Polish Ghost Border

This map, which I discovered the other day, shows the results of the 2007 Polish parliamentary election superimposed with the borders of the German Empire (1871 – 1918).  Study this for a moment.

I was blown away when I first saw this, and couldn’t believe it to be true.  But it is.  The results for the 2011 parliamentary election show a similar divide.  My first thought towards a reason was on ethnic grounds – perhaps a less concentrated Polish population in the West is a reason for the support of different parties?  But considering the ethnic turmoil and change Poland has experienced in the last century, particularly during the Second World War, I can’t imagine ethnicity alone could create anything near this clear a divide.

The division is between the Civic Platform (Liberal, pro-Europe) in the West and the Law and Justice Party (Conservative, Eurosceptic) in the East.  Perhaps the Western territory’s potential historic links with Germany have given it closer connections to Europe, and it’s therefore more likely to vote for a pro-Europe party, than the West, which might align itself more closely to Russia?

I did some research, and one proposed theory is that of economic differences.  When the Western territories were part of first Brandenburg, then Prussia and then eventually Germany, it was an industrial heartland of the current Empire.  Generally controlled by nations fearing their more powerful neighbours, its successive controllers will have put an emphasis on military and industrial expansion.  In contrast, the areas to the East, controlled by Russia and Austria, had well developed industries and militaries in their respective heartlands and consequently focused their Polish territories on agricultural output.  Such vast differences in industry and infrastructure would take longer than a century to subside, especially considering the economic stagnation Poland would have experienced during Communist rule.

This map of the Polish rail network also roughly aligns to the borders of the German Empire, which seems to back up the industrial differences argument.

The idea of ‘ghost borders’ certainly is a fascinating one.  There must be many examples outside of voting behaviour, but another clear example I can think of is the north-south divide in the USA which often aligns well with the borders of the Confederate States during the civil war.

Democracies in the World

How do you define a democracy?  A quick Google search gives me the definition, A system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.”  Sounds easy enough.  Of course, it isn’t.  Every country in the world fits somewhere on a Democratic spectrum, but telling where on this spectrum a country is can be challenging.

Most countries in the world these days, besides a few oddballs clinging onto the 20th century (such as China, North Korea, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, etc) have regular multi-party elections.  Most countries allow universal suffrage, with even the Gulf monarchies slowly moving towards giving women the vote.  So does this mean that nearly every country in the world is democratic?  Unfortunately, no.  Many countries have blatantly rigged elections to keep the ruling elites in power, while others use more furtive methods such as domination of the media and gerrymandering voting districts.  This makes dividing the world into ‘democracies’ and ‘dictatorships’ very hard to do.

There are some obvious countries to throw into each category.  The aforementioned one-party states are clearly not democratic, while on the other hand many countries in Europe and the Americas are bastions of freedom throughout the world (to varying successes) and would surely land on the ‘democracy’ pile.  But then there are countries where power seems to have found a crevice between the people and the rulers, where power is sometimes in the hands of one party or ruler in what appears to be a democratic system, or where even the entrenched rulers can be voted out democratically.  Examples of countries like this would be Venezuela, Ukraine and Egypt, among others.

So how do you map democracy?  Here is my attempt:

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(Black countries are those I consider dictatorships; the others democracies).

USA-based pro-democracy group ‘Freedom House’ has a bleaker map:

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Notice many discrepancies between the two.  Going for the professional organisation which has conducted research may be the best idea.  This map by the Economic Intelligence Unit is a good indicator of the complexities involved in defining a democracy, throwing in phrases like ‘flawed democracy’ and ‘semi-dictatorship’:

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So, whichever measure you choose to use for defining a democracy, here is roughly the state of play in the world today.  One thing we can be sure of is that the proportion of democracies in the world have grown massively since the Second World War, particularly following the Fall of Communism in 1989.  This graph shows shifting global trends since 1945:

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(which also complicates things further by introducing the term ‘anocracies’ for these ‘semi-democratic’ countries).

The rise of democracies seems to have faltered in recent years, despite movements towards freedom in many countries and in the wake of the Arab Uprisings.  But the trend does appear to be moving in favour of democracies, with countries such as North Korea appearing increasingly bizarre and existing in the wrong century.  I believe the 21st century will be, for the first time in human history, an era of democratic rule throughout nearly the whole world.