Meeting in Moscow on June 5, the World Association of Newspapers presented the Golden Pen Award, its annual press-freedom prize, to prominent Iranian dissident and journalist Akbar Ganji. An essay by Ganji, who was released after a five-year prison term in March, was featured in the October 2005 Journal of Democracy. Excerpts from his acceptance speech appear below:
Our ideal is the creation of a humane world, but in fact we live in a world steeped in reckless and widespread violence, a world of genocides and civil wars, of ethnic cleansing and gross violations of citizens’ rights in many corners of the globe. These instances of moral depravity have deprived all of us of the chance to live in a secure world of enduring peace. But in our world today, there are also bright lights of hope. Today, more than ever in human history, thanks to improved means of communication, people, free from their ethnic, racial, and religious identities—or more specifically, free from any secondary identity—simply as human beings, are concerned about the fate of other human beings.
Today we are witnessing the birth of a new moral concept in the world: Global citizenship. Today vast numbers of people no longer consider themselves merely the citizen of a state, no longer feel compassion only for their compatriots, but rather consider themselves also citizens of the world. They feel compassion with other global citizens. Our gathering here today is the best example of solidarity among citizens of the world. But we must accept that we are only at the beginning of the road. There are still too many calamities around us, calamities like terrorism, coercion, dictatorship, discrimination, and war.
These are indications that we need to still find ways to expand this solidarity, and give reality to the concept of world citizenship. In my mind, Kant is the philosopher who can be most helpful to us on this path. According to Kant, humans have rights by the mere fact of their humanity, and in that sense, humans are all equal, and laws are just only [End Page 180] if they treat everyone, without exception, equally, and they can safeguard the liberty of all. . . .
Today we need to help create and strengthen a truly viable, clever, and vital public domain, and we ourselves must move into that arena, and use it to control and curtail power and criticize those politicians who have turned human beings into tools and means. Only through such a public sphere can we stand up to ideological and intellectual totalitarianism that wishes to impose its vision of a perfect world forcefully on everyone. As Kant has written, the principle of human freedom is the foundation of a democratic state, and for him freedom is when no one can coerce me to pursue my happiness according to their vision. Everyone must be free in their pursuit of their own happiness. Central to this idea of freedom and democracy is that women must have equal rights with men, and must be allowed free and equal access to the public sphere. . . .
The other principle we must cultivate is the notion of publicity and transparency in politics. These characteristics were among Kant’s ideals as well. Every decision in the public domain, particularly every political decision, must be made publicly and transparently. It must be open to the scrutiny of everyone. We must shed the light of enquiry into the dark house of politics. . . .
Human rights know no boundaries, and accept no exceptions. The idea that this religious tenet or those local cultural norms render certain human rights obsolete or impractical must not be allowed to be used by despots to legitimize their despotism.
Today we must struggle against violence in every one of its facets. Today the kind of revolutionary violence referred to by people like Sartre, Fanon, and Marcuse is no longer legitimate. We have seen how violence only begets violence; how revolutionary violence destroys both the bad and the good. We must no longer use violence as a weapon to fight violence. Peaceful resistance, peaceful civic resistance, must replace revolutionary violence.
My slogan for fighting against oppression and violence is simple: Forgive, but never forget. Forgiveness is a virtue that overcomes even legitimate anger and hatred. Forgiveness forgoes revenge. But forgiving injustice does not mean forgetting it. It does not mean forgoing the struggle against it. . . . We must always remember that the crime and the injustice did occur. We must always remember the conditions that led to the creation of fascism, totalitarianism, and other forms of dictatorship, that have been the source of injustice.
And we must inculcate this knowledge into our individual and collective memory, so that we can ensure that they shall never happen again. . . .
According to Kant, enduring peace can come only if democracy spreads around the world. Democracies usually don’t enter into wars with one another. Today, only citizens of the world can, through the requisite sense [End Page 181] of responsibility that comes with such citizenship, stop the irresponsible decisions of irresponsible governments in fanning the flames of war.
On May 16, the Nigerian Senate rejected a bill of constitutional amendments that would have allowed for presidential third terms, ending a divisive debate over the issue. (See the article by Richard L. Sklar, Ebere Onwudiwe, and Darren Kew on pp. 100–15 of this issue for more information.) Two days after the bill’s defeat, President Olusegun Obasanjo—who had appeared to favor third terms—addressed the National Executive Council (NEC) of his People’s Democratic Party. Excerpts of his speech appear below:
I will join the chairman of our party to say, for me and I believe it should be for all members of our party, we are democratic. The outcome is a victory for democracy. . . .
At the last NEC meeting, if I am not mistaken, our party took a position as a major stakeholder in the constitutional-amendment debate, as is normal in a democracy. And again, as a democratic party, it did not impose its decisions on its members in this respect, no matter what office they hold, and as the chairman has just reminded us, even though the party took a position, the presiding officers of the two chambers considered what is going on and they took their position. Members were allowed to discuss freely and to act or vote according to the dictates of their conscience. That is democracy at work and that must not be treated lightly. For me, it must be hailed in spite of alleged imperfections.
Many derogatory remarks, statements, and unfounded allegations have been made about me and my position concerning the so-called third term in the National Assembly and in the media which are false, incorrect, and uncalled for. Of course, that is part of the burden of leadership in our own type of society. However, I believe that in all situations decorum must be maintained and different arms of government must perform their functions with mutual respect and mutual dignity. Thus, as the National Assembly and the distinguished and honorable members should be respected, they too must learn to respect others and other institutions.
Tolerance is a mark of maturity. Throughout the period, I refused the invitation to be drawn on either side and maintained studied silence. I was maligned, insulted, and wrongly accused, and I remained where I am and what I am and I remain focused. However, one thing is clear from the exercise: the constitution has been operated and stood the test of democracy. . . .
As a political party, we should accept the verdict of the National Assembly even though the two chambers initially concluded differently. The constitution must be held hallowed and sacred, and on the basis of the constitution in hand, we must start to plan for the next election. . . . [End Page 182]
Again, I want to congratulate the proponents and opponents in our party of the constitutional-amendment exercise. As a party, we should put the issue behind us. As a party, I will repeat, we should put the issue behind us, heal the wounds of acrimony and together march forward. Once again, it was democracy at work and it was a victory for democracy, and all Nigerian democrats—which we all are, if you are a true member of this party—are winners. At this juncture, I want to reiterate that, as the leader of this great party, I will continue to defend the constitution and protect democracy. My track record speaks for itself in this regard and having been a victim of a ruthless undemocratic regime, I cannot be anything but a beacon of democracy.
On March 22, the Democracy Caucus of the European Parliament endorsed a proposal submitted by a working group led by the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy for the establishment of a “European Foundation for Democracy Through Partnership.” The endorsement was followed in May by a “Manifesto for a European Democracy Foundation,” which appears below:
The EU needs a new foreign policy instrument to promote democracy and human rights outside its borders. Democracy assistance should become a more visible and more effective element in the EU’s external policies. Therefore, we propose the establishment of a European Democracy Foundation.
In the enlargement framework, the EU, through its preaccession strategy, contributed considerably to the development of democracy and the rule of law in the transition countries of Central and Eastern Europe, which have now become member states. The EU also has impressive policy frameworks—the treaties, the Neighbourhood Policy, provisions in third-country partnership agreements and strategic long-term programs for democracy and human rights, which are executed through EuropeAid, its development agency.
But nowadays, after the Big-Bang enlargement of 2004 and the two “No” votes on the EU constitution in France and the Netherlands, the transformative effect of potential EU membership is decreasing. Also, the EU programs which are designed to promote democracy and human rights have their limits and their critics. The EU is not flexible enough in supporting civil society movements and democratic forces, as recent developments in Belarus and Ukraine show. This counts especially for countries which are under authoritarian rule.
Yet, at the same time, the demands toward Europe are growing. While the deteriorating democratic process in Russia and elsewhere in the ex-Soviet bloc gives widespread concern, there is a state of flux within [End Page 183] which the EU has a potentially important reform role, as well as formal commitments such as its Neighbourhood Policy. Also in other regions of the world, like the Middle East, the EU is asked for and declares it wants to play a more active role.
Thus, the EU needs to step up its efforts. A free-standing European Democracy Foundation, engaging with political and civil society in third countries, is a much-needed additional foreign policy instrument. It should combine a strategic focus with access to the experience of existing European civil and political society foundations.
The proposed Foundation would operate at arms-length from—although largely funded by—the institutions of the EU. It would thus be an additional mechanism without disrupting or impeding official diplomatic relations between the EU and the states in which the Foundation was active.
The Foundation would be capable of timely responses to demands. It should be a funding source, capable of operating at a greater level of responsiveness and risk than the EU institutions themselves. It would be expert, deniable, and flexible.
Basically, its focus should be worldwide. However, in order to avoid an overstretch, for a defined period of time it should concentrate on regions of great interest to the EU, like the EU’s “Neighbourhood,” the Western Balkans, and/or other sensitive countries worldwide.
In addition to the proposed European Democracy Foundation there is a proposal to use the current review of the EU’s Political Parties Statute to establish European political foundations (stiftungen/stichting). We welcome the debate. Such political foundations would be complementary to a new European Foundation for Democracy.
Now is the right time for the EU to act. The EU has to move forward if it wants to be credible and meet its ambitions. A European Democracy Foundation would not only contribute to the reform process and enhance the European profile in worldwide democracy assistance: It could at the same time enrich the debate about democracy within Europe.
On April 8, the “2006 Declaration on Freedom and Democracy for Vietnam” was signed by 118 individuals—including Buddhist monks, former political prisoners, former Communist Party officials, and ordinary citizens. The declaration, whose organizers call themselves the “04/08/06 Group,” represents one of the most widely endorsed public demands for political change by Vietnamese citizens, and the number of signatories continues to rise. Excerpts from the declaration appear below:
We, the undersigned, on behalf of hundreds of democracy fighters inside the country and of all citizens aspiring for legitimate democracy for our native Vietnam today, make this unanimous declaration. . . . [End Page 184]
History has demonstrated that all freedoms and democracy in any totalitarian regime, communist or otherwise, shall be trodden upon without pity. The only difference is in their varying degrees of oppression. Unfortunately, until now Vietnam belongs to the small number of nations under the rules of communist dictatorship. This is amply evidenced by Article 4 of the current constitution of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam which reads: “The Communist Party of Vietnam, follower of Marxism-Leninism and the thoughts of Ho Chi Minh, is the leading force of the government and society.” Because of this article, all freedoms and democratic rights of the people are destroyed, except perhaps for a few remaining crumbs.
It is this power system, which refuses to accept any competition and any possibility that it may be replaced, that is responsible for the rapid deterioration and demise of the whole system. Because of the lack of equitable competitive principles and rules in the political sphere, after each election, the people are unable to elect the most meritorious individuals or political forces. The leadership machine [which] administers and manages [the affairs of the nation] becomes more and more corrupt, deteriorates from the center to the local areas. The consequence is that Vietnam today becomes a nation lagging too far behind other nations in this region and in the world. . . .
The path of yesterday of our nation was hastily chosen by the communists, without due consideration, and imposed upon the whole nation by force. This path has been proven erroneous. For this reason, our people today must choose our own path again. It is a certainty that once the whole nation makes their choice, it will be a better choice than the one chosen by a particular individual or group of individuals. The CPV is only a component part of the nation. It cannot assume the name of the whole nation to make that choice! Before our nation and its history during the last half century (1954–2006), this ruling party has ruled only with presumption and lacked legitimacy! The reason being the total absence of truly free elections in Vietnam. . . .
The highest objective in the struggle for freedom and democracy for the people today consists of a total change of political regime in Vietnam, not partial “innovation” or partial adjustments as are currently happening. In concrete terms we must change from a unitary, one-party, noncompetitive political regime, as it is today, to a pluralist, multiparty, healthy competitive political regime, in accordance with the legitimate requirements of the nation, in which the system of three powers of the legislative, executive, judiciary must be clearly separated, in conformity with international standards, and in accordance with the experience of humankind through costly and successful democratic systems. . . .
The method of this struggle is peaceful and nonviolent and the Vietnamese people themselves shall carry this struggle to completion. However, we are grateful for the heartfelt and increasingly effective support from friends all over the world.