Coronavirus threatens democracy, prominent figures warn
People who care about democracy must defend it, say Madeleine Albright and others.
The future of liberal democracy is under threat because of the COVID-19 pandemic, as even democratically-elected governments have accumulated emergency powers that restrict human rights, several prominent figures argue in an open letter published Thursday.
“Parliaments are being sidelined, journalists are being arrested and harassed, minorities are being scapegoated, and the most vulnerable sectors of the population face alarming new dangers as the economic lockdowns ravage the very fabric of societies everywhere,” says the letter, commissioned by IDEA, a Stockholm-based think tank.
The letter, signed by well-known public figures including former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Nobel Peace Prize winner José Ramos-Horta and Hollywood actor Richard Gere, also says that repression will not help control the virus.
“On the contrary,” it says, “these assaults on freedom, transparency, and democracy will make it more difficult for societies to respond quickly and effectively to the crisis through both government and civic action.”
To prove their point, the authors drew a connection between China as the starting place of the pandemic and the country’s undemocratic governing system, “where the free flow of information is stifled and where the government punished those warning about the dangers of the virus.”
Notwithstanding “authoritarian propaganda,” the letter continues, democracy is the best system even when societies face a “crisis of the magnitude and complexity of COVID-19” because essential tools to fight diseases, like the free flow of information, are key elements of liberal democracy.
The coronavirus crisis is both a “formidable global challenge” and “an alarming wake-up call,” meaning that people who care about democracy ought to “summon the will … and the solidarity to defend it,” according to the authors.