The street is no place for constitutional democracy
Archived Articles 23 Apr 2009  EWR
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Andres Herkel

The week-long protests in Moldova and Georgia - the latter in particular - should compel us to ask hard questions about the substance and aims of street politics. Even a cursory glance tells us that there is a world of difference between these protests and Estonia's Singing Revolution and their multihued brethren. Back then and in movements such as the Orange Revolution, people were protesting against illegitimate powers or stolen elections, but what is the target now?

Georgians are simply calling for the president to resign. In Moldova, the bone of contention is the recent election results. Very well - in Moldova at least a recount can be held, and thus the question hanging in the balance is whether the communists will be able to elect the president in parliament from their own ranks, or whether they will fall one vote short. In Georgia, the issue does not rest on votes or the elections, as the last elections are long past and there is plenty of time until the new ones.

Mass demonstrations can help countries on to the path of democracy, if the old regime is in spiritual and moral decay. But imagine if the Singing Revolution in Estonia had been followed by additional political shifts supported by large popular gatherings. Where would we be then? In the European Union? More than doubtful. In the Republic of Estonia? Perhaps, but even that is no certainty.

Popular movements and street-level protests may result in changes - after an occupation that has lasted half a century. But if such tactics begin to be employed as a universal method for regime change, something is out of whack. In a democracy, a change of government occurs through free and fair elections. Â If elections were clearly stolen, then there is a burden of proof. If people are discontent with their president, then they must either wait until the next elections or resort to parliamentary action.

I must say I am very surprised by Nino Burjanadze. For years she was seen as the one person who could, in an opposition role, become a balancing force between the impetuous president Saakashvili and an overly radical opposition. But now it is former speaker of parliament Burjanadze who says that dialogue is impossible and that politics must remain out on the street. Former Georgian Ambassador to the UN Irakli Alasania is more open to dialogue. The actual parliamentary opposition represented by the Christian Democrats has refrained from any support for the politics of the street.

The situation is more complicated in Moldova. The young people who attacked the government buildings in Chisinau would leave a more credible impression if they had served as election-day observers, doing the kind of work that was done in Georgia prior to the Rose Revolution. Each ballot was recorded, and at the end of the day it was known how many slips were cast in a given precinct, and this made the fraud obvious. But no such effort was mounted in Moldova. Why? Now there is a choice: politics of the street, a constitutional crisis (which will not be resolved by new elections, either) or a political dialogue.

Anyone who thinks that Estonia (or some other country) should support a specific party or specific politician in transition countries, is in error. It is not at all a good idea to compartmentalize the political landscape of other countries, viewing the "colour-coded" revolutionaries Saakashvili and Yushchenko as good to the core and the others as "bad". Neither is it a good idea to think that anyone who organizes a demonstration or issues an incitation to civil disobedience is a noble flagship of freedom of speech and a bard of freedom.

Estonia must support the democratic process and free societies. Naturally we can use development aid to support the governments of both Georgia and Moldova. This sort of cooperation will continue on condition that a change in government can take place as a result of free and fair elections.

Street riots cannot be the mechanism for such change. It should also be borne in mind that Russian interests play a role in both countries and that internal unrest can be exploited for unsavoury purposes.

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