Does the Pendulum Swing Away from Repression?

There is hope that the erosion of democratic and free societies has been somewhat stemmed

By Anil Madan

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the past decade or two have seen the world depress itself into despondency as authoritarians and dictators have seemingly gained the upper hand over any sense that democracy and freedom reflect the evolutionary arc of civil societies.

This sense of despondency seemed about to overwhelm the world as oppression of the Russian people was outdone by repression of the Chinese people and authoritarianism seemed to gain the upper hand in Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Brazil, Venezuela, the Philippines and elsewhere. Certainly, the events of January 6, 2021, in the United States led to the justifiable concern that Democracy itself was under attack and, in this case, assailed by a self-inflicted wound. That leaders of America’s Republican Party have been recusant about condemning what happened on that day and seemingly still embrace Trump and Trumpism add to the sense of frustration that Democracy itself is losing its luster.

Added to this, Xi Jinping’s repressive crackdown in Hong Kong, Putin’s stifling of dissent at home, his unprovoked war of aggression on Ukraine, and the threat that China may move to annex Taiwan, have all contributed to the sense of foreboding that the forces of authoritarianism have gained the upper hand on the world.

Then, suddenly, things seemed to change. On October 30, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva or “Lula” defeated Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. And a few days later, Trumpers supported by Donald Trump failed, for the most part, to win contested elections across the US. The Democrats hung on to their control of the Senate and the Republicans barely gained control of the House of Representatives. Although nothing is decided until the votes are cast, the pro-Trump Republican leader Kevin McCarthy appears unlikely to have the votes necessary to be elected Speaker.

And two weeks before Lula pulled off his defeat, across the world in Iran, the death of MahsaAminiignitedprotestsacrossthat nation. Chantsof“Deathto Khamenei” and“Deathtothedictator” rang out. And protests continue to date. Similarly, protests are erupting across Russia against Putin’s war.

China itself is not immune. In recent weeks, protests have broken out across China as the people rebel against stringent lockdowns aimed at sustaining Xi Jinping’s Zero Covid policy. But make no mistake, these protests are against ongoing repression and the treatment of the mass of civil society as less than human.

There is a tendency in western countries to look at the uprising in China from a parochial perspective, that is, to view it as more of an economic phenomenon for its impact on supply chains rather than as a higher-level political phenomenon. This view is likely too narrow. A fire in Urumqi, in the western Xinjiang region which killed ten people, sparked the widespread unrest. That the Chinese authorities viewed it as a political uprising is evident from the strong-arm reprisals that followed.

Urumqi city had been under a lockdown for over 100 days. Protesters filled the streets, blaming the delayedrescue response by emergency services on Covid restrictions and, in a show of rejection of official policy, called for an end to the lockdown.

The protests did not remain local. Protests broke out across China, including in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Wuhan and Chengdu. Echoing the protesters in Iran, those in Shanghai chanted: “Down with the Chinese Communist Party, down with Xi Jinping.” Photos of protesters holding up blank sheets of white paper to “represent everything they cannot say”, have spread around the world.

This is, of course, not to minimize the fact that there is a significant economic component to the protests in China.

For example, Foxconn’s manufactures iPhones at its factory in Zhengzhou. Violent protests erupted there and rightly prompted concern over disruption in Chinese supply chains. There have been reports of workers clashing with hazmat-suited riot police at the Apple iPhone production plant asthey protested Covid restrictions and unpaid wages. Some workers fled the plant to escape Covid lockdown restrictions.

In the past, protests in Iran, Russia and China have been brutally suppressed. In Iran, the 2009 Green Movement and the 2019 Bloody November events come to mind. In the latter, some 1,500 people were said to have been killed by the authorities. In Russia, one has only to point at Putin’s imprisonment of Khodorkovsky, and Navalny, and the repeated incidences of poisonings and killings of oligarchs and others inside and outside Russia. As for China, there is the ongoing repression in Tibet, the alleged genocide of Uyghurs, and the brutal suppression of democracy and free speech in Hong Kong. Read More… Become a Subscriber

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 2 December 2022

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