How do we recognize whether a country is a democracy or not? Elections? There are elections in Russia, Turkey and Iran. How free they are, can be discussed of course. Separation of power? You find at least formally nearly everywhere a separation between government, parliament and judiciary. I think the crucial question is, how the press is treated. Imagine a journalist in Russia suspects Mr.Putin is involved in illegal transactions. I´m afraid he has to fear for his life or his freedom, or both. Or a journalist in Turkey tries to prove Mr.Erdogan or a member of his family is corrupt. I´m sure they would say, he is an ally of terrorists and he`d be in prison very quickly. And I bet, similar things would happen in countries like China or Iran.
And in Western democracies? I`m convinced the litmus test for democracy is, how free press is treated. One example: When in 1962 the newsmagazine „Der Spiegel“ critically reported about the operational capacity of German Army, the German government stroke back, prosecution, arrests etc. But civil society, opposition and some members of cabinet reacted with protests. Secretary of Defence Franz J. Strauss had to step down and the days of Adenauer government were finally numbered, one year later he retired. That was the first serious test for the young German democracy. It was successfully passed. 50 years later German journalists investigated against President Christian Wulf because of suspect having taken private advantage in office. He tried to intimidate press representives on phone. Though accusations proved to be very small, he had to step down one month later. Test passed again.
There are other examples of leading politicians reacting very aggressively to press investigations. Richard M. Nixon said, „the press is the enemy“, when investigations on Watergate became uncomfortable for him. That didn’t help. August 8 1974 he resigned forstalling an impeachment. A triumph of freedom of press and democracy.
It’s a lesson of history, every dictatorship begins with muzzling the press. In these days we see again a president of the USA, who says „the press is an enemy of the people“. Resist the beginnings. I am confident the people and the constitutional system of checks and balances of the USA are strong and observant enough to stop him. Trump has to change his path or he will hopefully share the fate of Richard M. Nixon.