Like most of the nation, I have been watching the courage of the Ukrainian people fighting for the right to live in their democratic country and resist the dictatorship of Russia. This David and Goliath event vividly displays the Ukrainian determination against massive deadly aggression by Putin, who is bent on breaking their will. Every day the world sees that the Ukrainian men and women, led by President Zelensky, are undaunted. They will not be deterred from remaining free and living in Ukraine under the rule of law. We need to support them with whatever they need to win this war. The actions by the members of UN and NATO led me to wonder about global trends of democracies vs. dictatorships. How many countries are truly democratic? How many countries are dictatorships and which countries are in-between both? I began to look around to find out. The results shocked me.
Axios (THE WEEK, 5/15/22) has summarized data from the Freedom in the World Index, 2022 (Freedom House). The figures compare democratic nations and dictatorships: only 34 of 196 nations are liberal democracies. That is down from 42 from 10 years ago (2012). Essentially, 70% or 5.4 billion people are living under a dictatorship. In contrast, only 13% live in a liberal democracy with free elections, the rule of law and individual rights. Really? That made me pause!
According to a closer look at the 2022 Index: 38% of the global population reside in countries that are “not free”. This is the highest percentage since 1997 per the Index. This is versus 20% living in “free” counties and 42% living in”partly free” countries.
The slide toward becoming less democratic is subtle and can seem invisible even trivial. Assaults on the freedom of the press, restrictions on freedom of speech, censorship of books, restrictive internet controls blocking access to accurate “facts”, and ignoring challenges to human rights undermine democracy. All this data left me feeling stunned and out of touch with the facts of democracy vs dictatorships. So I went looking for help from people “in the know”.
Professor of History at Yale and a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, Timothy Snyder has written extensively on the threat to liberal democracies around the world, including the UK and US. In his book, The Road to Unfreedom (Russia, Europe, America), Snyder analyzes contemporary history and as the back of the book states:
“Snyder goes beyond the headlines to expose the true nature of the threat to democracy. By showcasing the stark choices before us– between equality and oligarchy, individuality and totality, true and falsehood– Snyder restores our understanding of the basis of our way of life, offering a way forward in a time of terrible uncertainty.”
The Ukrainian people are literally fighting for their lives, freedom and to maintain democracy in Ukraine and in countries beyond. Let us honor their sacrifice. Support them however we can and stay vigilant in protecting our democracy from assault here.
Snyder, Timothy. The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America. Tim Duggan Books. 2018. 359pp.
Snyder, Timothy. On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. Tim Duggan Books. 2017. 126pp.
Snyder, Timothy. Our Malady: Lessons in Liberty From a Hospital Diary. Crown. 2020. 179pp.