Letter From Mykonos: Eye On Democracy

Letter From Mykonos: Eye On Democracy

It is ironic that the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the worrisome situation in Manipur and the deteriorating condition of human rights and freedoms in India

K C SinghUpdated: Saturday, July 15, 2023, 12:15 AM IST
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Mykonos, Greece | file pic

The writer is in the island of Mykonos, Greece, proceeding next to Athens, considered the cradle of democracy. 

It is appropriate thus to divine the state of democracy globally. 

Mykonos is where the rich and the fun-seeking converge to taste good food, hear music and indulge in upper-end shopping. In its narrow streets, paved with stones in white plaster, small churches, shops and restaurants coexist in harmony.

However the party capital of the Mediterranean exists in the larger geopolitical context. Although three to four multi-storeyed liners converge on the city’s bay daily, tourism is down by 20%. Russians are sanctioned, Chinese entrapped in domestic economic slowdown and Indians unwilling to explore beyond Dubai, London and standard ports-of-call. But the shadow of the Ukraine war and Turkey’s anti-Greek posturing lingers over Greece. 

Greece’s right-wing prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis and leader of the New Democracy Party, has just got re-elected after an electoral runoff, boosted by 50 bonus seats under a proportional representation system. The people ignored a train accident that killed fifty persons when an antiquated system failed and two trains collided, like in the horrible Odisha train accident. Under a caretaker government over 500 illegal immigrants died when their overloaded boat capsized under the watch of the Greek coastguard. But neither impacted the fate of Prime Minister Mitsotakis. 

His victory and the decimation of his left wing rival Syriza Party is in keeping with a European trend where voters are opting for pro-reform and pro-business right wing parties over those espousing socialist or communist ideologies. This is happening as Europe faces the Ukraine war and NATO wrestles with security dilemmas. The Vilnius NATO summit on July 11 addressed these issues. Two questions dominating the debate were: the endgame in Ukraine and the future of NATO. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky caused consternation by his intemperate and premature remarks that NATO deliberations were “absurd”. His expectation of fast-tracked NATO membership of Ukraine was unrealistic. Norway and now Sweden joining an expanded NATO fell in a separate category. Treating Ukraine similarly, while the Ukraine war continues, would have meant direct confrontation of NATO with Russia. The G7’s announcement of more military assistance and subtle fast-tracking of Ukrainian membership eventually satisfied Zelensky. 

The festive atmosphere in Mykonos reflects a disconnect with the reality of the threats faced by nations in the eastern Mediterranean. After all, the Aegean islands have immediate maritime connectivity to the Bosphorus and the Black Sea, where Russian naval vessels loiter, mostly safe from the Ukrainian missiles or drones. The bigger danger is from the resurgence of the radical right all across Western Europe and the US.

In the election just held, Greece saw the further consolidation of the vote of radical right wing parties like Spartan and Niki. In Germany too the Alternative for Germany (AfD) has gained strength. The four-party Dutch ruling coalition collapsed over bitter migration policy disputes and failure to pass new legislation to curb immigration. The British Conservative Party is also lagging in polls due to its perceived failure to regulate immigration. In France the recent riots are seen as fueling the reemergence of right-wing icon Marine Le Pen. There is talk that she may be the next president of France in 2027. 

More worrisome is the continued dominance of the US Republican Party by former president Donald Trump. He is front runner for being renominated and has even chances of victory, riding a wave of lies and innuendo. This is causing concern amongst US allies and friends. The America First Policy Institute (AFPI), manned by former aides and close associates of Trump, is creating a detailed plan for rejigging the bureaucratic and justice system of the US. In reality it is a vision where any differing perspective would be excluded from governance. This could seriously endanger US democracy and constitutionalism. 

The mere thought of another Trump presidency sends shudders down the European spines. It is this fear that French President Emmanuel Macron was reflecting when urging Europe to reimagine collective security without the US. After his China trip he caused more furore when advising that Europe should not get tangled in US-China rivalry. India should also be prepared for possible disruptions that a Trump presidency may bring. US abandoning military support to Ukraine may not affect India as Indo-Russian relations are insulated from that war. The Biden administration’s China policy is also in continuation of Trump starting the delinking from China. The consensus in the west today veers towards de-risking rather than complete rupture of trade links. Trump may or may not agree. 

Against this backdrop it is ironic that the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the worrisome situation in Manipur and the deteriorating condition of human rights and freedoms in India. This happened as Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Paris to attend the July 14 Bastille Day celebrations. But as the saying goes, when you point a finger at someone, three fingers point back.

KC Singh is former secretary, Ministry of External Affairs

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