Never before has Belarusian leader Aleksandr Lukashenka faced aneconomic crisis in his country like the one he bears responsibility for today, with a collapsing currency, severe shortages, and dwindling hard currency reserves. Never before has he been under more pressure from the European Union and United States through sanctions for his human rights abuses and from Russia through its cut-off of subsidies. Together, these unprecedented developments are leading some observers to suggest that Lukashenka’s days might be numbered.
President Raúl Castro introduced market reforms in Cuba earlier this year to preserve, not dismantle, the communist system. He retains a tight grip on power and seems intent on pursuing a Chinese model of market economics combined with political repression. The reforms have, however, brought about a significant change in attitudes in Cuba, according to a recent Freedom House survey. Optimism is growing, expectations are rising, and Cubans want more freedom. Will the Chinese model work in Cuba?
At the end of this month, national elections will decide who will serve as Kyrgyzstan’s first full-term president since the April 2010 revolution that ousted the increasingly authoritarian Kurmanbek Bakiyev. And at the end of the year, Central Asia’s first and only female president, interim leader Roza Otunbayeva, will also become the first leader in Central Asia to leave her post in a voluntary and peaceful transfer of power.
In an October 15 opinion piecein the New York Times, provocatively titled “Democracy’s Collateral Damage,” Ross Douthat makes a series of arguments and observations about ethnicity, democracy, and stability. While they touch on a legitimate scholarly debate about the difficulty of establishing new democracies in multiethnic countries, they also seem to posit dubious cause-and-effect relationships and assign blame where it is clearly not due. Because these arguments sometimes contradict one another, they are best addressed one or two at a time.
One of the most popular items pinging back and forth across the internet is the infamousvideo report on the glitzy extravaganza sponsored by the president of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, to celebrate both his birthday and the unveiling of a series of lavish new buildings in the Chechen capital, Grozny. What made the spectacle especially notable was the presence of several celebrities from the world’s great democracies, including American actress Hilary Swank and the Belgian-born Hollywood action hero Jean-Claude Van Damme. In her words of appreciation, Swank said she “could feel the spirit of the people, and everyone was so happy.” “Happy birthday, Mr. President,” she added.
About a year ago I attended a meeting whose purpose was to showcase newly elected Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych before an audience consisting mostly of representatives of the world’s largest multinational corporations. Yanukovych’s remarks were carefully crafted to appeal to these guests. But he devoted the bulk of his presentation to an explanation of his commitment to the strengthening of Ukrainian democracy. Ukraine, he declared, would be Western-oriented under his watch. He promised to protect freedom of the press, minority rights, and—here he was especially emphatic—the rule of law.
Since 2005, observers of the Chinese blogosphere have noted the presence of users who are paid to support the authorities in online discussions, often referred to as the “50 Cent Party” for the alleged fee they collect for each posted comment.
It is an increasingly common occurrence for repressive countries with dismal human rights records to put themselves forward as hosts for major international forums—whether in the sphere of sports and entertainment or in politics.