Humanism as a universal and humane concept

From Syria to Germany – the unifying struggle for democracy

Repression and despotism takes many forms. Yet as varied as these phenomena are, they all share a common core, argues Tarek Azizeh. Revolutions accompanying the struggle for democracy – wherever they occur – are all different manifestations of one and the same fight

In 1989 the winds of democratic change buffeted most Eastern European countries. All the signs pointed to a new awakening, heralding the collapse of the Soviet Union, where the system had long since begun to crumble. The international political climate at the time offered fertile ground for civil protests in East Germany, officially known as the German Democratic Republic (GDR).

The citizens there rose up in a "Peaceful Revolution" and called for the overthrow of the single-party system and the State Security Service's (Stasi) reign of terror. And they met with success, the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification after 40 years of division marking the end of a grim era. But peaceful revolutions are not always granted such success, as the Syrians have been forced to realise after rising up against the tyranny of the Assad regime.

The peaceful revolution in Syria, which began in March 2011, gradually spiralled instead into open warfare in which unfortunate domestic circumstances set the stage for sweeping regional and international conflicts. The main drivers for the devastating escalation of the conflict include interference by external stakeholders and the excessive use of force by the Assad regime, under which the Syrian people are still being killed, locked up and expelled even today. What's more, terrorist groups that closed ranks in the course of the conflict ended up augmenting the regime's tyranny with their own religious terrorism. And it all happened and is still happening to the detriment of the people in Syria.

Syria's ruler, Bashar al-Assad, casts his vote during 2016 parliamentary elections, with his wife Asma on his left (photo: Reuters/SANA)
Sham elections: despite peace talks being held in Geneva with the aim of realising a transitional government in Syria, those in power in Damascus held parliamentary elections on 13 April 2016. The opposition boycotted the vote, while the German government in Berlin criticised the elections as neither fair nor free

There is no doubt that there are numerous differences between Syria, its society and revolution, and the situation in East Germany before reunification, including in terms of their administrative, economic and educational systems, as well as the living standards in the two countries. Other distinguishing features are the variety of different ethnic groups and denominations in Syria, the role played by religion in society, and the structure of families and social relationships.

The differences between the two political systems are likewise impossible to ignore. Among the specific characteristics of the Assad regime is its background in a gradual evolution from despotic rule to a dynastic autocracy. When the clan gained control of the country, it was already firmly installed in the country's power centres, and it is still pulling the strings in Syria today.

Common features of authoritarian regimes

Despite all the disparities in the details, however, commonalities can be identified in authoritarian systems at certain stages of their development. By ostensibly adopting modern ideologies, a facade is built up behind which, on closer inspection, a rigid police state is in operation. This is true of both the German Democratic Republic and Syria under the rule of the Assad regime and the Ba'ath Party.

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