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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Subverting Democracy

June 14, 2009

By Gary Feuerberg

Epoch Times Staff Jun 13, 2009


WASHINGTON D.C.—After the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, hopes ran high that the wave of the future would be democracies, market economies and respect for human rights.


But these expectations have not come to fruition. During the first decade of the twenty-first century, human rights and democracy in many countries have been thwarted by a new form of authoritarianism, with methods of control significantly more sophisticated than used by totalitarian regimes in the past, according to a new report.


This report, “Undermining Democracy: 21st Century Authoritarians,” was released on Capitol Hill, June 4, which was the 20th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.


The 80-page document finds that four authoritarian states—China, Russia, Iran, and Venezuela—are setting forth a new authoritarian model for countries to follow, and they have the resources and sophistication to be highly influential in the developing countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America.


Freedom House, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Radio Free Asia sponsored the report. With missions to promote democracy and freedom, the three organizations conducted a study of the “methods these regimes are employing, both within and beyond their borders, to impede human rights and democratic development.”


Pakistan is also included in the report because of its geopolitical importance and because its democratic institutions are very weak, enabling extremism to flourish in parts of the country and in Afghanistan. Pakistan does not actively promote anti-democratic policies like the other four, according to the report.


Pakistan and Venezuela are rated “partly free” by Freedom House’s highly respected metrics that rate the countries in the world on freedom of expression and religion, rule of law, democratic institutions and other criteria.

Meaning of democracy twisted


The leading authoritarian regimes are claiming to be “democracies,” and twisting its meaning to confuse their citizens. Putin’s Russia employ’s the curious term “sovereign democracy,” which conjures up images of national renewal, nostalgia for Russian power and respect, and anti-Western xenophobia.


The Kremlin controls all national television stations and many newspapers and internet platforms, and thus controls most important news media, states the report. Journalists who investigate corruption or human rights abuses face physical violence and even murder.


The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) usurps the term democracy, despite that the state is ruled by a one-party system, whose members are not elected by the people, and there are no institutional checks on the Party’s absolute power. Nevertheless, Communist Party chief, “President” Hu Jintao, invoked the word 60 times in his report to the 17th Party Congress.


Iran’s clerical oligarchy claims to be an “Islamic’ democracy” in which the interests of the underclass are protected by a leadership possessing divine insight, says the report. The regime controls all domestic broadcast media and most of the press, interferes with foreign media broadcasts, and jails online dissidents.


In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez and his followers, known as Chavistas, are attempting to remove the institutional checks and balances that limit their power. “The country’s formerly vibrant media landscape has been subjected to a relentless assault by the authorities…” says the report.


In Pakistan, which had long been under military rule, the report describes the civilian leadership as an oligarchy, “with major political parties still dominated by a feudal elite.”

Subverting the Internet and access to outside world


By well-orchestrated methods of censorship, China and Iran within their borders control information freely available to users in the West. Online critics are punished and others learn to self-censor themselves, says the report.


“These regimes have enlisted loyal commentators and provocateurs like the ‘Fifty Cent Party’ in China and the ‘Brigades’ in Russia to overwhelm or disrupt undesirable discussion,” says the report.


Sponsors of the report, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), have been censored and blocked in the former Soviet Union. “Chinese authorities jam...Radio Free Asia (RFA) broadcasts by co-channeling Chinese opera, funeral music gongs, and static, as well as by overriding RFA’s signal with their own programming,” says the report.

‘No-strings’ foreign aid


Whereas the democracies and institutions like the World Bank provide foreign aid with conditions, such as human rights and financial safeguards, authoritarian regimes will ‘work’ with corrupt regimes and make them loans without conditions, or as outright gifts. Beijing portrays the West as pushing an “alien ‘democracy agenda’ onto developing nations,” says the report.


The strategy is working too. The report states that China has become the largest lender to Africa, according to World Bank estimates. Russia, Iran, and Venezuela use their oil wealth “to build foreign alliances,” and keep their friends in power.

Impeding work of lawful organizations


Authoritarian regimes have taken the offensive in crippling democracy and human rights standards used by the United Nations and other multilateral organizations. Russia has pressured the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to drop the election monitoring and observance of human rights. Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez obstructs human rights and democracy initiatives at the Organization of American states (OAS); and these regimes work to block sanctions and advance antidemocratic measures at the United Nations.

Hostility towards democracy


Perhaps the most insidious part of the program of authoritarian regimes is the indoctrination of youth to be suspicious of the outside world and the values of democracy. In China, human rights are portrayed as an instrument created by the West to ‘keep China down,’ says the report. History courses leave out or greatly distort the truth of what really happened during the Great Leap Forward, the Great Cultural Revolution and Tiananmen massacre of 1989.


Not only textbooks, but “television documentaries, museums, and other media…spread seriously distorted versions of Chinese history.”


“In Russia, textbooks introduced at the Kremlin’s direction depict Stalin as one of the country’s greatest leaders and suggest that the Great Terror was simply a product of the times,” says the report.


In Iran, school textbooks perpetuate a theocratic ideology, “and promote an intolerant and illiberal view of the world,” while thousands of Pakistan’s religious schools teach an extreme form of Islam that demonizes other believers.

Chinese system—resilient, sophisticated authoritarianism


The China model of authoritarianism is probably the most effective and disturbing of the four countries described. Indeed, Chinese officials say their model is transferrable to the developing world. The Chinese model is of interest to the undemocratic regimes of Cambodia and Vietnam.


China’s training programs reach 7,000 to 10,000 African officials per year. China’s massive internet filtering and control is being taught to the regimes of Burma, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, and several other states, according to Perry Link and Joshua Kurlantzick, co-authors of the China chapter.


Today, the regime no longer puts boundaries on what its citizens can explore unless it is on forbidden subjects: Falun Gong, China Democratic Party, the Great Leap Famine, Tibetan or Uyghur autonomy, said Link and Kurlantzick. Most people if they scrupulously self-censor themselves can avoid the forced labor camps, torture and execution, the two authors say.


But this kind of control on the population means that no true civil society can evolve under the CCP, say Link and Kurlantzick. The people live a “Big Lie.” From the textbooks and media, they are told what to believe about Tibet, the Dalai Lama, Taiwan, and the CCP itself.


Gross falsehoods are repeated without challenge until they are accepted as truth. “Political power in China depends upon maintaining a certain moral pose even if everyone knows on some level that the pose is hypocritical,” say the China authors in the report. Their view is that the CCP is “more frightened of its own citizenry than most outside observers realize.”


Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Radio Free Asia broadcast news and information. Freedom House, a Washington-based nonprofit agency with international offices, grades the countries in the world on their levels of freedom, using various indicators of democracy and human rights such as free elections and independent judiciary.

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