Documents on Democracy

Issue Date April 2021
Volume 32
Issue 2
Page Numbers 187–92
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Russia

Alexei Navalny, an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin, underwent treatment in Germany after being poisoned in a Kremlin-backed assassination attempt. Immediately upon returning to Russia on January 17, he was detained and then tried for defaming a veteran. Sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison, on February 20 he delivered the final testimony of his unsuccessful appeal against charges that were widely denounced as politically motivated. Translated excerpts follow. (For full version of this text [in Russian], see: https://openmedia.io/news/n1/my-sudebnuyu-sistemu-mozhem-krutit-na-lyuboj-chasti-tela-kuda-ty-lezesh-poslednee-slovo-navalnogo-na-sude/.)

And here a man recently writes to me: “Navalny, and why does everyone write to you, ‘hang on, do not give in, endure?’ What do you have to endure? You said in an interview that you believe in God? And after all it is said: ‘Blessed are those who hunger for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.’ And there, excellent for you.” Well there, how well this person understands. Not that things are excellent for me, but I more or less always took this commandment as an instruction for action.

I of course do not take great delight in the place in which I find myself. Nonetheless, I do not feel any regret about having returned, about what I am doing, because I did everything correctly. On the contrary, I feel such satisfaction, because in a difficult moment I did as prescribed by the instructions, and did not betray the commandment.

. . . An important thing about this: Undoubtedly, for a contemporary person this commandment—”blessed are those who thirst, those who hunger”—sounds pompous and a bit strange, frankly speaking. People who talk like this appear strange and crazy. . . .  And all our authorities and our system are trying to tell such people: “You are alone. You are alone.” First it is important to frighten, and then to prove that you are alone.

. . . This is important as a goal of the authorities. One of the wonderful philosophers by the name of Luna Lovegood spoke splendidly about this, do you remember such a person in Harry Potter? And speaking with Harry Potter in difficult times, she said that it is important not to [End Page 187] feel yourself alone, because in Voldemort’s place, I would very much like for you to feel alone. Our Voldemort, he undoubtedly wants this.

. . . But I do not feel alone at all, because this construction seems exotic, a bit strange. … What is the most popular political slogan in Russia? . . . “In what does strength lie? Strength lies in the truth.”

This is a phrase that everyone repeats. And this is it—that commandment. Just compressed to the dimensions of Twitter. Everyone repeats it. And the whole country repeats that strength lies in the truth, the person whose side the truth is on, that person will win. Of course, our country now is built on injustice. We constantly collide with this injustice. The worst kind of injustice is the armed kind. At the same time, millions of people want to attain the truth, and sooner or later they will attain it, they will be satisfied. It is obvious to everyone: Well, there is a palace, you can say it is not there, but it is. There are people in deep poverty, you can talk as much as you like about the standard of living, but the country is poor, people should be rich. Here they built an oil pipeline and they earn money, and yet there is no money. But it is the truth, and you cannot trample it. And sooner or later, people who want the truth will attain it. They will be satisfied. . . .

Piles of letters come to me now. Every second letter comes with the phrase: “Russia will be free.” . . . And I think: Something is insufficient for me. . . . This cannot be the goal in itself. I want Russia to be rich, the national wealth to be justly distributed. I want men to live to reach the retirement age, because right now this does not happen for half the men in Russia. I want education to be normal. I would like people to receive the same pay for one and the same job in Russia as on average in European countries. Because now it is much lower. In any (profession)—whether a police officer or a journalist.

I would like many other things to happen in our country, therefore it is necessary to struggle not only with Russia being unfree, but also in other ways on the whole unhappy. In Russia there is everything. And the country is unhappy. Open Russian literature, my God, there are only descriptions of misery and suffering. We cannot tear ourselves out of this misery. But, of course, I would like to. For this, I propose to change the slogan a bit, since Russia should not only be free, Russia should be happy. Russia will be happy. That is all from me.

Burma

On February 26, Burma’s permanent representative to the UN, Kyaw Moe Tun, denounced the military overthrow of the Burmese civilian government before the UN General Assembly and pleaded for global solidary with the anticoup protests. His actions inspired Burmese diplomats worldwide to denounce the coup. (See essay by Zoltan Barany on pp. 22–36.) Excerpts of his speech follow. [End Page 188] (For a full version of his speech, see: http://webtv.un.org/watch/general-assembly-informal-meeting-to-hear-a-briefing-by-the-special-envoy-on-myanmar/6235806234001/.) 

On first February 2021, the commander-in-chief of the military unjustly seized the sovereign power of the state by staging the coup d’état in contravention of the 2008 Constitution. The people of Myanmar from all walks of life are unanimously opposing such unlawful actions of the military. . . .

Over the decades the military ruthlessly deployed brutality techniques to oppress the people from all walks of life in Myanmar. . . . Both people [in] Myanmar and the international family have repeatedly witnessed these brutal actions in 1988, 1996, [and] 2007. The violence committed by the military against the people of Myanmar continues until today, however, the military enjoys immunity and cannot still be held to account.

The Myanmar military overthrows the democratically elected government, shoots . . . the peaceful protesters on the streets, commits crimes targeting civilians, attacks the ambulance and help workers, arrests the democratically elected parliamentarians using unjust laws, issues arrest warrants without any legal basis, and breaches the fundamental human rights of the people of Myanmar. Not only do those actions endanger Myanmar and its people both in physical and psychological forms, they also seriously pose threats towards regional security and prosperity of the international community. The military can no longer uphold the rule of law and protect the people and the country. Myanmar military has become the existential threat for Myanmar as a polity and civilized society. . . .

The free and fair general elections successfully held on 8 November 2020 in Myanmar is indeed a significant milestone in our history. . . . The people of Myanmar [have] shown their eagerness and attachment to democracy through their ballots at the elections. They had also demonstrated their desire to build a nation where all the democratic values … flourish and every peace-loving individual can play a role in that nation building. The landslide victory of the National League for Democracy clearly manifests that the people of Myanmar are solidly united behind State Councilor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to overcome any obstacle in our journey to a peaceful and prosperous society where democratic values will become the norm. …

People from all struggle of life have come out on the streets all over the country and expressed their disappointment with the military coup as well as demanded the immediate release of all detainees and return of the state power to the people through the elected government… The people of Myanmar are resilient, perseverant, and united in fighting for the end of the military coup . . . and the restoration of democracy. . . .

. . . We need the strongest possible action from the international community to immediately end the military coup, to stop oppressing the people, to return the state power to the people, and to restore the democracy. As such, I would like to appeal [to] all member states and the United Nations as follows: [End Page 189]

Issue public statements to strongly condemn the military coup.

Do not recognize by any means the State Administration Council and the military regime.

Ask the military regime to respect the result of the free and fair 2020 general elections.

Do not cooperate with the military and take the return of the state power to the people through the elected government.

Take all stronger possible measures to stop the violence . . . against peaceful demonstrators and end the military coup immediately.

Support [the civilian government in Burma].

. . . We will continue to fight for a government which is of the people, by the people, for the people. The people and the [civilian] government will double our efforts to make the country a democratic-federal union.

Cuba

“Patria y Vida” (“Homeland and Life”) is a rap song written and performed by singer Yotuel Romero, reggaeton duo Gente de Zona, and other artists that denounces the sixty-year-old Communist regime in Cuba. The song, whose title rebukes Fidel Castro’s slogan “Homeland or Death,” has garnered millions of online views. A translated excerpt follows. (To view the music video with English subtitles, see: www.youtube.com/watch?v=pP9Bto5lOEQ.)

This is my way of telling you:

My people cry and I hear their voice.

You, five nine [1959]. Me, double two [2020],

sixty years of deadlock.

Great fanfare with the 500 of Havana,

while at home cooking pots no longer have any food.

What are we celebrating? People are in a hurry

exchanging Ché Guevara and Martí for currency.

Everything has changed, it is not the same anymore,

between you and me there is an abyss.

Advertising a paradise in Varadero,

while mothers cry for their children who’ve left.

 

It is over now. . . You, five nine. Me, double two.

It’s over now. . . Sixty years of deadlock, watch!

It is over now. . . You, five nine. Me, double two,

It’s over now . . . Sixty years of deadlock.

 

We are artists, we are sensibility,

the true story, not the incorrectly narrated one.

We are the dignity of an entire people trampled [End Page 190]

by gunpoint, and words that still are nothing.

No more lies! My people demand freedom. No more doctrines!

Let us no longer shout “Homeland or Death” but “Homeland and Life.”

And start building what we dreamed of, what they destroyed with their hands.

 

Stop the blood from running for daring to think differently.

Who told you that Cuba belongs to you? If my Cuba belongs to all my people.

Uganda

Robert Kyagulanyi, a member of parliament and musician better known by his stage name, Bobi Wine, received the most votes of any opposition candidate in Uganda’s flawed presidential election held in January. (See essay by Rita Abrahamsen and Gerald Bareebe on pp. 90–104.) During an eleven-day postelection house arrest, Wine explained in a video posted to Twitter on January 18 what motivates him to continue the fight for change in Uganda. (To view the video, see: https://twitter.com/HEBobiwine/status/1351189085763809287.) 

The main motivation for us to keep doing what we’re doing in the face of all of this intimidation is because what we are doing is moral and what we are doing is right. We are fighting for our rights and we are doing this morally. We are doing this legally. We are doing this non-violently. And we know that while we have the luxury of being detained in our own home, many of our colleagues are in unknown detention. Our entire campaign team is in prison. They are being charged with trumped up cases while are others are on the run. That alone keeps us going knowing that by getting freedom for ourselves, we will be getting freedom for everybody else. And also knowing that people fight for a just cause have not failed in history. Therefore, when we continue standing for what we stand for, we will be able to overcome.

So many people are paying the price for standing for what is moral, for standing for what is right. And that alone motivates me not to give up because giving up on a cause so just, and a cause so moral, and a cause so human it would be betrayal for the 45 million Ugandans that are yearning for change, peaceful change. And also knowing that we have an entire generation standing for us and yearning for change and, yes, agreeing that non-violent, moral actions can actually change our lives forever and can be able to reshape our country and redefine us as a generation, as members of the international community, as members of the human family. That is motivation enough for me to keep struggling. And I’m very, very happy that my wife has also accepted to stand the pain along with me and that motivates me, too. [End Page 191]

Democratic Republic of the Congo

In February and March, allies of president Félix Tshisekedi ascended to the prime minister’s office and to the presidencies of both chambers of the National Assembly, replacing members of former president Joseph Kabila’s party. This marked the end of the coalition agreement that brought Tshisekedi to power in 2019. On March 1, after a meeting of the National Episcopal Conference of the Congo, Secretary-General Father Donatien Nshole delivered the following message calling for the government to respect democratic institutions. Translated excerpts follow. (For a full version of this text [in French], see: http://www.cenco.org/dechirez-votre-coeur-et-non-vos-vetements-joel-213/.)

4. We have witnessed the end of the coalition, whose ineffectiveness we many times criticized. This has given rise to … a change of leadership in the principal institutions of government.

5. These changes, however, have been made in an atmosphere of tensions and in a manner that raises questions about the morality of these actions.

6. Even as we congratulate the new leaders of the Republic’s institutions, we invite them to set to work in conformity with legal dispositions while privileging the well-being of the populace and the unity of the nation.

7. The massive adhesion to [the new governing coalition] must not be a matter solely of political positioning. It is not enough simply to rend one’s garments (change political camps); one must also rend one’s heart by breaking with destructive values and committing oneself to this work (see Joel 2:13).

8. For this reason, only men and women who have proven themselves to be of good character and who have the requisite experience plus a concern for the well-being of the population, should be recruited to manage state institutions and public enterprises. The people will be frustrated to see the return to power of those who have taken part in looting, insecurity, and human-rights violations, and who have shown no sign of repentance and conversion.

9. We are convinced that the well-being of the Congolese people requires the consolidation of democracy. Therefore, electoral reforms and reforms of the law bearing upon the organization and working of CENI [the national electoral commission] with a view to improving election administration must figure among the priorities of the next government. … [End Page 192]