The big questions

What does democracy mean to the world’s thought leaders?

Vivienne Westwood
Fashion designer (UK)
Who would you vote for as president of the world?
I’d get Gore Vidal immediately, he’s a very principled man and also people like Richard Branson would be awfully good. Richard’s a businessman, but has principles, and hopefully we could find a better way to run the country economically.

Are women more democratic than men?
I don’t know, I think women are more conservative than men as a general rule ...
But I think that to be conservative can be good. Women, as we know, want progress for themselves and their families, but they are not as radical as men, not as reckless. So I think they could probably serve democracy better than men ...

Benjamin Zephaniah
Poet (UK)
Who would you vote for as president of the world?
To me, the person for the job is really obvious. His name is Nelson Mandela. Actually, I’d like to have two people share the presidency: Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama. For president of the world we need people who can forgive, who are not vengeful, people who are passionate and people who are truly concerned for humanity.

Can terrorism destroy democracy?
It’s almost an impossible question to answer because we’ve got terrorists who are democratically elected. But in the end, of course terrorism can destroy democracy. It has to be remembered that sometimes democracy can function extremely corruptly. You know the old saying: ‘One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”

Is God democratic?
No, God is not democratic. God never, ever called for elections. God tells various groups that they are his chosen people, creating factions and feuding over who in fact has the right to such a title. God does not come down and say ‘stop fighting, let’s have an election”.

What would make you want to start a revolution?
I want to start a revolution right now. I want to end all wars, abolish all armies, save the animals and put an end to slavery, because it’s still happening. I want to do all these things and start a revolution this moment, but I need some friends to help me and they’re all shopping or having sex.

Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane (South Africa)
Is God democratic?
Well, democracy was coined by human beings, not God. Whenever I read the Book of Genesis, which is an attempt to illustrate that God provided for our need and not for our greed — by entrusting the world to us he is a great democrat, in fact.

What would make you want to start a revolution?
I don’t think that I’ve got the energy to start a revolution. I believe in the policies of persuasion, a revolution that I would be engaged in is a revolution that’ aims at the spiritual reconstruction of peoples’ minds.

Are women more democratic than men?
Oh no, I think women are human. Men are human just as women are human. Natural gifts apply to women in terms of caring, multi-skilling and so in a sense women have got that kind of richness with them. A great theologian once said that God is both man and woman. And I think it is that balance which is important.

Slavoj Zizek—philosopher (Slovenia)
Who rules the world?
I’m an old-fashioned Marxist—capital rules it, not in a paranoic sense of some big capitalist meeting between Washington and New York, Wall Street, but simply this anonymous process, the process of recycling, reproducing, which is infinitely expanding. It’s clear that this logic of capitalist expansion is the underlying key—kind of a hidden point of reference to everything that goes on today.

Who would you vote for as president of the world?
I think it’s very dangerous to have intelligent people as presidents or leaders. Since this would be a ceremonial post, my requirements would be fully aesthetic—it should be a gentle idiot.

Is democracy good for everyone?
No, but nothing is good for everyone. I am for the spirit of struggle, I am for universality, but universality for me is a fighting category. So I hope not—what is good for everyone is good for nobody.

What would make you want to start a revolution?
The interesting thing is that what actually triggers revolutions is usually something totally trivial ... so you have to be a practical opportunist. The only thing I do know is what starts a revolution is always a marginal, purely symbolic, irrelevant point.

Are dictators ever good?
They can be good. I can well imagine situations where tough decisions have to be made and where you need something like a dictator, a firm leader. Let’s be frank, and I’m saying this as a leftist, popular opinion is chaotic and divisive. The way to push it to a much-needed decision, you need sometimes a dictator—so I can imagine, paradoxically, a measure that immediately appears as a dictator’s measure in the long term guaranteeing more freedom.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali—former secretary-general of the United Nations (Egypt)
Who would you vote for as president of the world?
You have to find somebody who is young but at the same time you have to have somebody who has an image and for me the man who has a real image is Nelson Mandela.

Can terrorism destroy democracy?
I don’t believe so. I believe that terrorism has been very much exaggerated and that democracy has the way to contain terrorism. But if you are fighting terrorism or an insurrection in a country, it would be very difficult to defend democracy or the protection of human rights. There is a basic contradiction between the war against terrorism and the protection of human rights and the development and promotion of democracy.

Are women more democratic than men?
It depends on the education, it depends on the culture, it depends on the fact that in a great part of the world 50% of the population are illiterate and women are more illiterate than men in certain parts of the world. So it depends. You cannot have a general rule. If you have the same education between men and women, I believe that women might be more interested in politics than men.

Tariq Ramadan—Muslim theologian (Switzerland)
Can terrorism destroy democracy?
What we have seen recently, especially in the wake of 9/11, is the loss of civic democratic rights as a direct result of terrorism. In trying to fight terrorism in this way, democratic states actually allow terrorism to undermine the whole democratic system.

Who rules the world?
I don’t believe in these paranoid conspiracies that declare the world to be ruled by a select few invisible powers. I think that there are powers that are visible and those that are less visible. Economic and transnational organisations hold a huge amount of power, which is not necessarily spoken of in the public arena. The media is also very powerful.

What would make you want to start a revolution?
Many things actually, but first I would say if my human dignity was not being respected. If in the name of any kind of political or economic system I see people not being treated as human beings, torturing for example. The normalising of torture would make me think we need to do something to change this, we need a re-evolution: a revolution.

The details
The series Why Democracy? is broadcast on SABC 2 on Sunday nights at 9pm. For information about the films and to enter the opinion polls visit www.whydemocracy.net

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