This year marked the 20th anniversary of the blossoming of democracy around the world, stimulated in part by the fall of the Berlin Wall on Nov. 9, 1989. Far from producing much new growth, however, 2009 brought to mind an old folk song: Where have all the flowers gone?
Not to China, which had an anniversary of its own -- the 20th since Chinese students occupied Tiananmen Square in an inspiring call for democracy and liberty, only to be crushed by the army. Looking back, Beijing shows no remorse. In fact, Human Rights Watch said in May, it "continues to victimize survivors, victims' families, and others who challenge the official version of events."
This June 4, Tiananmen Square was occupied again -- by battalions of police. This month, Liu Xiaobo, the chief author of a manifesto calling for democracy and human rights, was indicted for "incitement to subvert state power."
A human rights lawyer was shot to death, along with a student journalist, in broad daylight on a Moscow street. After his government passed a law making it a crime to equate Josef Stalin with Adolf Hitler, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev urged the creation of museums documenting his crimes. A grandson of the dictator filed a libel suit against a newspaper that called Stalin a "bloodthirsty cannibal," but he lost.
Among the last Stalinists in power is Kim Jong Il of North Korea, whose new constitution mysteriously dropped all reference to "communism" but gave him the new title of "supreme leader." The human rights organization Impunity Watch claimed his regime holds 154,000 political prisoners, while a North Korean official told the United Nations Human Rights Council the actual number is zero.
Another old-school communist is Cuba's Raul Castro, who took over the government from brother Fidel three years ago but has maintained his repressive policies. A new law allows the incarceration of dissidents for "dangerousness" before they have committed any crime. When one of them, Alexander Santos Hernandez, was ordered to serve four years in prison, the sentence was dated two days before his trial began.
Such logic would pass muster in Tehran. After opponents charged Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with rigging the June vote to secure re-election, a state agency agreed to recount the votes -- well, 10 percent of them -- after declaring that no major irregularities had occurred. Protests by the opposition continue six months later, with mourners at the December funeral of a prominent opposition cleric chanting, "Our shame, our shame, our idiot leader!"