Account for the “Failure of Democracy” in Eastern Europe (Excluding the Ussr) in the Period 1918-1939.

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Account for the “failure of democracy” in Eastern Europe (excluding the USSR) in the period 1918-1939.

According to Robert A. Dahl, there are certain criteria that a government must meet for it to be called a democracy. Democracy must provide first of all, opportunities for effective participation, where all members of an association concerned with a certain policy ‘must have equal and effective opportunities for making their views known to the other members as to what the policy should be’ (Dahl R.A.: 2000). A second criterion is equality in voting, whereby ‘every member must have an equal and effective opportunity to vote, and all votes must be counted as equal’, followed by gaining enlightened understanding, meaning that each member must have the opportunity to learn about alternative solutions and policies. The last two criteria are the opportunities of exercising control over the agenda (the opportunity for the members to decide ‘how and, if they choose, what matters are to be placed on the agenda’ (Dahl R.A.: 2000) and the inclusion of adults, who should have the full citizen rights implied by the first four criteria. Failure of democracy is therefore to be regarded as an incapability of the ruling elite to provide the society with one or more of the previous opportunities for fairness and equality in government and choice. It is a phenomenon which occurred in many parts of the world in the beginning of the XX century – in the form of authoritarian or totalitarian regimes. One of the most affected regions was Eastern Europe. Up to 1918 most of Eastern Europe had been dominated by supranational empires for centuries. The collapse of the Habsburg and Ottoman empires brought for the first time the idea of an Eastern Europe ruled democratically, with state boundaries corresponding to ethnic ones, and the right of people to choose their country’s government. With the end of the First World War, there were signed pacts which determined the borders of the newly formed independent states of Eastern Europe. The treaties of Versailles (28 June 1919), Saint-Germain (10 September 1919), Neuilly (27 November 1919), Trianon (4 June 1920), Sèvres (20 August 1920) and, later on, Lausanne (24 July 1923), “aimed to draw the new state boundaries to fit the existing distribution of populations rather than to ‘adjust’ or relocate populations to fit the existing state boundaries” (Bideleux R. and Jeffries I.: 1998, p.408). Still, the complex mixture of ethnicities and nationalities in Eastern Europe made it harder for such a plan to be accomplished. What is more, with the big influence that Russia had always had in the region, this idea of how nation-states should be formed proved unsuitable for post-WWI Europe. Not denying the strong liberating and energizing effects of the establishment of the independent nation-states, it is true that there were major problems that weighed them down – it was not an easy task to build anew the states’ administration, political and economical systems and to deal with the deep social issues with no help. Furthermore, for most of the East European countries, as well as enduring most of the military action in WWI, there had been a period of six years of almost continuous conflict. In Poland, this began in 1914 with the outbreak of the First World War, when it was the main battlefield between Germany and Russia and between Russia and Austria-Hungary and ended in 1920, with the Russo-Polish conflict. On the Balkans, many conflicts dating way back in the past, or appearing out of the new political order (between Serbia and Austria-Hungary, between Romania and Austria-Hungary, between Bulgaria and her Balkan neighbours and between Christians and Turks) took place from 1912 until 1918. These resulted in a broken down economy, with extremely poor peasantry, a huge loss of human resources and a great amount of damage caused to the infrastructures as a whole in Eastern Europe. All these events...
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