A violent riot shook the US capitol building on January 6th, and politicians around the world have responded.
In the capitol, members of Congress were in the process of counting electoral votes for the presidential election in the United States. In the midst of this process, during the early afternoon, a large group of protesters, many with firearms and paramilitary gear, were able to break into the building, looting and defiling the halls of the building commonly referred to as “The People’s House” from its role as the center of representative democracy in the country.
Not long after, government officials in other countries began to respond to the troubling events they saw take place.
What has the response been in other countries?
Top officials around Europe have released statements in the wake of what they have seen occur in the United States. Prime Minister of Belgium, Alexander De Croo, released a statement on his official Twitter page calling the event a “shame” that is the “direct result of inflammatory language and violent rhetoric.”
European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, released an official statement on January 7th calling the events “appalling and outrageous,” while stating that Europe stood ready to work with Joe Biden once he officially takes office.
German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, called the events “tragic,” but that soon the “U.S. will open a new chapter in its democracy,” while German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, stated that these actions at the U.S. capitol showed “disdain for democratic institutions” and were “devastating.”
Emmanuel Macron, the French President, put out a video statement where he discussed the longstanding relationship between France and the United States, and expressed confidence in American democracy, and that the events at the capitol were “not American,” with French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, condemning the events as a “grave attack against democracy.” Even Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the UK and one of the central figures in Britain’s exit from the European Union, called the events at the U.S. capitol “disgraceful.”
After the recent siege of the U.S. capitol building, officials in other countries have also been thinking about their own domestic political conditions. The Belgian parliament has recently set up a review of their own security at the Brussels premises in preparation for the possibility of similar events.
In Germany, officials have also said that they would examine improvements which could be made at their own government buildings in the wake of the storm on the U.S. capitol building. Germany had also had its own storm on the German parliamentary building in Berlin in August in protest against coronavirus-related restrictions.
The global power of a national tragedy
The horrific siege that took place in the U.S. capitol building, and claimed numerous lives, on January 6th is a national tragedy for the United States. There is no question about this. Democracy appears to be under threat in the U.S. to a greater extent than any other time in recent history.
But not only has this been a warning sign, a moment when citizens and elected officials alike must stop to consider where the country stands in relation to upholding the basic principles of liberal democracy, in the United States, but a moment for citizens and officials in numerous countries to take a look at the state of their own politics.
Indeed, the power of a single event in the United States has had reverberations around the globe, particularly in Europe. This reflects both great levels of interconnectedness and great levels of fragility in the current state of political affairs. This should not be taken for granted. This comes at a time when Britain has left the European Union, agreeing recently to a historic trade deal, and the European Union will have to attempt to work with new officials in the United States to create a better relationship than what has been in place between the two political actors over the past four years.
In Europe and the United States alike, where non-democratic and populist threats to liberal democracy have been on the rise in recent years, citizens and government officials must see this as an opportunity. Citizens must remain vigilant in avoiding and speaking out against divisive, radical positions from politicians and political parties aimed at undermining democratic processes.
Politicians must be vigilant themselves, ensuring that they do not turn a blind eye if fellow elected officials move away from the accepted tenets of the rule of law and democratic processes.
As political scientist William Galston has put it, “Liberal democracy is fragile, constantly threatened, always in need of repair.”
For those who believe in these governing principles, when some political actors work to expressly undermine established democratic processes and institutions, this must be seen as a time for citizens and other political actors to come together to strengthen liberal democracy and improve the state of representation that exists to continue the progress to which humans hope to be committed.