For democracy, it’s a time of swimming against the tide

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In this Nov. 4, 2016 record photo, children plaything successful a parkland adjacent to an predetermination billboard for President Daniel Ortega and his moving mate, his wife, Rosario Murillo successful Managua, Nicaragua. In June 2021, amid a weekslong clampdown to obliterate astir each hint of opposition, Ortega ordered the apprehension of Hugo Torres, a revered guerrilla successful the combat against right-wing dictator Anastasio Somoza. In 1974, Torres had taken a radical of apical officials hostage, past traded them for the merchandise of imprisoned comrades, among them, Daniel Ortega.

By Tim SullivanThe Associated Press

Mon., July 12, 20216 min. read

The aged Nicaraguan revolutionary, with his receding hairline and the goatee that helium had yet fto crook grey, spoke calmly into the camera arsenic constabulary swarmed toward his house, hidden down a precocious partition successful a leafy Managua neighborhood. Surveillance drones, helium said, were watching overhead.

Decades earlier, Hugo Torres had been a revered guerrilla successful the combat against right-wing dictator Anastasio Somoza. In 1974, he’d taken a radical of apical officials hostage, past traded them for the merchandise of imprisoned comrades. Among those prisoners was Daniel Ortega, a Marxist slope robber who would go Nicaragua’s elected president and aboriginal its authoritarian ruler.

And connected this blistery Sunday successful mid-June, amid a weekslong clampdown to obliterate astir each hint of opposition, Ortega had his aged savior arrested.

“History is connected our side,” Torres said successful the video, which was rapidly uploaded onto societal media. “The extremity of the dictatorship is close.”

But past -- astatine slightest caller past -- is not connected Torres’ side. In the past fewer months, the increasing ranks of dictators person flexed their muscles, and state has been successful retreat.

The database is grim: a draconian crackdown successful Nicaragua, with laws that present fto the authorities overgarment astir immoderate professional arsenic a traitor; a subject takeover successful Myanmar, with bloody repression that the United Nations says has near much than 850 radical dormant since Feb. 1 and much than 4,800 arbitrarily detained; a tightening grip by Beijing connected Hong Kong, the semi-autonomous enclave wherever activists and journalists person been harassed and imprisoned nether a sweeping nationalist information law.

In mid-June, Hong Kong’s past remaining pro-democracy paper unopen down operations aft constabulary froze $2.3 cardinal of its assets and arrested 5 apical editors and executives, accusing them of overseas collusion.

“Why does it person to extremity up similar this?” asked an Apple Daily graphic designer, Dickson Ng.

The backsliding of democracy, though, goes backmost acold earlier 2021, with a agelong drawstring of countries wherever antiauthoritarian regularisation has been abandoned oregon dialed back, oregon wherever democratically elected leaders present marque nary concealed of their authoritarianism.

2020 was “another twelvemonth of diminution for wide democracy,” said a caller study from the V-Dem Institute, a Sweden-based probe center. “The satellite is inactive much antiauthoritarian than it was successful the 1970s and 1980s, but the planetary diminution successful wide ideology has been steep during the past 10 years.”

Countries similar Sweden, Germany and the United States tin look similar antiauthoritarian outliers successful a satellite progressively dominated by authoritarian leaders.

“It’s an unfastened question if we arsenic a antiauthoritarian grouping tin propulsion backmost against the Russias oregon the Chinas of the satellite and `win’ the 21st century,” said Torrey Taussig, a student of authoritarianism and large powerfulness authorities astatine the Harvard Kennedy School. “Can the democracies rally to propulsion backmost against this authoritarian tide that we’ve seen resurgent?”

It wasn’t expected to beryllium similar this.

The precocious 20th and aboriginal 21st centuries saw state aft state modulation to antiauthoritarian rule. The Soviet Union collapsed amid Mikhail Gorbachev’s attempts astatine governmental and economical reform. Eastern European nations that had agelong been controlled by Moscow became independent. In Latin America, decades of subject dictatorships gave mode to elected governments. A question of democratization swept crossed Africa, from South Africa to Nigeria to Ghana.

“We had the largest fig of democracies that ever existed successful the world. It was unparalleled,” said Sheri Berman, a governmental subject prof astatine Barnard College, Columbia University. “It seemed that wide ideology was the mode of the future.”

But wrong conscionable a fewer years the cracks began to show.

Maybe the satellite was conscionable excessively optimistic. Democracy is messy.

“It takes a batch to marque ideology work,” said Berman. “Getting escaped of the dictators is not the end. It’s the beginning.”

As a result, galore scholars aren’t excessively amazed erstwhile countries similar Nicaragua oregon Myanmar stumble into authoritarianism. Both are precise poor, with small past of democracy.

Hard times and turmoil are mother’s beverage for authoritarians.

Russia’s experimentation with democracy, for example, was abbreviated lived aft the illness of the Soviet Union. A plunging modular of living, a anemic person successful Boris Yeltsin, thug businessmen and budding oligarchs warring for power of state-owned businesses opened the mode for Vladimir Putin.

Then came the fiscal situation of 2007-2008, which began successful the U.S. and rippled astir the world. In the U.S., banks teetered connected the verge of illness and apical officials disquieted astir different Great Depression. In the European Union, America’s troubles helped pb to a indebtedness situation that sucked successful Greece, Ireland and different nations that needed extracurricular economical bailouts.

Those fiscal troubles, combined aboriginal with the governmental firestorms of the Trump medication and years of aggravated negotiations implicit Britain’s exit from the European Union, made wide ideology look risky.

“The much charismatic the U.S. and Europe looks, the amended that is for the folks warring for democracy,” said Berman. And the other is besides true.

Frustration has grown, with a 2019 Pew Research Center survey of 34 countries showing a median of 64% of radical believing elected officials don’t attraction astir them.

Today, a antheral similar Viktor Orban tin look precise charismatic to galore voters.

Orban, the nationalist Hungarian premier curate who returned to powerfulness successful the aftermath of the fiscal crisis, feeding connected an electorate that distrusted the accepted elite, spoke proudly of starring an “illiberal democracy.”

He present talks astir Hungary’s “system of nationalist cooperation,” a process that has hobbled the tribunal system, re-written the constitution and fixed immense powerfulness to himself and his party. The country’s media is mostly present a mill producing pro-Orban content.

Rival parties are regularly investigated by authorities auditors and sometimes fined to the brink of bankruptcy.



“We person replaced a shipwrecked wide ideology with a 21st-century Christian democracy,” Orban proudly told lawmakers aft a landslide 2018 predetermination victory.

The satellite has a drawstring of specified leaders.

Some are authoritarians of varying degrees of power, from Putin successful Russia to Recep Tayyip Erdogan successful Turkey to Rodrigo Duterte successful the Philippines. Others are successful the politically foggy wilderness betwixt a one-party authorities and a coagulated democracy, similar Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who runs the ruling enactment successful Poland and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, whose begetter ruled the state for 3 decades and turned it into an affluent city-state.

The pandemic has sped up a antiauthoritarian diminution successful Africa, scholars say, with elections postponed oregon absorption figures silenced from Ethiopia to Zimbabwe.

But successful a satellite wherever ideology is often swimming against the governmental tide, scholars besides spot immoderate bully news. It conscionable requires a longer presumption of history.

Eighty years ago, determination were possibly 12 afloat functioning democracies. Today, the Democracy Index enactment retired by the Economist Intelligence Unit says determination are 23 afloat democracies, and astir fractional the satellite lives successful immoderate signifier of democracy.

Then determination are the protesters, possibly the astir disposable motion of a thirst for antiauthoritarian rule.

Thousands of Russians flooded the streets earlier this twelvemonth aft absorption person Alexei Navalny was imprisoned. Neighboring Belarus was shaken by months of protests sparked by the 2020 reelection of President Alexander Lukashenko, which were wide seen arsenic rigged. Political protests are communal successful Poland and Hungary.

Such protests regularly fail. The demonstrations successful Russia and Belarus, for instance, ended with heavy-handed crackdowns.

But governmental scientists accidental adjacent suppressed protests tin beryllium important governmental sparks.

Plus, sometimes they succeed.

In Sudan, 2019 wide protests against the autocratic president, Omar al-Bashir, led to his ouster by the military. The state is present connected a fragile way to democracy, ruled by a transitional government.

In a caller report, the U.S.-based rights watchdog Freedom House, saw signs of anticipation successful the European Union’s sanctions against the Belarusian regime, exile Central Asian journalists and bloggers continuing their enactment from overseas, and the mode a drawstring of eastbound European governments person slowed concern ties with China, acrophobic astir transparency and nationalist security. Meanwhile, Hungary’s Orban faced amazingly agreed opposition.

Some scholars besides spot anticipation successful the mode President Joe Biden has reached retired to America’s longtime European allies, reversing the attack of the Trump administration.

Biden’s caller travel to Europe, said Taussig, the Harvard Kennedy School scholar, was “an effort to rally America’s antiauthoritarian partners” against the authoritarian tide.

So possibly that old, arrested Nicaraguan revolutionary does person crushed for optimism.

“These are the hopeless blows of a authorities that feels itself dying,” Torres said successful the video earlier his arrest.

Maybe. As summertime wore on, helium remained successful prison.

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