media, journalism and freedom of thought and speech. Could we suppose that during the past decades of democratic blossoming, the democracy was largely been only words, but then the Cold War and rivalry with the Soviet bloc and communism were to blame? Or maybe, there was more democracy, due to both fear of infiltration of communist influence and deterrent effect of the antagonist camp?

In the last century, the prosperity of the Western democracies was probably achieved thanks to pluralism, dualism, and if using a market term, to the absence of monopoly. It coincided, and largely is due to the existence of the Soviet Union and Soviet camp of countries, which formed a second pole. Two opposite poles, it is a normal and stable condition in the nature. When one of the poles dropped out, the other pole not only lost much of its motivation to have more acceptable for the people image, and really be better, but many of its shortcomings hypertrophied. Monopoly in politics proved as dangerous and harmful to ordinary people as the economic monopoly was. The democracy, the democratic society, the civil society, the political parties – each of those proved to be powerless as internal corrective.

So the most powerful countries and ruling circles were able to set whatever aims they want (or to pursue old ones), and use any means they could wish in order to achieve them, without anyone controlling them and being capable to stop them, and even without public understanding of what they actually were doing. While it is not inconceivable to suppose that once upon a time the rulers would think exactly what they would say, and there was less hypocrisy in the public space, nowadays, the words apparently only serve to conceal the real intentions and goals.

Besides the absence of equally powerful rival as a corrective, the development of ICT and psychology, respectively the techniques for mass influence, also contributed to that state.

Kingdom of individualism

A little over a hundred years ago, in his book To Chicago and Backwards , the Bulgarian writer Aleko Konstantinov quoted the words of a Serbian immigrant in the U.S. that "dough is the queen“. However, in my opinion, the capitalism is a kingdom of the individualism. Money give much more individual freedom, enable the individual to be less dependent on a community and its norms, as well as on society and place, and therefore make them less accountable to others and less moral. "Money do not smell"; they not just allow a person to get almost everything they need, anywhere in the world, but also to influence people and institutions. Even if they might have been acquired in a queer manner inconsistent with our ideals of good and morality, they are capable of providing an image of integrity.

The real rulers, the "world rulers", people with the money, influence and power are seeking for global governance through the leading countries. They may not necessarily be politicians; for the politicians it is just important to be good executors and public faces. Of course, as it is known that the U.S. presidents are usually wealthy people, emanating from a few family clans. The country of the unlimited opportunities is really such one for a particular range of people.

The right place for every rich man, who wants to become wealthier and has global ambitions is in those societies. The immigrants possessing lots of money are welcome there. The society as a whole also benefits, getting high life standard, which maintains the loyalty and attachment of the ordinary people, in addition to the normal human instincts of belonging to a community – yet no individual can be a lonely island, even though the British would say that about themselves by way of a joke.

Countries such as England and the U.S. prosper by attracting, in one or another way, of wealth – capital, natural and other resources, "brains", and also through exporting their problems. For example, in recent decades, they export their environmental problems, respectively nature polluting industries.

Aggressiveness and false positivity

Aggressiveness is considered a good thing in the U.S. It is obvious in popular culture and films, and also I have heard it from an American Methodist pastor. I thought that actually the Americans meant activity and vigour, but later realized that they speaked literally. Being aggressive means to be a fighter, to attack your competitors, to weaken them in order to achieve success yourself. Meanwhile, this is something quite different from the Bulgarian culture, where people tend to wish on holidays "to be better", or torment themselves on different unfortunate occasions that they are not good enough.

Perhaps, the history of aggressiveness can be traced back at least to the dawn of capitalism, when the British Empire managed to benefit from the higher aggressiveness of some of its nationals, benefited by sending prisoners away to America and Australia and by allowing the adventurers and rebels to travel overseas and conquer distant lands.

Both aggression and exploitation are the way of survival of those societies. At the same time, today's Anglo-Saxon cultures consider themselves positively inclined, and have built a positivist image. They are considered optimistic, seeking opportunities above all and believing in ultimate success. However, is that positivity true: while seeing and looking for opportunities for yourself, preventing others from doing the same? It is rather destructiveness.

In this sense, the criticisms of the former communists that the capitalist system was exploitative and imperialistic were reasonable. It is another issue that the political alternative proposed by the former and being realized for some time, was not good and collapsed.

Managing the public opinion and the public mood

Perhaps, all the rulers of all times dreamed of what today's rulers have achieved through the media, ICT and psychological techniques. In the past, they applied only physical violence but today they mainly rely on the more sophisticated methods.

The world rulers can control the mass consciousness in order to achieve their desired election outcomes, be it political or even cultural elections such as the "Eurovision Song Contest" (again for political purposes). The way they do it is similar to that in which consumers' preferences and mood are moulded by the marketing.

The mental picture in our minds about the world we live in is a target of influence and modelling. For example, the media suggested ideas about the allocation of political forces or rival camps are not reliable because some already subject countries may be presented as opponents just for the sake of convenience, and then put in different scenarios similar to "good and bad cop". How would any country agree to be treated that way? Unfortunately, today, each country can be conquered through a series of (pre-)election manipulations resulting with electing puppet politicians, who hold "reforms" until the key positions are occupied by their people. It seems to be a dangerous new virus, with which the societies have not faced in such a scale so far, and against which they do not have immunity.

The world rulers act globally, not recognizing borders and state sovereignty. They apply it to both countries proclaimed as undemocratic and evil and "friend" countries either new allies from the former Soviet bloc or ones of long standing from "Old Europe"; the small and weak countries, and the big developed countries which were once "great powers" may be equally hit. "England has no friends but has interests” is an old-time sentence.

With regard to enemies such interventions will be justified with imposing democracy and human rights, while in the case of "allies" - with corruption, breaking some rules ... even being unlikable. Regarding the latter I mean Bulgaria, as it is not hard to notice that the media in different countries keep on publishing negative and tendentious articles about Bulgaria as it happened during the Cold War, at the same time skipping the good things. Bulgarians blame themselves for their poor image, but perhaps there are major political interests and objectives behind it. And we are certainly not worse than the others, so that is pure discrimination, indiscernible from racial one, anti-Semitism "or any other.

Technical societies

It seems that the world rulers are not very interested in philosophy and philosophical issues. They are practical and pragmatic, but above all their philosophy is 'I want', and both social engineering and sciences are to just give them the technology and techniques for achieving the desired. I think if, figuratively speaking, Jesus went down to them, they would be only interested in acquiring his skills and techniques and applying them. Of course, after making sure he does not threat them (otherwise, a similar to "Star Wars" scenario will be activated), and trying to subject him, and treat him as a laboratory exemplar.

Ordinary people's wishes can not interfere with and impede the rulers' ones. Maybe, this is why the primary instincts are encouraged in the individualistic societies. Normally, any society has restrictions and taboos, and it is hard to believe it is just about mass culture and individual freedoms. More likely, the goal is eccentricity, sexual lawlessness, alcohol and addictions to be taken up as freedoms, so distracting people from thinking of their true freedoms. People are encouraged, openly or not, through advertisements and mass culture, to harm their health through hazardous sex, alcohol, smoking and drugs, and afterward they themselves and society pay a lot of money for treatment, which certainly is also financially beneficial for variety of industries, including pharmaceutics.

Environmental short-sightedness

Nature is treated in the same way as society - as a resource for achieving small group of people's individual and corporate goals as well as for fulfilling their limitless opportunities. Individualistic societies are unable to deal with the environmental problems likewise the way they are powerless in the social sphere. However, while in the social sphere it could be balanced somehow by the abundance of wealth concentrated from and on account of the world, in terms of ecology it can not happen.

Today's environment shows the failure of the dominant Anglo-Saxon capitalism. Unlike the humans and societies, the nature can not be manipulated and exploited endlessly. The mankind reached the limit and began to realize it. Unlike worms, which corrode an apple, we have no where to shelter afterwards, including the rulers with unlimited opportunities. It is not know if ever and when people will be able to leave the Earth and colonize other planets or objects in space.

The leading countries and politicians try to take the initiative here too, but their approach is clearly limited to enlightenment, i.e. alert about the situation and danger. At the same time, there still are powerful economic interests that oppose the actions addressing environmental problems. The environmental objectives, set in various documents and at different forums, are either regarded as insufficiently ambitious or can not be agreed. However, even if they were agreed, their feasibility would be doubtful since the sustainable development requires a life philosophy differing from both individualism and consumerism. Unfortunately, Europe, the European Union, the leading European countries and increasing number of other have got into, softly speaking, Anglo-Saxon influence, and therefore are moving away from the sustainable development.


Negation and replacement of the leading concepts and lifestyles

There will be disappointment in the now dominant views associated with capitalism / individualism and perhaps democracy, which will lead to their denial and replacement in accordance with the development spiral known from the Hegelian dialectic. It means not only a negation of the theory, but also of its practical dimensions in living, including both current world leadership and related relations and organizations.

It is yet not known which will be the new dominant concept, and who will be its carriers. It may be related to ecology, since the environmental problems are becoming far more acute, and will inevitably stand in the centre of attention, while the systemic failure of the leading individualist societies and their leaders to deal with them will be tangibly felt by the world. The strength and sharpness of the resistance to this leadership change will probably depend on the severity of the problems, as well as on whether the way for expansion and new space colonization will be found. In the latter case, the ruling circles would rather treat the Earth as a rotten apple, and would search for a egoistic salvation.

It is not excluded that the current trend of global total control and manipulation will continue, but getting regional, nationalistic or other similar dimensions, particularly given that the current opposition to the global Big Brother, which has retained some potential and capacity for organized resistance, including appropriate psychological attitude of the population, can not be described as democratic. However, the presence of many totalitarian centres would still be pluralism, and hence could result in positive long term developments.

Dealing with the Big-Brotherhood

The Big-Brotherhood problem is not due to the revolutionary technological development, which has occurred for the recent decades, respectively ICT methods and techniques for psychological impact. George Orwell created that image in his novel shortly after the World War II, as opposition to the totalitarianism and propaganda at that time, when there was just radio and cinema, and the boom in the development of psychology was forthcoming. But the technological development made the Big-Brotherhood more sophisticated and raised it to a new level.

I hope that the use of ICT and psychological techniques by the rulers for control and manipulation of both individuals and communities will be overcome. It could happen by using the same means, for example development and distribution of such ICT, which are aimed at protecting the personal privacy and freedom. Possibly, the world rulers' skills for implementation of ICT and psychological impact techniques will gradually be acquired and used by a number of centres of power. However, people and societies will gradually learn to recognize them and not succumb. The Big-Brotherhood problem now swept under the rug purposefully (by the rulers) or because of reluctance and fear will gradually be recognized and evaluated as priority.

It is also possible, even though may sound fantastic hat the psychology, communication, interaction between the people in society will develop in new directions of more transparency and sharing both life and thoughts with each other.

Triad Individualism-Sociality-Environmentalism

The human aggression, love of power and greed that underlie today's problems are so inherent to the human as the socials instincts and the need for community, belonging and cooperation are. In recent history, for the first time individual and social dimensions of the human have formed a leading duo and unity and struggle of opposites, a thesis and antithesis. Indeed, individualism appeared along with the capitalist system. While the individualism / capitalism, which preceded the socialism and sent it history (or at least its most radical and organized carriers) seemed triumphant winner in the late 80's and early 90's of the last century, it now appears to be one-sided and insufficient by itself.

In this sense, there will probably be return and strengthening of the social, communal elements and more close monitoring on those individuals and groups of “world rulers”, who now have enormous and uncontrolled power. The new socialism / sociality will certainly differ from the Soviet one, and will rather express itself as attachment to community, more cooperation and responsibility to the society. The latter will differ from the "social responsibility" which, like the ever popular "Glasnost" only depends on the goodwill; it will then be both an obligation and value.

Environmentalism will join the current duo individualism-socialism. And maybe exactly from the former will come the strongest impetus for change and shifting power from the individualism. The question is whether it will be too late.

If we lean on the experience, the environmental problems will continue to be swept under the rug, because of both resistance of the individualism and existing powerful economic interests, and their influence on the public consciousness on one hand, and due to the psychological denial from the society on another hand. This will go on until many people feel the environmental problems really acutely, and the latter become environmental cataclysms. Otherwise, even now there are many indicators of climate change, as well as voices predicting a pending catastrophe within one or more decades, but people are too busy with the problems in the 'individual-society' duo.

It is obvious that the leaders of individualistic societies are trying to play a leading role in relation to ecology too. However, they can hardly be successful, because coping with these problems requires a different philosophy including rejection of consumerism. Because of their impotence in this regard, they would possibly resort to imitation of change, and thereby will delay and make it more difficult to find proper environmental solutions.

I wish to believe that alternative projects with efficient environmental aspects will appear before the ecological disaster, and will prevent it. We can only speculate whether they will include the good old statehood and nationalism, which currently seems to be the only hope for correction of the global individualism and Big-Brotherhood.

If we survive, ideal would be to have a balance between individualism, sociality and environmentalism. Of course, every ideal is utopian, and even if pursued it can never be fully achieved. Since two poles are a normal and stable condition in the nature, it is likely to have a new grouping in pairs in the triad individualism-sociality-environmentalism. It may be a variation of our historically familiar duos society-nature (from the early stages of development of the homo sapience). It is even possible that if the environmental disaster is avoided a new duo individualism-environmentalism will make first appearance. However, I suppose that individualism will have previously undergone transformation and catharsis, and above all, will have dismissed the consumerism and Big-Brotherhood. Anyway, the next duo will most likely include sociality, either as a transition or as a permanent condition.

If the individualism and the socialism are two opposite extremes of the same thing, we could maybe expect their convergence (synthesis) in a more distant future. Then probably, a third element will be clearly outlined and ready to join the duo. It may be the spirituality and what is now associated with divinity. Or it could appear from the technology.

In conclusion, these thoughts of mine may be familiar to someone, look like an attempt at fiction a la Orwell to others, or as madness for third. Anyway, I hope that they will still lead anyone to think and at least sometimes try to perceive the media news from this point of view.

(please click for original article in Bulgarian)

Article by:
Yora Atanasova