Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Democratization in Germany, South Africa, and Mexico

Political Science 148

Democratization in Germany, South Africa, and Mexico

The three societies of Germany, South Africa and Mexico have in the process of the last fifty years have evolved into more open and democratic societies. In order to understand this process, one must understand what the measurement of change is in. There should be two distinct measurements of change to judge a nation in how they practice democratization. The first measurement of change would be economic conditions. A nation should allow its citizens to live, work and prosper in its territory. This should include giving the people a living wage for which they can prosper, some social security or retirement benefits, economic opportunities, vocational or training programs to give the people the skills needed to compete, as well as worker protections. The state should also provide for some basic welfare services to allow those who are impoverished to be able to brought out of poverty and become productive members of society. The second measurement should be political considerations. The state should provide its citizens with basic freedoms and human rights of which they cannot be taken back. Such human rights would be the freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of assembly. A state should also provide for the right to vote and give every citizen an opportunity to participate in civic affairs. Finally, men and women should be treated in an equal and fair manner. While these definitions are not absolute, they can serve as a basic guide to determine how Germany, South Africa and Mexico in their process of democratization.

The first country—Germany—has advanced tremendously in democratization. Fifty years ago, the Second World War devastated Germany. The Nazi government was responsible for the senseless slaughter of people based on racial ethnicity with a particular emphasis on the extinction of the Jewish race. However, within the next 50 years, Germany built itself up into a modern industrial state. Germans traditionally believe in sharing with each other in a paternalistic means from the top down. This can be traced back to the Yonkers or German elite who started to industrialize the German states. Germans believed that government could be helpful and beneficial to the people. Germans believe that the right of an individual is not absolute. An individual is in a relationship with the community and is equal in that community. The individual does not stand alone outside of the community. This is important since it is the community and not the individual, which interprets the morality of laws. Germany is a highly modern, industrialized society with an advanced social welfare state which provides its people with a minimum living wage, unemployment benefits, social security, job training, maternity leave with pay, and basic human rights and freedoms. However, Germany does have one major problem. Germans still believe in citizenship by blood—you are a German citizen if your parents were Germans. And individual of another race could not be German if they were born here. This is a major problem since Germany allowed open borders for immigration in its Basic Law as well as inviting foreigners into the nation during the 1950s “Economic Miracle.” A sizable portion of Turkish guest workers that immigrated to Germany stayed and assimilated into German society and culture, raising children. Yet these guest workers could not become naturalized German citizens since they did not have German ancestry. So while Germany has provided a strong economy with an efficient social welfare state, an old citizenship law, which claims naturalization only through blood, has not allowed Germany to establish true democratization.

With the country of South Africa, the roles have been reversed. For much of the South African existence, the government instituted a government system of racial discrimination called apartheid. Apartheid was a government-sponsored program, which formally separated whites, black native Africans and coloreds by their racial characteristics. More importantly, apartheid also provided the whites got 93% of the best land including prime farmland and a main industrial base of South Africa—even though the white population was around 25% if the total South African population. The blacks, which made up 75% if South African population, received less than 6% of South Africa’s land which was rural desert. With a combination of external pressures of a world trade embargo protesting the apartheid policy to internal pressures of maintaining apartheid through growing violence and riots in the black homelands while white businesses couldn’t find skilled black labor to fill their industrial system, South Africa finally dismantled the apartheid system in 1990. An interim national government headed by South African President F.W. De Klerk and Nelson Mandela, president of the African National Congress, worked on creating a system of government which initiated an orderly transfer of power between the white minority government and the black citizens while ensuring both races received fair representation in the new South African government. De Klerk and Madela succeeded. South Africa became a full democracy. However, South Africa has major economic problems. A large number of the black population living in the homelands has little education and no job skills or training to compete in an industrial society. They are unemployed, homeless and have no skills. Currently the South African government is debating on how to resolve the economic conditions of black South Africans.

The third nation Mexico provides a unique case between balancing both economic and political concerns for the Mexican people. Mexico has been a developing nation during its modern history. It was a democracy, however only one party—the PRI--could run for elections. While Mexico had a simple welfare system, the system was deregulated to allow for free market expansion to take effect in the 1980s. In the mid 1990s, the Mexican economy collapsed into a deep recession. One important problem of Mexico is that income redistribution has shifted away from the poor and working class, transferring the wealth to an already rich class. This deteriorating system of income redistribution is a main obstacle to improving Mexico’s economic conditions. Income distribution is shifting geographically as well. The northern states in Mexico are economically advanced, industrialized, and homogeneous while the southern states are agricultural with subsistence farmers, rural and controlled by the PRI. Because of this income distribution, Mexico is becoming segregated with a rich and democratic north containing the wealth, and a poor, autocratic south with little wealth. This is causing a violent uprising of Mayan peasants requesting land reform in Chiapas, which has erupted into a revolt between the Chapas and the Mexican army.

While Germany, South Africa and Mexico have not adapted to an ideal standard of a democratic nation, these three nations are working to develop their own unique forms of democracy. As they continue to evolve in their social structures, a democratization process will continue to allow the people in these three nations live in a free society.

No comments: