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Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

Webdiary columnist Jozef Imrich is the author of Cold River: a survivor's story and the producer of Media Dragon, a blog for infomaniacs. His piece Dream as if you'll live forever and live as if you'll die today and this one, reflect his experience and understandings of life under anti-democratic regimes.

Preamble: My dad came into my dream last night very vividly and, as a child, I recall him saying to me as we watched a wolf trying to attack us how the most dangerous animal in the forest is the one that is hurt. I think his words were: "Injured animal is the most dangerous animal in the forest".

In some strange way this could be said in the context of Thomas Paine: "He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself."

Do we ever ask which minorities are being hurt by our economy and politics or religion? Who is hurting most? I know there is a very fine line between a freedom fighter and a terrorist -  it is in the eye of the beholder. Now is the time to be very open about what we see.

Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

by Jozef Imrich

The dissident does not operate in the realm of genuine power at all. He is not seeking power. He has no desire for office and does not gather votes. He does not attempt to charm the public, he offers nothing and promises nothing. He can offer, if anything, only his own skin -- and he offers it solely because he has no other way of affirming the truth he stands for. His actions simply articulate his dignity as a citizen, regardless of the cost.
-Vaclav Havel.

The centuries old debate over terrorism is often framed as a trade-off between liberty and security. This is a flawed calculus, in several respects. Many civil liberties, far from being at odds with security, actually enhance the ability of the government to defend the common good.

Like George Soros, I think that many western countries are becoming make-believe democracies because political debate and dissent is stifled, the media is compliant, and the population is suffering from the most dangerous of epidemics: indifference. My most fundamental concern in such democracies is the loss of the liberty to disagree and to question.

The opposite of freedom is not anti terrorism laws, it is indifference. All that needs to be said about the dangers of indifference was said by Elie Wiesel:

The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference.
The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference.
The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference.
And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.

Back in January 2004 Peter Fray of the Sydney Morning Herald fame asked: How is it possible that Mr Soros, at 73 and with a reported fortune of about $US7 billion ($9.1 billion), gives a hoot about Mr Bush; or why, when he himself has obviously lived the American dream to its fullest, has he devoted this year to unseating the man whom many Americans still believe is the living embodiment of that dream? Isn't this biting the system that feeds? Soros, a Hungarian émigré to the US, concedes that he is open to such accusations.

I can be seen as a traitor to my class and my adopted country, but I am proud to take that role. I think there are values which transcend class and country. I think my country can be wrong and that's the value of an open society and that is the value which has made America great.

In Australia, the greatest current concern is in the ways the Government is dealing with the People's Parliament. As Greens Senator Bob Brown stated on 14 October 2005:

The Prime Minister's latest laws on terrorism were withheld from parliament this week to avoid one month's scrutiny by a senate committee. When Defence Minister Robert Hill moved yesterday for a senate committee which must report by 8 November but not sit in October, the bills were in his back pocket. The government set out to cheat democracy. The Australian public's established fear of a terrorist ambush is being complicated by its different fear of the government's assaults on democracy. The Prime Minister will continue to erode this nation's time-honoured civil and human rights while ever he is in office.

Canberra Times (17 October 2005) praised Jon Stanhope for acting for free speech:

ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope has done a politically dangerous thing in making public draft legislation supplied to him by the Commonwealth, but he is guilty of no impropriety, and has indeed done the public a service. A service the greater because the Federal Government is engaged in a strategy to severely limit discussion, debate and time for analysis of the legislation, involving the most draconian shift in ordinary balances of human rights since 1939, and, arguably since Australia became a nation in 1901. And all the more so since the Federal Government's reaction to concern or criticism of the legislation consists mostly of saying "trust me", and because most of the Labor state leaders have abdicated any concern about the human rights balances lest they be smeared, as, on the Prime Minister's form, they would be (and Jon Stanhope will be) as "soft on terrorism".

The Road to Freedom

My father, Jozef Imrich, knew the feeling that to outlive a child is the cruelest thing. A life sentence... His youngest daughter Agnesa died of leukaemia in 1975 when she contracted the disease during a certain chemical incident at a factory in Svit. Under communism there was no such a thing as proper Freedom of Information laws or reasonable Occupational Health and Safety Standards. Under totalitarian regimes, be it Stalinism, Hitlerism or whatever -ism, code for blind obedience tends to rule. So when my sister Margita failed to follow the code of blind obedience and attended church services in 1979 she was sacked from her teaching post and forced to work in a railway yard. What is perplexing about the communist experience is how so many well-intentioned and apparently decent people could have participated in and defended a movement that directly led to the deaths of millions, and suffering, hardship and lack of freedom for many millions more. It is, in a sense, the key issue of our sad 20th century.

During my teenage years, my father liked to quote Robert Kennedy often; so much of what he said is timeless. In defending democracy anywhere in this fragile world, we should consider the following from RFK:

Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

There is little one can say directly about the September 11 or the July 7 and other terrorist attacks on innocent victims - except that these were acts of utter, inhuman violence, indefensible in every sense, taking a deep and lasting human toll. Such terrorism has to be rid from the face of the earth. The difficulty lies in how to rid the world of it. Terrorism generates counterterrorism and many western nations have long been parties to this deadly game, as perpetrators not just as innocent victims.

Anti-terrorism legislation

Since the tragic unfolding of September 11th, countries have created ways to protect our freedoms from further terrorist attacks; however, some claim the steps taken, to protect our freedoms, undermine our constitutional rights and freedoms in order to protect those same freedoms.  Are we taking the right steps in its attempts at preventing terrorist attacks or is its latest anti-terrorism legislation only harming the hard fought freedoms on its own? As American Bar Association President Bob Hirshon said, "America is at its best when its many voices are heard, and its principles and actions are most sure when they have been tested and tried in the forum of public debate."

In the wake of the London bombings of 7 July and 21 July 2005, the term has been used to describe draconian legislative measure in both the United Kingdom and Australia. Such anti-terrorism laws usually extend to police unprecedented powers to detain and investigate persons suspected of terrorism. The legislation in Australia, for example, allows police to detain suspects for up to two weeks without charge, and to electronically track suspects for up to a year. In both countries, with entrenched liberal democratic traditions, the measures have been controversial and have been criticised by civil libertarians and Islamic groups. As Benjamin Franklin  pointed out: "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety".

New counterterrorism measures proposed by Prime Minister John Howard severely threaten Australians' civil liberties and violate international law. Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, noted:

Putting people under house arrest for a year by a control order is tantamount to jailing people without trial. This is a shocking departure from Australia's proud tradition of protecting individuals from an overly powerful state... Locking people up or seriously restricting their liberty when they have not even been charged are characteristics of dictatorship, not a democracy.

You don't cross the Iron Curtain and come out without scars or appreciation of the words of wisdom by Salman Rushdie: What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist. The Iron Curtain came down since Rushdie's novel, the Satanic Verses, earned the Booker Prize-winning novelist death threats, but the question persists.

In today's world, once we place a iron curtain around our civil liberties, they may never be freed. Yet the outcome, at least for now, is perhaps less important than understanding that we are operating in a new paradigm. Concerns for security and freedom will always conflict to some degree. And while we must understand that this is a new kind of war on terrorism, with no immediate end in sight, it is also a new kind of challenge to our civil liberties. Thus, it is time for a fundamental rethinking of what we consider our basic freedoms. We may decide - and I, for one, hope we do - that certain freedoms, especially those guaranteed in the Constitution, are simply too precious to sacrifice, at any cost, on the altar of security.

My father experienced Stalin's famine and lived less than 100 km from Auschwitz. Hitler and his Nazi Regime could possibly be the worst example of a government applying acts of terrorism on its people. When those at the top are corrupt, how can the people defend themselves?

History has repeatedly demonstrated the dangers of allowing governments to secretly collect intelligence on their own people. When government authority extends beyond law enforcement - investigating criminal activity - it has inevitably been followed by abuses. A key lesson learned from the domestic intelligence abuses before the mid-1970s was the necessity for a wall between law enforcement and intelligence in order to protect civil liberties. Careful lines were drawn between law enforcement activities and the previously unchecked secret intelligence agencies to meet the demands of both national security interests and civil liberties. We do not need to be alarmed, but we do need to be alert and concerned that means and ends might be turned on their head.

Freedom is not, was not, and will never be, a free good. Anyone who wants it must be prepared to defend it. And defending it necessarily carries the risk of seriously bodily injury or death. A free and independent people must take responsibility for their own safety and deal with their vulnerability in a mature fashion. A free and independent people should not expect supernatural powers from their leaders.

George Soros once observed nothing new, but it bears repeating: "The laissez-faire argument relies on the same tacit appeal to perfection as does communism".


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re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

Hmmmm, no wonder in the end, the contributions are so thin on the ground here, so far. Most readers, instinctively knowing what the writing on that Kafkaesque wall pointed out to us by veterans of life like Jozef Imrich and Arie Brand, avert their gaze away.

It does not change the fact that that we were always fortunate; rarely thankful (at least toward the end), to live in a place as atypical as Australia in the second half of the twentieth century. This rare Golden Age - the upswing that followed the horrors of the Second Thirty Years War, that we took to be the "norm" for humanity.

Now, as well-earned enjoyment of life eventually sated in gluttony gave way to complicitous apathy and absolute meanspiritedness, the Guantanamo-isation of once-brave Australia "snow-balled" apace, against the backdrop.

Things are now probably beyond the point of no return and "we will not see its like again", as per the democracy we took so for granted, at best for many a day. But that is a fair thing, considering what we became, on the whole.

re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

I believe that the situation that we have reached has more to do with the Government protecting themselves than anything else.

How easy it will be for the Government to cover up all their failures if anybody who makes an allegation or who crosses them can easily be referred to as "potential terrorists" and put away and dealt with accordingly.

The culture continues.

re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

Fakefati lasi lasi, Mr Imrich.

This is a formidable statement, carrying deep experience and wisdom so lacking in much public "discourse" in Australia today.

Redolent with unassailable authenticity, by-passing ill-informed and hysterical nonsense from all sides, and just relating personal experience informed by apposite and pungent observations.

Little wonder it seems to have been met, so far at least, with comparative silence (compare the massive responses to the IR Thread recently).

To ground and energise these powerful points from Mr Imrich, readers can do far worse than re-visit the vast literature on non-violence, resistance to mal-functioning governance, and systematically develop individual and collective strategies and responses to looming and actual threats to our society and polity, from terrorists and our governments.

A new book by the West's leading scholar of non-violence, Gene Sharp, draws deeply from non-violent struggles of the 20th Century, including those which contributed to the overthrow of communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The same strategies and tactics are being deployed in Burma, Zimbabwe, and, one hopes, are being deployed in North Korea, that last faltering, Moloch-like remnant of Stalinism.

ACT Chief Minister Stanhope's publication of the draft terror legislation was an important, comparatively significant, example of non-violent resistance. Authoritarianism of all kinds is like a fungus; grows best in the dark and thrives on bulls*it.

I am reminded of the powerful statement at the end of Bertolt Brecht's dark farce 'The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui', written in Finland in 1941 and inspired, in part, by James Cagney's roles in Hollywood gangster movies, quite obviously aimed at the heart of Nazi Germany, but also prophetic in both its fore-telling and forth-telling guises: "Don't rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world stood up and stopped the Bastard, the Bitch that bore him is in heat again".

This quote sprung to mind again when Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen finally died earlier in 2005, and all sorts of selective recollections were published about his governance in Queensland. For some, it might be drawing a longish bow to suggest that his regime, at the height of its powers, was the closest Australia has come in fairly recent memory to a proto-fascist state, nothing remotely resembling historical fascism or rigorous communism in practice, to be sure, but it behoves us all to revisit Queensland during those years.

On Saturday afternoon, September 22, 1977, when thousands of civil liberties protesters confronted a wall of Queensland police in Adelaide and Albert Streets, Brisbane, and 422 were arrested, and on Sunday afternoon, April 9, 1978, when several Christians were arrested for praying in an all but empty inner city park - the only place in Queensland where it's illegal to pray! - it was not hard to imagine the state was teetering on the brink of something genuinely terrifying.

But also, being involved with, and as a witness to, such, and many other non-violent protests during those years, I, and many others, experienced a profound sense of empowerment. We'd largely conquered our fear - nobody's entirely bereft of fear in these situations - and recovered a deeper sense of ourselves. We'd drawn upon the formidable strength, a Force More Powerful, which comes from deep moral, even theological, reflection and wrestling, collective courage, and a huge array of tactics which empower their informed users to be creatively, positively, stubborn and to simply say, "No".

I await further thoughtful responses to, and informed and civilised debate about, Mr Imrich's excellent contribution.

re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

I would not, could not, dilute this thread. I am a bit gobsmacked. Suffice it to say, I have you in my eye... and in my heart.

re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

Thank you Jozef, it's difficult for me, having grown up in a society like Australia to know what it feels like to live under a totalitarian regimes. Intellectually I think I can, but emotionally I am a naïf to the experience (even though I've watched road gangs of women and children crushing rocks with rocks in parts of Asia and felt grossly confused by the 'privilege'). It is a credit to you that you have lived it and yet retained your heart and your hope and your will to secure freedom. But then you know, don't you, how fluid freedom is - how it can be flushed away as easily as being drained drop by drop. Most Australians born here have no conception of how a lack of freedom results in a lack of humanity.

I told my neighbour about the new anti-terrorism bill and she listened and then looked at me with a smile: "They can't do that, it's against the constitution. It's against our freedom of speech and to move around". My neighbour can save a life in a heartbeat, and does so almost daily - she's no fool and she trusts in Australia's proud democratic history. I showed her the learned opinion of Joo-Cheong Tham on the Webdiary thread The failure to provide effective judicial oversight and we back-and forthed, back-and-forthed discussing the issues until she, a life long Queenslander spluttered: "But it's worse than Joh!"

A couple of days ago, Premier Peter Beattie had this to say in The Age report Labor toes the terror line: [my emphasis]

Let me tell you, if we ended up with a position where we had a terrorist attack in this nation and we weren't ready and we didn't have the laws in place, let me tell you whose heads would be on the block: the Prime Minister and every state leader in this nation. And, frankly, we've got a moral obligation to ensure that we get the appropriate protection in place to safeguard Australians and that's exactly what we will do.

The report went on to say:

Beattie is right. Australians look to their elected leaders to protect them against all threats. But his formulation about his moral obligation was intriguing - a blend of political realism and a sense of doing what's right. It was the heads-on-the-block reference that seemed a bit of a giveaway, as though he felt the pressure to produce some sort of new national anti-terror laws before the inevitable attack comes because not to do so would invite an electoral firestorm.

So, when the State and Federal Governments and Oppositions agree that it's inevitable that a 'terrorist' attack will occur in Australia, a risk increased as an act of retaliation against our involvement in an unjust war, they're counting on our emotions: fear, insecurity, maybe even counting on the odd few to hope for the excitement of such a thing, to make us pitched for accepting their "moral obligation" to save their own necks.

A report on today's SMH poll, Voters say yes to terror Australia says in part:

Australians overwhelmingly endorse the anti-terrorism plan agreed by the Commonwealth, states and territories, but strongly oppose the one key point of political dispute - John Howard's push to give police new shoot-to-kill powers over suspects. According to the latest Herald Poll, about three-quarters of voters think it is OK to lock up suspected terrorists without charge, put them under house arrest or shackle them with tracking devices.

There is a schism here. And I think it has to do with the way a large percentage of people experience life in Australia these days, in the few early years of this century.

Our media pulsates with people experiencing fear and grief - both real and pretend. Since
2001, the Western world has been voyeuristically terrorised through the televised downing of the World Trade Centre, then the Afghanistan and later Iraqi "made for television" invasions. These 'spectacular' events have become almost the promotions, the movie trailers to our future. And folk sitting at home behind their security gates and barred windows watching larger-than-life TV screens may be infected with an unreasonable fear that horror and death are just outside their door.

But this is Australia, right? That's the problem with these laws; they are so alien to our emotional understanding of Australia historically as a democracy that we have trouble actually coming to grips with them. They are beyond all the promoted hoopla of our free and easy Aussie psyche - now essentially a tourism advertising jingle. These are not the laws of the friendly, independent larrikins, bred mostly from imports, whose freedom of spirit, boldness and sense of obligation to one's fellows was what was revered in exploration, settlement (invasion at slow speed), agricultural, mining and military campaigns throughout last centuries. Not to mention innovation (100% vaccination against cervical cancer? thank you!). Where is the honouring of our Australian character that requires the freedom to be ourselves in these laws? Where are the Australian people? These laws just don't have the feel of who we think we are. I thought we trusted one another. Who do they think we are?

These proposed laws diminish to such a degree that it is almost understandable how the SMH poll voters were willing to agree to the laws. It may be almost impossible for these folk to comprehend what they are sacrificing for the sake of 'security'. But these laws imply, nay enforce it upon us, that we should now speak and act only in ways that our leaders feel secure with. It's not about us, and our safety, or assisting a world learning to get on with itself, it's about them, their fear. Their fear of us and our "electoral firestorm".

re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

How do you convey the sentiments of such a profound piece to a public that would prefer not to know and will never believe?

Unless you are a government you'll never have the money to throw into supporting such opinions in a mainstream advertising campaign. So we need access to "Today Tonight" and "A Current Affair"

How will we "create news?" Perhaps by getting ourselves arrested? We could have a go at doing what Scott Parkin was deported for, or perhaps something a little more radical, more of a "photo opportunity". If a hundred people chained themselves together and shackled themselves into a "barrier of prisoners" across the front of their nearest House Of Parliament, no doubt there would be plenty of press coverage. Then there would need to be "follow up" actions, non-violent, conveying solidarity in will.

It's all to easy to be portrayed as a rabble that needs to be controlled- how do we portray ourselves as a unified voice of dissent that can be perceived as 'credible' by mainstream society?
Josef's warnings should not go unheeded.

re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

Jozef - I also thank you for this excellent piece. It is exactly yourself and people with similar experience who the federal and state governments should be taking advice from at the moment. If they do not, then we know that they do not have our interests at heart.

That Peter Beattie line quoted by Kerri Browne is fantastically important:

“Let me tell you, if we ended up with a position where we had a terrorist attack in this nation and we weren't ready and we didn't have the laws in place, let me tell you whose heads would be on the block: the Prime Minister and every state leader in this nation. And, frankly, we've got a moral obligation to ensure that we get the appropriate protection in place to safeguard Australians and that's exactly what we will do.”

No. It would not be the heads of the federal and state leaders on the block. Just their jobs, at worst. And they are well paid and well superannuated to minimise the impact of that.

If these laws come in, the lifestyles, liberties, careers, relationships, health and quite possibly heads of many non-governmental Australians could indeed be on the block for the foreseeable future. That includes innocent Australians who get caught up due to incompetence, corruption or malice. It also includes Australians who ought to be innocent, but get caught up due to the criminalisation of Saying Bad Things About The Government.

These laws will not even help prevent terrorism, but so long as that false link is maintained, it will be used to ratchet ever tighter governmental control over all of us. If there is no terrorism, then the laws will be claimed to be working. If an atrocity happens nevertheless, then it will be claimed that they should be made even more draconian.

Our politicians knew the (relatively trivial) risk of being voted out when they took their jobs, and have no business consigning the rest of us to serfdom in order to stay in power. Any politician who supports the anti-freedom bill is a traitor to the liberties and democratic ideals of Australia which I am sworn to uphold.

re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

Superb article Josef, and the appropriate place to mention someone whose simple act of defiance 50 years ago had such a great effect.

I have just seen this in the breaking news:

'Rosa Parks, the black seamstress whose refusal to give her seat on a bus to a white man sparked a revolution in American race relations, has died aged 92.

Shirley Kaigler, Parks' lawyer, said she died while taking a nap early on Monday evening surrounded by a small group of friends and family members.

"She just fell asleep and didn't wake up," Kaigler said.

The cause of death was not immediately known. Parks had fought a long battle with dementia.

Kaigler said Parks was at home in an apartment complex overlooking the Detroit River and the border with Ontario, Canada, when she died.'

Rest in peace, Rosa, you were and remain an inspiration.

re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

Thanks Jozeph Imrich, for assembling this fine collection of personal and inspirational wisdom. In reading it the thought that "Cream rises to the top" came to mind. This recollection in turn reminded me of an anti-Bush Administration polemic I read several months ago on the www entitled "Scum also Rises".

I am left with the feeling that the issue of totalitarianism deserved more than the passing reference to Communism, Hitlerism and Whatever-ism, you allowed it. That is, after all, at the heart of the debate about the proposed A-T Bill and it seems to me that it is quite impossible to mobilise public support unless one clearly defines the problems, threats and rewards for action. The rewards in this case are illusory to anyone unfamiliar with history. Getting to keep what one already possesses is a small reward unless one can prove that it's about to disappear.

Noble sentiments are all well and good but our adversary is adept at scattering such sentiments about like chaff in order to seduce a public all too willing to tick the appropriate comfort zone box and get back to the cut and dried world of Big Brother and The Footie Show. Meanwhile, Mr Howard is free to indulge in further acts of betrayal in the interests of short term political gain, with no apparent appreciation of the downstream costs.

But I digress. It is easy to overlook the fact that many in the West sincerely believe that the evil in communist (or Hitlerian) totalitarianism lies in the "communist" or "Hitlerian" component. But the real evil lies in 'totalitarianism'. It can be argued, as I choose to do, that America has descended into a totalitarian capitalism in which corporate interests are routinely placed ahead of the interests of the people, often in a ridiculously counter-intuitive manner with barely a whimper of an appeal to commonsense or equity. In such an environment profit is king and poverty is rife.

Eisenhower was merely one of the last notables to warn against allowing private capital, the military and the government, to get into bed together, but it is now a done deal and the people profiting from the alliance won't give it up without a ruthless and bloody battle. In my opinion Mr Howard has merely placed his bets with the people he thinks will win. If the indifference we see all around is any guide, and his manipulation skills don't backfire, he's probably backed the winner.

re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

Thanks Jozef Imrich. No wonder there's such low commentary - the prospect is just so mind-bogglingly, hope-numbingly awful it's hard to find ways to express adequate revulsion. Not just the injustices proposed, but that a victim can't protest - can't even TALK about it. Are we to have a new class of legal limbo - the "silent reappeared".

For myself, I have just three words for these so-called anti-terrorism laws, and they sum up exactly what you thought you're saying Jozef - welcome to Austasiland.

re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

I gather that it was Voltaire who advised: 'It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.'

As I was looking for the above quote, a yellowed, beatifully aged piece of clipping, fell out of a book by Ellie Wiesel 'All Rivers Run to the Sea' it read: 'Before you learn the solemnity of kindness you must see a dead person lying roadside. You must see how this could be you/how he, too, was someone/who journeyed through the night with plans/and the simple breath that kept him alive.'

Every story has many sides. What you see depends on where you were standing at the time, and how you thought. Where I am standing now I am grateful for the deep kindness of strangers who write commentariat like old friends. Thanks, Paul, Jolanda, Dr Hayes, Chris, Andy, Bob, Neil, and Kerri.

It’s hard to believe in democracy in light of the recent abuses. Cynicism is easy. It’s easy to look down at our democracy as a game where the winner, indeed, does take all. It would be easy to join the tens of millions of our citizens and just drop out of participation. But, we all have a benefit of the words of Pastor Martin Niemöller:

In Germany they first came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me - and by that time no one was left to speak up.

CODA: Christian Kerr notes how Peter Beattie has made a committment to anti-terror measures, but he still thinks the proposed counter-terrorism laws may be unconstitutional Sowing the seeds of Terror Australis

Mark Cuban has spent so much time pushing boundaries and rattling status-quo thinking that he is nearly numb to the backlash that seems to accompany his every move: ‘The worst thing we can do is bury our heads in the sand and pretend it can't happen again ...” Cuban Calls His Terror Film a Reminder.

re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

So much to say, so hard to say it as eloquently as Josef. Thank God he and his father were never fed into the maw of Auschwitz. Just think how much poorer the world would be without them; how much poorer the world is in general without thoughtful and caring people. So, as we all have our talents so we should use them to fight this creeping conformity being enforced upon us. I want to have the right to criticise this government without having to look over my shoulder to see if someone is coming to take me away [ha!ha!]. I want to be able to criticise the Sovereign because I believe Australia should be a Republic and because I believe Prince Charles can be a goose at times. I want to be able to express my 'ill will' about any subject of public concern. I will not care about going to jail for seven years so that my children can be free.

re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

Rosa Parks, ella no se entregó. Adiós.

re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

Thanks Jozef. I just got around to reading your piece, inspired by the comments to it I was editing.

It is so important, when we look at the 20th century, to see the enormous parallels between fascism and socialism. When the 'Left' and 'Right' caricature one another with the extremes of their respective 20th century opponent, nobody's understanding is helped, and no people are served.

Left and Right are irrelevant to the struggle of freedom and democracy against tyrany, as both Left and Right, upon attaining power, have been the enemy of freedom and democracy. Your piece, I sincerely hope, might help some soul, struggling with the cynical 'indifference' of our times, spot this critical truth.

I dips me lid to ya mate.

re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

Dear Jozef Imrich, I salute you. Your outstanding article with the added impact of personal anecdotes of the terrors of living in a totalitarian state have resonated deeply in the rooms of my personal history, the echo ‘same-same but different’ crowding my senses since you posted it on Monday.

I respond to honour the memory of my mother, a survivor of Nazi-occupied Europe, who arrived in Australia in the mid-1950s as a ‘reffo’ under the populate-or-perish policy. She became an Australian citizen at the earliest opportunity (five years residency) and subsequently matriarch to eleven new little Australians (three children, eight grandchildren).

Her great-great-great grandfather was Jewish and although her branch of the family became non-Jews from the time of that mixed union, she had a Jewish surname. In all the persecution and terror of what that entailed, what most shocked and wounded her was how easily some friends, occasionally acquaintances and most neighbours were willing to denounce her family to the ‘authorities’ simply on the fact of the surname, either to gain (unrealistic) protection for themselves or other benefits - although retribution for old quarrels/envy was also a factor.

You can see where the parallels to the proposed Anti-Terror Laws fit disturbingly well in this bookcase of historical tomes on the rise of police states/totalitarianism and the often less-approved records of personal anecdotes.

When we were kids, mum was careful that the occasional stories she told of her experiences and survival under occupation were either humorous or an example of necessity being the mother of invention, although in retrospect even these always carried a deeper message – the irreplaceable value of true loyalty, how to survive starvation, how to dodge bullets and the unequalled restorative power of love, humour and laughter.

Indeed, she could have written the lines by Elbert Hubbard:

"Pain is deeper than all thought,

Laughter is higher than all pain."

As we grew older, her reminiscences began to take the shape of warnings: to question authority, to look behind the curtain of a seemingly benign strategy for the truth, to mistrust the external façade and seek deeper. She was indeed a cynic – albeit with a rollicking black humour and often self-deprecating - who had experienced her country’s rapid descent from centuries of democracy and highly-acclaimed human rights to a country where the leaders and authorities crumbled and corrupted, collaborated and upheld the laws of the new police-state overlord with a rapidity that denied the centuries of democracy and compassionate multi-culturism. All promulgated under the guise of security and protecting citizens. A quite brilliant strategy of nothing too severe initially, to keep the population calm, with increments that ultimately led to the destruction of tens of thousands of innocents.

As she grew older and time grew shorter to impart what wisdom she had gained, Mum tried to inform her grandchildren - to protect and forewarn them with the fruits of her knowledge, so they too would understand the uncurrents of the world they live in, and how quickly circumstances, friends and values can change.

Highschool daughter: “Mum, why is Moomoo always talking about the war and the Nazis, and going on and on about truth and deception?”

Mum: “She loves you, she wants you to know what can happen, how things and people can change.”

Daughter: “But Mum, it’s sooooo boring, it’s waaaay in the past, and for goodness sake, it can never happen in Australia.”


Although an avid reader of all Webdairy discussion threads, especially those relating to the Anti-Terror Laws (spending hours following the embedded links) and having formulated many responses in my mind, I have never had the courage to post.

But Jozef’s story was so close to the bone - and my mum’s ashes were rattling in her urn – so, with apologies to Edward Bulwer-Lytton:

“Beneath the rule of men entirely great,

the penternet is mightier than the sword.”

I came, I posted, I dared.

re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

Thank you Jozef for an inspiring read.

I'm coming to the view that we have to start to say that we want DEMOCRACY not a corporate state. Both of the major parties are slaves to the corporates: remember that Hawke and Keating laid the foundations for much of what Howard and Costello is doing to us now. My view is that neither of them are part of the solution.

We have to ask questions about a new state that puts ordinary people first. These include:

How are we to govern ourselves so that those who represent us are truly our servants, and are not able to prostitute themselves to the most powerful?

How do we develop a healthy and strong economy that is at a human scale, not one where it destroys lives and makes us slaves to it? Perhaps we have to ask how we can build an economy around small businesses, family size enterprises that are controllable. Is it possible to have a human size economy and big business? If so what would that large enterprise look like?

How do we measure success? What would a human society see as success? I know that people have been trying to develop alternative indices to the GDP: are there indices that we can start to use or develop further?

What would our society look like that was built on a human size, how would we celebrate or mourn together? How would we deal with conflict difference and dissent? How would we publicly express our spiritual and emotional aspects? How would we respect the earth that we live on? How do we support those who are frail, vulnerable, poor, have extra burdens?

How do we break down the existing society and build up a new one? Can it be done without violence? I believe it can if we are committed to non-violence and we are clever. How do we deal with the chaos that is likely to occur as we go from one state to another?

How do we bring the population along with us so that they see the alternative is better than what they have now, and is worth the chaos of change?

These are all big questions and only a selection of the ones that we need to ask, but if we start to ask them and debate them perhaps we can find a way where we can change the direction this country and the rest of the world is taking.

The Webdiary is asking exactly these questions, but perhaps what needs to be done is to consolidate what we have here and try to develop a clear manifesto.

Perhaps Howard and Bush and Blair have done us all a big favour and got enough people out of their comfort zone so that people will start to ask how can we build an alternative to the clearly broken society that we now have.

re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

Jackie Hangjas, that was a BRILLIANT post!

Please don't hide your light under a bushell. In a society that has become accustomed to mediocrity, it can only be of benefit for people to be exposed to genuinely substantial thinking and wide experience.

The veteran historian Eric Hobsbawm talks of the death of memory in his "Age of Extremes" detailing the twentieth century and:

"The destruction of the past...the social mechanisms that link one's contemporary experience to that of earlier generations... one of the most eerie and phenomena of the late twentieth century. Most young men and women at the century's end grow up living in a sort of permanent present lacking any organic relation to the public past of the times they live in. This makes historians, whose business it is to remember what others forget, more essential...than ever before".

The lack of contact between Australians and Reality, deliberately fostered by politics big business and media, is what has most of us uncomprehending of the dangers we face from the "New World Order".

In the same way, the people of the early twentieth century, after generations of peace, could not predict the advent of World War 1, then WW2 (couldn't happen twice) and the other disasters of the twentieth century. Any voice of concern, let alone an experienced and intelligent one that is upraised in these times against the cacophony of ignorance and arrogance, could be the one that makes the difference.

re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

You quote Fredrick Douglass in your previous piece:

“This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted.”

Hitler and Stalin are no longer the present, off course we can learn from that experience, but the experience of the past is no longer our real existential struggle in the now, and can so easily be used as a comfortable means of not looking into the mirror of our own collective darker side.

The injustice of a corrupt Global Capitalist System was tolerated by most Australians in the past and is still tolerated out of greed and self interest. Many are now speaking up because the reality is now hitting home turf.

As far as I am concerned the roots of what we are seeing now has been with us for a long time, as Neil Maydom described it.

But lets not deceive ourselves, many Australians should have been screaming their head of years ago, during the East Timor massacres, Central America in the 80’s and on and on.

If you tolerate an injustice anywhere else in the world and you benefit from that injustice, as far as I am concerned you have lost your moral ground.

Did you really expect to benefit from the crimes of Corporate Capitalism with no ramifications?

In Germany they first came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me - and by that time no one was left to speak up.

Well most Australians have been very good at letting others be taken, not just physically but spiritually with loss of their humanity and identity.

With all due respect to everyone something rings very hollow now.

re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." Mark Twain

Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. I am grateful to Margo, Hamish, and Kerri for making us all so comfortable that we dare to voice our deep opinions in the safety of the virtual home.

From different backgrounds, with different desires, and embracing different dreams ... may this commentariat be a humble shrine to all the humble men and women across the melting pot such as Jackie, Emma, Victoria, Trevor, David, and Charles. We all know that the first casualty of war on terror is always the truth!

May we learn to build permanent bridges, line by line ... As Kafka once said, a book (a commentariat) should be an axe to break the frozen sea within.

A special thanks to Jackie for breaking so much ice ... Words can never express how much your post means to me. I can always rely on Kundera to help me:

"True human goodness, in all its purity and freedom, can come to the fore only when its recipient has no power. Mankind's true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude toward those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it." Milan Kundera

re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

As an aside, the Neville Brothers 'Sister Rosa' on their Yellow
is in the same league as Paul Kelly's 'From
little things ...'

Aaron Neville's 'With God On Our Side', is pretty good, too.


My father's people say that at the birth of the sun and of his brother the moon, their mother died. So the sun gave to the earth her body, from which was to spring all life. And he drew forth from her breast the stars, and the stars he threw into the night sky to remind him of her soul. So there's the Cameron's monument. My folks' too, I guess.

re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

Ach, mischievous Trevor

Reading between the li(o)nes, Rebecca Melançon seems to be implying that Bush might be the injured animal ;-)

What our way of life means in the world of war and peace

There is an "American for Peace" sign in my yard. Rather there was one till yesterday, when someone took it. But since this war has started, I wish for a swift but not premature ending. We must finish what we have begun because an injured animal is the most dangerous of all. And we will win this war in Iraq (if we haven't already by the time you read this) because of the military superiority of our forces.

American for Peace Sign Stolen

re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

Good morning, Jozef. How do you think "Injured animal is the most dangerous animal in the forest" will play out, with George Bush in a tight corner?

re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

Thank you Jozef for your powerful article.

Is it a coincidence that those displaying a conservative bent have not responded to your article?

What I don't understand is the view that 911 was a turning point for the people of the planet; atrocities had been clearly perpetrated prior to 911.

re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

Hi Jackie! Yep, looking back on these posts, Charles Camilleri accumulated and presented a couple of spot-on comments in his posting too.

There is the old one also, about history usually being written from the point of view of the victors.

Looking back to the case of the American Indians, we all remember a billion Hollywood movies about John Wayne types charging in to save civilisation from the demented savages. This revisionism becomes so all-pervasive that people often have to reach well into their adulthood before they make the dismaying discovery that that the truth was closer to the opposite of what was portrayed.

Then people realise, that if the orthodox portrayal was bunkum in one case, how much other perceived truths of shared common wisdom also rest on shaky foundations.

re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

Jozef I am humbled by the depth of your appreciation for my ‘ice-breaker’ post, especially the inclusion of the quote from Kundera.

My mum’s ashes have regained their equilibrium, the urn’s engraving (her personal favourite) shining brighter than yesterday:

“The gods gave us memories, so we’d have roses in December.”

re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

Thank you indeed, Paul Walter, for your praise and encouragement.

Thanks also for the quote from Hobsbawn’s Age of Extremism which encouraged a flurry of googling to discover his impressive list of historical tomes, his own quite amazing, complex and contradictory ‘personal history’. Kept me happy for hours, and resulted in several new items on my library book list :)

Reading history, the truism “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it” always seems to appear somewhere in the text – yet repeat it we do, ad infinitum – each new generation of empires/super powers arrogantly believing either that history does not apply to them or their intelligence/authority is infinitely superior.

And yet, the spirit and courage of vulnerable and powerless individual dissenters against brutal dictatorships or mock-democracies remains unbroken, each era producing new champions.

We are indeed a weird mob!

re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

Thankyou Jozef and the others on this thread. Dissent is a hard job made easier when you know you are not alone.

The government has spent its terms trashing the conventions that keep Australia's liberal democracy both liberal and democratic. Australian democracy has been hollowed out to a series of formal legalisms that party discipline makes a joke of. The executive now sees itself ruling, and indeed does, as an elected sovereign. Politics is viewed as solely about the manipulation of minority groups, combined with judicious trading in ignorance, in order to produce a majority once every three years.

Not surprisingly this has gone on in tandem with abuses of human rights, the normalisation of deceit, growing contempt for accountability, and now the implementation of laws that will create real Soviet style dissidents in our society. People who can be locked away for thought crimes, for speaking freely, and on the basis of association. People subjected to state force without access to basic rights or access to an independent judiciary.

The history of dissidence begins with refusal to alter thought and gains strength through co-operation with like minds. The statement of the dissident is "I refuse"

We can and will say to John Howard. We refuse to accept your laws and we will refuse to obey them.

re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

Hi Margo, I'll have a go. It's been a very long time since I read 1984, and just at the moment it seems even more relvant than usual.

While searching for my copy, I came across a couple of other old favorites: Tuchman's The March of Folly (another book with current relevance), and Kurlansky's Cod. So my reading is sorted out for some time.

re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

Jozef, I spent some time yesterday wondering how I could get a legitimate reference to a favorite novel into this thread. You've made my day! It opens:

'And so they've killed our Ferdinand,' said the charwoman to Mr Svejk, who had left military service years before, after having been finally certified by an army medical board as an imbecile, and now lived by selling dogs - ugly, mongrel monstrosities whose pedigrees he forged.

So patriotic Svejk is off to the Great War - with a wheelchair and crutches. His protestations of eagerness to serve are clearly an attempt to fake imbecility (despite his official certification). The authorities put him in the army hospital, where the inmates can usually be cured by four or five days of stomach pumping and enemas.

The things that shine through the novel are the skepticism of authority (anywhere, anytime) and the humour. And the futility and waste of war. It honours the ordinary people caught up in war.

Its The Good Soldier Svejk, by Jaroslav Hasek. Penguin Classics re-issues it every now and then.

Margo: Hi Mark. Feel like re-reading and reviewing 1984 for 2005?

re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

It has been written that there are two things about the Czech nation: that it is skeptical about those who are major figures and those who are supposedly ‘the greatest.’ And that the only certainty that has saved the nation many times throughout history is its humour ...

In the context of the antiterror law, it is worth pondering upon how one single WHY can tell over two thousands stories ...

I was trying to think of a way to make the point that this whole war is such a waste. But I also wanted to honor the troops I believe our government wrongly sent to Iraq Luckovich spent 13 hours working on his Why? cartoon (Mike Luckovich's Wednesday editorial cartoon has the hand-written name of every American soldier killed in Iraq).

re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

Jozef’s preamble - "I recall [my dad] saying to me as we watched a wolf trying to attack us how the most dangerous animal in the forest is the one that is hurt. I think his words were: 'Injured animal is the most dangerous animal in the forest’" - brought an immediate mind-picture of a small suburban event many years ago when I lived in Queensland.

Taking my first-born on our daily constitutional 'around the block’, walking slowly at the pace of chubby legs, we paused to admire a neighbour’s fabulous red rosebush. Blooms the size of a dinner plate. Alas, no perfume. But thorns aplenty. A little learning for young nippers in the offing. A short discourse on the ouch-ouch of thorns, his stubby peter-pointer carefully following my adult finger on the thorn from its base to the hooked and deadly-looking tip. Not all roses “smell as sweet”, beauty can be deceptive in the dangers that lurk beneath, and the virtues of caution.

As this baby-talk discussion continued, a big ute with a cement-mixer in back pulled into the driveway two houses down. A big blue-heeler dog flew from the house to the ute like a cannon-shot and collided with a resounding thump against the driver’s opening door. A yelp of astonished pain, a triple roll and back on his feet with an acrobat’s fluidity of movement. Did he start biting the tires of the ute, take on the driver now emerging from the car? Not on your nelly! As soon as he was on all fours, he shot diagonally across the road with a snarl of rage (and humiliation?) and ferociously attacked the Labrador snoozing in the sun in his own front garden.

We watched in wide-eyed amazement.

The ute driver simply stood by his door and yelled “G’orn gedoudofit, ya bloody mongrel” but made no move to rescue the ‘innocent’ Lab or attempt to stop the dogfight. Perhaps he too knew “injured animal is the most dangerous animal.” The Lab’s owner had the presence of mind, amid her hysterical screams “Leave him alone, get away, stoppit stoppit you savage bastard!” to turn the garden hose on snarling mêlée to end the immediate ahem contest. The dogs’ owners however continued the feud in a fierce neighbour dispute that lasted years and eventually split the immediate community right down the middle … one side of the road against the other. Ultimately no one won, but the lawyers made several BMWs worth, the Council was kept fully occupied with a deluge of claims and counterclaims, ultimately solving the problem with their own strategy of fining both dog owners for not keeping their dogs restrained. In the midst of the drama, blue and lab were seen in absolute harmony chasing and treeing another neighbour’s cat.

You can imagine the wealth of mum-to-children life skills which that small suburban incident validated!

And still does. In Trevor Kerr’s Bush scenario we can so easily substitute the suburban characters for the current world-players, but I’m in a quandary on whether to substitute Dub-Dub for the ute or the blue heeler ;) Or indeed, the cement mixer.

And Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice
Cry 'Havoc!' and let slip the dogs of war;
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.

Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, ca 1608.

The more things change the more the stay the same.

re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

I am constantly amazed by the lack of concern average citizens have for government interference. Fear is such a powerful weapon, used and abused by the mainstream media to bring a docile public.

Jozef, your personal experiences will resonate with many of us. Indeed, my parent's revulsion of the current so-called anti-terror laws are evidence that many with a full history remember history and refuse to trust 'them.'

After all, in my humble opinion, the two-party system is structurally incapable of bringing change.

re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

Mark Sergeant, I see you have taken up Margo’s invitation to re-read and review Orwell’s classic 1984 - onya! But I feel compelled to put in a word for Eugeny Zamyatin’s (1884-1937) We, written in Russia’s revolutionary 1920s, smuggled West, and said to be the inspiration (by generous critics) or the text plagiarised (by detracting critics) by later authors Orwell, Huxley and Bradbury.

Ironically on the copy I have (We was not published in the Soviet until the 1990s, but is now available in an English translation for less than a dollar in Moscow market stalls), the back cover quotes George Orwell as he takes a swipe at Aldous Huxley:

The first thing anyone would notice about We is the fact – never pointed out, I believe – that Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World must be partly derived from it … It is [Zamyatin’s] intuitive grasp of the irrational side of totalitarianism – human sacrifice, cruelty as an end in itself, the worship of a Leader [the Benefactor as opposed to Big Brother, my insert] who is credited with divine attributes – that makes Zamyatin’s book superior to Huxley’s.

For my money (less than a dollar!) the original fiction, philosophy and humour (yes, peppered with Jozef Imrich’s love of humour!) of Zamyatin’s We is superior in all ways to Orwell’s version 1984 published in 1948.

A search for my battered copy of 1984 bore no fruit, think it grew legs and is now gathering more wisdom in one of my kids' collections, probably in company with two of my Hendrix vinyls!

re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

To be able to speak with both fire and forgiveness while never forgetting inhumanity and injustice is a rare quality, Jozef Imrich. So my homage to you for sharing your story. Likewise to Jackie Hangjas.

Many years ago I spent a spring holiday with my grandmama, who then lived in St Kilda. One day we visited the local deli and as a special honour I was shown the numbers tattooed on the owners' forearms. The Holocaust has been an integral part of my life ever since - so far as it can be for someone who has not even an indirect connection with it. More and more - with all the snowballing examples of realpolitik as she is now practised in Oz - we need to remember, to honour, and to resolve never to let it happen again.

And Jackie, is it possible that GWB's alter ego is the left-over sludge in the cement mixer?

re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

Jackie Hangjas, may I (belatedly) join you in recommending Zamyatin's We to all Webdiarists. Because, you are right - albeit (perhaps) somewhat overstating the case. Still... Zamyatin's masterpiece is definitely THE fundamental dystopia of the 20th century - and, as such, it has deeply influenced all (of substance) that came after. May I therefore (respectfully) suggest to Margo that, given Jackie's evidently deep familiarity with this crucial work, she be formally asked to review it for Webdiary?

Because, those who've yet to encounter this crucial work could well do with an outline of the wisdom it embodies - in these troubled times...

All the best.

re: Make-believe democracy: drowning with the authoritarians

Fiona, Antony, Jackie, Mark et al.

Edward R Murrow said, "A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves."

Throughout history life tended to be a continuous cycle of misery. Happiness seemed merely an oasis that one chances upon for brief time before being thrown back into the same misery. Perhaps it is for good reason that religions focus so much on afterlife - this world, even the new so called democratic world, is too fragile to bank upon.

But then again, the story of human race is a story of persistence. And so even small initiatives like Webdiary will continue to build bridges and pepper hope where it is most needed ...

Legend has it when Henry David Thoreau went to jail to protest an unjust law, his friend, the philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, visited him and asked, "Henry, what are you doing in here?" The great nature writer replied, "What are you doing out there?"

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