It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. After the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, democracy was supposed to be irresistible. While some of us were more skeptical than others, even cynics allowed that freedom seemed to have the upper hand.
Instead, barely a quarter-century along, democracy and political freedoms are newly embattled, as one society after another defaults to reborn tyranny, striding behind religious extremism, xenophobic nationalism — or both.
On Sunday, Vladimir Putin was re-elected as Russia’s president with almost 77 percent of the vote. With his relentlessly propagandized image at home, Putin would have won a free election, but that wouldn’t have been enough: He feels the need of an unassailable mandate, of recognition as his country’s savior. So serious opposition candidates were excluded (and one murdered), while ballot box stuffing was shameless. Czars are just that way.
Days earlier, China’s President Xi Jinping engineered his lifetime tenure (he didn’t bother with the charade of a nationwide vote). Xi’s the most powerful leader China has had since Mao in his heyday, and Mao cost China tens of millions of lives.