The Economist Intelligence Unit which compiles the scores, pointed to restrictions imposed on civil liberties in response to Covid as the main reason behind a decline between 2019 and 2020, noting authoritarian rulers had taken advantage of the crisis to “crack down even harder on their critics and opponents”. However the index had already been falling steadily since a peak in 2014/2015.
It is no coincidence that 2014 was the year that Russia decided to annex Crimea from its neighbour Ukraine and begin a proxy war with that country which continues to this day.
Other grim markers of democracy’s decline have included the shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines flight over eastern Ukraine in 2014 with a Russian military missile fired by pro-Russian rebels, killing 298 people, and the murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed in 2018 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on the orders, according to a reported CIA assessment, of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
It is against the background of these incidents and the failure of democracies to take strong enough action in response that Belarus’s dictatorship decided to hijack a flight from Greece to Lithuania in order to arrest dissident journalist Roman Protasevich.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the UK “condemns” the Belarusian authorities’ actions, adding that the country’s president Alexander Lukashenko must be “held to account for his outlandish actions”.
One can only hope this is an initial response and that much stronger words and actions will follow shortly. Belarus’s actions are way beyond “outlandish”.
The lack of a serious response to this latest outrage will only add to the impression, created over the last few years and particularly during Donald Trump’s presidency, that dictatorships can essentially do what they like.
If the decline of democracy is to be arrested, US President Joe Biden, the European Union and Nato must urgently ensure that the Belarus regime pays a heavy price for its criminal actions.
Failure to do so will only further embolden the world’s tyrannies. How many more planes are to be shot down or hijacked, how many more dissidents are to be murdered before the free world takes a stand that arrests the decline of democracy?