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ATHENS OR SPARTA AS INSPIRATION?

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SAN JOSE, Dec 27 2010 (IPS) - In the last three decades, Central America has undergone a far-reaching qualitative change in its political and economic life. Armed conflicts have come to a halt, all of the countries have more democratic and pluralistic systems than in the past, and great progress has been made in terms of institutional foundations and freedom. But History must not be forgotten, because ours has not been an easy path, nor are there infallible antidotes against the actions of certain individuals or groups attempting to return to the past.

Thucydides tells us: “The truth is that great good fortune coming suddenly and unexpectedly tends to make a people insolentÂ…the prosperity which your city now enjoys, and the accession that it has lately received, must not make you fancy that fortune will be always with youÂ…sensible men are prudent enough to treat their gains as precarious, just as they would also keep a clear head in adversity” (The History of The Peloponnesian War).

To remain an unarmed democracy in the 21st century, Costa Rica must modernise its security policies. There are agreements heading in that direction, such as the Association Agreement between Europe and Central America, and more recently the declaration adopted by the Ibero-American summit in Argentina. Both have a democracy clause.

The EU-Central America agreement establishes that in the case of an unconstitutional disruption of the legal-political order, the country in question will be suspended from the benefits conferred by the treaty, because the rule of law is a condition for receiving them.

In the second case, a special declaration on the defence of democracy and the constitutional order in Ibero-America established guidelines for vigorous action by the Ibero-American community in case the constitutional order or sovereignty of any of the nations is threatened.

The modernisation of our security policies should also lead us to develop police forces capable of not only protecting the borders but also combating organised crime, responsibilities that have lately not been addressed as fully as required.

In September, I began to give a course in the Institute of Human Rights, inspired by the words of distinguished jurist Sonia Picado with respect to the importance of the Greek legacy in Western law. I allowed myself to set forth a hypothesis: to distinguish between those of us who follow the Athenian, or the Spartan, tradition.

I summed up Costa Rica’s strategy as a reflection of the Athenian tradition. Development based on civic culture and multilateralism, on a new relationship between equals, between regions committed to their fellow citizens and to the planet. As citizens belonging to this Western civilisation, our struggles continue to be inspired more by the Athenian strategy of trade and the democratic forum than by the Spartan approach of harsh discipline and perfection of warfare. And we thus wager that it will be democracy and trade, rather than force and weapons, that will carry us towards that distant horizon that promises a more prosperous, greener future based on greater solidarity.

Athens was a community of thinkers, artists, merchants and craftspeople that achieved a remarkable level of democracy and impressed the Hellenic world with its accomplishments in architecture, philosophy and arts, among other fields.

But it also demonstrated that its citizens were capable of fighting bravely to preserve that way of life, and it was Athens that led the Greek city-states in their successful defence against the onslaught of the vast, powerful Persian Empire. Sparta, by contrast, enslaved thousands of people, kept them in poverty, and subjugated them by force. The Spartans themselves led such harsh, brutal, austere and autocratic lives that they ignored the signs of the end of their city-state.

It was these thousands of slaves who first weakened the military power of Sparta, and later wiped the autocratic governments of the Spartans off the map.

Today, philosophers, jurists, engineers and the leaders of nations continue to perfect democracy and to build works inspired by the discussions in the Atheneum, and by the mathematical calculations from the manuals that planned the great architectural works. These were the texts spread around the world by the Hellenic conquests. It is not surprising that the calculations and words have endured, while the echoes of the swords hitting the shields have faded into history. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

(*) Rene Castro, minister of foreign affairs of Costa Rica, civil engineer, and full professor at the INCAE Business School.

 
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