To live and die in surrogate democracies

Russian leaders Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin, in their spare time, used to make fun of Western sympathisers who blindly supported them. Lenin was so excited that he had even coined a special term to describe those men. He called them "polyezniy idiots", meaning "useful idiots." These are people perceived as propagandists for a cause without being fully aware of its goals.

Time will tell who is whose useful idiot between US President-Elect Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. If the Russians have carried out the alleged hacking campaign to interfere in the US presidential election, then Putin has successfully pulled the strings from 5,000 miles away in Kremlin to put his man in the White House. Whether Trump knew about the hacking beforehand and how he is going to leverage the relationship with the Russians remain to be seen.

US President Barack Obama did the best he could in his remaining days at the Oval Office. He imposed sanctions on Russia and expelled its 35 diplomats in addition to shutting down two properties on American soil that the White House claimed were being used by the Russians to gather intelligence. These retaliatory moves followed the agreement between the FBI and the CIA that the Russians had indeed stuck their nose where it didn't belong.

For the time being, Russian President Vladimir Putin has abstained from reacting to the US moves, thus putting the brakes on further escalation of the tit-for-tat dispute between the two countries. The fickle-tongued Trump was quick to respond. He praised his soon-to-be Russian counterpart for his "very smart" decision.

Obama's retaliation will prove as futile as expired medicine administered for a chronic disease. What follows the hacking scandal after Obama depends a lot on the man who is suspected of being its prime beneficiary. Donald Trump might let bygones be bygones for obvious reasons and roll back the US sanctions after he takes oath in two weeks. Trump might ignore meddling out of gratitude for the Russians. Or, he might also choose to do it on the excuse of political gumption that he should have a fresh start with Moscow. It'll also depend on how doggedly the Democratic Party is ready to take this matter to its logical conclusion.

Meanwhile, the hacking scandal has created perhaps the most visible chasm in the American psyche since the American Civil War and the horror of the McCarthyism era. One section of the Americans is convinced that the Russians have manipulated their right to choose their own president. Another section insists that it's nothing but a ploy of the Democratic Party to justify its well-deserved defeat and undermine the Trump presidency.

If Russia is guilty as accused, it presents a bizarre twist to the antics of history that famously repeats itself. In 1991, the West had avenged Lenin's sarcasm by having a "useful idiot" in Moscow when Mikhail Gorbachev presided over the fall of Soviet Union. The first Vladimir (Lenin) must be laughing in his grave that one of his successors has turned the table on the West. The second Vladimir (Putin) has installed an unstable mind not only as president of the United States, but also as the leader of the "Free World".

Foreign interference has historically figured in the domestic affairs of many countries. Who should know it better than us, when every political party in this country is rumoured to have foreign connections? Foreign money and influence have systematically undermined popular will in Third World politics by manipulating elections. Many countries have hired foreign mercenaries to fight for them. The Americans are even fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq without being asked. The Russians are doing the same thing in Syria. In the 9th century, the Slavs had even invited foreigners, the Varangians from Scandinavia, to rule their country.

Adventurous men throughout history have led military conquests and risky expeditions. Explorers have discovered new destinations. Traders have chalked out routes to push their business. Scientists have linked places and eliminated distance. These achievements have created the global village in which we live today.

But that may be too close for comfort. The Cold War is heating up, and democracy is facing a new challenge: hackers can rig elections from thousands of miles away. In some countries, people are inured to this disappointment. The governments, which come to power, seldom are their choice.

Elections, which went out of people's hands long ago, will now go out of their countries. Voters will proudly vote. And, governments will be merrily made in the cyberspace. Nature has cuckoos laying eggs in the nests of other birds. A similar fate awaits democracy.

The people are the next useful idiots who will live and die in surrogate democracies. They will cherish their sovereignty, not realising it has slipped away already.


The writer is the Editor of the weekly First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star.

E-mail: [email protected]


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