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TOPIC: authoritarianism

FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Russia's Boom In Facial Recognition Cameras To Crack Down On Dissent

Trailing only China in the widespread use across the nation of security cameras equipped with facial recognition technology.

Over the course of the past two years, Russian authorities have significantly expanded the use of facial recognition cameras, increasing the number of regions where they're used from five to 62, a twelve-fold increase. This has effectively created a nationwide surveillance system for monitoring citizens, and sharing information among regional authorities.

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This is now one of the largest video surveillance systems in the world, second only to China, allowing law enforcement to locate individuals not only within their own region, but also across Russia.

There is an ongoing process of connecting cameras across various regions into a single network, and a unified data storage center is already operational, Sarkis Darbinyan, a lawyer at Roskomsvoboda, a Russian NGO that supports digital rights of Internet users. “If all data is stored on the same servers, we are talking about trans-regional processing. This means that even if a person moves to another region, they can still be found there.”

The development of the facial recognition system began in 2017 when the city of Moscow announced the launch of one of the world’s largest facial recognition video surveillance networks, with the capital's Department of Information Technologies touting the 160,000 cameras installed across the city, including more than 3,000 of them connected to the facial recognition system. The reason given for this massive expansion was the crack down on crime, though even then there was suspicion that it was also designed to target government opponents.

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After Pro-Democracy Surge In Poland, Is Viktor Orban's Hungary Next?

In its latest parliamentary elections, Poland opted to oust the ruling party, PiS, from power. Now will Viktor Orbán's Hungary, a victim of democratic backsliding, be able to do the same. Political scientist and economist Bálint Madlovics and sociologist and former Hungarian Parliamentarian Bálint Magyar investigate.


WARSAW — For years, Hungary and Poland have fallen victim to the two most dangerous attempts of governments to build an autocratic system from within the European Union. But although both countries stood out in their tendencies towards authoritarianism, the erosion of democracy and the rule of law in these two countries was of a fundamentally different nature, and took place on a different scale.

The victory of the opposition in Poland's elections on Sunday may stop this process, and put the country back on the democratic path. In Hungary, there is practically no chance for this to occur anymore.

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The process of building an autocratic order has three phases: initialization, autocratic breakthrough and consolidation. This allows us to understand the difference between both countries.

Poland under the rule of PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński was still in the initial phase of the autocratic system, while in Hungary a breakthrough had already taken place.

The Fidesz party, led by Viktor Orbán, won a two-thirds majority of seats in parliament in 2010, which allowed it to amend the constitution. Unlike Kaczyński's PiS, Fidesz gained a monopoly of political power in Hungary. Orbán not only changed the Constitution, but also appointed his people to managerial positions in the institutions that make up the system of systemic security (checks and balances).

For nearly 15 years, we have been witnessing the consolidation of the autocratic system in Hungary: the media, economic entities and social organizations have been deprived of their autonomy and subordinated to the authorities. This eliminates the possibility of change, because systemic alternatives to authoritarianism no longer have an institutional or social base.

These differences in the level of advancement of an authoritarian system constructed within both countries are most clearly visible when we compare last Sunday's elections in Poland with the Hungarian elections in 2022. The former is described as "free but unfair," while the Hungarian elections are referred to explicitly as “manipulated”.

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Israel's Crisis Is Part Of The Wider Siege On Democracy

The Israeli government's aggressive bid to curb judicial powers fits into a bigger picture of the degradation of liberal democracy worldwide.


The institutional storm that has all but paralyzed Israel for months is an extreme illustration of a wider distortion of the relative places of power, institutions, the law and minorities in public life. A typical component of this democratic deformation is the recurring bid to curtail the judiciary and its mediating powers.

Extremist legislators in Israel, while a minority in terms of seats, have taken hold of the public agenda and are insisting on a less-than-novel idea that unelected judges must not be allowed to intervene in political decisions or the business of legislation.

In other words, state institutions cannot question or check elected officials. It is a grotesque idea loved by populists of the Left and the Right, notably in our own region. As a strategy, it has been implemented in states such as Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, though the Israelis will not want to be compared with such murky regimes.

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When Erdogan Hints At Not Accepting Defeat, He's Playing With Fire

President Erdogan and his allies have spent the final weeks of the campaign questioning the political legitimacy of their opponents' eventual victory ahead of the May 14 election. When the vote does come, the risk of setting off a veritable civil war is real.


ISTANBUL — There’s a Turkish saying about how the words and sentences about a certain topic are worse than the topic itself. In other words, talking about something may be worse than it actually happening. The topic that I’m going to write about now is a little like that. And yet, the problem doesn't go away by not talking or writing about it.

Süleyman Soylu, Turkey’s Interior Minister, recently compared the upcoming May 14 elections to the coup attempt of June 15, 2016.

Can you comprehend this? The man who will be in charge of the security of the ballots is presenting the elections as a coup attempt before anyone has gone to vote.

Binali Yıldırım, another heavyweight of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), equated the elections to Turkey’s war of independence after World War I.

Yet another AKP official, Nurettin Canikli, claimed that Turkey would cease to exist as a nation if the opposition wins the elections.

Finally, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself said that a victory of his main opponent, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, would only happen with "the support of Qandil," a reference to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK which Turkey recognizes as a terrorist organization, and based in Iraq's Qandil Mountains.

All of these statements are a clear challenge to the nation’s will.

I believe the night of the upcoming elections will be one of the most critical nights in the history of modern Turkey.

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Dominique Moïsi

End Game For Erdogan? Millions In Turkey — And Beyond — Can Taste It

The result of Turkey's May 14 election is still very uncertain, but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's significant failures put his leadership under threat for the first time in 20 years.


Can elections put an end to the authoritarian drift of a man and ensure a return to democracy? In a few days, on May 14, the Turkish people will be able to answer this question with a double presidential and legislative election.

Indeed, for the first time since Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power in 2003, the scenario of his defeat is conceivable, if not probable. The opposition finally united behind an experienced politician who does not shine with his charisma alone — Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the CHP, the Republican People’s Party.

And this is all the more true because everything suggests that the Kurds from the PKK (the third biggest party in Parliament today) will join the union of opposition parties, in a ballot that looks like a referendum against Erdogan.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Anna Akage

Moscow Show Trials: Stalinism Or A Prelude To Civil War?

This week’s high-profile court cases, from the 25-year sentence of opposition leader Vladimir Kara-Murza to the prosecution of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovic, look like a shift to totalitarianism. But they may also be a sign of a nation set to implode.


It’s been a busy week at the Moscow City Court — and across town at the State Duma.

A federal judge Monday sentenced Russian opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza to a stunning 25 years for treason. The following day, in the same courtroom, another judge rejected an appeal by The Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested last month on espionage charges, and now faces up to 20 years in prison.

Also on Tuesday, Russia’s national legislature, the State Duma, passed an amendment that makes treason in Russia punishable by life in prison.

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Kremlin watchers have drawn the obvious connections between these judicial and legislative decisions — and aptly called them, “Stalinist,” as if there was any doubt left, Putin has clearly passed from authoritarianism to totalitarianism.

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Bekir Ağırdır

How Turkey's Jumbled Opposition Bloc Can Take Erdogan Down

Turkey heads to the polls in May, with a newly formed opposition bloc hoping to dislodge President Tayyip Recep Erdogan. Despite some party infighting, many remain hopeful they can bring an end to Erdogan's 20 years in power. But first, clarity from within a complicated coalition is needed.


ISTANBUL — Turkey was hit by a political earthquake recently, at the same time that we were mourning the victims of the actual earthquakes. It was a crisis triggered among the main opposition coalition, the so-called “ the table of six,” by the inner dynamics of the nationalist Good Party (IYI) that resulted in a renewed understanding among the rearranged table.

The six-party coalition has been set up to challenge President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s “one-man rule” and is looking to dislodge him after 20 years in power in the country’s upcoming national elections scheduled on May 14.

I am not a fan of analyses based on a who-said-or-did-what perspective, nor those focusing on the actors themselves either. I won’t attempt to analyze the political actors unless the daily agenda forces me to. They are not my priority: the condition of our society and our political system are what matters to me.

We were all told to follow the tabloid version of the story, articles based on hot gossip and anonymous statements full of conspiracy theories about the disagreements of the table of six, and the question of who would run against Erdoğan.

The truth is that there were three crises in one. The first is what we call the political crisis, which is actually shortcomings in collaboration and taking control of the process. The second is the structural problems of the political parties. And the third is the gap between politics and the vital needs of the society.

From day one, there were shortcomings in the general functioning of the table of the six — in their ability to act together in critical situations and, more importantly, in their ability to take control of the process. There were clues for these in recent times, such as the different stances the opposition parties took for the issue of providing constitutional protection for the headscarf.

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Migrant Lives
Pierre Haski

Another World Leader Stokes Racist Fears Of Immigration — In Tunisia

Tunisian President Kaïs Saïed's xenophobic claims that a conspiracy aims to replace Tunisians with sub-Saharan migrants has unleashed racist violence in the country. It's a sign of the growing authoritarianism of the popular but powerless president.


PARIS — When he suspended democratic institutions and gave himself absolute power last year, Tunisian President Kaïs Saïed responded to critics by echoing a retort from French General Charles de Gaulle: "It is not at my age that I will begin a career as a dictator."

But after recent events in Tunisia, that's becoming harder to believe.

Not only has the Tunisian head of state revived the country's tradition of authoritarianism, but he has now plunged the country into a racist nightmare by singling out sub-Saharan immigrants for popular hatred. Hunts for migrants have been reported in the major city of Sfax, leaving many hiding in fear.

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Serhiy Gromenko

Why Did Modern Russia Turn Into An Authoritarian State: Was It Putin Or The People?

It is a mistake to attribute the construction of authoritarianism in modern Russia to Putin alone. Serhiy Gromenko, an expert at the Ukrainian Institute for the Future, explains the evolution for how Russia wound up an authoritarian state, and why Putin isn't the only one to blame.


Not so long ago, the republic of Russia was among the freest of the Soviet Union's 15 republics. Apart from the always separate Baltic states, Russia in the late 1980s was home to the most potent dissident movements, and the fiercest struggle between progressives and those more aligned with the Soviet Union.

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The largest and most critical anti-Soviet rallies and mass protests took place on the streets of Moscow. Paradoxically, Russians enjoyed the greatest freedom of thought and relatively moderate pressure from the KGB. "For what they cut your nails in Moscow, they cut off your hand in Kyiv" was a common expression at the time.

Interestingly, for some time after the final collapse of the USSR, it was Russia that led the decommunization movement, with the banning of the Communist party, renaming of cities and opening of secret archives. The Kremlin has officially recognized the existence of secret protocols to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (the non-aggression agreement between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed just before the Second World War) and the Soviet Union's guilt in the murder of tens of thousands of Polish prisoners of war during the Katyn massacre.

Political life in Russia was booming and raging, often literally. An unprecedented level of political competition, genuine federalism and assets inherited from the USSR, as well as positions in the world all played in Moscow's favor. Perhaps not the wealthiest country, but still a respected and promising country, with a high level of freedom — this is how it was seen from the outside and inside.

It is strange to see today's Russia — rigidly authoritarian, hostile to the whole world, with rapid degradation of almost all spheres of life. And on top of that, Orthodox-Communist-Nazi rhetoric comes from the mouths of the highest leadership.

As early as 1992, former U.S. President Richard Nixon and leading Soviet expert Richard Pipes warned about the danger of restoring dictatorship in Russia. In 1995, the emigrant historian Alexander Yanov wrote a book called Weimar Russia, which predicted the return of authoritarianism. So when did these prophecies come true?

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This Happened

This Happened—January 10: Pinnacle For Ortega

Daniel Ortega is inaugurated as president of Nicaragua for the first time on this day in 1985.

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Dan Wu

Hu Jintao Ejected, My Grandpa's Advice — A Personal Reflection On Xi Jinping

My fear for China's future has never been greater...


The 20th congress of the Chinese Communist Party ended as we knew it would: with Xi Jinping's well-choreographed anointment for a third term and the naming of a politburo completely loyal to him. The uniformed applause that echoed in the Great Hall of the People, across the party red setting, set the stage for total power in the hands of one man.

But there was, as many saw, one moment that appeared to go off script: the scene when ex-president Hu Jintao was removed from his seat at the closing ceremony. As the worlds' cameras zoomed in, the 79-year-old who was once Xi's boss was led away from his seat. Hu appeared to resist, while Xi remained in his central seat, looking indifferent, and the other top CCP officials sat in silence.

For a Chinese native, who grew up during Hu's reign, watching from afar was a disturbing experience to say the least.

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Massimo Recalcati*

Education As Pluralism: A Humble Manifesto Against Totalitarianism

Authoritarianism and conflict are on the rise around the world. Yet democracy will not be saved on the battlefield but in the classroom. Schools, and more importantly, how teachers teach is crucial in showing the next generations that there is no single defining point of view.


ROME — In this time of crisis and war, any true supporter of democracy must be reminded of the importance of school for a fundamental reason: to ensure a multiplicity of points of view. No, we must remind ourselves, there is no definitive last word on good and evil, life and death, justice or injustice. Freedom of speech must always be safeguarded: diverse, secular and democratic.

Diversity of points of view implies a bond that connects one person’s view point with another. For, as the COVID pandemic has shown, there is no such thing as one life separate from other lives. There is no such thing as a self-sufficient life, no autonomous life, no life that does not depend on the lives of others.

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The great task of school, in a traumatized time like ours, is to actively practice an ethic of plurality and inclusion. The question that starts with is: Does that happen by educating or by instructing?

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