Wednesday 17 July 2019

Editorial: 'Putin is wrong, liberalism lives'

Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Susan Walsh/AP
Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Susan Walsh/AP


The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, who is on his fourth term, is wrong when he claims that liberalism is "obsolete" and that the political ideology which underpins Western democracies has "outlived its purpose". However, it is not enough to simply state that and expect that people will be aware of the political paradox at the heart of Mr Putin's self-serving and spurious claims.

For some time it has been evident that a significant proportion of people throughout Europe and elsewhere are responding to some extent to nationalist rhetoric and subsequent movements such as those encouraged and supported by Mr Putin. The paradox is that, on closer inspection, these movements offer far more extreme versions of hardships many people are already enduring. The challenge to the European Union and Western democracies, in general, is to find solutions to those problems and more urgently ease the difficulties which Russia and other 'strongman' leaders in Eastern Europe, and more widely, have become adept at exploiting, through social media platforms in particular.

The outgoing European Union President Donald Tusk has responded to Mr Putin, stating that he strongly disagreed with his sentiments on liberalism. "Whoever claims that liberal democracy is obsolete also claims that freedoms are obsolete, that the rule of law is obsolete and that human rights are obsolete," Mr Tusk has said. "What I find really obsolete is authoritarianism, personality cults, the rule of oligarchs, even if sometimes they may seem effective," he added. As EU President, Mr Tusk has been excellent, providing moral clarity at critical moments. There have been times when he has been well ahead in demanding the Union stand by democratic values and human rights, and has done this in spite of his appalling treatment by his own government in Poland, which, with Hungary, has been to the forefront in Europe in espousing Mr Putin's nationalist views and values. However, Europe must work harder, and deeper, in challenging the environment in which such views and values can thrive. In that regard, Europe needs to face down Russian aggression against European democracies, in Syria and in support of repressive regimes in many parts of the world. As a starting point, greater urgency is needed in pushing the major social networking platforms to use more of their huge income to track and take down misinformation and incitements to hatred and division.

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In 1992, political theorist Francis Fukuyama declared there was finally a solution to the riddle: "Who should rule, and why?" The answer: liberal democracy. A generation later, Fukuyama's declaration is not wearing well. At a wider level, many people are experiencing precariousness wrought by the extreme makeover of the world's liberal order. The recent economic crisis has exposed many people to live precarious, harried, anxious, angry, disenfranchised lives, and above all divested of social rights to reasonably secure and prosperous livelihoods. This is where the challenge remains for liberal democracies everywhere. The fight is not over, the battle far from won. Neither is the solution to be found is the values espoused by Mr Putin or by the array of strongmen lining up in his ranks, but in the true, and original values or liberalism as outlined by Mr Tusk: freedom, the rule of law and human rights.

Sunday Independent

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