Democracy against Autocracy in 2023

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Themis Zanidis

2022 has been a critical year regarding the rivalry between democratic and authoritarian regimes across the Globe and 2023 is expected to continue this legacy. The Summit for Democracy which was President Biden’s initiative and held in 2022 indicated clearly that the United States have been trying to reunite the democratic world against the autocracies. However, this competition is expected to be tough for the Western Democracies as they have to regain their lost prestige due to the financial crises and the rise of populism. Additionally, the current geopolitical and economic situation is fragile due to the war in Ukraine which had negative impact on the food and energy market (the prices of wheat and energy skyrocketed due to the Western embargo and the sanction while the EU has to find alternative sources to cover its energy demands). The competition between the Great Powers of the global stage is also about handling crises like the Covid-19 pandemic as well as which governance model eventually will be proved more suitable to the green transition due to the climate change. It is worth mentioning however, that the authoritarian regimes are facing multilevel crises domestically (the protestors in Iran against the theocratic government, the failed no covid policy of the Chinese Communist party, and the struggling Russian army in Ukraine which has damaged President Putin’s image internationally and most importantly domestically. At the same time, Western democracies rallied behind the US sanctioning hard Russia and providing the necessary military equipment/training to the Ukrainians in order to keep fighting the invaders, showing great solidarity.

In the past few years, we have witnessed the rise of authoritarian regimes mainly because the expeditious economic growth of China and the economic stabilization of Russia under President Putin’s regime. Today, China and Russia are the major autocratic powers followed by many other states, even within democratic Europe, which have tried to implement the policies of the Chinese and Russian leaders by turning against free speech and human rights. Additionally, the pandemic crisis has offered an alibi to the aforementioned leaders to implement authoritarian policies against their own citizens. Hungary and Poland have been the two-characteristic examples within the EU while democracy has been deteriorating in Turkey under President Erdogan’s leadership. In other regions of the World democracy has been retreating as well. In the Americas, the Brazilian democracy deteriorated due to the populist President J. Bolsonaro who has stated that “only God will remove him from the Office”. Eventually, after the recent elections, he admitted his defeat from his opponent Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and left the office. In Mexico democracy has been struggling to survive as the current populist President Adres Manuel Lopez Obrador with his centralized style of governing has been undermining it while he is giving to much authority to the military. As the other states of the Latin America recover from the effects of the pandemic, growth is expected to be slowly in 2023 while high inflation will cause social unrest. In Africa, democratization has ceased, and authoritarian leaders have taken over fueling domestic violence. Consequently, the fragile democracies will face dangers from populist leaders and polarization.

In addition, the largest democracy in the World also is in danger even though the country celebrated its 75th birthday as an independent state on 15th August 2022 and its economic growth is significant. In East Asia, in Myanmar the coup has ended dramatically the democratic regime of the country while the elected President is facing up to life-time imprisonment from the military junta. The last example is Belarus in Eastern Europe which President is imitating the practices of Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, to silence opposing voices against his autocratic regime. In this regard, Alexander Lukashenko did not hesitate to highjack a commercial airplane to arrest Roman Protasevich. Today, due to the Russian invasion to Ukraine, Belarus seems to be in absolute alignment with Mother Russia against the West while its President is more like a puppet leader from Moscow.

Returning to the Western Europe, the crucial Presidential elections in France won by pro-Europeans as E. Macron stayed at the office however his populist opponent, M. Lepen, has won an astonishing 41% of the votes in the second round of the elections. Later this year the American mid-terms elections held in a polarized environment due to the high inflation and the war in Ukraine when the Republican failed to achieve a great win and thus the Congress is divided. Both France and the US are struggling against populism and polarization which have negative impact on their democracies. The US President, J. Biden, has first and foremost to fix democracy domestically, undoubtably a herculean task given the legacy of the former President D. Trump and his rhetoric, while he has to deal with the Russian invasion in Ukraine as well as the Chinese aggressiveness in the Chinese Sea.

In conclusion, while the World has been recovering from the pandemic, the rise of populism, the hybrid warfare against democracies by autocratic states like Russia, Iran, China and North Korea, the unprovoked invasion of Russia in Ukraine, and the Sino-American strategic competition are expected to be important aspects of the rivalry between democratic and authoritarian regimes in 2023 and of course the years to come. The performance of the western democracies however is not that bad while the authoritarian regimes actually struggling to hold the control. That said, the United States seems to be not in decline (the US $ is powerful while the country has extended political alliances/influence and superior military capabilities) as the CCP has predicted, while actually China is declining having already reached its peak (demographic decline, economic stagnation, zero covid failed policy). The trends of the intense competition have been already in place and 2023 will be the year of their further development as we can see from Eastern Europe to Kuril Islands and the Middle East to the Chinese Sea. In this struggle the free democratic World will have to stay united to answer properly at any threat posed against democracy/human rights either domestically (populism, far right propaganda, regulation of tech-giants) or internationally. This will be a difficult task, but we should never forget that despite the success of authoritarian regimes in some fields, democracies are in the right side of history.



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