At an October 22 briefing designed to tout the enhanced relationship between the United States and Uzbekistan ahead of the first visit to the Central Asian country by a U.S. secretary of state in seven years, a senior State Department official was asked whether this strategic partner was still boiling people alive. The fact that this question needed to be asked is a worrisome sign for U.S. moral authority.
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?
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.
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.