January 13, 2021

The West Must Continue to Set the Standards of Democracy

People wearing protective masks hold a U.S. flag at the Barclays Center during the "Get him out! defend democracy" rally in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.
People wearing protective masks hold a U.S. flag at the Barclays Center during the "Get him out! defend democracy" rally in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

The 6 January events in Washington DC provoked disbelief and horror across the Western world. But in authoritarian regimes, they were met with a large dose of cynicism and hypocrisy. Many countries continue to reject democracy, which they consider a danger to themselves and to everybody else.

Russia, for example, drew parallels between the events on Capitol Hill and the ‘colour revolutions’ in Ukraine or Kyrgyzstan. China’s state-controlled media made comparisons with Hong Kong; never mind that the people of Hong Kong are struggling for democracy against an undemocratic regime and bear no comparison with the supporters of a would-be authoritarian attacking the foremost symbol of US democracy. Iran’s president declared that America’s democracy is weak, seriously damaged by a populist leader.

Democracy Under Attack

These autocratic countries argue that an undemocratic US electoral system led to the riot. The US, they say, has its own problems, and has no right to tell others what democracy is and how to rule their countries.

Is that so? What is real democracy and how does it differ from the ‘guided democracy’ of Russia, or any other form of oppressive government? Genuine democracy requires the rule of law, respect for human rights and freedoms, a free media, independent courts, and free and fair elections. Without any doubt, America meets all these criteria, however complicated or outdated its system of presidential elections. But America’s adversaries fail dramatically on all accounts. Instead, they seek legitimacy through domestic popularity gained by terror, and the manipulation of laws, the courts, the media, and election results.

So, is there a need to uphold universal standards of democracy? And who should be entitled to set and safeguard these standards? Western Democracy is clearly under heavy attack—from outside and, unfortunately, from within. While the model of capitalism that has evolved in democratic societies may need to change, democracy itself does not. There is no better option if people wish to maintain their rights, including freedom of mind and speech, and not to submit to tyranny. History shows that when democracy is lost, chaos, despotism and war follow. Democracy must be upheld by all lawful means.

Donald Trump has managed to stain and discredit US democracy, but not to destroy it. The West is fully entitled to continue to set the standards of democracy and, given present and likely future circumstances, it needs to speak out with one strong voice. People living in autocratic regimes must not lose the hope that they, too, could live in democracies.

After all, the standards of democracy are clearly set out, at the insistence of Western countries, in the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, the OSCE documents and numerous other international political and legal instruments. Undemocratic regimes choose to ignore these standards to survive. Presidents or de facto leaders for life, even those re-elected time after time, are never elected by genuine democratic procedures.

Democracy Must Be Defended and Promoted

Undemocratic countries, the adversaries of democracies and democracy, will always find opportunities to accuse or mock Western countries, as they have over the recent events on Capitol Hill.

Authoritarian regimes put democratically minded people in jail, leave them jobless, or in exile. In the worst cases, they kill them. It is an unavoidable feature of democracy, that those who undermine and attack it are not punished unless they commit real crimes according to the law. In a democracy, it is not a crime to hold a different opinion from the leadership. But it is clearly a crime to physically assault a democratic parliament in session.

Europe should give a strong message of support to America. The incoming president, Joe Biden, should spare no efforts to strengthen further the transatlantic alliance. Together, we are strong enough to defend and to continue to set the universal standards of democracy.