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But their fundamental demand is one that has motivated people over many decades to take a stand against corrupt, abusive and autocratic governments. More fundamentally, democracy lets people speak their minds and shape their own and their children’s futures.
In the second half of the 20th century, democracies had taken root in the most difficult circumstances possible—in Germany, which had been traumatised by Nazism, in India, which had the world’s largest population of poor people, and, in the 1990s, in South Africa, which had been disfigured by apartheid.
Decolonialisation created a host of new democracies in Africa and Asia, and autocratic regimes gave way to democracy in Greece (1974), Spain (1975), Argentina (1983), Brazil (1985) and Chile (1989).
And within the West, democracy has too often become associated with debt and dysfunction at home and overreach abroad.
Democracy has always had its critics, but now old doubts are being treated with renewed respect as the weaknesses of democracy in its Western strongholds, and the fragility of its influence elsewhere, have become increasingly apparent. THE two main reasons are the financial crisis of 2007-08 and the rise of China.
This is what happened in much of the Arab spring, and also in Ukraine’s Orange revolution a decade ago.
In 2004 Mr Yanukovych was ousted from office by vast street protests, only to be re-elected to the presidency (with the help of huge amounts of Russian money) in 2010, after the opposition politicians who replaced him turned out to be just as hopeless. Where autocrats have been driven out of office, their opponents have mostly failed to create viable democratic regimes.The collapse of the Soviet Union created many fledgling democracies in central Europe.By 2000 Freedom House, an American think-tank, classified 120 countries, or 63% of the world total, as democracies.Even in established democracies, flaws in the system have become worryingly visible and disillusion with politics is rife.Yet just a few years ago democracy looked as though it would dominate the world.Yet these days the exhilaration generated by events like those in Kiev is mixed with anxiety, for a troubling pattern has repeated itself in capital after capital. Regime-sanctioned thugs try to fight back but lose their nerve in the face of popular intransigence and global news coverage.The world applauds the collapse of the regime and offers to help build a democracy.Governments had steadily extended entitlements over decades, allowing dangerous levels of debt to develop, and politicians came to believe that they had abolished boom-bust cycles and tamed risk.Many people became disillusioned with the workings of their political systems—particularly when governments bailed out bankers with taxpayers’ money and then stood by impotently as financiers continued to pay themselves huge bonuses.But stand farther back and the triumph of democracy looks rather less inevitable.After the fall of Athens, where it was first developed, the political model had lain dormant until the Enlightenment more than 2,000 years later.