There are currently more democratic countries and governments existing in the world than at any other time in history. For a quick review, democracy is a system of government where the citizens of the state or country have the power, and they either govern themselves directly or by freely elected representatives. It guarantees individual liberties and encourages open conversations with both its supporters and critics from members of civil society.
However, despite this, democracy worldwide is currently under attack - from within. Today, about one-third of the global population is governed by elected authoritarian populist leaders with policies not aligned with the way democracy works.
Authoritarian governments ensure that their citizens lack certain civil liberties to keep them under control. They also do not encourage or even accept any form of criticism, which is not very democratic. Populist governments, on the other hand, promote factionalism within the population, usually splitting them between the ordinary common people and the members of the economic, social and political elite who are usually viewed as the enemy. Populism is closely associated with authoritarianism since it is one way to subdue and distract the population via a class, religious or racial war.
Today's authoritarian populist governments are all seemingly using the same playbook. These regimes, at first glance, seem like legitimate democracies, and their leaders are legally elected, and the population enjoy their civil liberties.
However, the tide slowly turns when civil society organizations such as NGOs and other watchdog groups begin to criticize the government. Since they can't attack or remove these groups for fear of fallout from the international community, they will criminalize NGOs and even freeze their assets and other funds. This way, any social grievances will not come to light.
In India, for example, the NGO Greenpeace has been accused of "hindering economic growth" by the government. They are continuously being discredited by the government, making it illegal to receive any funding. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has also turned a blind eye to the looming environmental disaster brought about by overmining for sand.
In Poland, the far-right, ultra-conservative ruling party allied itself with the Catholic Church to push their joint agenda of maintaining "traditional family values." Today, abortion in Poland is illegal, and women's rights continue to erode, and NGOs that focus on women's issues continue to lose their funding.
Finally, in Russia, the government likes to keep tabs on all NGOs they see as spies or interlopers. They also persecute reporters if they criticize any aspect of the government.
True democracy means that the people can speak up and share any observations to find a common solution. And as long as civil society remains brave and vigilant, these repressive governments will not silence them.
Directed by: Sebastian Weis