From Hong Kong to Moscow, Tbilisi to Belgrade, swelling crowds are protesting on the streets, often facing down twitchy, armed police with their tear gas and batons, returning week after week.
Some rallies have been the biggest since 1989, the great year of pro-democracy revolutions. But something fundamental has changed in the 30 years since. In 1989, in the “color” revolutions of the early 2000s, or in the Arab Spring of the early 2010s, people-powered demonstrations seemed part of what political scientists refer to as a wave of democratization—a larger narrative about inevitable progress toward ever-greater freedom. History had a right side, an arc, celebrating an idea of the free individual with the right to self-expression, freedom of movement, and free (often Western) culture.
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