Still hope for democracy, despite totalitarian surge: Brundtland (Focus Taiwan)

  • Gro Harlem Brundtland, 2014 Tang Prize Laureate in Sustainable Development
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Taipei, April 2 (CNA) Norwegian former Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland said Monday that despite the upsurge of totalitarian regimes in China, Russia and elsewhere, she remains confident democratic ways of governance will prevail.

"I must say it's surprising to see this. Nearly unbelievable to me," she said when asked by CNA to comment on the seemingly growing popularity of populist leaders such as Russia's Vladimir Putin and China's Xi Jinping, who recently won unlimited terms in office through a constitutional amendment.

Bruntland is visiting Taiwan to attend the Gro Brundtland Week of Women in Sustainable Development, which is sponsored by the Tang Prize Foundation. She was awarded the Tang Prize for Sustainable Development in 2014.

Many believe that the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president and the rise of "strongmen" in Eastern Europe and elsewhere have further dented confidence in Western-style democracy, but Brundtland said she remains hopeful.

"There are no such tendencies in my country, and in many other countries of the Western world. We still have lively democratic impulses," Brundtland said.

"But of course, what happened in the U.S. election, with manipulation of the population through social media and interference, probably from Russia, is very scary," she went on.

Fortunately, "we now know that many political systems across the world are trying to counteract this possibility of using and misusing social media in the way that it was done through Facebook and other ways," she said.

The 78-year-old Brundtland said she prefers to be an optimist who believes that people "will object to this as they see what is happening."

"Maybe I'm too hopeful, but I do still believe that through open societies, transparency and democracy, people will understand that this is not what we want. So to me, it's a setback which probably will be overcome."

The reasons for her optimism, she said, include that now, regulations are being drawn up and awareness is being raised about the ways in which social media can be misused.

"I think those things will help us overcome the tendencies we see. In the U.S. case, I still believe that many negative results of what has happened will be seen in the coming elections. People will return to more democratic thinking."

Her "common sense" optimism extends to American peoples' attitudes toward the Paris Agreement, from which Trump has decided to withdraw but for which the American public's support, she said, will be shown in the coming U.S. elections.

The nuclear weapons issue is another global threat, according to the three-time leader of Norway. Again, she sees hope, as "we now have the meetings with China and North Korea [which] have already happened."

"We have the meetings probably in May with the U.S. and North Korea. Maybe we will see some results which can be positive even in that area, because we need to collaborate to avoid the catastrophe of the nuclear issue," she added.

Meanwhile, she encouraged young people to "stand up" for sustainable development and express their opinions to their government leaders so that the world will not descend into catastrophe.

In this inter-dependent world, young people all around the world need to work together to inspire the present leaders to do the right things. "This is important for today's world," she said.

In fact, some young people are already doing this, Brundtland noted, referring to the campaign for a gun-free society by U.S. high school students. 

(By Christie Chen and S.C. Chang)