The fallout from Russia’s excursion into Georgia continues to be mapped by the news media (view graphic). Today the New York Times features a map looking at post-Solviet power structures in eastern Europe and Central Asia where democratic and not-so-democratic regimes still feel Moscow’s shadow while being tugged at by the West.
The above graphic accompanies a story by Bill Keller in the Times called Cold Friends, Wrapped in Mink and Medals. The first few graphs:
Writing in The Financial Times last week, Chrystia Freeland recalled Francis Fukuyama’s 1989 essay “The End of History?,” which trumpeted the definitive triumph of liberal democracy. The great nightmare tyrannies of last century — the Evil Empire, Red China — had been left behind by those inseparable twins, freedom and prosperity. Civilization had chosen, and it chose us.
So much for that thesis. Surveying the Russian military rout of neighboring Georgia and the spectacle of China’s Olympics, Ms. Freeland, editor of The Financial Times’s American edition and a journalist who started her career covering Russia and Ukraine, proclaimed that a new Age of Authoritarianism was upon us.
If it is not yet an age, it is at least a season: Springtime for autocrats, and not just the minor-league monsters of Zimbabwe and the like, but the giant regimes that seemed so surely bound for the ash heap in 1989.
The Chinese have made their Olympics an exultant display of athletic prowess and global prestige without having to temper their impulse to suppress and control. From the dazzling locksteps of that opening ceremony, to the kowtowing international V.I.P.’s, to the carefully policed absence of protest, this was an Olympics largely free of democratic mess.
Individualism has been confined between lane markers. The pre-Olympics promises that attention would be paid to international norms of behavior went unredeemed. The New York Times’s Andrew Jacobs followed one citizen who decided to take up the government’s Olympic offer of designated protest zones for aggrieved parties who had filed the proper paperwork. Zhang Wei applied for the requisite license and was promptly arrested for “disturbing social order.” Take that, International Olympic Committee.
The striking thing about Russia’s subjugation of uppity Georgia was not the ease or audacity but the swagger of it. This was not just about a couple of obscure border enclaves, nor even, really, about Georgia. This was existential payback.
It turns out that if 1989 was an end — the end of the Wall, the beginning of the end of the Soviet empire, if not in fact the end of history — it was also a beginning.