As part of the government’s “zero-covid” approach to the pandemic, Shanghai’s roughly 26 million residents were subjected to a two-month lockdown so severe that it led to food and medicine shortages, and included the forcible separation of children from their parents. Across the country, draconian covid-19 restrictions have been imposed in at least 27 cities, affecting more than 180 million. In a now-censored WeChat post, journalist Lian Qingchuan reflected on the May 31 relaxation of restrictions in Shanghai, while alluding to the June 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre. A translation from the Chinese, provided by China Digital Times, is excerpted below. (For his full reflections translated into English, see: https://chinadigitaltimes.net/2022/06/translation-june-is-not-a-time-for-forgetting-the-end-of-shanghais-non-lockdown.)
June is not a time for forgetting. . . .
The end of the lockdown is as muted as the announcement itself: no fervid neighborhood committee announcement, no big show of celebration from the news media, no fanfare declaring victory.
So we wander inexplicably out of our cage, just as we’d wandered inexplicably in.
What did we defeat, in the end? What were we fighting, in the end? What were we resisting, in the end?
No one even bothered to give us an explanation.
So all the blood, tears, sacrifice, and sorrow of the 25 million of us, of Shanghai, over those 60 or 70 or 80 days . . . what does it amount to, in the end?
Who is it—whose great authority, whose will—that in this modern 21st-century world holds such power over an enormous city and all its people, the fearless power to give or take, to spare or kill?
As our WeChat Moments circulated, the term “end of lockdown” never arose—naturally, it was the same with “city lockdown.” So for these past two months and more, the whole of Shanghai was like a clump of roadside weeds, something to be expediently discarded, and now, when it suits, expediently picked up again. . . .
We might be able to believe that the disaster is now past, and limp into the future with our newly restored spirits, but if we choose to forget, there will always be another disaster lying in wait for us.
Am I wrong? Haven’t we seen enough disaster already?
In his 1989 film “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” Woody Allen said that forgetting is a kind of healing mechanism that humans have come up with. When suffering becomes too great, people deliberately forget their pain in order to survive, to keep on living.
It’s just that I’m skeptical. Can forgetting really make us happier?
Shouldn’t June be a time for asking questions? If the city was never locked down, then what were these last two months? Who’s responsible for losing them? Who shut the hospitals, leaving innocent people to die in their doorways? Who sealed people into compounds and let them go hungry? Who threw away the food donations that the rest of the country sent to help us, and let them rot in the trash? Who took spoiled food and sold it to officials to use as government aid? Who closed the streets, cutting us off from our loved ones, some of whom we’d never see again? Who left people fleeing and stranded, trudging for miles, and sleeping in the open at train stations?
Such lawlessness, imbecility, corruption . . . we should just forget it?
Shouldn’t June be a time for healing? There were so many people who lost work in the lockdown, so many without access to food or clothing, so many businesses fallen into trouble, so many efforts gone to waste, so many things that had been advancing and growing, all crumbled to dust during this thing we can’t even call a lockdown.
And now we’re just supposed to forget it all?
Forgive me for not being able to put on a happy face right now. Perhaps my heaviness is untimely. After suffering, talk of happiness is laden with guilt. But if that suffering was itself manufactured, then forgetting is shameful.
Having the courage to question, the capacity to remember, and the tenacity to challenge—perhaps these are the mementos we should hold fast to in June. However, I am painfully aware of how very powerless these mementos are, and how very high the risk of them being censored is.
This April and this May will live forever in my memory. They serve as a memorial to my personal tragedy, as well as a reminder of the unresolvable traumas of this land.
It seems that our nation is extremely good at forgetting. After every calamity, we can always find a way to get back to survival, to life, even to happiness.
And so the cycle continues, as with the ancient capitals—Chang’an, Luoyang, Bianzhou, Hangzhou, and Jinling. Repeatedly, they rose from the ruins; repeatedly, warfare and iniquity drove them back into ruin, in accordance with destiny.
Heaven is silent, and people reap what they sow.
If we go back to discussing life so casually, if we so hastily choose to forget, we may find, in the not-so-distant future, that another unforeseen catastrophe awaits us.
Russia and Ukraine
Thousands of Russians have been detained for protesting Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, including opposition politician and intellectual Vladimir Kara-Murza. He now faces up to ten years in prison. His wife Evgenia Kara-Murza testified before the UN Human Rights Council on the increasing brutality of Putin’s regime in both Russia and Ukraine. Excerpts from her May 12 testimony follow. (For the complete testimony, see: https://unwatch.org/wife-of-imprisoned-russian-dissident-vladimir-kara-murza-to-address-un-human-rights-council-urgent-session.)
For over two months, we have been witnessing a bloody massacre of the civilian population by Russian Armed Forces on the territory of the sovereign state of Ukraine. It seems the world has finally realized who Mr. Putin truly is and is now watching in horror thinking about what else this increasingly deranged dictator is capable of.
Well, people like my husband, Vladimir Kara-Murza, have known it for over two decades and have tried time and again to warn the world about the danger of appeasing a bully who sees every compromise as his opponent’s weakness.
Twice, in 2015 and 2017, my husband was poisoned by a team of FSB operatives whose only job is to physically eliminate the opponents of the current Russian government. He refused to be intimidated and forced out of his country, so he went back to Russia and continued his work.
A month ago, Vladimir joined the ever-growing list of political prisoners in Russia. He is being charged under a new law that criminalizes any opposition to Putin’s so-called special operation in Ukraine.
My husband is facing up to 10 years in prison for calling this war a war. And he is not alone. Over 15,000 people have been detained all across Russia for speaking up against the war in Ukraine.
We know that only Russians can bring change to Russia, but in order for a grassroots movement to emerge in our country, we ask the international community to see these brave Russians who stand up to the Russian government against all odds.
We ask the international community to recognize their fight and to stand with them.
In April, video and photographic evidence emerged showing that Russian forces tortured and massacred civilians in Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv. As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has continued, evidence of other such war crimes committed by Russian forces is mounting. A global group of independent experts convened by the New Lines Institute and the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights assessed that Russia’s wartime actions constitute a breach of the UN convention on genocide (to which Russia is bound). Excerpts follow from the group’s May report. (For the full report, see: https://newlinesinstitute.org/russia/an-independent-legal-analysis-of-the-russian-federations-breaches-of-the-genocide-convention-in-ukraine-and-the-duty-to-prevent.)
III. Russia’s State-Orchestrated Incitement to Genocide.
- Denial of the Existence of a Ukrainian Identity. High level Russian officials and State media commentators repeatedly and publicly deny the existence of a distinct Ukrainian identity, implying that those who self-identify as Ukrainian threaten the unity of Russia or are Nazis. . . . Denial of the existence of protected groups is a specific indicator of genocide under the United Nations guide to assessing the risk of mass atrocities.
- Accusation in a Mirror. “Accusation in a mirror” is a powerful, historically recurring form of incitement to genocide. A perpetrator accuses the targeted group of planning, or having committed, atrocities like those the speaker envisions against them, framing the putative victims as an existential threat makes violence against them appear defensive and necessary. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian officials did exactly this, making the utterly false claim that Ukraine had committed genocide or exterminated the civilian population in Russian-backed separatist-controlled areas, as their pretext for invading Ukraine.
- “Denazification” and Dehumanization. Russian officials and State media repeatedly invoke “denazification” as one of the main goals of the invasion and have broadly described Ukrainians as subhuman (“zombified,” “bestial,” or “subordinate”), diseased or contaminated (“scum,” “filth,” “disorder”) or existential threats and the epitome of evil (“Nazism,” “Hitler youth,” “Third Reich”). This rhetoric is used to portray a substantial segment or an entire generation of Ukrainians as Nazis and mortal enemies, rendering them legitimate or necessary targets for destruction.
- Construction of Ukrainians as an Existential Threat. In the Russian context, the State-orchestrated incitement campaign overtly links the current invasion to the Soviet Union’s existential battles with Nazi Germany in World War II, amplifying the propaganda’s impact on the Russian public to commit or condone mass atrocities. On April 5, 2022, Dmitry Medvedev, current Deputy Chair of the Russian Security Council, posted: “having transformed itself into the Third Reich . . . Ukraine will suffer the same fate . . . what it deserves! These tasks cannot be completed instantaneously. And they will not only be decided on battlefields.” The day before the widely celebrated Victory Day, marking the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany, President Putin sent a Telegram to Russian-backed separatists claiming Russians are fighting “for the liberation of their native land from Nazi filth,” vowing that “victory will be ours, like in 1945.” . . .
- Conditioning the Russian Audience to Commit or Condone Atrocities. The Russian Federation authorities have denied atrocities committed by its forces and rewarded soldiers suspected of mass killing in Ukraine, enabling soldiers to commit, and the Russian public to condone, further atrocities. These authorities are able to directly incite the public by funneling and amplifying their propaganda through a controlled media landscape and extreme censorship around the war. . . .
- Intent to Destroy the Ukrainian National Group in Part. The intent to destroy a group “in part” has been understood to require the targeting of a substantial or prominent part of the group. To assess this threshold, however, the scale of atrocities targeting Ukrainians must be reviewed relative to Russia’s area of activity or control. Russian forces have left a trail of concentrated physical destruction upon retreat from occupied areas, including mass close-range executions, torture, destruction of vital infrastructure, and rape and sexual violence. The selective targeting of Ukrainian leaders or activists for enforced disappearance or murder is further evidence of intent to destroy the Ukrainian national group in part.
In 2020, opposition candidate Maia Sandu was elected president of Moldova, becoming the first woman to hold that office. Her party, the Party of Action and Solidarity, won a parliamentary majority in the 2021 elections. Running on a pro-EU, anticorruption platform, she and her party triumphed in a political system characterized by corruption, voter fraud, and repression. In her May 25 address to the 2022 graduates of the Harvard Kennedy School, she explained how she and her party prevailed after years of struggle. (To watch the full address, visit: www.youtube.com/watch?v=59mzpDVgZjA&t=11s.)
In 2016 my team and I registered our political party. At that time the country was captive to an authoritarian oligarchic regime. Why did they even allow us to register the party? I think they didn’t see us as a threat to their rule, but looked at us as a bunch of nerds unable to pose a threat to their crooked regime—novices who would play politics and exit under pressure from a government that can crack anyone. But they were wrong: In a few years the country would propel us to end their corrupt rule, and to send them fleeing throughout the world.
Creating a political party meant many things. First of all showing to the people that Moldova can have clean political parties which rely on people’s donations. This was unprecedented as before most political parties relied on bribes and corruption . . . .
Making people voluntarily donate for a political party was not easy. Previously, not many of them were asking themselves, “Where is the money coming from to finance political parties and the election campaign?” I was asked this, “You want to become a politician, and you want us to pay for this?” But increasingly people started to understand that this was the only way to have politicians who truly represent the will of the people and not vested interests.
But it was not easy however being absolutely transparent and not making even the smallest compromise on integrity were key to winning people’s trust. . . . The results exceeded our expectations. The party grew steadily, gaining the support of the people and international partners.
The establishment finally started perceiving us as a threat. Of course they went all in against us. They went after opposition leaders and their families and friends with intimidation, prosecution, set ups, [and] fraud, trying to convince the people that politics in Moldova will always be dirty. Families and friends were exposed, elections were cancelled, [and] propaganda was unabating as the regime controlled the media, but we knew that we had to stop them before they would become too strong and would drag the country into long-term authoritarianism. . . .
Even though it took another few long years of struggle . . . . We became more seasoned. We use social media and did a lot of door-to-door work to communicate with people. Civil society, independent media, and opposition political parties all came together to stop the corrupt regime.
After the parliamentary elections in the winter of 2019, even though the election was largely rigged . . . , backed by the people we managed to form a fragile coalition in the parliament and to remove the oligarchic regime. I finally became prime minister. But as any other miracle, it lasted only five months. Our efforts were interrupted shortly, and for the same reasons: We refused to compromise on our values—rule of law, independent justice, good governance in the interest of our citizens, [and] transparency.
Our devotion to our principles paid off; people understood and supported us. I ran for office in the presidential elections in 2020 and I won. For the first time ever in Moldova’s history, a woman became president.
The party won in a landslide in the early parliamentary elections a year later. This gave us a clear mandate for change, for reforming Moldova and bringing it where it belongs: to the European family of states. My country now is run by a woman president and a woman prime minister . . . .
The National Endowment for Democracy awarded the 2022 Democracy Service Medal to founding Journal of Democracy coeditor Larry Diamond for his decades of service to democracy around the world. His remarks from the May 18 award ceremony are excerpted below. (For his full remarks, see: https://youtu.be/rjXuZwmzJWM?t=7691.)
We are nearing the fortieth anniversary next month of President Ronald Reagan’s historic Westminster speech, which sparked the creation of the [National Endowment for Democracy]. At a time when freedom has been retreating for a decade and a half and so many people question the future of democracy, it is worth recalling Reagan’s prescient words of defiant optimism. Now, as then, there is a gathering crisis of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes. Look at how badly Russia has bungled and miscalculated in its invasion of Ukraine. Look at the unfolding disaster of China’s failure to manage the Covid pandemic, opting in panic to lock up its urban populations in what have become high-rise prison camps, without secure supplies of food and other essentials, all because the regime refuses to admit its mistakes and inoculate its population with vaccines that work—the vaccines that were developed in the West. Both these disasters are the direct result of the increasing concentration of power in vain and isolated strongmen who brook no dissent and are trapped in their own echo chambers, advised by sycophants and servile opportunists.
In these unfolding tragedies we see all over again the twin intrinsic vulnerabilities of authoritarian regimes: their relentless tendency toward the concentration of power, and their inability to correct their mistakes through the marketplace of alternative ideas, open information, and competing parties. As President Reagan said in Westminster, none of these regimes is willing to risk free elections, because they lack confidence in their own legitimacy. “Regimes planted by bayonets do not take root.” . . .
Human nature being what it is, the struggle for freedom and democracy will never be permanently won. This is a moment of great danger but also opportunity. If we worry and doubt, we should also take pride in all that we have achieved in these last four decades.
On 8 June 1982, U.S. president Ronald Reagan delivered the Westminster address in the United Kingdom. As challenges to tyranny multiplied worldwide, Reagan urged democratic nations to support the “infrastructure of democracy”—such as a free press and political parties—to help all peoples build free societies. Excerpts follow from the speech, whose call to fight for freedom still resonates forty years after its delivery. (For the full speech, see: www.ned.org/promoting-democracy-and-peace.)
We cannot ignore the fact that even without our encouragement, there have been and will continue to be repeated explosions against repression in dictatorships. . . . Any system is inherently unstable that has no peaceful means to legitimatize its leaders. In such crises, the very repressiveness of the state ultimately drives people to resist it—if necessary, by force.
While we must be cautious about forcing the pace of change, we must not hesitate to declare our ultimate objectives and to take concrete actions to move toward them. We must be staunch in our conviction that freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings. So states the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which, among other things, guarantees free elections.
The objective I propose is quite simple to state: to foster the infrastructure of democracy—the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities—which allows a people to choose their own way, to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means.
This is not cultural imperialism: it is providing the means for genuine self-determination and protection for diversity. Democracy already flourishes in countries with very different cultures and historical experiences. It would be cultural condescension, or worse, to say that any people prefer dictatorship to democracy. Who would voluntarily choose not to have the right to vote, decide to purchase government propaganda handouts instead of independent newspapers, prefer government to worker-controlled unions, opt for land to be owned by the state instead of those who till it, want government repression of religious liberty, a single political party instead of a free choice, a rigid cultural orthodoxy instead of democratic tolerance and diversity?
Copyright © 2022 National Endowment for Democracy