World in a ‘dangerous place for maintaining a democratic future’


With much of the world on lockdown, the coronavirus crisis has chipped individual liberties everywhere. In more places, however, it is also being used as an excuse to weaken democratic institutions and oversight—an authoritarian slide that could endure once the current health emergency subsides, The Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov suggests:

These restrictions, even if they lead to the postponement of elections in some countries, don’t by themselves alter nations’ democratic nature. The U.K., after all, remained a democracy through World War II even though its draconian wartime legislation was used to imprison suspected subversives without trial, said François Heisbourg, a former French national-security official and a scholar at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris. “In wartime, freedom goes down the tube, but democracy doesn’t go down the tube.”

The coronavirus pandemic has allowed one of Europe’s most authoritarian leaders to marginalize critics and political opposition, The Guardian reports.

It is remarkable that anyone ever took Russia’s coronavirus numbers at face value, notes Garry Kasparov, the chairman of the Renew Democracy Initiative. Like most dictatorships, Putin’s regime lies constantly, even when it doesn’t have to. Authoritarian regimes are obsessed with information control, especially when there is news that could make them look weak. No appearance of vulnerability can be permitted, otherwise the people might start getting dangerous ideas, he writes for The Washington Post:

Putin’s coronavirus malpractice isn’t just the latest misery visited upon the Russian people; he also endangers the rest of the world. Remember the lessons of Chernobyl. The toxic nuclear cloud that the Soviet authorities pretended didn’t exist until it was over Sweden did not stop at the Soviet border. The artificially low coronavirus numbers kept Russia off most flight ban and mandatory quarantine lists as the pandemic spread, with hundreds of flights going in and out of the country.

“As far as the Russian leadership is concerned, this crisis confirms its worldview that the Western systems are inefficient, and that the liberal political model simply can’t cope,” said Andrey Kortunov, director-general of the Russian International Affairs Council, a government think tank in Moscow.

Russia is sharply divided over a constitutional change that would allow President Vladimir Putin to extend his rule until 2036, an opinion poll published on Friday has found, Reuters reports (HT:FDD).

Freedom House, a partner of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) that tracks political freedoms and individual liberties world-wide, has noted that 2019 marked the 14th consecutive year of the global freedom decline, The Journal’s Trofimov adds.

“We were already at the precipice. The fears and the anxieties were already there, and now you inject the virus on top of that,” said Alina Polyakova, president of the Center for European Policy Analysis, a Washington-based research institute. “We now find ourselves in a really dangerous place for maintaining a democratic future. I can see us coming out of the public-health crisis that we are currently in with many more people buying into the notion that authoritarian states are better equipped to deal with future crises.”

See also (HT: #transatlanticmustreads Dr. Daniel S. Hamilton at Johns Hopkins University SAIS)

The Four Possible Timelines for Life Returning to Normal, Joe Pinsker, The Atlantic
Health/US/GlobalPandemic: The First Great Crisis of the Post-American Era, Kevin D. Williamson, National Review
Global The coronavirus is the biggest emerging market crisis ever, Adam Tooze, Foreign Policy
Health/Germany – Germany Has Relatively Few Deaths From Coronavirus. Why? Anna Sauerbrey, New York Times
Poland Poland’s coronavirus-crisis election unleashes political warfare, Jan Cienski, Zosia Wanat, Politico
US We’re a nation all too ripe for another shock, Robert Kagan, Brookings

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