Change is in the wind, and it’s not simply the climate. Pressure to break free from stagnant political oppression is erupting in places where it is neither common nor welcome. The nearly simultaneous outbreak of unrest in Russia and Iran signals that fundamental human revulsion against authoritarianism can be suppressed, but it cannot be expunged. Against all odds, the future points toward freedom.
It has taken nearly a year, but Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unwarranted invasion of neighboring Ukraine has provoked a backlash in his own nation. Mr. Putin issued an order last week mobilizing male citizens between 18 and 60 years of age to report for military duty in order to restart his stalled offensive. News of Russian soldiers refusing to obey orders and the discovery of mass graves on Ukrainian soil has led to growing resistance among everyday Russians — even those unaccustomed to displays of political opposition.
Mass protests have resulted in the arrest of hundreds in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Tens of thousands of men have attempted to flee to neighboring lands, unwilling to serve in a war they view as unjust. “I don’t want war, I don’t want to die for someone else’s ambitions,” one Russian man told CNN. He had just sent his family back to Russia from a vacation in Turkey while he remained behind.
From the Kremlin, Mr. Putin repeated veiled threats to use “all available means” necessary to maintain control of Ukrainian territory and residents he now considers Russian. Although he commands the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, neither the scrappy Ukrainians, their blue-and-yellow-ribboned supporters around the world nor angry Russian citizens appear willing to yield before his threat to unleash a nuclear burst.
In Iran, a similarly scornful mood has erupted as citizens of 40 major population hubs, including Tehran, have taken to the streets in recent days to voice outrage over the police-custody death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, arrested for the improper wearing of a hijab. Protesters are demanding an end to the hijab mandate and institutionalized discrimination against women.
Some 1,200 have been arrested, according to state-backed news sources, and dozens have reportedly been killed in street clashes with police. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the mullah-led government’s iron fist, is appealing to citizens to identify protesters for arrest.
Authorities have ordered rolling internet blackouts across the nation to stifle news of dissent, but innovation magnate Elon Musk has helped to circumvent the restrictions by activating his Starlink satellite service for use by Iranians seeking to share information about the unrest.
As Chinese President Xi Jinping glowers impatiently across the Taiwan Strait at his independent-minded neighbors, the scenes of indignation triumphing over fear elsewhere cannot but serve as a caution against his will to oppress.
It was not a wish but an observation about human aspiration when Thomas Jefferson said, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Only the malevolent revel in bloodshed, but it is simply ingrained in the human DNA to fight for freedom.