Undermining Democracy – 21st Century Authoritarians

Undermining Democracy – 21st Century Authoritarians. When asked not long ago about the effectiveness of the European Union’s posture toward an increasingly assertive and illiberal Russia, former Czech president and communist-era dissident Vaclav Havel argued that the European democracies had lost their voice and needed to take a firmer, more open stand against abuses by their large and strategically important neighbor to the east.

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Undermining Democracy – 21st Century Authoritarians

Undermining Democracy – 21st Century Authoritarians. When asked not long ago about the effectiveness of the European Union’s posture toward an increasingly assertive and illiberal Russia, former Czech president and communist-era dissident Vaclav Havel argued that the European democracies had lost their voice and needed to take a firmer, more open stand against abuses by their large and strategically important neighbor to the east.

He warned that today’s Russia is advancing a new form of authoritarianism, with methods of control that are significantly more sophisticated than the classic totalitarian techniques of the Soviet Union. Finally, the former Czech leader lamented that as democratic states increasingly gave primacy to economic ties in their relations with Russia, the promotion of human rights was being shunted to the margins.

The Kremlin was intensifying its repression of the political opposition, independent journalists, and civil society organizations, but the response from established democracies had softened to the point of inaudibility. Havel was referring only to Russia, but he could just as easily have been speaking of China, another authoritarian country whose high rates of economic growth and rapid integration into the global trading system have had the effect of pushing the issues of democratic governance and human rights to a back burner. China, like Russia, has modernized and adapted its authoritarianism, forging a system that combines impressive economic development with an equally impressive apparatus of political control.

As in Russia, political dissidents and human rights defenders in China continue to challenge the regime. Chinese activists recently published “Charter 08,” a human rights and democracy manifesto that draws its inspiration from Charter 77, the Czechoslovak human rights movement of which Havel himself was a founder. Undermining Democracy – 21st Century Authoritarians. But while Europe’s anti-communist dissidents were the focus and beneficiaries of a worldwide protest movement, the Chinese intellectuals endorsed Charter 08 labor in virtual anonymity. Few in the United States and Europe are familiar with the name of Liu Xiaobo, a respected literary figure and leader of Charter 08, who has been imprisoned by the Chinese authorities since December 8, 2008.


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