After an “impressive third wave of democratization” in the 1980s and 1990s, in the last decade this process has stagnated, with a decline in freedom, human rights, the transparency and efficiency of the state, justice and equality, among other pillars of democracy, in diverse countries and regions, aggravated by the paralysis of institutions of global cooperation and by a counter-attack on the part of autocratic regimes, in particular Russia.
The third wave of democratization in the 1980s and 1990s was unprecedented and resulted in a great expansion in democratic values and institutions, in Latin America, Southeastern and Eastern Asia, as well in the former communist block (Eastern Europe and the republics of the extinct Soviet Union). Some kind of reflux was inevitable”.
At the same time, authoritarian countries such as Russia, China and Iran, principally, have invested significant amounts to increase their influence around the world. “They have not only censored internet access by their own populations but have also invested heavily in technology, media, communication and infrastructure to project a kind of ‘soft power.
The most recent example of this counter attack was Russia’s cybernetic espionage during the recent North American presidential election, which may have been a decisive factor in the victory of Republican Donald Trump, considered close to the Russian president Vladimir Putin. “(This episode) was just the beginning of what will become an ever more sophisticated intrusion by a foreign state into the democratic processes of other nations. The Russians also tried to influence the election in France, this time unsuccessfully”.
Five factors that explain the stagnation of democracy worldwide
The stagnation or reflux of the third wave of democracy; however, is not explained just by the counter-offensive from autocratic regimes. According to the speaker, a numerous set of factors must be considered:
1.September 11 and the War on Terror
After the attacks on the twin towers in New York in 2001, the USA and its allies started a world war was against the Al Qaeda terrorists and the regimes supporting them, with mixed results that are difficult to measure. Diverse extremist groups have taken the place of Al Qaeda in Asia and Africa, and Islamic terrorism has not been defeated until today.
2.The invasion of Iraq and the destabilization of the Middle East
In 2003, the then North American president George W. Bush, with support from the United Kingdom, invaded Iraq based on the later unproven argument that the dictator Saddam Hussein was concealing chemical weapons. Since then, the Arab country has faced internal conflicts and new threats, including the emergence and strengthening of the Islamic State, also present in Syria with active cells in diverse countries.
3.The failure of the Arab Spring and the civil war in Syria
In 2011, important countries in the Middle East such as Tunisia, Egypt and Libya experienced waves of protests that overturned authoritarian regimes, but to date democracy has only survived in the former of these. Syria has been engaged in civil war for six years, with hundreds of thousands dead, and waves of refugees fleeing to Europe, with no end in sight.
4.The adverse effects of globalization and automation on employment
Although economic globalization has enabled many countries to improve living conditions for their populations, it has had the effect of shifting jobs and is today perceived as something negative mainly by a significant part of North Americans and Europeans. The technological revolution has brought great advances in mobility, communication and access to information, but has extinguished many jobs, a phenomenon that will continue to grow.
5.The 2008 financial crisis and Europe in check
From 2008, the United States suffered a crisis, practically dragging the whole world down along with it. Europe was hard hit, putting the entire European Union (EU) integration process in check, culminating in the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the block (Brexit).
‘Nothing is guaranteed’
Even in countries that have overcome authoritarian experiences in the recent past and since then have reached a certain level of social and economic development there is no guarantee that democracy has been consolidated. “In the 2000s, it was believed that Thailand would not have another military coup, and could have great hopes for Turkey. But obviously this turned back.
‘Electoral’ versus ‘liberal’ democracy
Scholar Larry Diamond made a distinction between what he calls “electoral democracies”, in which citizens choose who will govern them in (relatively) free and fair elections, and “liberal democracies”, which do in fact achieve a higher standard of respect for principles s It seems to be developing much as freedom of expression and participation, guarantees for human rights and respect for minorities, control over the government, free initiative, free competition, and entitlement to property, among others.Thus most new democracies are former in form rather than latter.India too for example seems to be moving towards a crass democracy where no one seems to agree with each other. Political parties are leading this democracy where they don’t seem to be on agreement from simplest to core issues important for the country. It is more like an electoral democracy rather than a liberal democracy. Real principals of democracy are nowhere existing. Everybody seems to be in opposition or fighting each other.
From the Fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) and the end of the Soviet Union (1990) and the Cold War (1947–1991), there was progress towards strengthening the Rule of Law and collective and individual freedom in most countries in the world, but this trend has recently been reversed in significant heavily populated countries such as Russia, the Philippines, Thailand, Pakistan, Nigeria and Venezuela, the speaker stated.
“When people lose hope in democracy, generally it is due to fragile Rule of Law, which is manifest (or results) in corruption and abuse of power, an inefficient justice system and impunity, violence, criminality, poverty and inequality.
In Latin America and in the Caribbean, 85% of the states are considered to be ‘electoral democracies’, but only 48% may also considered ‘liberal’”. We can’t include Paraguay, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru or even Colombia among the latter” for example.Venezuela is certainly no longer a democracy”.Same can be said about Honduras, Nicaragua and Mexico, the latter due to violence related to drug trafficking.
Nationalism and xenophobia
In Europe, the persistence of the economic crisis and unemployment, recent terrorist attacks, a number of which undertaken by young Europeans from Muslim families who have immigrated to the old continent in the past decades, and the fear provoked by the waves of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa have resulted in an upsurge in nationalism, in xenophobia and growing mistrust regarding the EU.
All of these processes, compounded by internal problems specific to each country, have contributed to the reversal of the advance of democracy in some Eastern European countries that had freed themselves from the yoke of communism and authoritarianism and been integrated into the EU. This is the case of Hungary, ruled by nationalist leader Viktor Orban since 2010, and Poland, where the eurosceptic nationalists of the Law and Justice Party won the elections in 2015.
But it was Brexit, in July 2016, that sent out a warning signal due to the fear that it could unleash a wave of victories of anti-European and even xenophobic candidates in other European countries. For the time being, this wave has been contained with the re-election of the current prime minister Mark Rutte (right-wing liberal) of Holland, defeating the nationalist Geert Wilders, and the victory of the centrist Emmanuel Macron in France, against the far rightist Marine Le Pen.
Meanwhile, all eyes are on the United States, where the Republican Donald Trump was elected in 2016 with a discourse based on putting “America first”. “Even the United States, historically open to immigration, has been manipulated by Trump with an anti-immigration discourse, criticisms of international commercial treaties and agreements and the appeal of right-wing authoritarian populism”.
“Consolidated democracies such as those in North America and Western Europe do not die from one minute to the other, but undoubtedly we are experiencing a deterioration of their liberal characteristics”. In global institutions, the main liberal-democratic powers have had difficulty in acting in concert.
Many scholaars criticized the American president’s attacks against the Judiciary and the media, his attempts at self-victimization and the demonization of his adversaries and the recent dismissal of James Comey, the FBI director who was investigating the suspected involvement of the Republican candidate with Russia.
Why Beijing is increasingly important
The most pressing international issue of the moment is the possibility of North Korea successfully testing a ballistic missile with the capacity to launch a nuclear warhead against a North American city. “One way or another, the USA will prevent this threat from materializing”.“Trump retreated from his threats against China (made during the election campaign) when he realized how important Beijing is in finding a solution for the North Korean problem before a catastrophe happens”.
Educating people about democratic values
“Each country has its specificities and its priorities at a given moment in time. But there is something that is always a priority: educating young people about the values of democracy. This is even more essential these days, because of the social media, where so much false news, cynicism and distortion circulate. Civic education is an essential instrument in ensuring that young people become socialized respecting democratic values”.