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Authoritarianism

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet today with Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev to sign a strategic agreements focused on energy and raw materials. Merkel, whose country has been cultivating access to Kazakhstan’s natural resources for some time, is not likely to devote much of the discussion to her guest’s domestic troubles. Nazarbayev prefers to present Kazakhstan as an eager business partner, committed to its international obligations and open to gradual reforms, and foreign governments and companies often have an economic interest in accepting this image at face value. However, recent events suggest that popular frustration with the country’s authoritarian system is becoming more difficult to ignore.

The progress that sub-Saharan Africa has achieved in building democracy over the past generation is coming undone. After two decades of significant gains, the continent has experienced a steady decline in democracy over the last several years.

As we mark the first anniversary of the events that led to the Arab Spring, it is worth highlighting the uprisings’ far-reaching repercussions for freedom, both in the region and beyond. Freedom in the World, the report on global freedom issued annually by Freedom House, found more declines than gains worldwide for 2011, but we believe that the overarching message for the year is one of hope and not reversal.

On December 28, with little fanfare, Russia’s foreign ministry released a 90-page human rights report on the United States, Canada, and assorted European countries. There is no accompanying introduction, preface, or methodology for this rather slapdash document, entitled On the Human Rights Situation in a Number of the World’s States, but the selection of countries and their respective treatment makes it fairly clear that the report is meant to be a stick in the eye of the Kremlin’s perceived enemies, rather than any genuine attempt to promote human rights around the world.

International attention has turned to Eurasia in recent days, as Kazakhstan uses deadly violence and draconian information controls to crush widening labor unrest in its strategic oil region, and Russia faces the most serious popular challenge to its puppet-theater political system in many years. But long before the current shocks, when things were looking more placid in both countries, there was abundant evidence of trouble to come. Six months ago, Freedom House published a report that pointed to the glaring vulnerabilities of dead-end authoritarian regimes across the former Soviet Union. It noted that these entrenched authoritarian systems exhibited many of the same features that led to the collapse of their Middle Eastern counterparts in the Arab Spring.

The year 2011 will be remembered as one of immense political and social change around the world, particularly the Middle East. On this International Human Rights Day, Freedom House looks back at a few of the best and worst developments of the year with respect to their long-term implications for the global state of human rights.

In a startling one-two punch, China’s Communist regime won accolades last week from high-profile representatives of U.S. business and labor writing in America’s leading national newspapers. In the Wall Street Journal on December 1, former service workers’ union president Andy Stern touted China’s “superior economic model,” and in the New York Times on December 2, prominent Wall Street potentate Steven Rattner offered his guarantee that China’s speeding economic locomotive would remain firmly on track.

Recent Russian media coverage of Vladimir Putin reveals three key aspects to understanding its contemporary media system.

In a recent New York Times opinion piece entitled “To Save Our Economy, Ditch Taiwan,” Paul V. Kane advanced a scheme that he claimed would, among other things, fix the American economy and lead to a new and mutually beneficial relationship with China. The United States, he proposed, should jettison its support for Taiwan—firmly, absolutely, and forever.

On November 4, to mark the release of this year’s edition of Countries at the Crossroads, Freedom House and the Atlantic Council hosted a discussion on the prospects for successful democratic transitions in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)—particularly in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, which were among six MENA countries examined in the new Crossroads report.

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