Pensioners attend an opposition rally in Minsk, Belarus, Nov. 16, 2020 (AP photo).

KYIV, Ukraine—After Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s brutal crackdown on the mass protests that erupted last August in opposition to his clumsily rigged reelection victory, many Western countries spoke up in dismay at the level of repression he unleashed. More than 30,000 people have been arrested, according to human rights groups, and brutal beatings of detainees are common. In response, the United States and the European Union imposed several rounds of sanctions, targeting scores of Belarusian officials with asset freezes and travel bans, while issuing statements emphasizing the Belarusian people’s right to a fair vote. But more than six months later, […]

Then-Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the U.S.-China Climate Leaders Summit in Los Angeles, Sept. 16, 2015 (AP photo by Kelvin Kuo).

One of former President Donald Trump’s principal legacies was to elevate the attention that U.S. foreign policy accords to China. His administration argued that America’s erstwhile “engage but hedge” approach had failed and that it was time to take a tougher line. The results of his policies, though, suggest that adopting an overly China-centric U.S. foreign policy is mistaken. Listen to this article: [soundcloud]993031504[/soundcloud] Pursuant to its more confrontational approach, the Trump administration imposed steep tariffs on Chinese exports and, having concluded that Beijing’s technological progress posed a particularly pressing threat to U.S. national security, took a number of steps […]

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, center, and Chinese President Xi Jinping during a welcome ceremony in Beijing, Oct. 28, 2014 (AP photo by Andy Wong).

For much of the past couple of decades, Afghanistan has been a rare exception to the strategic competition between India and China in South Asia. New Delhi never believed it could be the preeminent power in Afghanistan, unlike in other nearby countries like Sri Lanka and Nepal. Following the United States’ invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, India was happy to engage with Kabul under Washington’s security umbrella, while taking solace in China’s initial unwillingness to get more involved. A joint desire for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan even seemed to raise the possibility of cooperation between the two rivals. But […]

Martin Helme, head of the Estonian Conservative People’s Party, or EKRE, makes a hand gesture that is often associated with white supremacy at an event in Tallinn, Estonia, May 2, 2019 (Aripaev photo by Liis Treimann via AP Images).

On Jan. 13, the government of Estonia fell, after then-Prime Minister Juri Ratas resigned over allegations of corruption and influence-peddling that implicated his Centre Party. The party did not remain out of government for long, however. A few days later, it joined a “grand coalition” government dominated by moderates and headed by Estonia’s first woman prime minister, Kaja Kallas of the center-right Reform Party. The change in government was perhaps more significant for what it means for the far-right Conservative People’s Party of Estonia, which prior to entering Ratas’ government had been treated as a pariah in Estonian politics. Known […]

Opposition soldiers during a visit by a cease-fire monitoring team, at an opposition military camp near the town of Nimule in Eastern Equatoria state, South Sudan, Aug. 28, 2019 (AP photo by Sam Mednick).

Few nations have seen their dreams and hopes dashed as quickly and ruthlessly as South Sudan. A mere two years after thousands thronged the streets of the capital, Juba, to celebrate independence from Sudan’s autocratic rule, the country descended into a brutal civil war. The fallout between President Salva Kiir and Vice President-turned-rebel Riek Machar, and the subsequent fighting, exerted a terrible toll. Between 2013 and 2018, up to 400,000 people were killed and 4 million—a third of the country’s population—displaced, amid numerous reports of ethnic-based atrocities like rape and massacres. Listen to this article: [soundcloud]991358545[/soundcloud] The world’s youngest country […]

Primary school students in a classroom in Eastern Province, Rwanda, 2012 (photo by Tim Williams).

Children in Rwanda finally started heading back to school last fall, after months of learning from home. It was a bit of bright news for the country, given that schools had been closed since March due to the coronavirus pandemic. But now, many students are facing a brand-new challenge: Having to learn in an unfamiliar language. Rwanda’s government has begun implementing a controversial language change that requires all primary schools to instruct their students in English, rather than in Kinyarwanda, the national language spoken by nearly everyone in the country. However, only 38 percent of the primary school teachers who […]

Police respond at the scene of a shooting attack in Vienna, Nov. 3, 2020 (AP photo by Ronald Zak).

Six separate terrorist attacks took place in Europe between late September and late November of last year—three in France, and one each in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. All six attacks were inspired by Salafi-jihadist ideology, which is, and will remain, a persistent terrorism threat to Europe and elsewhere in the West for the foreseeable future. Listen to this article:[soundcloud]989395033[/soundcloud] Among the incidents in France was a stabbing attack outside the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, which has published caricatures of religious figures, including the prophet Muhammad, and where al-Qaida-affiliated gunmen killed 12 staff members in 2015. […]

A woman casts her ballot during elections, in Niamey, Niger, Feb. 21, 2016 (AP photo by Gael Cogne).

Voters in Niger will return to the polls this Sunday for a runoff election that will determine outgoing President Mahamadou Issoufou’s successor. The subsequent transition will mark the first time in the country’s history that one elected president replaces another. Beyond being a milestone for its democracy, this vote also holds real significance for Niger’s troubled neighborhood, an arid region just below the Sahara Desert known as the Sahel, where political and security conditions have deteriorated in recent years. To Niger’s west, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of Mali was ousted in a coup last August, the second in less than […]

A farmer walks near black flags representing 11 landless farmers who were killed during clashes with police over a land dispute in Curuguaty, Paraguay, Nov. 13, 2012 (AP photo by Jorge Saenz).

The government of Paraguay has in recent months come under criticism for its fumbling response to a long-running dispute over the Marina Cue Reserve, a plot of land in the rural district of Curuguaty. While currently state-owned, over 150 poor families claim the land belonged to them before it was forcibly taken decades ago by a powerful associate of the dictator Alfredo Stroessner, who ruled the country from 1954 to 1989. And while President Mario Abdo Benitez and members of Congress have expressed some interest in helping the families, handing over the land is not so simple. Listen to this […]

Demonstrators wave the flags of different ethnic groups during a protest against the military coup, in Yangon, Myanmar, Feb. 18, 2021 (AP Photo).

When Myanmar’s military overthrew the democratically elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, one resident of Yangon, the country’s largest city, was initially indifferent. A 34-year-old professional translator, he had lost faith in Myanmar’s public and its political classes long ago, he told me in a recent phone conversation. Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy, or NLD, seemed too willing to compromise with the military and make progress in half measures, as evidenced by the country’s flagging, decade-long transition to democracy. But then, something unexpected happened: The people of Myanmar began to […]

From left, Slovakian President Zuzana Caputova, Polish President Andrzej Duda, Hungarian President Janos Ader and Czech President Milos Zeman, during a summit in the Hel Peninsula, Poland, Feb. 9, 2021 (Photo by Jakub Szymczuk for KPRP via AP Images).

Today, the United States’ relations with Central Europe are at an inflection point. Much of the recent media coverage in the region has focused on how Washington’s influence might wane if President Joe Biden picks a fight with the governments of Hungary and Poland, whose leaders had cultivated close ties with Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump. On the campaign trail, Biden bemoaned the recent trajectory of democratic decline and the erosion of checks and balances on executive power in those countries. Meanwhile, illiberal leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Poland’s Jaroslaw Kaczynski are suspicious of Biden’s pledges to make human rights […]

Juan Guaido, center, with other opposition party members at a press conference in Caracas, Venezuela, Dec. 7, 2020 (AP photo by Ariana Cubillos).

The emergence of a dynamic young leader galvanized the Venezuelan opposition two years ago. Juan Guaido united disparate opposition parties and won recognition as the country’s legitimate president from Donald Trump’s administration and dozens of other governments. His colleagues and the U.S. officials who backed him insisted that a campaign of “maximum pressure”—entailing biting sanctions, international isolation and even veiled threats of military action—would force an end to President Nicolas Maduro’s “usurpation” of power and restore democracy to Venezuela. That was a miscalculation. Maduro, who cleaned up in elections last December that the opposition called a sham, looks more entrenched […]

Then-Vice President Joe Biden at the U.S. Africa Summit in Washington, Aug. 4, 2014 (AP photo by Susan Walsh).

America’s democracy, once seen as a shining light and inspiration to democrats across the world, was pushed to the brink by Donald Trump’s presidency. In the aftermath of last month’s storming of the Capitol by right-wing extremists, some commentators declared that the United States’ own troubles mean it must now back away from promoting liberal values in the rest of the world. But in fact, the opposite is true: Having repelled a major challenge to its own democracy, America is now better positioned to promote democratic norms and values abroad. Listen to this article: [soundcloud]988339474[/soundcloud] Recent events in the U.S. […]

President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in support of Republican Senate candidates in Dalton, Georgia, Jan. 4, 2021 (AP photo by Brynn Anderson).

Over the past decade, illiberal populist leaders from across the political spectrum have won elections and taken power in many of the world’s biggest democracies, from the United States to India, the Philippines, Turkey and Brazil. Once in office, they have often undermined democratic norms and institutions, including the media, the judiciary, the civil service, and, in many cases, free and fair elections themselves. The rise of illiberal populism is a major reason why the annual “Freedom in the World” reports, published by the global watchdog organization Freedom House, have charted 14 straight years of global democratic regression. (I serve […]

A woman carries firewood on the outskirts of Gauhati, India, Feb. 1, 2019 (AP photo by Anupam Nath).

For over two months, hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers have been conducting sustained sit-ins on the outskirts of New Delhi. Undeterred by COVID-19 or violent police crackdowns, and despite the cold northern Indian winter, the protesters are demanding the repeal of controversial new farm laws that they say harm their livelihoods. The sit-ins have been largely peaceful, though tensions have risen in recent weeks. On Jan. 26, a group of farmers took to the streets on the occasion of India’s Republic Day holiday, clashing with security forces.* At least one protester died and hundreds more were injured, including more […]

People sit under campaign election posters of President Paul Biya, in Yaounde, Cameroon, Oct. 5. 2018 (AP photo by Sunday Alamba).

When at least 53 people died in Cameroon in late January after a bus collided with a fuel-laden truck—one of the worst road accidents in the country’s history—few observers would have expected that reactions to the tragedy would include ethnic slurs, mainly on Facebook. They were directed toward members of the Bamileke community, from which most of the victims appeared to originate. Cameroon has long prided itself on the relative harmony between the country’s approximately 250 ethnic groups, none of which dominates nationally—a diversity that many Cameroonians consider to be a safeguard against communal violence. But Cameroon now has to […]

A woman holds up a sign that reads, in Spanish, “Cubans with Biden,” as then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks in Miramar, Florida, Oct. 13, 2020 (AP photo by Carolyn Kaster).

Few countries suffered more from former President Donald Trump’s policies than Cuba. The Trump administration imposed sanctions and restrictions designed to blow up the historic detente between Washington and Havana forged by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama. These measures—as well as sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry, which cut off a much-needed source of subsidized energy—battered Cuba’s state-run economy, which has also been hard-hit by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the country’s critical tourism sector. As a result, in a moment of political transition and quickening market reforms, Cuba is now experiencing its worst economic crisis since the “Special Period,” […]

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