Decline is necessary or is it not, is it inevitable or is it not? History gives us an account of the rise and fall of numerous empires and glorious civilisations. So it must be true. Whatever starts must somehow end. This concept is also a fundamental part of most religious beliefs.

The consistency of historical events is such that, everything adds up as if it were all part of a divine equation to ensure change. Decline leads to change and change to rebirth; rebirth or evolution. Even the process of rebirth seems to be a certainty, a mathematical consequence.

In certain instances, ‘rebirth’ manifests itself as a peaceful and democratic evolutionary process. The process occurs through turmoil and very often death, and the seed of hope and change is sewn. The end result may not be what one might have hoped for.

In most cases the process of decline is relentless and unexpectedly slow, making it difficult for those who live it to understand that they are in the thick of it. Experience teaches us that there are indicators that lead those cognitive enough to realise that a nation may have embarked on the road of decline. These indicators may be economic shrinkage, unemployment, political fragmentation, corruption, dissent, repression, and much more. Each circumstance is unique, as the factors influencing events are various.

For sure, with the advent of globalisation the ever presence of social media may have magnified enormously the influence of the external political power over the local events.

The elements leading to decline are many, but there is a fundamental common bottom line that may link all of these events. It is not economic shrinkage, unemployment or anything that hits the average Joe’s pockets, even though this may accelerate the process. No, it is not always about money. Fundamentally, one has to look at the democratic process itself and those who administer it.

We have witnessed countries that elected their leaders democratically only to realise that the governors are more interested in consolidating their power than anything else.

A typical case is Poland and its democratically elected government that is engaged in neutering free press and the judiciary to suppress political antagonism and dissent. This process is ongoing and there seems to be no limit to what the Polish government is willing to do in order to establish a regime. A stark reminder of the old Soviet style.

This has resulted in mass protests and controversy among the European partners who seem totally powerless about what’s happening. One must not forget that Poland is historically a traditional European Union and NATO member and as such any transition to a soft dictatorship is unacceptable and dangerous.

This fear factor is further enhanced when one considers that neighbouring Poland there is a very staunch and volatile Russia that is all out to dilute NATO’s sphere of influence. I don’t think that this is what the Poleshad hoped for when they elected their government.

The fact that a government is elected by an overwhelming majority does not mean that its leaders have some form of a superior wisdom or legitimacy

The fact that a government is elected by an overwhelming majority does not mean that its leaders have some form of a superior wisdom or legitimacy that enables them to impose the will of the few. Degradation of free speech leads to a degradation of the essential elements of the country’s social fabric.

Lack of freedom kills the entrepreneurial spirit that individuals possess and when one eliminates the checks and balances that is provided by free speech, press and justice, normally one ends up finding corruption and ultimately dictatorship.

It is not unusual that such countries start with liberal principles but either a long term in power or ambitious and crooked individuals lead to the establishment of regimes.

An interesting aspect is also the use of fear to instil insecurity in the public. Fear is a very subtle psychological weapon. We have a very clear and recent example, the second term of the Bush presidency. The deciding factors on who gained the seat of power were two – the Florida vote and a campaign riding high on a wave of fear from terrorism.

Even worse, it was very much evident that the press seemed to be sidelined with the candidates offering little if not no alternative views. Reality was manipulated by a strategy based on fear, subservient to a particular electoral campaign. Again, the subtle manipulation of mass media, the constant bombardment with unilateral messages and the inability of those involved to see beyond the bigger picture created an unhealthy environment and a decline in democratic values.

It is also becoming common practice for such governments to adopt diversion tactics. It is very well understood that in the age of mass consumerism, the public has a very short attention span and even the most gruesome events are easily forgotten. Does anyone recall the events at Tiananmen Square?

Nowadays, China is an economic powerhouse and an ally to many nations, yet we seem to have forgotten what China was two decades ago. Have we learnt anything out of it? Have we realised how powerful a government becomes when it has the capability to shut the mouths of those who don’t agree with the laid policies and how dangerous it is to thread in those waters?

Looking at where we live now and the circumstances we’re experiencing. Too many times we see the art of secreting crucial information is being used as a means to control.

Fundamentally one cannot act on what he’s not aware of. Even our lovely country is passing through a phase whereby the government is failing at sharing information, critical contracts with Parliament, claiming that divulging information of a “sensitive” nature may jeopardise the national interest.

Putting things simply, we appointed our own governors to lead us and it is their duty to report in detail what has been carried out and why. Our politicians have no right to shroud or conceal such information as this goes against basic democratic principles, one of them being transparency. And what about honesty, where has this gone?

We spend decades making sure that information is available to all strata of society. We live in the era of instant information and yet governments do their best to curtail this. So on one hand, institutions invest in mass communication but at a political level they are very much conscious that this may well be a double-edged sword. Free information brings down governments, hence all the efforts to control it.

Curtailing free speech is in essence the indicator that things are not fine, even though financial numbers might be indicating otherwise. We cannot forget that our civilisation is built on essential values, and some of these are freedom of speech, honesty and transparency.

People have given their lives to protect these values. We cannot think of bartering economic wealth with freedom as the consequences are catastrophic.

One had better look at our history books and refresh our last 40 years of history, as I am not sure whether we are fully aware of the risks presented if we keep ignoring the facts and doing nothing about it for the sake of political chess games. There is too much at stake. Keep your eyes open.

Robert Busuttil is an engineer, with a passion for travelling, current affairs and innovation.

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