Documents on Democracy

Issue Date January 2023
Volume 34
Issue 1
Page Numbers 179–87
file Print
arrow-down-thin Download from Project MUSE
external View Citation


The post–Cold War assumption of democracy’s inevitable triumph—described by Francis Fukuyama as the “End of History” thesis—does not apply to our world, and democracies need to adjust accordingly, argues Canada’s deputy prime minister, Chrystia Freeland. She delivered a stirring call for greater democratic resolve in the face of emboldened authoritarianism at the Brookings Institution on October 11. Excerpts of her remarks  follow:

When Vladimir Putin ordered his tanks across the Ukrainian border in the early hours of February 24th, he brought a brutal end to a three-decade-long era in geopolitics. That period had begun at midnight, in joyous optimism, on November 9, 1989, with the very different breaching of a frontier 750 miles away—with the fall of the Berlin Wall. . . .

We should all still hope that Martin Luther King’s assertion about the arc of the moral universe is true, and that it applies to all of humanity. But we also need to recognize that it does not accurately describe much of the world right now. We must govern our relationships with the world’s authoritarian rulers accordingly. . . .

Our approach to them must be different from what it has been over the past three decades. Rather than imagining that their political systems will gradually, peacefully, and enthusiastically come to resemble our own as we all grow richer together, we need to understand that authoritarian regimes are fundamentally hostile to us.

Our success is an existential threat to them. That is why they have tried to subvert our democracies from within, and why we should expect them to continue to do so. We must likewise recognize that authoritarian regimes have as little respect for a rules-based order among states as they do for the rule of law within their own countries.

That means we need to be cautious about our economic relations with the world’s dictators and their elites. We need to make clear that it will no longer be possible to rule like Stalin but live like Abramovich. . . .

We democracies may have been sincerely convinced that we were all converging towards global peace and prosperity. But the world’s dictators never believed that and they never believed us—they thought we must be either liars or fools. . . .

One reason that consciously breaking with the End of History era and building a new paradigm will be so difficult is that it means giving up on an uplifting and self-validating vision of the future. . . .

It is dispiriting and frightening to accept that it is not so.

A second cause for hesitation is economic. One reason the End of History was so beguiling is that it promised us we could do good by doing well. I am now proposing that the only way for us to do well is if we do good. . . .

But I think the biggest reason to question our collective ability to move beyond the End of History is our own self-doubt.

Democracies are strong because we are self-critical. The jeers I face in Question Period, the fact-checking of skeptical journalists, the hard verdict of the ballot box—all of these make me a better minister than I would be if we governed in splendid authoritarian isolation.

But we must always balance that essential capacity for self-criticism with the equally important power of self-confidence.

Our democracies are flawed, to be sure. As a Canadian, I am always conscious of my country’s original sin against Indigenous Peoples. As Finance Minister, I worry every day about our ability to build an economy that works for everyone, even as we act to preserve our planet.

But an awareness of unredeemed historical crimes, and of our serious fresh challenges, in no way contradicts my equally profound conviction that the liberal democracy we are so lucky to enjoy in Canada is the best way humans have found, so far, to organize a society. . . .

And so we find ourselves at another crossroads.

The End of History is over, and now is the time to replace it. Putin’s world—where might makes right and where oil means impunity—is one option. . . .

Instead, the brave people of Ukraine have reminded us that democracy is both important enough to die for and strong enough to win.

As we set out to build a new world together, let that inspire us to build one in which all liberal democracies cannot just survive, but thrive.


Beginning on November 26, the largest protests since Tiananmen Square erupted in cities across China, with protesters calling for an end to the government’s draconian “zero-covid” lockdown strategy and even the end of Xi Jinping’s rule. “From Ürümchi to Shanghai: Demands from Chinese and Hong Kong Socialists: A Letter on Strategy and Solidarity with Uyghur Struggle”  was translated and published by the Lausan CollectiveAn excerpted version follows:

On Thursday, 24 November, 2022, a fire broke out in a residential building in Ürümchi. . . . The fire killed mostly Uyghur victims and injured many more. These numbers are said to be under-reported, and the tragedy was a result of China’s failed pandemic policy which has severely restricted the movements of everyday citizens and denied their access to basic necessities for prolonged periods of time. . . .

In response, Ürümchi residents launched an unprecedented city-wide protest on Saturday 26 November, braving the police to surround government buildings and demand an end to the current lockdown policies. . . . Protests of different kinds spread across major cities throughout the night. Some took the form of collective and independent mass action, like the student-led vigil in the Communication University of China in Nanjing and the public statement written by medical students from Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan. Citizens of Shanghai took to the streets to escalate their action further, chanting slogans like “Down with the CCP! Down with Xi Jinping!”

Regimes across the world have failed their people throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and China’s authoritarian brand of capitalism has led to further restriction of the rights of its everyday citizens. Working conditions have become even more precarious. In late October, it was revealed that Foxconn workers in Zhengzhou were trapped in a “closed-loop system” that restricted their movements and access to basic necessities in conditions of forced labor. Many workers tried to flee the factories by scaling fences. . . . The local government responded by sending its cadres to Foxconn’s production line to ensure profitability. Last week, newly-hired Foxconn workers staged a small revolt protesting their conditions, and the local government sent hundreds of hazmat-suited police to aid Foxconn in repressing the workers.

Students and workers across China are taking to the streets to demand accountability for a “Zero Covid” policy that has seen their rights taken away and their safety placed in danger. . . . More urgently than ever, Han Chinese residents of Xinjiang and in other regions of China must continue to center the struggle of Uyghurs and oppressed minorities and fight alongside them.

We demand accountability for the victims of the Ürümchi fire, and call for radical systemic change:


  1. Abolish the current lockdowns that forcibly detain people in their homes, denying them of access to basic needs.
  2. Abolish forced PCR testing for COVID-19.
  3. Allow those who are infected to isolate at home, while those with severe symptoms have the right to treatment in the hospital; cancel forcible transfer and isolation of infected and non-infected individuals in mobile cabin “hospitals”.
  4. Provide options for multiple vaccines. . . .
  5. Release Sitong Bridge protestor Peng Zaizhou and other political prisoners who are being detained from the protests.
  6. Call for nation-wide mourning of the deaths of those caused by irresponsible lockdown measures.
  7. Ensure the resignation of bureaucrats responsible for pandemic mismanagement.
  8. Pandemic control measures must be informed by medical experts and conducted democratically amongst the people.
  9. Safeguard the rights of people to the freedom of speech, assembly, organization, and protest.
  10. Support independent workers’ power in and beyond these protests; abolish anti-worker practices like the 996 work schedule and strengthen labor law protections, including protecting workers’ right to strike and self-organization, so they can participate more extensively in political life.


  1. If anyone is threatened by the police, others should stand up to support them.
  2. We should not stop others from chanting more radical slogans, but try to prioritize positive and concrete demands for systemic change.
  3. Changes in the political authorities within the system would not be useful unless we thoroughly democratize the system itself.
  4. Avoid the risky tactic of long-term occupation of streets and town squares—adopt “Be Water”-style mobilization to prevent authorities from too easily clamping down on protesters.
  5. Beyond protesting, strengthen mutual aid and self-organization among communities and workplaces.

People in China today are beginning to mobilize around Sitong Bridge protestor Peng Zaizhou’s call for mass action across to demand “democracy, not more forced PCR testing.” We do not know how this movement will develop, but we continue encouraging independent mass organization by students, workers, and other marginalized groups in the mainland and abroad, including Hongkongers, Taiwanese, Uyghurs and Tibetans to continue building a long-term strategic program for democratic struggle in China.

We stand in solidarity with this developing movement and call on the Chinese government to respect the livelihood and basic civil liberties of its citizens.


Within two days of appearing online, Shervin Hajipour’s song “Baraye” (“For”)—comprising 28 grievance-filled tweets—had been listened to forty million times. In response, the regime detained Hajipour for a month and then indicted him for spreading “propaganda” and “inciting violence.” But it was too late to stop the song from emerging as an anthem of the protests gripping Iran, sparked by the September 16 death of Misha Amani in police custody. A translation of the lyrics follows. (Watch Hajipour’s performance of “Baraye” here.)

For dancing in the streets

For the fear of kissing

For my sister, your sister, our sisters

For changing the rotten brains

For the shame of poverty

For yearning for an ordinary life

For child labor and their crushed dreams

For this dictatorial economy

For this polluted air

For Valiasr street and its forlorn trees

For the Asiatic cheetah

For the massacre of the innocent forbidden dogs

For these never-ending tears

For never experiencing this moment [a reference to the downing of Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 by an Iranian missile]

For smiling faces

For the students, for their futures

For this forced “heaven”

For the imprisoned intellectual elite

For the discriminated Afghan children

For each and every one of all of these “for”s

For all these empty propaganda chants

For the collapse of these flimsy houses

For the feeling of peace

For the sun after long nights

For sleeping pills and sleepness nights

For men, homeland and prosperity

For the girls wishing they were boys

For women, life, freedom

For freedom

For freedom

For freedom


Under President Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan has redoubled its efforts to defend democracy at home and abroad, especially against its authoritarian neighbor, the People’s Republic of China. She reiterated this commitment in her National Day address delivered on October 10. An excerpt of her speech, entitled “Island of Resilience: A Better Taiwan for the World,” follows:

Building democratic resilience is key to safeguarding Taiwan.

Our primary task in this regard is to make our commitment to a free and democratic system an unbreakable national consensus. In a democratic society, we can have different positions and we can debate with one another, but we should unanimously and resolutely stand behind our free and democratic system, no matter how much external pressure we face.

Next to that is the task of improving transparency and our ability to identify disinformation. Taiwan is one of the countries most targeted by information warfare, a non-traditional security threat that persistently interferes with the functioning of our democratic system. . . .

Going forward, we will continue to strengthen fact-checking mechanisms targeting disinformation, enhance the transparency and accessibility of information, and help our people more effectively distinguish fact from fiction to neutralize the threat of information warfare.

The other part of this work is to continue deepening Taiwan’s international cooperation and close ties with democratic allies. . . .

The Republic of China (Taiwan) has become an important global symbol of democracy and freedom. The international community fully understands that upholding Taiwan’s security means upholding regional stability and democratic values. The destruction of Taiwan’s democracy and freedom would be a grave defeat for the world’s democracies.


On November 28, Gambian human-rights lawyer Fatou Bensouda accepted a Magnitsky Human Rights Award. As a former prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, she obtained rulings on the deportation of the Rohingya from Burma, Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir’s ethnic cleansing in Darfur, atrocities committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, and more. Excerpts from her award-ceremony remarks, a powerful plea for international justice, follow. (Watch Bensouda deliver her remarks here.) 

One cannot remain silent and indifferent in the face of atrocities.

“Never Again” regrettably continues to ring hollow in so many conflicts. We don’t seem to learn the lessons of the past and continue to allow unbridled violence to cause great human suffering.

As the former prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, I have done my best and will continue to do whatever I can to help to help restore dignity to the shattered lives of the survivors of atrocities.

I have been witness to the consequences of armed conflict on the lives of women and girls. In particular, in the courage and dignity of victims and survivors, I have seen human nature at its best. And in the sheer brutality of crimes against them, I have seen it at its very worst. . . .

We must do better. Our civilization must do better. How can it be that we continue to witness such beastly violence and inhumanity in the so-called Modern Age when we pride ourselves for the progress humanity has made in so many areas? . . .

. . . The era of impunity for atrocity crimes must belong to the dustbins of history. While the challenges are many, with strong, consistent, and vocal support of all those dedicated to advancing the international rule of law, I am confident progress can be made.

. . . I would like to emphasize the importance of women empowerment and women leadership. . . . It means that a group that has rarely made decisions that have led to violence finally has a voice at the negotiating table . . . .

. . . Let me also emphasize that seldom have major advances in human progress traveled the path of least resistance. The fight against impunity will have its successes, it will have its challenges.

Some ten years ago, when I assumed office as the first woman prosecutor of the ICC, I stated that “real justice is not a pick-and-choose system” and that “to be effective, to be just, and to be a real deterrent the Office of the Prosecutor’s activities and decisions must be based solely on the law and the evidence.” . . .

. . . I sought to focus on the words, not to focus on the words and propaganda of a few influential individuals whose aim is to evade justice, but rather to listen to the millions of victims who look to the Court as a beacon of hope, as the last bastion of justice and accountability for atrocity crimes where the law, their protector, had otherwise fallen silent.

We must remain vigilant to ensure that international criminal justice remains principled and objective, and is not corrupted as a convenient instrument in the service of politics. That is the only way to ensure international criminal justice can contribute to the progress of humanity and a higher civilization for future generations . . . .

For the sake of victims of atrocity crimes we must not lose the progress made toward the culture of accountability as an essential pillar of a rule-based multilateral order. We cannot undo the suffering of the past or the horrors of history, but we must have a joint responsibility not to repeat them . . . .

Yet . . . today, we are facing immense challenges: Dark forces and extremism aim to divide our societies and our resolve to live up to the promises of accountability and human rights and dignity for all. . . .

. . . Today it is thus more important than ever that we curb the destructive impact of conflicts and rising extremism on civilians. Today it is more important than ever that we stand up against the erosion of human rights. Today it is more important than ever that we that we do not cave in to the pressures of state power plays and Realpolitik that aim to do away with international criminal justice. Today it is more important than ever that we do all we can to ensure that security, stability, and the protective embrace of the law become a reality to be relished by all, in all corners of the world.

Under the critical watch of history, we must not allow “Never Again” to ring hollow [or] to taunt the memory of the victims of atrocity crimes. We owe it to ourselves, to our children, and [to] the future generations. . . .

Ending impunity and bringing justice to victims of atrocity crimes are not the preserve of any one institution. It is a common goal, and aspirations that tie us all together in our shared quest for justice peace and stability.


Copyright © 2023 National Endowment for Democracy and Johns Hopkins University Press