Sometimes a few really reassuring stories "jump" across the spread of news so quickly that we miss the essence of the "larger picture" they are conveying. This might be the result of a lack of interest or a lack of background. It might be the signal of nothing more than an on-going stubborn avoidance, manifest as petulant stoicism and assuaged by an enduring cynicism.
The reports on the nightly BBC news offered two examples of unexpected good and another revealing the alternative.
What were the stories?
The alternative first. After risking everything to depose the old regime in Kyrgazstan, the citizens of that country have found it necessary to rise up again, this time to eliminate the corruption of the man they installed last time. The out-going government unleashed its Special Security Forces to open fire on the malcontents -- somewhere around 75 dead with 400 wounded. The Defense Minister of the new government announced today without condition or ambiguity that such a practice was over. Period.
Aside from the US Air Base at Mana, the day's events in Biskek are probably a move in the right direction. The bloodshed is, however, the price paid for consolidating too much unchecked power in the wrong person. Kyrgan society seemed to be moving forward after the last uprising, but, once again, idealism and hope were bargained away under the thrall of corruption. The positive side, if there actually is one among the corpses in the streets, is that the people of Kyrgazstan remain hopeful and idealistic, even after the bullets were flying a mere 24 hours before.
Next, the unexpected good.
Case one: Pakistan.
In Pakistan, President Asif Ali Zardari will peacefully and legally renounce some of the powers of that office which were purloined under the recent dictator. Those powers will be transferred to the country's Parliament. From the look of the process today, there will be no street rioting or gunfire involved. The country will move another step toward its ambition to be a democracy in both word, deed and structure.
It takes a serious commitment to democracy to take such a risk.
Hold out your hand and count -- on your fingers -- the number of times we have seen a recent story even remotely similar to this one. Once power has been consolidated in the "wrong" place, it tends to stay there. In fact, once begun, the results of such a process almost invariably get worse until a Kyrgazstan-style, bloody correction takes place.
This story casts a long shadow, too. In our own country, President Obama has retained the power of the so-called Patriot Act, an on-going claim to the legitimacy of military tribunals and the lingering embarrassment of a Constitution which has been ruefully denuded of its habeas corpus clause.
Case two: Southern Sudan.
The guns which flooded this unfortunate country to provide the fire power needed for its decades long civil war, are being forcefully and lawfully collected by the local semi-autonomous government. The time trigger was five days. After that, anyone in the region possessing a firearm will face a five year prison sentence.
This action would have been painless enough if all these rifles were simply sitting in closets collecting dust. They weren't. In fact, the government took this astonishing step exactly because they weren't collecting dust. The tribal factions in Southern Sudan -- when the civil war died down a little -- had turned all these guns on each other. They were settling disputes over cattle, dishonor, religion and a dozen other tribal issues.
What had always previously been sporadic, low level conflicts when these matters came up had turned into murderous episodes of local military combat. The fledging democracy in Southern Sudan is quite a ways from anything close to a presence in the "out back territory" miles from the roads, towns or capitol. (The Darfur refugee camp is in Western Sudan.)
The government of Southern Sudan apparently is convinced that it has the moxy to collect the guns even as it admits that it lacks the capacity to control all parts of the country. Ready or not, that government has decided that the wanton killing is worse -- and more dangerous to the country -- than over-extending its governmental powers to collect all these rifles.
Both the government and the people of Southern Sudan are taking the risk for peace. All the parties in the region know and accept that conditions will most likely slide downhill for a while before they improve.
It takes a serious commitment to peace to take such a chance.
MeanMesa wishes the people of Kyrgasztan a rapid and peaceful change in governments. MeanMesa's compliments the brave, hopeful governments and people of Pakistan and Southern Sudan.
Now, to the quality of brave, hopeful citizens in this country. How far will we go, what sacrifices will we willingly make -- that is, what risks will we take -- for the sake of restoring, protecting and sustaining our own democracy?