Free Elections

On Sunday two formerly totalitarian states held free elections: Spain and Russia.

In Spain, democratic values were reaffirmed as the ruling conservative party was voted out of office. The Socialist Party did not need to take political advantage of last week’s tragic Madrid bombings (as Bush has shamelessly done with the 9/11 attacks in his own television ads) in order for Spanish voters to make a reasoned decision not to support the pro-Bush Aznar any longer. In an admirably democratic way, however, the conservative People’s Party admitted defeat, and the reins of government will be smoothly handed over. And this, in a country oppressively ruled by Franco’s iron fist for decades.

Meanwhile in Russia, President Putin, a former KGB bureaucrat, was solidly reelected. But is the democratic process in the former Soviet Union merely an illusion? Putin has crushed his opposition (namely, the country’s richest businessman, whom Putin had arrested) and the government controls the media. Did Russian voters really have any alternative?

Whereas the democratic spirit seems vigorously alive in Spain, it appears to be a ghost of itself in Russia, where its millions of citizens seem perilously close to buying into an authoritarian regime.

How significant is it that Putin’s campaign consisted of many of the same themes as Bush’s present campaign: stability, safety, security? Fear licenses power, and Bush is taking advantage of this fact, just as Putin so successfully managed to do.