Politics

Who has the guts to resist authoritarian rule? 

The Capitol is seen from the East Front Plaza during sunset on Wednesday, January 5, 2022.
Greg Nash

Thirty-two years ago, House Speaker Tom Foley (D-Wash.) appointed me chairman of a Special Bi-partisan House Task Force to help the parliaments of Central and Eastern Europe convert from authoritarian Communist rule to democracy after the fall of the Berlin Wall. We ultimately worked in nine countries including Lithuania, the original home of my mother’s family.  

Current day congressional Republicans could learn a lot from anti-communist dissidents who emerged to work for democracy in that part of the world even though a few of these countries have now backslid to right-wing authoritarian rule. 

I will never forget the day our task force met with a group of well-educated pro-democracy activists in Prague, Czechoslovakia. They were the core of their country’s “velvet revolution.” Many had served years in jail or were forced to take menial jobs as janitors to support their families.   

I asked the group a key question — why did they stay rather than trying to flee their country for the West? Their response was inspiring. They said that they always believed that the communist system would eventually fail and their country would be free though it took many years to happen. But stay they did. Most of us in the West thought these countries were gone to authoritarian communism forever. 

They told us they loved their country and were patriots. And they told us they admired our democratic system and hoped to learn more about democracy from our Congress.   

The tolerance of authoritarian threats of former President Trump by current Republican leaders and GOP rank-and-file is intolerable and impossible to understand. Their silence is a stain on what was once a great party. President Biden and Democratic members of the House and Senate have every right to call out Republicans on this threat to our democratic system. 

It will be a great irony if our democracy, once admired by the people of authoritarian communist regimes, is brought down by anti-democratic forces at home. 

The House task force to help the parliaments of Central and Eastern Europe functioned from 1990-95 and was made up of responsible members of both parties including Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), David Price (D-N.C.), Gerald Solomon (R-N.Y.), Jim Leach (R-Iowa) and Doug Bereuter (R-Neb.). We conducted training sessions for newly elected members of parliament and staff with the Congressional Research System (CRS) of the Library of Congress and helped the parliaments establish parliamentary libraries and research facilities. Our work has been continued by the House Democracy Partnership (HDP) chaired by Congressman Price. 

Democracy is a fragile entity and hopefully modern-day Republicans will help preserve our system even while we disagree on some important policy issues. We have been an inspiration to people throughout the world and cannot fail at this key moment in history. 

Martin Frost represented the 24th District of Texas from 1979 to 2005.  He chaired the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) during the second Obama term and is immediate past president of the Former Members of Congress (FMC). 

Tags Authoritarianism David Price Democracy Donald Trump Joe Biden

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