Occasionally – well, more than occasionally – the same issues appear in different political systems, like the question about the role of active and former public servants in the political debate. Obviously, if the public servants in question work or have worked in an area which is politically controversial we are likely to get a very heated debate.
What would happen for instance if a former chief of the national intelligence agency openly criticised government policies on security? This. Which in a curious and slightly unsettling way reminded me of this.
In case you don’t follow the links: Story #1 is about the former head of the Mossad criticising the Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and defence minister Ehud Barak, while story #2 is about the exchanges between the former head of the Danish Security and Intelligence Service Hans Jørgen Bonnichsen on the one hand and government ministers and – especially – leading representatives of the Danish People’s Party on the other.
The blowback against Meir Dagan has worried Israeli commentators who argue that demanding that former public servants should stay out of the political debate undermines democracy:
This is an essentially anti-democratic position: It holds that former senior officials may not contradict the government and may not inform the public there is more than one side to a hotly-debated issue.
And even if whatever challenges Denmark is facing to its national security are not at the same level as those Israel is facing (but then again, we do not occupy and settle Schleswig-Holstein), the claims made in the Israeli debate very much reminded me of the attacks, various politicians from the Danish People’s Party have mounted against public servants and the courts. And this again prompted a question from an Israeli contact wondering the the DPP could be considered a danger to Danish democracy.
Okay – that was a long introduction, but now I’ll try and explain what the issue is in my opinion.
The DPP is not an anti-democratic party like the Fascist or Nazi parties but belongs to the sprawling family of populist parties which have appeared in many European countries in the last 15-20 years. In the Nordic countries DPP’s sister parties include the Norwegian Progress Party, the Sweden Democrats and the True Finns. The Front National, FPÖ of Austria, PiS of Poland and Hungarian FIDESZ can be considered relatives but are probably more extreme in their views.
The key problem now is how to understand populism. Usually, political scientists group parties after ideology or policy positions but this may miss the nature of populist politics. I would argue that the DPP, at least for strategic purposes, sees the demos as a unity whose will is interpreted and can be transmitted directly by the political system. Consequently, the administration and the courts are merely tools for implementing the will of the people. And this again leaves little or no place for dissent from former or present public servants or the judiciary.
To be continued