The Hong Kong and Moscow Protests: In Authoritarian Places, a Yearning for Democracy
History has its rhythms that can produce extraordinary moments — like the present one. At a time when attachment to democracy is waning in the world’s oldest and greatest democracies like the U.S. and the U.K., the yearning for it emerges in highly undemocratic places like Hong Kong and Moscow.
What a juxtaposition: While U.S. president Donald Trump continues undermining democratic norms (too many to count) and last week British prime minister Boris Johnson made the undemocratic move of suspending Parliament to block further debate on Brexit (and undemocratically expelled 21 members of his own party who opposed him), protesters in Hong Kong and Russia have bravely carried on with their months-long pro-democracy protests — at constant peril of a military crackdown ordered by their strongman rulers Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, respectively, who are well-known for jailing or even killing opponents.
About this paradox, Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum writes: “While the news at home gets constantly worse, we are simultaneously living in an era when the ideals of democracy have never burned more brightly, especially among younger people — at least those who live in autocracies….. In two of the most authoritarian countries on the planet, unprecedented pro-democracy demonstrations are now unfolding, inspiring precisely the same generation that is bored by democracy in the West.”
The Hong Kong protests have riveted the world with their zeal and numbers — some have drawn two (2) million citizens (also here). When Hong Kong reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997, it was with guarantees that the semi-autonomous island territory would continue enjoying freedoms that the mainland Chinese did not, in a formula termed “one country, two systems.” The tensions in that formula manifested this June, when the Beijing-backed Hong Kong government drafted a bill requiring Hong Kongers charged with criminal offenses be extradited to China for trial. Appalled at the prospect of Chinese “justice,” Hong Kongers of all ages hit the streets. They keep coming because they fear increasing encroachment by China.
While these protests are democratically organized — strategy is aired on-line and a consensus reached, protests surface “like water” around the city — its leaderlessness also accounts for the lapses into violence and vandalism. The world’s heart stops when such lapses occur, when…