Has democracy grown weaker or stronger?

Looking back on a turbulent 2022 in Europe and the world, the press discusses the fate of democracy. Commentators weigh up the electoral victories of the far right against anti-autocracy protests and new European and transatlantic unity.

Open/close all quotes
Financial Times (GB) /

Not a good year for autocrats

2022 will be remembered as a year in which aspiring autocratic regimes and individuals turned out to be vulnerable, the Financial Times concludes:

“Putin is not the only strongman to look weaker today than a year ago. So, too, do Xi and Trump. The former's zero-Covid policy has ended in ignominy. The claim of today's version of ancient Chinese despotism to rule more competently than messy democracy lies in tatters. Iran's despots are under assault from their young. Trump's candidates were substantially repudiated in the midterm elections.”

The Moscow Times (RU) /

The democratic world is standing up for itself

Commenting in The Moscow Times, historian Andrei Zubov praises the West for its will to resist:

“This year has shown that democracies and the free world can defend themselves and their values. That the West is not like a weak old man or a perverted drug addict, but is made up many hundreds of millions of brave and self-sacrificing women and men who are willing to endure hardship and stand by the suffering Ukrainian people for the sake of preservating the values of freedom and dignity they hold dear. Who are able, together with the Ukrainians, to stop the aggression of evil. ... The democratic world has not only withstood, it has come together and shown unprecedented unity.”

Revista 22 (RO) /

EU transitioning from soft to hard power

The Romanian weekly Revista 22 comments:

“The biggest surprise was the unity shown by the Europeans in the face of Russian military aggression against Ukraine and energy aggression against the entire continent. The Americans and the British may have provided the initial impetus, but the Europeans' resolute stance was not driven by the United States or the United Kingdom, but by the realisation that such barbarism could no longer be tolerated on Europe's doorstep. Europe now seems to be in a position to transition from being a soft power with limited global reach to a hard power that must be treated with respect.”

Polityka (PL) /

Things could have turned out much worse

Russia and China could have gained the upper hand in 2022 instead, political scientist Michał Lubina reminds readers in Polityka:

“If the West had only offered moral support to Kyiv, it would have dealt a blow to the post-Cold War order - perhaps a fatal blow. Not only would this have weakened the US and strengthened the emerging powers, but it would also have emboldened China to become even more assertive in East Asia, and perhaps even to invade Taiwan. ... But to China's surprise, Russia was stopped in Ukraine. Beijing was taken aback by the incompetence of the Russian military, which had been training the Chinese forces for decades, by the fierce resistance of the Ukrainians and above all by the solidarity of the West.”

NRC Handelsblad (NL) /

Freedom must be nurtured

NRC Handelsblad sees contradictory developments:

“The year 2022 won't lead to an explosion of democratic liberalism, but it did give signs of hope. In many countries, citizens are realising that their lives and freedoms are at stake and that their voices deserve to be heard. Not only in places where freedoms were stripped away long ago, but also in democracies that until recently were considered robust. Just look at the elections in Sweden or Italy. ... Freedom has to be nurtured, every day. Especially in places where only a short time ago it was taken for granted.”

El País (ES) /

The EU is also growing weaker

Even those who are considered the guarantors of freedom are faltering, El País counters:

“The list of heads of state who trampled on freedom of expression in 2022 is long. Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Saudi Prince Bin Salman and Russian President Vladimir Putin are just a few examples. ... The French-Iranian artist Marjane Satrapi said the other day that the guarantor of freedom in the world today is Europe. ... But as we saw in the Qatargate scandal, even this role model is weakening. ... Brussels must rise to the challenge. ... By punishing the corrupt and those who allow themselves to be bribed. And by proving its effectiveness at a time when tyrants are gaining ground.”