That Mr. Putin had to journey to North Korea last month to seek support for a long war was a measure of his humiliating isolation, whatever Russia’s ascendancy in Africa, where it has contrived to present itself as an anticolonial power even as it fights a form of colonial war aimed at reabsorbing Ukraine, or much of it, into the “Russkiy Mir,” or Russian world.
Ukraine, of course, is fighting for democracy, freedom, the sanctity of sovereignty and the right of a sovereign state to choose its strategic direction. This battle remains pivotal, as millions of people in the United States and Europe recognize. If the West, after sending weapons worth billions of dollars to Kyiv, has seen some fraying of its resolve, especially among Republicans in the United States, the consensus that Ukraine must not lose remains strong.
In Athens, as I kept hearing that democracy has lost its magnetism, and that “civilizational states” that value their own history and culture over Enlightenment principles are winning the day, I could not help wondering where the migrant crowds clamoring to get into China, Russia, Turkey and other authoritarian or quasi-autocratic states were.
Where were the hordes clamoring to live in a “civilization” rather than a democratic state with the rule of law (and surely Greece ranks high in civilizational terms)? Where were the 21st-century migrants with banners aloft saying “We Want to be Unfree!” or “Surveillance not Liberty!”? Where were all the people turning away from the West — a scheme for global takeover masquerading as a template for individual happiness — to embrace the joys of autocracy?
Funny, they were nowhere to be seen.
When people cannot vote with a ballot they vote with their feet, which is why they seek to build their lives in the United States, or the European Union, or Brazil, or Australia, for example. The human urge to be free is universal and unquenchable. Democracies have to adjust to a changed world, but the challenge before them is to do so without losing their essential values.