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How to Recognize an Authoritarian and Understand the Role of Gatekeepers

How to Recognize an Authoritarian and Understand the Role of Gatekeepers


5 January 2024


The inspiration for my reflections comes from my daughter’s reading of “How Democracies Die” by Levitsky & Ziblatt (2018). The book opens with the story of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, a leader initially democratically elected after a failed coup but eventually manipulated the system to cling to power.

I recall a recent radio conversation with Mariano Heijden on Perspektiva on 18 December 2023, where he asserted that Curaçao needs a ‘Nayib Bukel,’ referring to strong leaders. My counterargument was the difficulty of removing a strong leader once in power.

Thoughts turn to Karel Frielink’s articles on Javier Milei in Argentina, who, in the early days of his presidency, declared a neoliberal program that has failed worldwide, causing widespread protests and devastation to the middle class.

Amidst delving into documentaries about Desi Bouterse, sent by my friend Anthony Maria, who recently faced his judgment on 20 December 2023, I noticed a pattern: in 1980, corruption and poverty laid the groundwork for (military) takeovers, a pattern also seen in Venezuela, El Salvador, and Argentina.

Amid these thoughts, I receive Maurice de Hond’s recent poll results via Etienne Ys, indicating the further growth of Geert Wilders and the PVV in the Netherlands, reflecting growing discontent. In “How Democracies Die,” Levitsky and Ziblatt stress the concept of “gatekeepers” as institutions and individuals protecting democratic norms.

Gatekeepers, including political parties, media, the judiciary, and civil society, play a crucial role in maintaining democratic order and preventing the erosion of democratic institutions. Their effective functioning protects against anti-democratic forces, but failure or corruption can pave the way for democratic decline.

Contemplating our political parties, the crumbling media (such as the closure of Radio Z86 and TeleCuraçao’s struggle), the judiciary, and civil society, it becomes evident that we face significant menaces.

According to “How Democracies Die,” it is crucial to recognize anti-democratic parties early and have gatekeepers to keep them outside the centers of power. Anti-democratic behavior may manifest in:

·         disregarding democratic rules,

·         undermining the rule of law,

·         restricting political competition,

·         and attacking political opponents, posing a threat to democracy.


To identify anti-democratic parties, attention to their behavior and actions towards democratic norms and values is essential:

  • Respecting the rule of law,

  • promoting political competition,

  • and protecting fundamental rights


These are indicators of the level of democratic orientation. Levitsky and Ziblatt’s emphasis on gatekeepers highlights their vital role in safeguarding democratic norms, making me realize the urgency of addressing the challenges faced by our political system, media, judiciary, and civil society.




Miguel Goede


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