The current events in Tunisia are being forced into the neo-Marxian framework of the people's struggle for democracy (Barack Obama's recent statement fits the mold), and this tells us something about the mentality of American and other journalists working today.
Obviously, the U.S. authorities did not order The Washington Post to write the article; rather, I see it as a journalistic reflex. All the same, the resulting article will no doubt influence the thinking and guide the actions of the general public and people in positions of power.
Violence used to disperse demonstrators in downtown Tunis has been automatically denounced as crimes against a democratic movement, even though a mob is always a mob.
"The United States stands with the entire international community in bearing witness to this brave and determined struggle for the universal rights that we must all uphold," Obama said in a statement released by the White House.
Revolts are often stirred up by an inspired intellectual who wants a better life for the people. Next thing you know someone starts breaking shop windows. Then the police step in because looting and violence cannot be tolerated, be it in Tunisia or in Moscow's Manezh Square just outside the Kremlin walls, where ultranationalists attacked ethnic minorities on December 11.
So what is happening in Tunisia? The best answer is, "I don't know, I need more time to analyze the situation."
According to The Washington Post, "The simmering discontent erupted into the open Dec. 17 in the inland city of Sidi Bouzid after an unlicensed fruit vendor identified as Mohammed Bouazzi set himself afire. Bouazzi acted after a policeman confiscated the wares off his cart and, according to news reports, after he was slapped by a female city hall employee to whom he had turned to complain."
But isn't that too simplistic? Where is the nuance? The complexity?
Tunisia has always been a shining example of economic success, with economic growth averaging 5% a year for the past decade, much of it due to the tourism industry. The Tunisian government wisely invested in education in those prosperous years, devoting 7% or 8% of the budget to it.
But it is growing prosperity not desperate poverty that is politically volatile. We have seen this again and again since Tiananmen Square.
The upheaval in Tunisia can be traced back to two factors. First, as many as 70,000 educated young people enter the job market there every year. This is the raw material needed for a modern middle class. But unfortunately, many of the young graduates could not get a job.
Second, the global food crisis - although overshadowed by the financial and economic crisis - has continued to cause food prices to rise.
The food crisis, which is almost a taboo topic, is complex. Part of the problem is the "supermarket revolution" - a change in the consumption model that has been underway in developing countries since the early 1990s. This is more dangerous than a simple rise in flour prices, which has led to unrest in Egypt.
Is this the real explanation? Or is it only another wrong turn in the maze? Back in December, it was thought that Tunisians were simply protesting rising food prices. Now the Tunisians have been unwittingly enlisted in the fight for democracy.
Monday, January 17, 2011
Dmitry Kosyrev warns against Marxist attitudes towards democracy that he sees reflected in the American media: