It is like the Bolero. At first, the tune is barely audible, then, as it returns again and again, it hooks, fills up and soon deafens the ears. We are still only halfway through the piece when the melody becomes insidiously overpowering, but this little music, which rises to the glory of dictatorships and their supposed superiority over democracy…
Turn off the sound!
For God’s sake, turn the sound off because how can one say that Chinese economic growth, compared to that of democracies, would prove the “effectiveness” of Mr. Xi’s regime? How can one forget that it was also said that trains used to arrive on time under Hitler? How can one forget that a growth rate is not only measured as an abstract percentage but, above all, in relation to the starting point, and therefore the low growth of a prosperous economy is still preferable to the high growth of an economy that is infinitely less prosperous? How can one forget that “effectiveness” means nothing in itself because the Chinese would gladly do without the effectiveness of their regime in terms of political repression, forced labour, concentration camps, or the non-existence of social protection, labour law and the right to strike?
Turn off the sound because we are beginning to hear again – a familiar tune – that different peoples may not have the same conception of freedom and that the Chinese may thus happy to benefit from a power that is much stronger than that of the democracies.
So would we have been wrong about the meaning of the demonstrations on Tiananmen Square?
In 1989, would the Chinese not have demonstrated in favour of the rule of law, liberties and human rights, but for more dictatorship? And would that be why the Political Bureau sent lines of tanks to run over them?
How wrong can we be sometimes, can we not? But let us stop being ironic, turn off the sound and instead let everyone hear, allegro vivace, that it is not in favour of autocracy that people demonstrated on Saturday in so many Russian cities. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest against the corruption and incompetence of the regime in power, and what did their numbers and courage suggest?
I do not know about you, but it reminded me of the immense hope raised in the USSR by the first real elections organised by Mikhail Gorbachev; of the crazy contagion of freedom that had seized the Arab worlds in 2011; of the fever that had followed the fall of the wall; of Tiananmen, of course; of the immense wind of protest against the established orders which, from East to West, had aroused the youth of the sixties and then again – it’s more distant but still full of lessons – the revolutions of 1848, the Spring of the Peoples which, in just a few months, had unified 19th century Europe behind the banner of democracy.
This unprecedented moment had been as brief – no more than a year – as the Arab revolutions were. Like them, it had been followed by an appalling backlash that had made people believe that absolutism was invincible, but two decades later democracy prevailed, strengthened by the seeds sown earlier and by the universal aspiration to live free and in control of one’s destiny.
So, do not believe in this Chinese Bolero!
Since November 4th, the strength of democracy can be observed every day in the United States. It is waking up in Russia. It is not faltering in Europe where the Polish and Hungarian oppositions are holding their head high again. At the slightest mistake, it is the Communist Party itself that will rid China of Mr. Xi and if I were Mr. Putin or Mr. Erdogan, I would start to wonder.