For Better or For Worse: Cuba, Pakistan, Kosovo

Everywhere there seems to be a feeling of fatigue for one failed system after another, and movements (like Obama’s, which seems to be sweeping the United States) have begun to spring up, maybe not with real platforms, but change for change’s sake. Until recently, we’d never have seen Thai soldiers suddenly meeting on closed doors with the blessings of their king, to topple a corrupt leader. We’d never have seen protesters taking to the streets of Myanmar in opposition to that country’s junta.

Fidel Castro’s resignation punctuated two recent political headlines: the defeat of Musharraf’s ruling party in the parliamentary elections, and the declaration of independence by province of Kosovo. There seemed to be an air of political change, not only in one country, but also in the world at large. Everywhere there seems to be a feeling of fatigue for one failed system after another, and movements (like Obama’s, which seems to be sweeping the United States) have begun to spring up, maybe not with real platforms, but change for change’s sake. Until recently, we’d never have seen Thai soldiers suddenly meeting on closed doors with the blessings of their king, to topple a corrupt leader. We’d never have seen protesters taking to the streets of Myanmar in opposition to that country’s junta.

With this pervading sense of optimism, however, is the equally potent skepticism. These unpopular leaders, after all, once themselves represented a “generation of hope.” Soon after the Second World War, the newly independent Asian and African countries, as well as the Latin Americans, bore the title of “Third World” proudly. They would set a model of Democracy, delineated from the then power politics between the Soviet Union and the United States. This “generation of hope” soon degenerated into genocidal leaders, and corrupt autocrats. Their “model democracy” was anything but democratic.

These “gestures” towards change, however, should not be left ignored. Fidel Castro, for example, broke the general precedent of dictators past and present, by resigning as both Commander-in-Chief and Cuban leader. Except for notable exception(s?), like Spanish Caudillo Francisco Franco, dictators have never “stepped down”. They were always “thrown out” or died in office. Castro, in his act, offered to give way to the “younger generation”, with his only way to remain a “soldier of ideals.” Many in the Cuban opposition deem this with cynicism, as the Cuban leader had already prepared the way for the succession of his brother, Raoul. There really was no change in Cuban system of government, they say; the two brothers are indistinguishable in temperament. This has not dampened some spirits. This Cuba was centered on the persona of one man: Fidel Castro, and without the fire of his personality, the government will be shaped by another man, or by another system. Who knows? Raoul is the anointed, but party politics and elections can go another way. Maybe, we’ll find a Cuban Khruschev to denounce his Stalin. It’s not impossible.

The defeat of Pervez Musharraf’s party in the recent elections, brings to mind several other similar “acts of defiance”: the victory of the Democratic Party in the Congressional and state-wide elections, a few years ago; the victory of Hamas in the parliamentary elections in Palestine; and the almost-overwhelming election of Opposition senators in the Philippine Senate. The vote, in recent, has not only been used as an act of choosing leaders, but also as a “slap in the face” of a policy, or system. Benazir Bhutto faced corruption charges herself, during her tenure as Prime Minister. But her persona, and her party, represented everything that was not Musharraf. This, in local parlance, would be the magnetism of an Erap in the midst of a Gloria.

Musharraf, for his part, has conceded the defeat of his party, and is stretching an olive branch of reconciliation. He, like Castro, is a good man. Often led to commit grave, dark mistakes, they nevertheless venerate the people as the voice of the nation.

The last important news is the declaration of independence by the (now-former) Serbian province of Kosovo. This has been a long, thorny international issue in the fractured former Yugoslavia, dating back from the death of Marshal Tito and his succession by Slobodan Milosevic. Under the iron rule of Tito, Yugoslavs saw itself not as a people divided by religion or ethnicity, but as Yugoslavs. When Milosevic took over, it was immediately apparent that this new government would favor the Serbians, instead of giving equal treatment of the other regions. As soon as Yugoslavia disappeared as a political entity, Milosevic launched a genocidal campaign against his neighbors—from Bosnia, to Kosovo, ultimately prompting a retaliatory US air counterstrike in 1999.

But all that is in the past. Milosevic is dead, Serbia is in the midst of political reform, the other former Yugoslav countries are at peace, and Kosovo is a little freer. Their declaration of independence is reminiscent of the time when East Timor voted to break away from Indonesia. Suharto, by then, had been ousted, and the United Nations had granted a plebiscite. East Timor is not so significant; it’s that little piece of island on the large Indonesian archipelago—but at that time it seemed like a darling of the world. And like the East Timorese, the Kosovars have already begun to feel the hostility of a Serbia insulted by this vote of emancipation. There are already clashes in the borders; buildings set on fire. Maybe the world will not be so inept, this time. Maybe the world will not wait, as the United States did, when Indonesian militia were slaughtering hundreds in that tiny little island, insignificant save for national pride. Many countries have expressed their objection, Russia at the forefront; we can only see how Kosovo will begin to evolve, in the years to come.

Saddam’s execution, Suharto’s passing, Thaksin’s fall, and now—Castro’s capitulation. The era of idealistic or pragmatic, financial and democratic, dictators have finally come to an end. Hugo Chavez, was not part of this “generation of hope”, though he espoused the same socialist beliefs as his Cuban neighbor. Kim Jong-Il is only riding on the iconic worship of his father; and there are no more Maos, Khomeinis, and Stalins in our time. The world has also begun to drift away from dependence on America.

There are still the fossils of old regimes still present in the world—Myanmar’s junta remains in full control, despite “dialogues” with other parties (conveniently refusing negotiation with Aung San Suu Kyi), and North Korea’s army continues to strangle the people, despite gestures toward unity with South Korea. There are some cracks there too: Burmese are buying bootlegged copies of the new Rambo movie, inspired by its catchphrase “Live for nothing. Die for something”.

And even the new generation of leaders is suffering a “trial of fire”: East Timor has fallen victim to militia violence, and an assassination attempt against its leaders; Afghanistan’s non-Taliban government is ill-equipped to face Taliban insurgents in the outside, and corruption in the inside. Then again, that is the trial faced in nationhood—a never ending cycle of suffering, and optimistic gains. Whether one outbalances the other, is up to us to decide.