“Liberal democracies” vs. “authoritarian regimes”?

Propaganda clichés do not contribute to international understanding

by Karl-Jürgen Müller

More than 100 years ago, on 2 April 1917, the US President Woodrow Wilson approached the US Congress, requesting it to agree to American troops going to war in Europe. “Freedom must be defended, and democracies must be protected,” the German Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung [Federal Agency for Civic Education] paraphrased the president’s speech in 2017.1 Both the Senate and the House of Representatives agreed by majority vote. Four days later, on 6 April, the US declared war on the German Empire. “Defending freedom and protecting democracies” – that sounds topical. Today the formula is: The “liberal democracies” must stand together against the “authoritarian regimes” of the world. What to make of this?

More than 100 years ago, when the USA entered World War I, the US president’s formulation had little to do with reality. An important ally of the USA in the war against the Central Powers was Tsarist Russia. Although there had been an uprising against the Tsar’s autocracy in February 1917 (the so-called February Revolution), even now – the country was still at war – there was no question of democracy and freedom. Great Britain and France, the main allies of the USA, were the biggest colonial powers of their time. Freedom and democracy did not exist in the colonies of either country. The USA itself had also become a colonial power in 1898. The inhabitants of the US colonies in the Caribbean and the Pacific were also given neither freedom nor democracy.
  The US president’s justification for the war was, however, another example of a long-standing tradition of portraying oneself as “good” and the enemy as “evil”. Why are people always receptive to such simple contrasts? They have little to do with reality. The actual reasons for the US entering the war in 1917 were also different.

Legal standards

Wouldn’t it make more sense to orientate on legal standards based on natural law, which the states have agree on and which leave room for the peoples’ right to self-determination? Law should also be based on social ethical considerations. Hence the foundation in natural law. And indeed, many regulations of international law, for example, can be traced back to such social-ethical considerations.2 Just think of the United Nations Charter of 1945 or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. It is certain that there is no state in the world that could not improve in this respect. It would be ideal if, in the process, states also constructively supported each other within the framework of good international relations and resolved their conflicts exclusively by negotiations.

Who has broken international law?

The past decades have shown, however, that in particular the binding force of law in international relations has suffered greatly. And one must add that those states which have committed substantial breaches of law in the process were the USA and other member states of NATO, states that today supposedly have stepped up to defend freedom and to protect democracy. In addition, breaking the law in international relations, for example waging a war of aggression in violation of international law, also has negative consequences for the freedom and democracy within a state. A policy of confrontation shuns freedom and democracy. It is therefore not surprising that the German party Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, striving for power in Germany, has now dropped its long-standing demand for more direct democracy and referendums.3 The word “referendum” also no longer appears in the programme for the coming Bundestag elections.
  The interim result is that the formula that in future a “community of values” – another propaganda formula – made up of “liberal democracies” must defend itself against increasingly brazen “authoritarian regimes” has little to do with reality.
  What is it about then?

Accusations and content

A view at how some powerful states in the EU are dealing with the EU country Hungary and its government gives a first clue. Hungary’s government is accused of no longer respecting the foundations of the EU “community of values”, of breaking with the rule of law, of being illiberal and its prime minister of being corrupt.
  On 19 June 2021, at a conference in Budapest, this prime minister gave a remarkable speech (“Thirty Years of Freedom”) that has not been mentioned in the media of the “liberal democracies”,4 which should be widely discussed. Among other things, he formulated theses on the state of the EU (see also box), which state: “Our first thesis is that we are racing towards an imperial European Union. Instead of a Europe of nations, in Brussels we see the construction of a European superstate, for which no one has given a mandate. […]. Our second thesis is that today Brussels is being directed by those who see integration not as a means, but as an end: an end for its own sake. This is why they want to override all national interests and traditional values. […] Our third thesis is that Brussels has outsourced a considerable amount of its power, channelling it to networks organised and controlled from outside Europe – primarily to the Soros networks and the interests of the US Democrats which stand behind them.”

When you do not like to hear something…

Those setting the tone in the EU do not like to hear such things. Just as those in charge in the USA and in the other NATO states did not like to hear what the Russian President had to say about the geopolitics of the USA and NATO at the Security Conference in Munich in 2007. The list could be extended arbitrarily. One could also say that, when confronted with considerations they do not like to hear, many of those responsible tend to attack with polemics instead of dealing with the content of such statements. At best, the statements themselves are denounced with the label “conspiracy theories”. Or they are considered as part of foreign (for example Russian) hybrid warfare and disinformation. How liberal and democratic is that?

… disrupting the political agenda

There are usually power-political goals behind such defensive reflexes. This is particularly true of the current relations between the “liberal democracies” of the NATO states and the “authoritarian regimes” in Russia and China. It makes no sense at all to keep reviewing and correcting the countless accusations against these two states or to put into context. New accusations are constantly being conjured out of the hat – until better relations are on the agenda again. To put it differently and more pointedly: The poor state of relations between the “liberal democracies” and Russia and China is less the result of what these two countries are accused of than the other way round: as long as those responsible in the “liberal democracies” want to worsen relations with Russia and China, there will always be new accusations.
  Such constructs do not contribute to international understanding.  •

1https://www.bpb.de/politik/hintergrund-aktuell/245922/kriegseintritt-der-usa of 4 April 2017. Wilson stated literally: “The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty.” (source: https://www.ourdocuments.gov/print_friendly.php?flash=false&page=transcript&doc=61&title=Transcript+of+Joint+Address+to+Congress+Leading+to+a+Declaration+of+War+Against+Germany+%281917%29)
2 cf. e.g. Sutor, Bernhard. Politische Ethik. Gesamtdarstellung auf der Basis der Christlichen Gesellschaftslehre, Paderborn 1992, p. 266ff.
3 cf. https://www.mehr-demokratie.de/presse/einzelansicht-pms/gruener-parteitag-streicht-direkte-demokratie-aus-programm/ of 22 November 2020
  Conversely, this means that the promotion of a democratic, especially direct-democratic political culture is a very essential contribution to securing peace. One person who pointed out these connections immediately after the Second World War and promoted the cooperative, federal model with its centre of communal freedom everywhere in post-war Europe was the Swiss historian Alfred Gasser. His book “Gemeindefreiheit als Rettung Europas” (Communal Freedom as the Salvation of Europe), published in the first edition in autumn 1943, is still worth reading today. In the chapter “Gemeindefreiheit und Völkerfrieden” (2nd edition 1946, p. 243ff.) on page 244 one can read the significant sentence: “All communal-federal democracies of the present day, built from the bottom up, are characterised by a non-militaristic popular attitude.”
4https://berlin.mfa.gov.hu/assets/96/90/24/149dc45817f01882280dacd72bc2f2966bf1854d.pdf of 19 June 2021; on 5 July, the government of Hungary placed an advertisement in the German Bild newspaper to explain its position on the EU to the public outside its own country; on 2 July 2021, a coalition of 16 parties from 15 EU states had adopted a “Declaration for the Future of Europe” which took up numerous ideas from Viktor Orbán’s speech. However, this declaration then caused numerous negative headlines.

“We are racing towards an imperial European Union”

Extracts* from a speech of the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán on the conference “Thirty Years of Freedom” in Budapest on 19 June 2021

“Our first thesis is that we are racing towards an imperial European Union. Instead of a Europe of nations, in Brussels we see the construction of a European superstate, for which no one has given a mandate. There is no such thing as a European demos: there are only nations. And without a demos, it is impossible to build a democracy; therefore the construction of the Brussels empire is necessarily leading to a democratic deficit. We want something utterly different: we want a democracy of democracies, the basis of which is formed by the nations of Europe. Let us not be afraid to say this out loud: we democrats, who stand on national foundations, are confronting the empire builders – who are also, in fact, the opponents of democracy.
  Our second thesis is that today Brussels is being directed by those who see integration not as a means, but as an end: an end for its own sake. This is why they want to override all national interests and traditional values. Rather than hindering this ambition, the EU’s legal system and institutions are promoting it. This is why our political opponents are striving to weaken the natural communities that form the very foundations of European culture: they are targeting the nation, regions, Christian and Jewish communities of faith, and families. This is why the Hungarian government says that the phrase “an ever closer union” must be struck from the text of the Treaties of the EU at the first available opportunity.
  Our third thesis is that Brussels has outsourced a considerable amount of its power, channelling it to networks organised and controlled from outside Europe – primarily to the Soros networks and the interests of the US Democrats which stand behind them. This has happened in the following way. As a first step, the Commission was shifted away from the politically impartial position of “Guardian of the Treaties”, and was transformed into a political body. This did not begin in secret, but with a public announcement by President Juncker. Incidentally, this is why the British and the Hungarians did not support Mr Juncker’s election as President of the Commission – and this is also what eventually led to Brexit. The second step was that the Commission – now transformed into a political body – decided to prepare “rule of law reports” on the Member States of the EU. These country reports, however, are not compiled on the basis of the opinions, documents or factual statements of the Member States: this work is outsourced to NGOs, fake civil-society organisations operating in the Member States. In reality these are political organisations which typically, almost without exception, belong to George Soros’s transcontinental network – something which they themselves do not deny. The third step is that, on the basis of these data services and opinions, the democratically elected governments of Member States are evaluated, and there are even attempts to punish those which do not meet with approval. This is an abuse of power, the power which the Member States have granted to the Commission. […]
  Our fifth thesis is that the next decade will be a period of dangerous challenges: mass migration, infectious disease and pandemics. It is in this dangerous era that we must create security and be successful in the world economy. Restoring European democracy is a precondition for success. Therefore, in the interest of protecting the national and constitutional identities of Member States, a new institution must be created, with the involvement of the constitutional courts of the Member States.
  Our sixth thesis is that, in terms of European democracy, the European Parliament has proved to be a dead end. It only represents its own party, ideological and institutional interests. Rather than adding to the European Union’s strength, it diminishes that strength. We must therefore significantly increase the role of national parliaments: nations’ legislatures should send representatives to the European Parliament, based on the model of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. In addition to this, national parliaments must be given the right to halt the EU’s legislative process if they believe that it undermines national powers; in other words, a “red card” system must be introduced.”

* You can find the complete speech in its official English translation here: https://www.klaus.cz/clanky/4772

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