People Who Have Lived In Both Democratic Nations And Dictatorships Share How Different Their Lives Were.

Currently, 123 out of over 190 countries worldwide are democratic and 49 dictatorships. The odds are definitely in favour of democracy but is it really the better option for everyone?

People on Reddit who have lived in both a dictatorship and a democracy were asked: "What are the differences in daily life occurrences between the two?" These are some of the best answers.

I'm an American, but I've lived in Ethiopia. There was no wifi, and cell phone internet was intentionally slowed down so deep packet inspection could take place. Almost everyone I spoke to was deeply, intensely critical of the government, but only after a beer or two. One guy brought me a manifesto to my hotel talking about the government's abuses, and smuggled it inside of another bigger book that had pages ripped out. That was quite sad. Everyone walked around in a feeling of moroseness.

I lived in Myanmar for two years. That was a bit of a disaster; as soon as I saw Aung Sun Suu Kyi get elected, I thought, "Well, at least they've got a new dictator now." Several of my friends had PTSD from being imprisoned and tortured so much by the tatmadaw government. People are really exploding with their newfound freedom there; the new government only took control in 2016, and now people are posting whatever they think on Facebook all the time (amazing considering a SIM card cost $10,000 just a few years ago).

I lived in South Africa for a few months about thirteen years ago, and there was an intense simmering rage against the government there by most white people. They feel like their property and rights had been taken away and would never be given back. So many people I met couldn't get jobs because of affirmative action there (I suppose it doesn't work when affirmative action favors 90% of the population).

But how it compares with America? The biggest thing in common I saw with all of those is that people were extremely willing to complain to me, but very unwilling to talk about their problems if anyone else was around. It was kind of wild how intensely people trusted me, a complete stranger, because I was a foreigner, versus their neighbor they had known their entire life.

People in America like to complain a lot about nothing, while people in dictatorships seem to complain about things that matter.


I grew up in a dictatorship. Religion was illegal. The dictator was a god. People kept a portrait of the dictator at home and basically worshiped it. No one was starving, but let's just say there were no overweight people. You could only buy so much food. Food rations existed. We were poor. Like poor poor, not first world poor. 

No balls for kids to play with. Gramps would make cloth balls for us to play with. Basically no toys. Most families had a TV. There was 1 channel and 2-3 hours of programming per day except for Sunday. We got 6 hours of TV on Sundays. People were brainwashed. Actually brainwashed. Go to YouTube and find testimonials from North Korean defectors. It was almost the same. But North Korea looks much richer than we were.


I lived in Libya as a child and being young and ignorant if anything it was more fun over there. Candy and other store goods were dirt cheap, everyone was friendly with each other and housing was subsidized so my family lived in comfortable homes. 

It's really the stuff you learn about later that makes you understand why your parents left and why people would be afraid to talk about the executions and Gaddafi. I would hear adults chit chat from time to time about his wrongdoings, but I never really understood with all the statues and monuments displaying his glory. 

The state of things over there now is much worse considering it is basically total anarchy, but it's the cost of freedom and the injustices that were occurring mixed with the stifling of opinions was just too much for the people to stay quiet.


I lived in China for four years. I remember one day I went to get a coffee at Starbucks and while I was waiting for my coffee I was reading through an article in People's Daily, an English-language state-run newspaper. There was an article about how the government was making changes to the history textbook to be used in public schools. There was a quote from an official which went something along the lines of "It is of the utmost importance that the next generation of Chinese be brought up with the 'correct' interpretation of history."

I never forgot that quote. It totally underscores how in China you have no right to make your own interpretation, to have your view on events. In China, there is the party line, and then there is everything else. Dogma and blasphemy.

I will qualify that by saying that I did travel to North Korea in April of last year. When I got back to Beijing after 3 days, China felt like a free country by comparison. The example I will give is the internet, which is excruciatingly slow and heavily censored. After the smog, the internet is what all expats gripe about most. However, after 3 days in Pyongyang, I was simply happy to be back in a country that had any internet at all, censored or not.


Honestly, not that much different for day to day things, but they really show when you get back to a free country. I had it in my head for months that I couldn't use certain websites without a proxy or watch TV, because it was all CCTV XX and who the hell actually watches one of like 7527 CCTV Channels in China. Also the police in dictatorships are usually very corrupt, with far too much/too little power. In Vietnam, for example, our passports got confiscated for being foreigners for the whole trip, while in China you had to pay your local cops if they caught you having a satellite dish for the wrong reason or wearing the wrong clothes sometimes, but really? They don't care unless some political officer is on the best with them. Like Soviet soldiers and NKVD commissars.

Really it isn't that bad. Apart from the little inconveniences, shortages, and lack of freedom, it isn't the end of the world. Unless you're in a national political camp for selling stuff to your neighbor in Yunnan. Then, well, unfortunate.


I lived in Egypt during the Mubarak era and to be honest I personally did not feel much of a difference. Yes, corruption was a bit more in your face but other then that life went on. To be fair I have to announce that my family was pro-government and so would never face the same issues as members of the Muslim brotherhood for example. But people openly attacked the government and as long as it did not erupt into protest then usually the government left you alone. 

I'm not here to excuse the autocratic government and my personal experience is not the same as other Egyptians. It varied wildly in where you live. My city of Heliopolis was generally secular and religiously mixed and so more pro government not to mention we only lived a couple blocks away from the presidential palace. 

Anyway growing up in Egypt I did not feel like I grew up under an oppressive regime but it did become evident during the revolution after the government was actually threatened.

By the way I spent half my time in the US and the other half in San Francisco. After being "enlightened" and educated in a very liberal college (UCSC) I do now understand that I cannot be as open with my thoughts back home but when it comes to Middle Eastern dictatorships its no where near Syria or even Gulf monarchies. Honestly I fear the more religious elements of our society more then my government.


A native of Ethiopia here. The major difference I'd say is the media. The ruling party has total control over all media and communication services, including the internet, so you're constantly fed political propaganda every day. 

If protests erupt in some part of the country, it's common for the government to shut the internet down for a month or two. Corruption is rampant, inflation is ridiculously high and you see a small minority who control the government get richer. Interaction with the federal police is always a nightmare, cause if you use the wrong word or are perceived to have a 'bad' attitude things escalate pretty quickly and can get physical. And the government has fixed a minimum amount of income that a certain business should earn, so if you actually end up earning less than that amount, you get taxed for the minimum amount regardless. 

I've been in the US as a graduate student for over a year now and the difference is like night and day.


I am currently living in China, which isn't a dictatorship but definitely a heavy handed government. It's really not that different day to day. People still live their lives, and especially if you're foreign you really get left alone. 

The difference is in the details. You notice a lot of police officers everywhere which can be good and bad. I've never feared being attacked, mostly the officers just check drivers licenses and direct traffic. But you do notice some things, like cameras are everywhere. If you drive a car through and intersection or walk down a road your photo is taken. So in that way people may call it oppressive, but really if you do what the party wants they leave you alone. 

While there are certainly negatives of having a government with such absolute authority, there are also very stark benefits. Businesses do not go unregulated for very long, and the government is just allowed to shut something down if they think it's for the public good. Ultimately there are trade offs, some good and some bad, but in terms of day to day life the only real differences are cultural.


For me, the biggest difference is how people just get used to messed up situations. People are resilient, and even in the worst situations, sometimes even unconsciously, they adapt.

I'm originally from Venezuela. What you see in the media, is mostly accurate, situation is really dire. People are dying from lack of medicine, for example, the lack of VIH antiretrovirals have been a death sentence for many.

But people get used to all that. People get used to get into a line in the supermarket just because there is a line (something must be arriving, and you should buy it even if you don't need it, you can use it for barter later). People get used to seeing abuses of authorities (government officials often play illegal wiretap records of opposition politicians in national tv, for example). People start seeing every single messed up thing as normal. Because that's the way it is and there is no way to change it, so you just try to get on with your life, and be happy with the little you have left.

With crime, it's the same. A lot of Venezuelan prisons are controlled by gangs. And by controlled, I really mean controlled, no police or military allowed. They have pools, night clubs, hookers, barbecues and family living inside, along with AK-47's and heavy artillery. This is normal. One "Pran" took a famous madman called Dorangel Vargas, a cannibal, and made him cook his enemies in the prison. There is a video from another prison where the inmates chopped other prisoners fingers and fed them to themselves while being tortured. And no one bats an eye. Because people feel like there is no reason in trying to change what you can't change.


In Chile we had a dictatorship until 1990. It's a great thing not getting tortured or killed for thinking, but beside that almost nothing change. The same people that ruled the country before does it now, but with more friends from the other side. 

As an example ,Pinochet before leaving gave some of the biggest state companies to friends and family, like SQM (mining company) to his son in law. Just the last year we knew that this guy paid for all the political campaigns of almost all the political parties, even sons of politicians killed by Pinochet got illegal money from the the Pinochet's son in law and now.

Politics is a hell of a drug.


I used to live in Belarus as a child, if you consider Lukashenko a dictator. The streets are clean, buildings are well maintained and there arent too many potholes In the roads as far as I can remember, its better than some of our neighbours (eg. Ukraine). 

After moving to the UK I believe that life in the West is better. There is more freedom of expression and if you criticism the government you wont be jailed. I would rather live in the UK to be honest.


I lived in China until 14 years old, and still visit China annually. China's Internet regulations are the most annoying in the world. 

80%+ of all non-Chinese websites are flat out banned. If you want to start a personal blog or any website at all, you have to register with the government, otherwise the Chinese hosting service will just refuse to host your site with out the registration #.

Many popular VPN service are IP banned, it's quite difficult to find a working VPN
Any political dissidence online will be investigated by police. They knocked on my door once. Luckily I was able to just slip him a few hundred RMB and he happily went away without trouble.

Besides Internet bans, there's gun ban, gambling ban, strip club ban. Can't start your own political party, can't start your own religion neither.

When I come back to the US, I seriously can feel I'm breathing freedom.


I lived in communism, I witnessed a revolution and later on moved to USA.

In communism, even as kids, we knew not to talk bad about our dictator (we called him president). Some kids even ranted that he was the one who gave us our daily bread.

There were money, but nothing to buy with them. You order a car in advance and then wait half a year to get it. Common occurrence for people disappearing with only rumors of their sorts.

At my grandma's, she had fields of what-have-you. We worked all summer just to give it to the government so they would give our quota back from what we harvested on our lands. It was illegal to kill a calf for your own food supply, etc. Basically the government wanted to keep all of us in check at all times.

Revolution came, people died, saw people running, on TV - I saw my street with dead people, but it was over. We were happy that we are free.

Came to USA. Now I work my heart out to give IRS it's quota, hahahah. The irony! No joke, I would not go back to that, but because the oppression, people were closer to each other. Romania!


The most striking for me is the freedom of choice. I grew up in communism and basically you had only one version of food, clothes TV station. My parents were both intellectuals with good paying jobs but there was nothing to buy in the stores.


Im Indonesian, live both in Soehartos dictatorship regime and democracy period after his downfall. The main difference is the freedom of speech. While currently its not as free as US (people can still be charged because of what they say e.g blasphemy as in Jakarta governors case), back then whenever people criticize / being outspoken about anything related to Soehartos administration, they simply vanish shortly after. Some believe they wouldve been kidnapped and assassinated right after. Yet the bright side is there were substantially less criminals.

Being living in democratic environment has its downside as well, though. Seems like people have the inclination to be outspoken, yet people are still ignorant (you know, developing country) which sadly reflects the collective consciousness of Indonesia.


Left communist Vietnam at an early age. My dad's career was restricted. He was an equivalent of a MD but couldn't practice fully since our family was considered treasonous because my grandpa was chief of police for a local province working with the US military. We were forced to leave or we'd starve to death.

My dad could not work here in the US as a doctor due to his degrees not being accepted here. Had to start from scratch doing blue collar jobs.

In the end I ended up working for 2 out of the top 4 Silicon valley tech companies. Both my siblings got full rides to good universities here.

Everything was stripped from us over there, and my parents worked hard so their children could actually make the "rags to riches" dream come true. The opportunity is here in America so that if you tried hard, things could happen. Over there, trying harder means nothing since the distribution of wealth is dictated by the government.


I lived in Yugoslavia as a kid. It was Communism at that time. My family were working in a factory. We had a good life overall. Their work would pay for the whole family the summer trips to the sea, and in the winter to go skiing. With Yugoslavian passport you were allowed to go anywhere in the world, but nobody did because of free education and free healthcare. 

Crime was unheard of, because government would make them simply disappear. Life was dull. People were bored. It's like having a big brother watching you all the time. People from Eastern Europe really miss Yugoslavia now, and realize that the "democracy and freedom" is not what it said in the pamphlet. There's really rich and really poor now.


Venezuelan here. Right now I'm living in Panama so I have an idea of what's the difference.

I moved to Panama about 2 years ago, and immediately saw the difference. The people lived way different than how we live in Venezuela, mainly because of insecurity. As some of you may know, Caracas, the capital of Venezuela is the most dangerous city in the world. Last time I read about it we had more homicides than a country in war.

Here I see people walking in the streets normally, even using their phones! Which in Venezuela is impossible unless you want to get robbed or killed.

Also, in Panama people actually believe in their election process. They go vote and actually they can win, something that in Venezuela just doesn't happens because the "government" has all the elections rigged.



Some of this material has been edited for clarity.

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