MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Petr Romanov.) -- The greatest surprise about the victory of Hamas in Palestinian elections is how surprised everyone seems to be.
Apparently, in this case psychology has prevailed over sober analysis. Most countries were so afraid of the extremists' victory that they chose to indulge in obvious illusions. In reality, what happened should have been expected: the corrupt, weak and no longer popular Fateh movement, which lost its leader after Yassir Arafat's death, has been defeated by the young, assertive and increasingly powerful rival. The fact that the international community had blacklisted Hamas as a terrorist organization did not influence Palestinian voters accustomed to the eternal confrontation with Israel. People at war tend to vote differently than people at peace.
No one knows what is going to happen to Palestine or to the Road Map the peacekeepers had nursed for so long. Neither does Hamas, as the movement itself lacks unity on many pivotal issues. So it remains to be seen which wing, a more radical or a more moderate one, will come to dominate.
It is unclear who, when, on what terms and with whom will sit at the negotiations table. It is uncertain whether the new government will be recognized worldwide. On the one hand, the Middle East quartet - the United States, Russia, the UN and the EU - has called on all the parties to respect the outcome of the election. Yet almost simultaneously, President Bush and some European leaders announced they would recognize the new Palestinian leadership only if it changed its position on Israel.
Theoretically, it is possible. After all, to be in opposition and to be in power are two different things. The winners' spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said after the election, "We intend to change the West's opinion about our movement. There have been virtually no contacts for a long time and they known nothing about our beliefs. When Western countries learn more about us, their policies toward us are certain to change." Well, this remains to be seen.
I for one believe that there is a more important problem. Free and fair elections have brought to power a terrorist organization that openly proclaims its desire to wipe its neighboring state and UN member off the face of the earth. This, I think, signifies a demise of democracy, and one that is, unfortunately absolutely logical. Recently, Washington and its closest allies have been putting democracy to the test, arranging a string of dubious elections in countries with weak democratic traditions. This is true of Afghanistan, Iraq, Georgia, Ukraine with its third run-off, and Kosovo, where only the Albanian population voted. In all of these places elections were found valid not because they were faultless, but because it was politically expedient. The poll in Palestine followed the same pattern, but political pragmatism has no direct relation to democracy. Democracy suffered because world politicians could not think of anything more appropriate for Palestine than elections it was not ready for.
They should have taken a break and looked at the outcome of previous experiments. All of the above-mentioned elections have proved democracy's Pyrrhic victory, simply exhausting its strength.
So what is this outcome today? The ostensibly "democratic" Afghanistan is controlled by drug lords rather than central authorities. Elections in the "democratic" Iraq have not consolidated society, but split it further. The "democratic" Ukraine is in a total chaos. In the "democratic" Georgia, President Mikhail Saakashvili enjoys support of the absolute minority of the population. In the "democratic" Kosovo, after the death of Ibrahim Rugova, European politicians cannot find another sane Albanian to be entrusted with power. So in the end it will be warlords who will compete for the vacant presidential post, although they should be brought to the Hague Tribunal for their crimes.
Democracy came under excessive pressure because of the OSCE, where double standards of assessing elections have become a norm, as Russian diplomats have often pointed out.
Another test for democracy was the scandal around CIA secret prisons in some European countries. In fact, after the EU expansion, the problem of its political morality and commitment to democracy has become regrettably acute. Two examples illustrate the point perfectly: the problems of the Russian-speaking minority in Latvia and former SS servicemen's marches in Lithuania, both condoned by their governments and treated with indifference by the EU leaders.
Perhaps, it is time West Europe stopped looking for problems in Russia, which it is so fond of doing, and started cleaning its own Augean Stables.
Finally, democracy should not be put to an endurance test artificially. It is a sensitive instrument and not a Procrustean bed. Attempts to enforce democracy in a country that is not ready for it, such as Palestine, will only make the situation worse. Elections as such, even if they are held in line with democratic standards, do not make a country, its leadership and people democratic. After all, Adolf Hitler came to power in the same democratic way.