World in retreat

Lukashenko remains defiant and his counter-accusations are aimed at Western Powers and their insistence on liberality, transparency and democracy. He sought refuge in his only benefactor, Vladimir Putin of Russia, by deliberately conflating his concerns to those of a similarly controlled Russia.

World in retreat

(Image: Twitter/@LookNoFurther4)

The Belarussian President since independence (almost 27 years), Alexander Lukashenko, is infamous as ‘Europe’s last dictator’. The authoritarian leader had once confessed to holding Adolf Hitler as his role model. Today, he faces a long list of serious accusations, ranging from forced disappearances, torture, sexual abuse to other forms of persecution. Lukashenko ‘won’ his sixth consecutive term, last year – only to have the results repudiated by the US, UK, European Union etc.

Recently, he ordered the scrambling of a fighter jet to intercept an international passenger flight, and forced it to land on the basis of a false bomb scare, only to arrest a 26-year-old journalist. Rightfully, the indignant CEO of the airline called the ham-handed move by the Belarussian dictator, ‘a case of state-sponsored hijacking…. state-sponsored piracy’. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Belarus’ opposition leader said to the European Parliament that Lukashenko was, ‘turning the country into the North Korea of Europe: non-transparent, unpredictable and dangerous’.

Expectedly, Lukashenko remains defiant and his counter-accusations are aimed at ‘Western Powers’ and their insistences of liberality, transparency and democracy. He sought refuge in his only benefactor, Vladimir Putin of Russia, by deliberately conflating his concerns to those of a similarly ‘controlled’ Russia. The Hitler fan’s topical hero is thus Putin. Earlier in the year, the democratically elected government in Myanmar was deposed unceremoniously in a junta-led coup. Familiar curbs, censorship and clampdowns returned, and the protests were brutally ‘controlled’.


The clear condemnation and punitive actions were led by the ‘Western Powers’, and there was only one major power that refused to condemn the coup i.e. the single-party run China. Myanmar’s junta was supported by two illiberal and authoritarian countries in the United Nations, China and Russia. Around the same time, the Central African Republic (CAR), was imploding with a bloody civil war.

The traditional role of France as the arbiter in the former colony was soon replaced by Russia, via its mercenaries (‘Russian advisers’) from a private military contractor, the Wagner Group, linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, an oligarch and ally of Putin. While atrocities have been committed by all sides in the conflict, the UN working group said it was ‘deeply concerned’ by the purported actions of the Russian mercenaries that included summary executions, torture during interrogations and forced displacement.

The African strongman in CAR banks on a quid pro quo with Russians; for securing his rule by force in exchange for lucrative contracts in its diamond industry.Most recently, a ‘coup within a coup’ took place in the world’s second largest bullion producer, Mali, where a military man, Assimi Goita, seized power. Again, it was the ‘Western Powers’ led by the US, France etc., and the United Nations who decried that ‘a change of transitional leadership, including forced resignations, is unacceptable’.

But the Western protestations notwithstanding, the toxic combination of ostensible ‘nationalism’, ‘stopping external interference’ and ‘revenge’ made sure that voices of moderation, liberality and freedom of speech were suppressed. In Yemen the humanitarian crisis designated as ‘the worst in the world’ is perpetuated by undemocratic regimes like Saudi Arabia on the one side, and Iran on the other; to even suggest values of participative democracies like human rights, inclusivity and liberality would be delusional here. Globally, liberal democracy in its essence is under retreat, and the anti-democratic and authoritarian powers are gaining currency, and even public imagination.

Obvious shortcomings, inequities and the perceived pusillanimity of democratic leaders has given a fillip to supposedly ‘uber-nationalistic’, ‘strongmen’ and ‘decisive’ leaders like Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Recep Erdogan, Viktor Orban, Jair Bolsonaro etc. In its annual report Nations in Transit for 2020, 18 countries slid further on democracy scores, while the score improved in only six and there was no net change in six countries ~ a 17th consecutive year of decline for democracies globally, the lowest ever in the history of the report!

The pattern is the same with the weakening of ‘independent institutions’, compromises to judicial autonomy, suppression of media and vulnerability to ‘minorities’ in the face of majoritarianism. Even the traditional leader of the ‘Free World’, the United States had, under Donald Trump, dropped even pretenses of playing by the rules of democracy. Understandably, he made more common cause with Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un, Benjamin Netanyahu, Mohammad Bin Salman etc., then he did with the likes of Angela Merkel and Jacinda Arden. The consequences of showmanship, nativism and illiberality in politics led to the attack on Capitol Hill, in what was a crude attempt at a coup.

What initially seemed very assertive and martial sounding e.g. ‘America First’, was later found out to be an effort to drive partisan passions and arranging pressure to manage electoral outcomes, above all. Most of these leaders were found to be inept and illequipped to manage the global pandemic concerns.Incredibly, many in democratic countries lazily point to the ‘Chinese model’ for effective governance and societal control ~ a euphemism for managing dissent or contrarian opinions. Murmurs of the infamous Aleksey Navalny episode, treatment of minority Uighurs or the horrific count of civilian Palestinian casualties, are contexualised as ‘collateral damage’ or even ‘necessary for the larger good’!

In such times, the biggest enemy surprisingly becomes the ‘Free World’ (a propaganda term, that still captures the essence) and all its suppositions like transparency, liberality, secularism and guaranteed freedoms.Shaping the narrative and discourse towards ‘enemies’, ‘foreign agents’ and the empowerment of pro-dispensation organisations and groups (outside of official governmental framework), is the default outcome. Overtime the environment becomes so vitiated and polarised that to posit changes from the foundational and constitutional moorings is no more beyond question.

In such times it is important to stand up and be counted, ensure that civic groups, minorities and conscientious voices (especially those with contrarian opinions) are not drowned, castigated or muzzled for political convenience. But for brave Belarussian journalists like Roman Protasevich, who really was the prime target of the ‘hijack’ ~ there would have been nothing abnormal in President Lukashenko continuing endlessly, by ‘managing’ democracy in his totalitarian and ‘nationalistic’ way, as is done by Xi Jingping or Vladimir Putin.

(The writer is Lt Gen PVSM, AVSM (Retd) and former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Puducherry)