Documents on Democracy

Issue Date October 2023
Volume 34
Issue 4
Page Numbers 176–84
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On August 4, anticorruption activist and opposition politician Alexei Navalny, who was already serving prison sentences adding up to eleven years, was sentenced to an additional nineteen years. Daniel Kholodny, a technician for Navalny TV, was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment. An excerpt of Navalny’s final statement, which was published on his website, appears in translation below:

Everyone in Russia knows that someone who seeks justice in court is completely defenseless. The case of such a person is hopeless. After all, if the matter has gone to court, then there is no power behind this person. Because in a country ruled by a criminal, controversial issues are resolved by bargaining, power, bribery, deceit, betrayal and other mechanisms from real life, and not by some kind of law. . . .

Nevertheless, every opportunity must be used to speak out, and speaking now to an audience of eighteen people, seven of whom put black masks on their heads that cover their faces, I want to not only explain why I continue to fight that unscrupulous evil that calls itself “the state power of the Russian Federation,” but also urge you to do it together with me.

Why not? Maybe you put on these masks because you are afraid of something human, what you have and what can be reflected in your face not covered with a balaclava? For example, the prison guard who is now standing behind me, by virtue of his position, should know what kind of courts I have to face. And so I explain to him about another criminal case and the upcoming trial, about the new term that threatens me. Each time he nods his head, closes his eyes and says: “I don’t understand you and I never will.” I should try to explain to him.

The question of how to act is the main question of mankind. After all, everything around is so complicated and so incomprehensible. People have run off their feet in search of a formula for doing the right thing. Looking for something to rely on when making a decision.

I really like the wording of our compatriot, Doctor of Philology, Professor [Yuri Mikhailovich] Lotman. Speaking to students, he once said: “Man is always in an unanticipated situation. And here he has two legs: conscience and intellect.”

This is a very wise idea, I think. And a person must lean on both of these legs.

Relying only on conscience is intuitively correct. But abstract morality, which does not consider human nature and the real world, will degenerate into either stupidity or atrocity, as has happened more than once.

But reliance on intelligence without conscience is what is now at the heart of the Russian state. Initially, this idea seemed logical to the elites. Using oil, gas, and other resources, we will build an unscrupulous, but cunning, modern, rational, ruthless state. We will become richer than the kings of former years. And we have so much oil that the population will get something. Using the world of contradictions and the vulnerability of democracy, we will become leaders and we will be respected. And if not, then be afraid.

But the same thing happens everywhere. The intellect, not limited by conscience, whispers: take away, steal. If you are stronger, then your interests are always more important than the rights of others.

Not wanting to rely on the leg of conscience, my Russia made several big jumps, pushing everyone around, but then slipped and with a roar, destroying everything around, collapsed. And now she is floundering in a pool of either mud or blood, with broken bones, with a poor, robbed population, and tens of thousands of those who died in the most stupid and senseless war of the 21st century lie around.

But sooner or later, of course, it will rise again. And it depends on us what it will rely on in the future.

I do what I think is consistent. Without any drama.

I love Russia. My intellect tells me that it is better to live in a free and prosperous country than in a corrupt and impoverished one. And as I stand here and look at this court, my conscience says that there will be no justice in such a court either for me or for anyone else. A country without a fair trial will never be prosperous. So—now the intellect says again—it will be reasonable and right of me to fight for an independent court, fair elections, to be against corruption, because then I will achieve my goal and be able to live in my free, prosperous Russia.

Maybe now it seems to you that I am crazy, and you are all normal, because you can’t swim against the current. And I think you’re out of your mind. You have a single, God-given life, and what have you decided to spend it on? To put on robes on your shoulders, and these black masks on your head and protect those who are also robbing you? To help someone who has ten palaces build an eleventh?

In order for a new person to come into the world, two people must agree in advance that they will make some kind of sacrifice. A new person will have to give birth in pain, and then spend sleepless nights with him. . . .

And in the same way, in order for a new, free, rich country to be born, it must have parents. Those who want it. Who is waiting for her and who is ready to make some sacrifices for the sake of her birth. Knowing she’s worth it. Not everyone has to go to jail. It’s more like a lottery, and I pulled out [a winning] ticket. But everyone has to make some sacrifice, some effort.

I am accused of inciting hatred towards representatives of the authorities and special services, judges and members of [Putin’s] United Russia party. But no, I don’t incite hatred. I just remember that a person has two legs: conscience and intellect. And when you get tired of slipping on this power, hurting your forehead and future, when you finally understand that the rejection of conscience will eventually lead to the disappearance of the intellect, then, perhaps, you will stand on those two legs on which a person should stand, and together we can bring the Beautiful Russia of the Future closer.

Hong Kong

The protest anthem “Glory to Hong Kong” emerged in August 2019 and quickly spread amid the prodemocracy rallies in the city that year. Hong Kong authorities in June 2023 sought an injunction against the online publication and dissemination of the song for national-security reasons. On 28 July 2023, High Court judge Anthony Chan ruled against the ban, which could have had “chilling” repercussions on free speech. The ruling is a win for democracy and freedom of expression in the city, and an example of the courts holding the government in check. The lyrics of the song, published and translated by The Stand News, appear below:

We pledge: No more tears on our land,

In wrath, doubts dispell’d we make our stand.

Arise! Ye who would not be slave again:

For Hong Kong, may Freedom reign!

Though deep is the dread that lies ahead,

Yet still, with our faith, on we tread.

Let blood rage afield! Our voice grows evermore:

For Hong Kong, may Glory reign!

Stars may fade, as darkness fills the air,

Through the mist a solitary trumpet flares:

“Now to arms! For Freedom we fight, with all might we strike.

With valour, wisdom both we stride!”

Break now the dawn, liberate our Hong Kong,

In common breath: Revolution of our times!

May people reign, proud and free, now and ever more,

Glory be to thee, Hong Kong!


At NATO’s annual summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, the North Atlantic Council affirmed its deepening commitment to Ukraine but stopped short of offering the country a clear path toward membership. Ukraine, particularly in the wake of the Russian invasion, has reinvigorated the alliance. Excerpts of the Council’s July 11 communiqué appear below:

Peace in the Euro-Atlantic area has been shattered. The Russian Federation has violated the norms and principles that contributed to a stable and predictable European security order. . . .

Russia bears full responsibility for its illegal, unjustifiable, and unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine, which has gravely undermined Euro-Atlantic and global security and for which it must be held fully accountable. . . . All those responsible must be held accountable for violations and abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law, particularly against Ukraine’s civilian population, including the forced deportation of children and conflict-related sexual violence. . . . . Russia’s war has had a profound impact on the environment, nuclear safety, energy and food security, the global economy, and the welfare of billions of people around the world. Allies are working to enable exports of Ukrainian grain and actively support international efforts to alleviate the global food crisis.

Russia must immediately stop this illegal war of aggression, cease its use of force against Ukraine, and completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its forces and equipment from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders, extending to its territorial waters. We urge all countries not to provide any kind of assistance to Russia’s aggression and condemn all those who are actively facilitating Russia’s war. Belarus’ support has been instrumental as it continues to provide its territory and infrastructure to allow Russian forces to attack Ukraine and sustain Russia’s aggression. In particular Belarus, but also Iran, must end their complicity with Russia and return to compliance with international law.

We welcome the strong support in the UN General Assembly for efforts to promote a comprehensive, just, and lasting peace in Ukraine. We welcome and support President Zelenskyy’s commitment in setting out the principles for such a peace through his Peace Formula. We are committed to achieving a just and lasting peace that upholds the principles of the UN Charter, in particular sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence. We underline that this cannot be realized without Russia’s complete and unconditional withdrawal. While we have called on Russia to engage constructively in credible negotiations with Ukraine, Russia has not shown any genuine openness to a just and lasting peace.

We reaffirm our unwavering solidarity with the government and people of Ukraine in the heroic defense of their nation, their land, and our shared values. We fully support Ukraine’s inherent right to self-defense as enshrined in Article 51 of the UN Charter. We remain steadfast in our commitment to further step up political and practical support to Ukraine as it continues to defend its independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders, and will continue our support for as long as it takes. We welcome efforts of all Allies and partners engaged in providing support to Ukraine.

China/North Korea

On 13 June 2023, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China organized the “Hearing on North Korean Refugees and the Imminent Danger of Forced Repatriation from China.” More than two-thousand North Korean asylum-seekers are being held in detention centers along the China–North Korea border. With North Korea imminently lifting its covid border-closure policies, detainees in China risk punishment, torture, and death upon repatriation. Ethan Hee-Seok Shin, a legal analyst at the Transitional Justice Working Group, gave testimony. Excerpts follow:

It is difficult to obtain accurate information about the situation of North Korean escapees in China because of the deliberate policy of information blackout enforced by Beijing along with Pyongyang. As the past experience demonstrates, it is possible to pierce this fog of totalitarianism, but China’s coming technological dystopia, first tested in Xinjiang and then expanded to cover China proper, designed mainly to perfect internal control, is making it ever more difficult to contact or assist the North Korean refugees. . . .

[I]n the more recent years, the various measures accelerated and justified in the name of combating COVID-19, including the utilization of high-tech surveillance technology long preceding the pandemic, by China and North Korea have taken the totalitarian control to a whole new level.

During the pandemic, North Korea has diverted its scarce resources not only for WMD development but also for building a border wall which made unauthorized border crossing extremely difficult for North Koreans in most areas. . . .

Not unlike the Berlin Wall, created in 1961 by East Germany to stem the flight of its citizens to West Berlin, this new border wall may be called a “Juche wall” or “Juche curtain” designed to make the Chinese border almost impassable for the North Korean people trying to flee their country.

The situation is not better on the Chinese side. According to the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (NKHR), which has been rescuing North Korean escapees in China and elsewhere since the mid-1990s, the recent identification cards that are difficult to forge and widespread installation of closed-circuit television (CCTV) have significantly increased the risk of exposure for North Korean refugees attempting to move across China. The increased risks have resulted in unaffordable prices for hiring the brokers to smuggle them from China to freedom and some have even committed suicide in despair. The AI-based facial recognition program has made the North Korean refugees’ internal movement by public transportation within China almost impossible. The monitoring of the WeChat messaging service also poses a risk for the North Korean refugees and their supporters. All this appears to have resulted in the soaring price tag for the North Korean refugees wanting to escape from China.

Now, Action & Unity for Human rights (NAUH) also confirmed that cost of movement for North Korean refugees willing to make their way to South Korea has quadrupled. The spread of CCTVs and AI technology has made movement within China dangerous for the unregistered North Koreans leading to their capture. While it is sometimes possible to bribe the captured North Korean refugees out from prison, they or their families may not have enough money to buy freedom or, if North Korean women had fled from their Chinese husbands before getting caught by the authorities, the latter may not be willing to make payment. In the case of capture, the international attention is crucial as interventions from the UN or foreign embassies could nudge the Chinese authorities to quietly release the detainees or at least not expedite their deportation to North Korea.

Next Station, another group helping North Koreans abroad, has stated that North Korean women escapees who have married Chinese men are blacklisted and interrogated by the local Public Security officials if they have been connected by social network to North Korean refugees previously caught escaping to South Korea or if their phone numbers are saved in the captured refugees’ phones. While they are returned home after the monthly interrogations, they live under the constant fear of arrest and detention by the authorities who ask them to reveal any contact with South Koreans or Christian missionaries.


Three years ago, hundreds of thousands took to the streets to protest Belarus’s fraudulent presidential election, prompting longtime dictator Alyaksandr Lukashenka to launch a sweeping crackdown on dissent and jail thousands. Testimony from sixteen political prisoners are featured in “Voices of a New Belarus,” a documentary play by Andrei Kureichik, which will also be published by Laertes Press. English translations are by John Freedman. Excerpts from the 7 September 2020 testimony of Maria Kalesnikava, a musician and opposition campaign manager, appear below:

I was kidnapped on the 7th of September in the center of Minsk. Many of us knew that such crimes were happening, but this incident displayed the full cynicism, lawlessness, and criminality of Belarus’s police force. In order to preserve the power of a single individual in the center of Europe, they subjugate dissidents to kidnappings, beatings, torture, and murder. These crimes are anonymous and they go unpunished, but the individuals standing behind them have very specific jobs in specific state structures. I will now speak their names aloud.

After my abduction, I was dragged by force into the office of N.N. Karpenkov, the head of GUBOPiK, the Belarusian special police forces. He yelled, insulted, and threatened me. In his office, two other gentlemen (G. Kazakevich, First Deputy Minister of the police, and A. Yu. Pavlyuchenko, head of the Operations and Analysis Center) engaged me in what we might call a “conversation.” One often sees these men in the official media. They delivered an ultimatum: I would either leave the country, and, once abroad, I could do whatever I pleased; or they would throw me out—alive or in pieces. They would break my fingers and shut me up in prison for 25 years where I would sew shirts for the security forces. The conversation lasted several hours with a “rest” break in a solitary cell.

I got an eerie feeling from the smoky, dim, dark corridors, with portraits of the Old Man staring down from the walls among showcases with pennants, flags, and other KGB artifacts. You felt as if you had been transported into an old Soviet film.

Our “riveting conversation” lasted late into the night. Among the many questions they had, they wanted information about me; who was the author of certain texts; why do I assert that the election was falsified; on what grounds did I claim that Svetlana Tikhanovskaya won; had I, in fact, organized unauthorized mass events; had I attempted to interfere with the work of state entities; was I connected to the Nekhta [an opposition media outlet], or the goals of [Tikhanovskaya’s] Coordination Council . . . . Did I understand that I was the one who bore responsibility for those being beaten and killed, not those who gave the orders?

These and other topics truly amazed me. They really believe that there are “puppeteers,” that forces outside the country are trying to influence the situation in Belarus, and that those who take to the streets are criminals, not peaceful Belarusians. Here is what the authorities are up to: they crack down on civilians, they beat up their own people, they move to repress and imprison all those who at least somehow participated in the election campaign. . . . These are crimes. The authorities do not hear the will of the people.

They cannot accept the idea that the Belarusian people want a different life, are ready for change, and take responsibility for their own future and the future of their children. We are Belarusians. We are a full-fledged nation, not just an assemblage of people. We live in the center of Europe, not on some random chunk of land. And we can change everything. You are incredible.

I do not regret for a moment my decision to remain in Belarus. I do not fear criminal persecution or prison, I am absolutely certain that those committing crimes are the ones who must be afraid. We are strong, brave, and wise. We are together, and love is stronger than fear.


Progressive anticorruption candidate Bernardo Arévalo won the Guatemalan presidential runoff election on 20 August 2023, defying expectations and overcoming government attempts to suspend his Movimiento Semilla (Seed Movement) party. (See “How Guatemala Defied the Odds” by Rachel A. Schwartz and Anita Isaacs.) A translated excerpt of the victory speech delivered by Arévalo and his running mate, Karin Herrera, on 21 August 2023 follows:

Arévalo: Today we accept with great humility this victory that the people of Guatemala have given us. The ballot boxes have expressed themselves and officially the Electoral Supreme Court, with 93.62 percent of the ballots counted, has given us the results and what the people shout is “Enough” of so much corruption. We thank each of the citizens who today made an effort to leave their home to cast their vote, regardless of the option they have chosen. Participating is an act of defense of democracy and at this historic moment it was an act of courage by each person who cast their ballot.

Herrera: Safeguarding the integrity of these elections has been the result of citizens who fulfilled a responsibility and commitment at the polling stations in the country, as well as national and international observers, the media, and you, entire families who were attentive and ready to defend the electoral process. We are going to create a government for all Guatemalans, a government that takes care of all people, regardless of differences. We all share a love for Guatemala, for this we have been working and will continue tirelessly to build a new Spring.

Arévalo: I recognize Sandra Torres, my contender in these elections. We have different approaches in politics, but to her and her constituents we guarantee that your rights as citizens will be promoted and protected without any distinction by the government of the new Spring. Know that you will not be forgotten or marginalized and that starting today we will work for the united well-being of our beloved country. The participation and effort of each citizen and of all the families that were present today is invaluable. We cannot diminish the effort of those who participated despite the distances, the violence, and all the obstacles that stood in the way. All those people who could not vote, know that my government will work for you and for guaranteeing institutions that can earn your trust in the state and in democracy. Thank you people of Guatemala. Thank you because this victory is not ours, it is yours, who supported us along this electoral path. This victory belongs to the people of Guatemala and now, united as the people of Guatemala, we will fight against corruption.


Copyright © 2023 National Endowment for Democracy and Johns Hopkins University Press