Lecture by Yale Historian Timothy Snyder
October 23, 2022
A note from Choose Democracy Now’s Dale Anderson
Academics who study authoritarianism point out that one category of an authoritarian regime is the “personalist dictatorship” where a government is controlled by a single, powerful leader unrestrained by other political groups or actors.
Personalist dictators, or “strongmen,” have a history of being particularly dangerous for their citizens, their neighbors, and the global order.
A prime contemporary example of a personalist dictator is Vladimir Putin, leader of the Russian Federation. Putin is demonstrating these dangers in his current assault on Ukraine. Russian citizens are suffering through conscription and forced participation in the war, the Ukrainian neighbors are experiencing the destruction of their nation, and global concerns about nuclear war are rising.
Perhaps the greatest crime a personalist dictator can commit is the crime of genocide.
Personalist Dictators responsible for genocides:
Genocide Prevention Day December 9
December 9th recognizes the anniversary of the UN Genocide Convention signed in 1948, an international law instrument that, for the first time in history, codified genocide as a crime.
Yale historian Timothy Snyder has been speaking on what he sees as an ongoing genocide of the Ukrainian people by Vladimir Putin and the Russian Army. He is attempting to raise public awareness of what constitutes genocide and why the global order must label Russia’s aggression as genocide and condemn and eventually punish those responsible.
It seems timely to think about the issue of genocide. Besides Putin’s attack on the Ukrainian people, Chinese leader Xi Jinping, another personalist dictator, is currently responsible for an ongoing genocide of the Uyghur people. The Uyghurs are a minority Muslim population in the northwest Chinese province of Xinjiang (read Nury Turkel’s book, No Escape, to understand what’s happening in China to the Uyghurs).
The U.N. international criteria for genocide is shown below. Any one of the five criteria is sufficient to charge genocide.
1. Killing members of the group;
2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part:
4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group