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On Wednesday 3rd October, the Henry Jackson Society welcomed Thor Halvorssen to discuss the effects of dictatorships on the world and his work combatting them with the Human Rights Foundation (HRF).
In his opening remarks, Halvorssen argued that the largest contributor to global strife and instability is dictatorship. He noted that 37 percent of the world’s population live under regimes classified as ‘not free’ and another 15 percent live under governments that are ‘partly free’. Elaborating on the distinction between ‘not free’ and ‘partly free’, Halvorssen claimed that dictatorships can be categorised as either being ‘competitive authoritarian’ or ‘full authoritarian’. Countries such as Turkey or Ecuador, that have a semblance of democracy, are ‘competitive authoritarian’ but countries like Saudi Arabia or North Korea, where there is none, are ‘full authoritarian’.
Halvorssen then examined the means by which one can fight against dictatorships. Governments in the West, he noted, have numerous departments striving to address specific problems, but none of them have one dedicated to fighting dictatorships. This, according to Halvorssen, is because they have been compromised by money given to them by dictators. Tony Blair, for example, has taken millions of pounds from the Kazakh government and the same is true of the Clintons and the Saudi government. Similarly, organisations such as the UN have been overrun by dictators. Indeed, Halvorssen went so far as to claim that the UN acts as a means for various dictators to have an occasional get-together. Other organisations, such as Amnesty, that are supposed to tackle dictatorships, are so driven by the politics of their employees that they spend more time criticising democracies than dictatorships. Halvorssen noted, for example, that Amnesty’s Latin American director only made four tweets regarding Hugo Chavez over a fourteen year period and three of those were praising him.
Given the lack of interest that these various bodies have in tackling dictatorships, Halvorssen argued that activists should aim to go straight to people living under tyrannical regimes. HRF has, for example, sent balloons filled with anti-regime material into North Korea from the southern border of the country. North Korea’s government has, in response, threatened to assassinate those involved and released propaganda attempting to combat the material sent in balloons. Halvorssen argues that getting such a reaction indicates that their efforts have had a positive impact in undermining the North Korean government.
Aside from this brand of direct action, Halvorssen said that activists should attempt to try to blend their efforts with pop-culture. He noted that his organisation has exposed celebrities that have performed for dictators. When, for example, Jennifer Lopez performed for Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, the leader of Turkmenistan, HRF put a spotlight on the awfulness of the Turkmen government. A country, Halvorssen noted, that had been discussed once in over ten years by the New York Times was now featured prominently in a large number of news outlets.
Halvorssen concluded his ebullient talk by emphasising again the need for people to reject governments and other politically compromised organisations when fighting against dictatorships.
To read a full transcript of this event click here