News/Op-Ed: Autocracy Abroad Reveals The Principles Uniting Americans

by Joshua Hernandez, Editor-in-Chief

Historically, the United States has been a beacon of hope and a standard pillar of Democracy around the world, upholding values of freedom and liberty while maintaining peaceful transitions of power between Presidents. While American Democracy has been polarized as of late, it pales in comparison to the autocracies that plague Russia and China, where corruption and genocide are the norm. 

People gather in Pushkin Square during a protest against the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. Russian police on Saturday arrested hundreds of protesters who took to the streets in temperatures as low as minus-50 C (minus-58 F) to demand the release of Alexei Navalny, the country’s top opposition figure. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

After the arrest of Alexei Navalny upon his return to Russia on January 17th, supporters of the opposition leader and anti-corruption activist find themselves in the middle of a battle against their own President Vladimir Putin and his corrupt counterparts, whose autocratic leadership and power has created an endless realm of Russian toxicity.  The Russian people’s desire for anti-corrupt leadership is warranted, even palpable. The autocratic leadership of Vladimir Putin has ignited a spark in Russian citizens who are disgruntled with the corruption and injustices that occur within their country daily. 

Of course, over the past few years, President Putin has fundamentally changed Russia’s election system to heavily favor himself staying in power – and while Russia was once a country with elections, even dating back to their days as the Soviet Union, they are a full fledged autocracy today where elections are merely for show. 

A direct opposition to the United States, President Putin and Russian government officials heavily discourage any sort of vocal opposition to their corrupt leadership, meaning many Russians don’t have a voice. A false, preconceived notion that President Putin has tried to project to the rest of the world is that he is popular within his country. 

While that may be true in a certain sense, Alexei Navalny has emerged as a staunch anti-Putin advocate, and as the only man with the courage to vocally oppose the Kremlin. He has become somewhat of a novelty, amassing a huge pool of supporters who are tired of the domestic oppression they combat daily under Putin’s reign of terror. 

The immediate arrest of Navalny is specifically what has enraged anti-Putin Russians and the international community. Navalny was in Germany being medically treated following a nerve agent poisoning in August, supposedly an assassination attempt by the Kremlin coordinated by President Putin himself.

In different cities around Russia, where protests have broken out in support of Navalny, the voices of Russian opposition to President Putin are being actively suppressed by the denials of the Kremlin and brute police forces. Any Russian figures who have advocated for organization of legal aid in support of protestors have been detained by Russian authorities; Navalny’s wife, Yuliya, was arrested herself, although she was released from custody just a few hours later. According to the Associated Press, Moscow police also arrested Oleg Navalny, the brother of Alexei, in their continuous efforts to send a message to any Navalny associates and supporters. 

While protests have been largely peaceful and full of anti-Putin rhetoric, other protestors in different cities were met with violent police presence. Needless to say, the Russian people are protesting against the corruption and injustice that is plaguing their country. The arrest of Navalny – considered an influential, historically courageous figure among some Russians for his anti-Putin rhetoric – has only amplified those concerns. In Russia, the people are organizing protests against an unjust arrest, President Putin and his Kremlin associates, literal autocrats who run questionable elections that skews heavily in the favor of a sole political party. 

While there may be on the surface striking similarities with the domestic tensions faced by the United States and Russia within the past year, it is imperative to remember that Russia is a true Autocracy, and while America’s Democracy may have been vulnerable for just a few hours on January 6th, it was never at risk of serious collapse.

In Russia, the people don’t have the opportunity to hold their leaders accountable. In Russia, accountability is a distant fantasy in a world with a dismal reality. In the United States, accountability is an expectation – a given. In Russia, elections are essentially skewed toward one party, thus keeping one party – that of President Putin – in power. 

Meanwhile, just down south of President Putin’s Russia and the civil unrest occurring there, President Xi Jinping of China is leading a genocide of Muslims and is not being held accountable for his actions. 

In the Northwestern Region of Xinjiang, China is leading a genocidal campaign against Uighur Muslims and a plethora of other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities. Plain and simple, there are human rights abuses going on in China – the epicenter of a communist dictatorship – that is largely going unchecked due to Xi Jinping’s willingness to use force against other nations who may intervene. On the final day of the Trump Presidency, the U.S. State Department finally decided to declare China’s attack against the Uighurs as genocide. 

While many have disputed the use of the term “genocide” against China, President Biden’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken carried over similar concerns of President Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, stating that he believed forcing individuals into concentration camps was indeed genocide.

A big part of China’s attack on Uighurs in Xinjiang is forcing these groups to attend classes that promote the ideals of China’s Communist Party, Chinese language and job training skills. 

Furthermore, since 2017, thousands of religious sites, such as mosques, have been destroyed, and Chinese forces are separating Uighur families from one another, with the children of detained adult Uighurs being sent to boarding schools and orphanages run by the government. 

China is forcing Uighurs to conform to the countries values, forcefully assimilate to Chinese culture and ridding them of their own culture. Yet, while the risk of economic sanctions is certainly there for China, almost no other practical actions can be taken.

In China, accountability does not exist. Indoctrination of Chinese culture and full assimilation is expected, not recommended, and collectivist pro-Communist rhetoric is the norm.

President Xi Jinping is an autocratic leader with little to no moral merit in a Communist country that seldom allows its people to have views of dissent. It is a government that allows its leader to purge an entire culture and minority group of their own culture.

It is much like Russia, where any leader or activist who is against corruption, injustice and unchecked leaders are unfairly arrested or, worse, assassinated. 

While the United States certainly has its own domestic issues as a country, no Democratically elected American President would lead a Genocide of minority groups within their country. No Democratically elected American President would unfairly arrest an activist for speaking out against injustice.

When Americans protest, they do so with the support of American politicians, even if one political party embraces it more than the other. When Americans dislike their President, they have the power to oust them in a free and fair election. When Americans want to bring new ideas to the table, they can run for political office on their own and make those changes by exercising their First Amendment rights.

In the United States of America, advocacy is encouraged. Peaceful protesting has become the norm. Voting is encouraged, and holding politicians accountable allows our Democracy to maintain integrity.

Due to the tumultuous times the United States has experienced recently, it is often difficult to remember just what makes America so great and truly separates us from our enemies – simple decency and being standard bearers of life, liberty, freedom and power of the people are just a few things. 

If it is still hard to see what distinguished the United States of America from our enemies, look no further than the brute abuses of human rights occurring in China and Russia due to true autocratic rule. 

The voices of American Democracy are our national hymns, and America’s Democracy will always prevail. Luckily, Americans don’t experience these horrors of autocracy – because we are not one.

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