Monday, February 4, 2008

Democratic centralism - nurturing culture of irresponsibility

I want to argue that among central problems in Latvia is the Leninist tradition of democratic centralism. While being elected in the Salaspils town council and analyzing speeches and internal debates of Latvian parties I have come to conclusion, that Leninist apects are still very much alive and nurture the governance culture of irresponsibility. Instead of clear cut divisions between right or left, liberal or conservative policies Soviet educated politicians aspire to achieve the majority consensus with Leninist means.

It means that only limited discussions about policy differeces are tolerated in most town councils and parliamentary committees. Decisions are usually made in a narrow circle of party leadership without consulting the party members. Parliamentary debates that would allow to follow policy differences according to ideological lines do not take place in principle. It means that ideological differences in policy areas are not really contested, because nobody wants to find him/herself disfavoured by party elite, maire of the city or the minister. It means that instead of looking for the best possible solution for the problem the majority consensus must be found favouring very much the patriarchal minister, maire of the city or party leader. Dissent is not tolerated and considered as deviance from traditionally accepted norms [even the name for local council head [pagastvecis] reminds one of traditional patriarchy].

While the whole political system depends on the arbitrary will of the "governor" it slowly stagnates and promotes the culture of irresponsibility. My father loves to describe such system of irresponsibility by an old prowerb: "if they[governors] think that they are paying me, let them think that I am also working for them"). Thus, young members of the party are promoted not acording to their merits but subservience instead. And when someone dares questioning the authority of the "governor" he or she is stigmatized.

The method of democratic centralism in governing the party & state stems from V.I. Lenin and interestingly enough it is very much alive in post-Soviet Latvia. The democratic aspect of this method describes the freedom of members of the political party to discuss and debate matters of policy, but once the decision of the party is made by majority vote, all members are expected to uphold that decision. This latter aspect represents the centralism, but Lenin never really discussed problems stemming from policy proposals, because he never questioned his own omniscience. As Lenin described it, democratic centralism consisted of "freedom of discussion, unity of action".(Lenin, V. (1906), Report on the Unity Congress of the R.S.D.L.P.), but he never asked the question - who initiates and forms agenda setting for discussion!?

Very much following the Lenininist method present leaders of Latvian political elite believe that they are omniscient, thus they do not see whether they are provided with correct or false information. Because within parties and government, not merits but subservience is honoured, "Latvian governors" continue living in self - made and promoted power bubble, and consider the information as nuisance when it comes from the Western partners, NGO's or civil society at large.

Only external pressure is able to change such system, because willingly the ruling clique would not give up their welfare even if it should bring the whole state collapsing with them. I guess that such iresponsible playing of Russian rulette have probably made some parliamentary members cautious, and that caused the frictions in opposition parties [JL&TB/LNNK MEP's] to erupt thus forcefully.

In the meantime reports today that work of the newly founded Ombudsman office was gruesome but very rich last year. Latvian Ombudsman Romāns Apsītis realized that the state still has a lot to do in order to make Latvian people to understand that also they have their basic rights. Only last year Ombudsman office (Tiesībsarga birojs) was flooded with 5122 petitions. Greatest areas of concern were rights to have a living space (661), rights on fair and due trial (576), good governance issues (441), demand to receive the information from the administration (407), rights on social welfare(335), and finally discrimination (304 ), torture(298),rights on freedom of movement(295), and rights on private property (287). Ombudsman has participated in 98 public events, workshops and seminars, and it shows that citzen's rights issues are still on agenda in Latvia, and only last year every third day of the year Ombudsman ofice had to lecture somwhere to someone in Latvia about their basic rights.

While Estonians and Lithuanians, for example, have their Ombudsman ofice since 1992 and 1994 respectively, Latvian office is in operation since January 2007. Changes in this corruption infected country are slow, but finally they have taken place thus it is possible to pay attention to the real contest between different policy issue areas.

For fostered change and cleaning up of the system there is a dire need for younger generation coming into politics. If they are not going to come, and that is a concern also for the incumbent PM Godmanis, I am afraid soon there will serious questions about sustainability of the sovereign statehood here.

For younger generation to come into Latvian politics PM must follow the omenous inscription above his seat in the cabinet of ministers["nobody is above the law"], and he could start by making a symbolic act. Mr Godmanis could ask his Transport Supremo [A. Šlesers] to take a full responsibility and resign from his office! You may ask why? Because Latvian Post Plc. is mismanaged [the misuse of funds (10mlj. lats) is investigated], State Audit Office discovered misuse of funds developing transit system on Russian-Latvian border [State Auditor Ms Ingūna Sudraba is bringing this case probably to court], and not only Latvian built roads but also roadsigns are the most expensive in Europe [it was noticed and reiterated also by the Latvian president in his 18.11.2007 speech]. If the incumbent PM would not have guts for such a "symbolic gesture", then it would be the confirmation about his utterances in his latest interview [Rīgas Laiks], saying, that it was Transport supremo who asked him [Ivars Godmanis] to go after the PM position...

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