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Even in established democracies, flaws in the system have become worryingly visible and disillusion with politics is rife.
But turfing out an autocrat turns out to be much easier than setting up a viable democratic government.
The new regime stumbles, the economy flounders and the country finds itself in a state at least as bad as it was before.
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.
In the first half of the 20th century nascent democracies collapsed in Germany, Spain and Italy.
By 1941 there were only 11 democracies left, and Franklin Roosevelt worried that it might not be possible to shield “the great flame of democracy from the blackout of barbarism”.The damage the crisis did was psychological as well as financial.It revealed fundamental weaknesses in the West’s political systems, undermining the self-confidence that had been one of their great assets.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.That so many people in so many different parts of the world are prepared to risk so much for this idea is testimony to its enduring appeal.Freedom House reckons that 2013 was the eighth consecutive year in which global freedom declined, and that its forward march peaked around the beginning of the century.Between 19 the cause of democracy experienced only a few setbacks, but since 2000 there have been many.The progress seen in the late 20th century has stalled in the 21st.Even though around 40% of the world’s population, more people than ever before, live in countries that will hold free and fair elections this year, democracy’s global advance has come to a halt, and may even have gone into reverse.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).