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.
When Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin announced last week that he intended—and had always intended—to return to the presidency, he effectively tore down a flimsy veil of constitutional rectitude that had separated Russia from the autocracies of Central Asia. For over four years, Russians were invited to believe that unlike the perpetual presidents in those countries, their leader would uphold the rule of law and make way for new blood in the form of his chosen successor, Dmitri Medvedev. Now, however, it appears that Medvedev’s entire presidency was an artifice designed to circumvent the ban on more than two consecutive terms.
Guided by the findings of our surveys and reports, as well as the experiences of our staff members and partners in the field, Freedom House has decided to launch a new blog that will offer comment and analysis on the state of, threats to, and prospects for global democracy. We are pleased to welcome you to the inaugural post of Freedom at Issue.