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About the Author

Daniel Nylin Nilsson
Teacher (Lund, Sweden)

I am a dyed-in-the-wool blogger from Sweden, with a few years of experience from Southeastern Europe. I have no journalistic training per se, but on the other hand blogging for me has as much to do with creative writing as it has to do with journalism. I love to write, but live from other things, like care-taking, teaching, translating etc. And maybe this is the way I want it - as a blogger nothing is more dear to me than my independence.


Politics without ideologies

Published 12th April 2010 - 9 comments - 2733 views -

This weekend more than 20 people were killed in street battles between Thai troops and Red Shirt protesters. The latter are usually said to support the previous populist Thai president Taksin Shinawatra, and ask for new parliamenary elections. 20 human beings. What did they die for?

Credits: (cc) Athit Perawongmetha/Getty Images

The question is not mereley rethorical - political violence is always a tragedy, but it is hard to understand what these protesters are actually fighting for. To reinstate a corrupted politician who pays them to take to the streets? That's what their opponents claim. For a genuine democracy, and a more just Thai society? That's what they say themselves. My knowledge about Thai society is miniscule, but I am more than sceptical that they will ever attain such a goal, even if they manage to win this stand off with the military.

The prostpect for the establishment under siege is not much better. A popular king is eldery, and will be followed by a unliked prince. The appeal to democratic conflict solution looks desperate. It is true that politics should be decided by compromise and polling and not street fights, but Shinawatra was ousted by the military, and the Thai people have not yet had their say in free and open elections. If they would, most analysts predict the Red Shirts to come back to power.

Most likely, for most Thai people life will be the same, no matter who wins this pitched battle. Nonetheless, people are willing to die for the outcome. From an outside observer it looks like madness.

It would be less troubling if Thailand was a very poor, and very undemocratic country, but it is not. In stead Thailand is a success story in South East Asia, with a more stable democratic traditions, and a better developed economic life than all of its' neighbours. But I guess Thailand's problem is a very common one - economic growth is easy to attain, but once the wheels start running, political life stays behind. This is not the result of poverty, nor is it Thailand's problems. The problem is a world filled with politics without ideologies.

If you travel from Europe's developed North, to the less so Southeast, what strikes you most is not the economical and social inequalities, that are rapidly diminishing, but the lack of a political life that corresponds to social life. I have lived in Moldova and Bulgaria, and whereas many citizens in these countries would dismiss their rulers as thieves and liars, that is quite far from the truth.

There are political movements challenging the status quo in both these countries, and also that hard working and well meaning politicians exist within established structures. But the connection with real life is weak in this kind of countries. There is a vibrant social life, intelligent citizens, and a political sphere, but no real correspondence between them. Moldovans and Bulgarians don't waste their time bickering about foreign policy. Most people don't expect much more from their politicians than to stay out of their life.

In a country like Sweden, political parties more or less reflect contradictions within society. We have pro-Israel parties and pro-Palestine parties, and at any Swedish dinner party you can expect a heated discussion about the Israel-Palestine problem. There is a correspondence between the political sphere and social life.

Is this simply a matter of transforming societies, not yet fully democratic? I don't think so, as the same tendency is developed and developing countries alike. Participation in elections is waning, political movements struggle to keep citizens interested, and more and more votes go to obvious choices of dissent.

This is probably more related to a general trend of individualisation and commercialisation in a postmodern neoliberal society. In fact most parts of the so called developing world, especially Eastern Europe (which migh not belong to this cathegory any more), has had a head-start on Sweden into neoliberal reality. If we talk about regulations, Bulgaria is a much more liberal country than Sweden will ever be. But we are moving in the same direction. Sweden can afford to move slower, which is why we still bother to care about politics, but we are getting there.

There is a lot of truth in the talk about the end of ideologies. Most societies today seem to learn how to deliever increasing material wealth in a muted half-ready democracy. Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin wall, so much seems inevitable, so little seems possible to chosse. It is not hard to see why politics become slightly irrelevant in this situation, when only one way forward is reasonable.

And yet, the death of ideologies does not eradicate politics, or political violence, as the events in Thailand show. People continue to protest, because that is what humans do. The trickiest problem in today's world is that we continue to do politics, even after we have made politics irrelevant. And we really have no choice. But politics without vision becomes a mere power struggle, which is not a very promising concept... Maybe we should find a way to make politics relevant again? Maybe that's what every generation has to do for themselves.


  • Aija Vanaga on 12th April 2010:

    Politics without ideologies or development without certain common aim or idea to achieve?

  • Daniel Nylin Nilsson on 12th April 2010:

    Hm… good question. Maybe a better headline would have been “development for the sake of development”?

  • Aija Vanaga on 12th April 2010:

    Because for me politics should have vision towards what to develop.

  • Daniel Nylin Nilsson on 12th April 2010:

    Yes, that is what I am after also. But sometimes, not too seldom, I think that politics is just an idle motor that makes a lot of sound but doesn’t take us anywhere.

  • Aija Vanaga on 12th April 2010:

    That is where we are gone considering democracy and elections. Sounds are coming in soft and involving huge populism for elected to be re-elected. And it is a bit complicated to have vision if driving people are changed every now and then.

  • Daniel on 12th April 2010:

    I just wanted to share this solemn, and very good article in Al JAzeera about the event in Thailand… “It left me wondering whether an early election is really worth dying for, or clinging to power really worth killing for.”

  • Clare Herbert on 15th April 2010:

    Here in Ireland, our two main parties are idealogy-less and it’s pretty disasterous. I envy the UK’s political system and debate. Here, the aim is for power with much concern for how to use this power.

  • Daniel Nylin Nilsson on 08th June 2010:

    @Aija - you highlight the problems with democracy, but is there some other way? I don’t think so. But maybe decision making on a national scale could e replaced with decision making on a local scale, which I think would make voters feel much more responsible.

    @Claire. I also envy the UK. The lib-dems definitely shook things up a bit. The Swedish system has lost very much of its nerve, and we are currently moving towards a system of two parties who want basically the same thing.

  • Sylwia Presley on 25th July 2010:

    ‘Make politics relevant’ what a great statement - I support it with all my heart!

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