Why Democracy for the Post-Socialist Societies Event at CRASSH

As I continued my Joe DiMaggio-esque streak (or is Cal Ripken-esque streak more appropriate?…since what it is I do really just requires showing up) of event attendance Friday, I realized what it is I love best about these things…the audience participation.  There’s nothing I enjoy more than a passion-filled, long-winded, pointless question or comment. 

There was one young man in the crowd yesterday that was practically bursting with excitement for post-Socialist states (but, I mean, who isn’t really?).  Not only did he nearly levitate out of his seat while raising his hand…when recognized…he embarked on the most intriguing monologue I’ve ever experienced firsthand.  He was so worked up that he punctuated every couple of sentences with a loud and sharp gasp for breathe, much like what one might expect from a novice swimmer coming up for air.  As his pace of speech accelerated…and the gasps grew more and more desperate…you could sense the audience breaking evenly into two camps.  Those that were simply fascinated…and those (like me) that were growingly concerned that a hyper-ventilation event was about to occur right in front of our eyes.  By about minute three of the soliloquy, I was literally starting to dig through my wallet for my CPR certification card…just in case my services were needed.  Thankfully, he made it through without any greater adverse effect than a very red face.  You might be wondering…what was his comment about?  I honestly don’t have the slightest idea…and neither did anyone else in the room.  My best guess was that it was a brief history of everything.

Moving on, while I was only able to attend the first half of the event…I did manage to make a few important notes.  First, in the spirit of true dictatorial socialism…the event organizers apparently set forth truly draconian restrictions on the speakers.  In short, the directions for presentations must have gone something like, “you are required to read directly from a prepared script…no deviations from said script will be tolerated nor will the use of any visual aids be permitted.”  Fortunately, there were no messy Tiananmen-like events here…everyone did as they were told…much to my delight.

Anyway, in between my Facebook updates I was able to glean the following bits of information.  First off, the panel moderator gave what seemed to be a wonderfully succinct summary of my first essay that I turned in last week on the necessity (or not) of democracy for development.  I was unaware that my work had circulated through the university so quickly, but was highly honored by the recognition of my brilliance.

The focus of the remaining talks was the similarities and differences between Russia and China.  In sum, the Russian leadership is seen as viewing their present system of governance and level of democratic development as sufficient for further modernization of their economy, while the Chinese leadership (at least publicly) has suggested a propensity to accept increased democratic participation to enhance economic development.  In both countries, academic elites are driving the reform agendas rather than general public opinion. 

I believe the most thought-provoking and important point raised in the session was the idea that Russia and China must be viewed as stable forms of government rather than traditional regimes in some sort of inexorable transition towards Western-style democracy.  In other words, while they do not fit into traditional categories of government style…they constitute their own unique forms of government structure.  I think this is a valid idea.  While we can’t say for sure what China or Russia will look like in 25 or 50 years, there is no reason to believe that they will necessarily transition ‘forward’ towards Western democracy or ‘backward’ toward more classic communism.  That I know next to nothing about Russia or China should not in any way call into question the validity of my opinion…I do have a blog after all.

To sum up, that’s about all I’ve got for this one.  You might be interested to know that I kept my events streak alive by attending an all day career event in London today.  More on that later…that is, if I feel like jeopardizing any potential job opportunities with the organizations in attendance.  I’ll have to weigh this carefully, but my feelings about the event could make for a highly entertaining blog post…