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Around The World, The Best Days Of Democracy Are Still To Come

Authoritarianism seems to be gaining ground in many parts of the planet. But from Hong Kong to Chile — and many places in between — people are also pushing back.

Protestors in Santiago, Chile, Nov. 8, 2019
Protestors in Santiago, Chile, Nov. 8, 2019
Piedad Bonnett


BOGOTÁ — Analysts and thinkers have begun speaking of the death of democracy. Among them are Harvard University professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, authors of the best-seller How Democracies Die, in which they contribute the decline to factors that include a proliferation of authoritarian and populist regimes around the world.

In the meantime, there has been a wave of protests inflaming such disparate lands as Ecuador, Hong Kong, Chile and France, and the lesson there seems to be that public frustration with neoliberal economics and the old, corrupt and parasitical ruling castes, has reached a boiling point.

I had a brief conversation with the Chilean writer Diamela Eltit about the protests in Chile and Colombia, and she made a brief statement that, unfortunately, we didn't have an opportunity to examine further. "It's the 21st century," she said.

I dare say what she meant was that each new century comes with a new set of turbulent changes, and that in this, the 21st century, the fundamental components of change include the technological and digital revolution, inequality caused by unfettered capitalism, and difficulties for youth facing prospects of unemployment, overqualification and fiercer competition.

Just as Bogotá"s new mayor, Claudia López, talks about inheriting a different city after the general strike and protests, so we can say that since the Arab Spring, entire countries, in many cases, are no longer what they were. And while I'm certainly no expert in such matters, I suspect that these popular uprisings — driven by conditions specific to each country but also symptomatic of a generalized, worldwide rage against the system — are, ironically, a hopeful sign for democracy's political reinvention.

The protesting nucleus enjoys widespread sympathy among the general public.

Youngsters aged 16 to 28 years, starting with Greta Thunberg, are showing us they are not just creatures transfixed by their phone screens, but a generation capable of political reaction and creativity in its messages. And we women have joined this living force with a generous dose of imagination and willingness to say: That's enough!

The marvelous thing about this protesting nucleus is that it is being supported by a broad range of sectors, and enjoys widespread sympathy among the general public. I read in El Espectador, for example, that in Hong Kong, Christmas cards were recently sent not to Father Christmas but the youngsters who had been injured or arrested, and that thousands of executives and workers of the financial district showed them their support by marching during lunch hour.

Likewise, people in Chile have come out in droves to support an initiative called Los ojos de Chile (Eyes of Chile), which collects funds for those who lost their eyesight because of police brutality. In Ecuador I witnessed immense support among citizens for indigenous protesters, and here in Colombia, countless people banged on pots and pans as a way to tell the protestors "We're with you."

It would seem clear then, even to the most obtuse among us, that if governments cannot read these signs and insist, rather, on resorting to repression, then we can expect violent times. Because one way or another, change is coming.

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Photo of ​King Charles III and French President Emmanuel Macron take part in a ceremony of Remembrance and wreath laying at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

King Charles III and French President Emmanuel Macron take part in a ceremony of Remembrance and wreath laying at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Michelle Courtois and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Kwei!*

Welcome to Thursday, where Poland says it will stop supplying Ukraine with weapons, India suspends visas for Canadians as diplomatic row escalates, and Kyrgyz shepherds come to Sicily’s rescue. Meanwhile, Laura Rique Valero of independent Spanish-language media El Toque tells the story of skilled Cuban workers forced by the government to take jobs abroad, and then preventing them from ever coming home.

[*Atikamekw, Quebec, Canada]

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