Welcome to The Struggle for Freedom, a monthly series about democracy and human rights activists abroad and why supporting them is the right thing for Americans to do, strategically as well as morally.
Dissidents living under repressive regimes have played crucial roles in the most consequential events in recent history. It would be impossible to tell the story of the fall of communism in the Eastern bloc and Soviet Union without speaking of the Czech playwright and future president Vaclav Havel or the physicist Andrei Sakharov. Nor can the democratic transitions in East Asian countries on the frontlines of China’s aggression be recounted without speaking of South Korea’s Kim Dae-Jung, Corazon Aquino of the Philippines, or Peng Ming-min of Taiwan.
Most democracy advocates abroad – even some who are critical of some American policies – express the hope that the United States lead the free world in pressing for their freedom. They widely reject the notion that American support constitutes interference in their nations’ affairs or that U.S. advocacy on their behalf will make their lives worse. In fact, one Chinese dissident told me, “We are already in trouble. If you don’t help, it will hurt even more.”
Backing struggles for freedom around the world has become even more important as the world’s autocrats seek to undermine democracy and universal values through diplomacy, economic coercion, corruption, and sophisticated propaganda.
It’s true that democracy is not perfect. Winston Churchill famously called it the worst system except for all the others. President George W. Bush called democracy “the only path to national success and dignity.” Democratic victories don’t guarantee a future free from political and economic problems. Nascent democracies need U.S. and allied support even after the initial euphoria fades.
This column will follow the efforts of democracy and human rights activists abroad who risk their freedom and even their lives in pursuit of the same values and institutions that Americans enjoy. It also will provide recommendations on what those living in democracies can do to help those fighting for freedom elsewhere.