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TV Reviews : A Personal Perspective of ‘The Struggle for Democracy’

Democracy is a universal word with no universal meaning. More than anything, Patrick Watson’s series, “The Struggle for Democracy,” initially reminds us of that.

The 10-part journey through history and 30 nations begins at 9 tonight on Channels 28 and 15 and at 10 on Channel 50.

And what about democracy? Watson, a long-time Canadian journalist and television personality, boils it down and finds a common denominator among many definitions: power!

Watson doesn’t explore that very deeply on the premiere, much of which is very fragmented, denying you the freedom to dwell on many of the areas that he touches.

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His search for contemporary definitions of democracy leads him to East Los Angeles and its voices of raw pragmatism (“It all depends on what kind of money you have”), and to the streets of New York and echoes of raw idealism (“Nobody to tell you what to do, how to do it, when to do it, y’know?”).

And in the different-strokes-for-different-folks category: Is democracy--however it’s defined--universally revered? In Argentina, we hear from citizens who say they feel adrift and less secure in their present, relatively free society than they did inside the tight cocoon of autocracy.

This series is very much Watson’s own perspective (“Throughout most of my life . . . "). He’s a superb, refreshingly unpretentious on-camera host and narrator, infusing his material with a contagious energy and enthusiasm.

That Watson’s series has been clearly outflanked by history, however, has been acknowledged by him in interviews and is evident from its omissions.

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There is no mention of China’s best and brightest fleetingly speaking out for democratic reforms before being crushed. Even more significantly, there is no mention of glasnost , the astounding democratization under way in the Soviet Union and the Soviet Bloc, as dramatically emphasized this week during President Bush’s TV-lit trip to Poland.

In a wider context, however, the above are merely historical footnotes to a timeless, ageless, ever-evolving concept. That is indirectly emphasized as Watson travels to Athens for extensive ruminations on the cradle of democracy and its shining symbolism.

Watching this, it may strike you how often free societies tend to confuse the symbols of democracy with democracy itself, not understanding that true democracy includes the freedom to attack the symbol as a right of expression. And with this in mind, it may strike you also that the key word in the title of this series is struggle .


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