An Arab view on Polish loss
The continuity of government is a function of institutions, writes Azmi Bishara
On 11 April the media expressed the shock widely felt on an incident that until then belonged to the realm of fiction more than fact. That day a Polish plane crashed in western Russia, resulting in the death of the majority of the Polish ruling elite, from the president and members of his cabinet, to parliamentary representatives from the coalition and high- ranking military officials.
It is not difficult to picture many people living under despotic rule wishing that something similar would befall the ruling elites of their countries. Of course, they would never wish such a disaster upon their national airlines, since their ruling elites never use them. Nor, for that matter, would members of the ruling coalition and the opposition from these countries be found on the same plane on their way to commemorate a national memory, unlike in some other countries where it is feasible for political adversaries to be fellow passengers on the same flight and bound for the same purpose, because they have common national occasions to celebrate together.
Another thought occurred to me. In spite of the mass death of the majority of Poland's leaders, not only from the executive and legislature but also from other key government institutions, the country continued to be run as normal the following day. No state of emergency was declared. No curfews were set. The army was not deployed throughout the capital. Crowds did not pour out into the street to prove their grief, or to dance to vent their spleen. People were visibly shocked, and at both the official and grassroots levels the expressions of sorrow were sober and restrained.
The reason why government there could continue to function as normal is because it is institutionalised. When a position falls vacant, someone else can be slotted into place. Every leader or administrator has someone to replace him or her. No elected official is irreplaceable. The very process of elections between alternatives proves this. The claim that there are no alternatives is a ruse of regimes that prohibit alternatives from being voiced.
Proof to the effect of the foregoing is furnished by the senseless plane crash and its aftermath. It is supplied secondly by the elections that are held in every country that permits for the presentation of alternatives, at least at the level of individuals. A third proof is more hypothetical in nature. Take a leader who is said to be irreplaceable. Imagine him out of office or with no official position whatsoever. Would you be able to associate with him or have him as a friend? Would he command respect or fear? Would people listen to his opinions? What skills or talents does he have? When you begin to think like that, you begin to realise that there are millions like him, in fact, smarter than him, more powerful than him, perhaps more cunning than him, or maybe much more ethical than him.
Remember, by the way, that until two decades ago Poland was a totalitarian country.