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Freedom march stalls: Lynching of liberty

June 29, 2009 Sun. Jun 28 - 4:46 AM

ONE SIDE has Twitter. The other has terror. One side has cellphones. The
other has prison cells. No wonder the forces of repression are crushing the
voices of reform.

The ugly spectacle of might trumping right is a recurring nightmare on the
nightly news and yet we can scarcely believe our eyes when it happens.

Perhaps we have been conditioned to think freedom really is on the march
throughout the globe. Anyone who remembers the fall of the Berlin Wall might
be forgiven for harbouring such hope.

Then again, maybe it was just a miracle that the Soviet Union gave up the
ghost without bloodshed. No one 20 years ago would have wagered on a
communist collapse or on the Eastern bloc escaping Soviet domination without
World War III breaking out beforehand.

Too bad the Berlin Wall did not prove to be the sole template for the
future. Lest we forget, 1989 was also the year of Tiananmen Square, where
the Chinese authorities chose to massacre the nation's young rather than
grant them more freedom.

In retrospect, the path of blood proved just as influential in global
affairs as the path of progress. Tyrants everywhere took note of the fact
that the Chinese communists got away with it, rewrote history, and remain in
power to this day.

And that is the lesson that is being applied today by the clerical clique
that governs Iran. Even after sidelining all kinds of candidates who did not
pass muster in the Islamic republic, the regime did not achieve the desired
outcome in this month's presidential election. So the mullahs stole it.
Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators denounced the obvious fraud. So the
theocracy resorted to thuggery.

But it's not just in the streets of Tehran that protests are being snuffed
out and that opposition activists and sympathizers are being rounded up and
delivered to the torture chambers.

Two years ago, it was the military dictatorship in Burma that brutally put
down a peaceful popular movement led by Buddhist monks. The goons in Rangoon
still have a stranglehold on power.

In the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, the Chinese government once again
ruthlessly suppressed all dissent in Tibet, whether violent or not, in the
style to which we have become accustomed.

Last summer, Russia did not hesitate to use its military might to crush its
puny neighbour Georgia and its aspirations for EU and NATO membership. It
did so with impunity.

The tragedy of tyranny victorious is a play with many acts. As for those of
us who feel the arrow of history inevitably points towards the global spread
of democracy, we might just be kidding ourselves.

Research by independent organizations like Freedom House suggest liberty is
on the wane. A recently released two-year study on "21st-century
authoritarians," which Freedom House participated in, points to a cabal of
five influential states - China, Russia, Iran, Venezuela and Pakistan - that
are not only becoming more sophisticated in their repression, but also
forming "ad hoc coalitions" at the UN to thwart the progress of human

Complacency in the face of this is pure folly.
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