Argentina: Another 'Cracked' Democracy?

Unless Argentina finds the right leaders to undertake crucial reforms of the state and public life, it may face mass anger and democratic degradation seen elsewhere.

Argentina risks going down the same road as many modern democracies
Argentina risks going down the same road as many modern democracies
Luis Tonelli


BUENOS AIRES — In the 1980s, Italian political analyst Leonardo Morlino summarized the nature of the third wave of democratization in the title of his article, From Crisis of Democracy to Crisis in Democracy. The problems, he wrote, which had previously led to the collapse of the democratic order and its replacement with a dictatorship, would now be processed through normal, institutional proceedings.

Morlino's affirmation was thankfully proven right in the long term: Even profound crises like the one that struck Argentina in 2001 did not pose a challenge to democracy and were resolved within the democratic institutions.

Even if crises now happen within democracies, the essential powerlessness of democratic governments — increasingly cut off from the problems affecting ordinary people, and the solutions they are demanding — remains exposed. This is producing disaffection and conflict.

The essential powerlessness of democratic governments remains exposed.

The evident manifestation of this discontent is the intense polarization affecting most political systems in Western societies. The rift is not just Argentine: all democracies have "cracked". Politics has apparently become the rivalry of those who trust technocratic governments, with their formality and superficial courtesy and represented by leaders like Justin Trudeau or Emmanuel Macron, and those seemingly submitting to parodies of the national savior like Trump or Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro. It is no trivial division: When you believe that your doctor is useless, you seek a witch-doctor.

In Argentina, two failed dreams appear to strengthen each other in a vicious circle and downward spiral. On the one hand, new information technologies are creating expectations of direct relations between rulers and the ruled. There are suggestions democracy could work without its "political games' and the "hindrance" of parties that only seek power, or trade unions that merely serve to fatten their members. That might work somehow when things are going well, but not when they turn awry and sour, and we need a figurehead to govern with restricted resources.

After every crisis, we hope for a growth that turns into development, but suddenly everything collapses again before the recurrence of problems that are chronic in nature. This is a society whose productive abilities lag considerably behind its demands.

This cocktail of cycles of parties and hangovers and resulting anti-political tendencies is like an acid bath Argentina will not step out of. We are bereft of responsible actors we can count on to undertake necessary structural reforms — which cannot be replaced with social networks, big data or political marketing, nor by the usual "inspired" figures.

The result is the "slow death" of democracy, which is increasingly reduced to elections, with large areas beyond its scope and authority. These are the "brown zones' the late academic Guillermo O'Donnell warned of a good while ago. They constitute the real Inverse State, which provides not public goods but public ills, and is the inevitable other side of the coin in a black-market society. Its legalistic tip merely conceals a vast mass of acts and interests floating on the margins of the law.

Without transforming our anachronistic social, political and economic structures to face the turbulent challenges of the global world, we shall remain stuck at our bottleneck.

Thus amid an economic crisis, we find ourselves before key elections to choose the path to solve the country's problems. Unfortunately, these polls are increasingly looking like a de-election — wherein we discard those we definitively do not want as president. As if a multiple-choice of useless elements could somehow, miraculously, yield nothing less than the democratic government fit to run our society.

We shall remain stuck at our bottleneck.

The first government led by President Mauricio Macri of the Let's Change party ostensibly understood that its coming to power signified a promise to change the political culture. Reality soon disproved such ingenuity. On the back of its meager achievements, the presidential camp is now proposing not just a Macri government, but a Let's Change government whose institutional mass will make a deal with opposition forces possible in order to carry out reforms. Thus, a coalition government able to carry out reforms that are crucial to the country. There is no new and old politics, but good and bad politics. And the good politics today is the one that paves the way for necessary changes.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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