Documents on Democracy

Issue Date January 2009
Volume 20
Issue 1
Page Numbers 181-187
file Print
arrow-down-thin Download from Project MUSE
external View Citation


The Maldives held its first multiparty presidential election on November 8 with challenger Mohamed Nasheed defeating incumbent Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had previously held the post for thirty years. Below are excerpts from a speech by the outgoing president on November 10, and from the new president’s inaugural address on November 11.

Maumoon Abdul Gayoom: Tomorrow, the responsibility of leading his country will rest on different shoulders. A new face, a new voice will greet you. The vision for the way forward for this country will from tomorrow be determined by a new President. . . .

I join all the people of the Maldives in offering Mr. Mohamed Nasheed, the new President, hearty congratulations and good wishes of prosperity and success. . . . Accepting the election result, congratulating the victor and offering our support to the incumbent in assuming the duties of presidency is the democratic way!

Our patriotic duties and adherence to democratic principles must take precedence over the results of an election. The heat of the election campaign will lead to attacks and counter-attacks from both sides. As a peace-loving and patriotic people, our responsibility is to heal any wounds inflicted during the campaign as soon as possible, and to ensure that our country is not plunged into divisions and civil strife.

Maldivians must take pride in the Maldivian democracy that we have together created. The Maldives must be a model democracy where powers are transferred from one government to the next in an atmosphere of peace and cooperation. Although political views may differ during an election period, we must learn to reorganize our ranks behind one leader once the election comes to a close. . . .

I sincerely hope that the open liberal democracy that we have together ushered in will serve as a strong new national foundation upon which we can continue our path towards even more prosperity. . . .

With the Grace of the Almighty Allah, much of the democratic reforms [End Page 181] that I envisioned for the Maldives have already been successfully implemented. Although I will now not have the opportunity to be at the helm to oversee the completion of the democratic reform programme, my hope is that the people of the Maldives will experience the successful completion of the democratic reform programme under the new presidency. . . .

Mohamed Nasheed: Our republic today is decorated with the new hues that mark this historic moment in time, the age that we live in, and the circumstances of the nation. The course of change that the country has pursued has produced a smooth transition to a new presidency. . . .

To be sure, this is a moment of success, a unique moment of change in the history of our nation. It is rare, certainly in recent times, for a people to achieve democratic transition as smoothly and as peacefully as has been done in the Maldives. That is why there are no losers in the recent presidential elections and why everyone can claim success. The achievement is a contribution that the people of the Maldives have made to the global march to democracy. It will stand as a fine example to the international community. I congratulate my compatriots for that achievement. The people have spoken and spoken so well, thank you!

Our pledge in these recent elections was to set up a government of the people. We vowed to serve with sincerity, in good faith and with compassion. These are the values that the people of the Maldives have today endorsed. These are qualities they wish to see in everyone.

The right to freely express our views and the space for dissent have been secured through the hard work and the sacrifice of several thousand people. And in the first elections following the creation of that space, the people have embraced the vision of democracy that had energized us. The outcome of the freely expressed wishes of the people is a genuine transition to democracy. I thank those who did not vote for me as vigorously as I thank those who did. That is the spirit of democracy that we embrace in this country.


Former bishop Fernando Lugo was elected president of Paraguay on April 20, ending 61 years of Colorado Party rule. (For more information on this election, see the article by Diego Abente-Brun on pp. 143–56.) Below are excerpts from Lugo’s August 15 inaugural speech:

Now is the time to look ahead and work with determination at the collective engineering of Paraguay’s future. It will not be an easy task. The path will be riddled with obstacles that will attempt to blind us with the illusions of our recent dictatorial past, a past that has infiltrated our culture and weakened those attitudes that we have nevertheless recovered with the victory of April, including associative capacity, critical consciousness, and the nonnegotiable dignity of the human person. . . . [End Page 182]

This is not about a process that results in winners, losers, or exclusive owners. This change is the opportunity for every member of our beloved nation to assume co-ownership of the process that requires nothing else than the intent to contribute, each in our own way, to the sustenance of this process, which is really about the end of [Paraguay’s] interminable transition and our full incorporation into the body of the world’s consolidated democracies.


A memorial service honoring Bronisław Geremek was held at the NED in Washington on September 11. Geremek, one of the key figures in Poland’s Solidarity movement in the 1980s, was killed in a car accident on July 13. Among the participants who read tributes were Senator Richard Lugar; James Billington, Librarian of Congress; Zbigniew Brzezinski; Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post; Nadia Diuk, NED; Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky; Charles Gati, SAIS; David Harris, American Jewish Committee; Ambassador Max Kampelman; and Poland’s Ambassador Robert Kupiecki. Messages eulogizing Geremek were sent by Václav Havel, Leszek Kolakowski, Radosław Sikorski, Alexandr Vondra, and Madeleine Albright. Excerpts from a few of the tributes appear below:

James Billington: In the early 1970s when I came to Washington to direct the Woodrow Wilson Center, I asked the great French historian Fernand Braudel who he considered the greatest mind in Europe. Braudel simply said Geremek. There were some mutterings on the Hill about using taxpayer money to bring this then relatively unknown scholar to Washington to do research on social marginality in 14th-century Poland. But at the end of his year here he gave one of the most powerful and unforgettable seminars that I have ever heard. His subject was the Gypsies—how they were welcomed everywhere from Persia to Britain at the beginning of the 14th century, but persecuted and often murdered everywhere at the end. Ranging through an awesome variety of languages and cultures, Bronek led his audience to realize that there was no real explanation for such massive and cruel mistreatment of a people who had willingly adopted the language, customs and beliefs of whichever country they lived in—and that something like pure evil was just below the surface of human affairs. . . .

Many forces over the years helped create an appealing postwar and postimperial European civilization. Many people have notably advanced that civilization. Bronisław Geremek embodied it.

Zbigniew Brzezinski: I knew him as a great European . . . but he was a European in many ways and in many directions. He was a Pole in [End Page 183] Europe, bringing to Europe greater knowledge and understanding and the need for engagement in that part of Europe from which he came, and he was a European in Poland, teaching the Poles the merits and the meaning and the depth of the European civilization with which Poland is now profoundly associated, and he helped Poland be part of that association.

I knew him of course as an intellectual, a man of deep thought; a historian who viewed human travails and political conflicts in a larger historical perspective; a student of medieval Europe; a great lover of France. He helped Poland associate itself and to deepen its longstanding links with Europe as a whole, and with France in particular.

I knew him as a symbol of Solidarity, and it was very important that he was associated with Solidarity and played such a preeminent role in it, not only in terms of what he did in the course of that effort, but also what he came to symbolize to the outside world regarding Solidarity—that Solidarity was more than a movement of social reform, of ending economic and social injustice. That Solidarity stood for transcendental values and for the solidarity of the society as a whole; a solidarity involving the young, the intellectuals, the workers, the farmers. He symbolized that meaning—that larger meaning of Solidarity which has now become such a symbol to all of those oppressed in the world.

Jackson Diehl: For me Bronisław Geremek was the quintessential representative of a unique and fleeting European fraternity. It was made up not of politicians, but of poets and mathematicians and electricians and history professors. They began as persecuted iconoclasts in Poland and Czechoslovakia and Hungary in the 1970s, living in seedy apartments or in jail, working in dead-end jobs, publishing their visionary ideas about a revolution based on nonviolence and human rights in underground journals.

They persevered for more than a decade, with little to show for it. Then, almost overnight, they became presidents, foreign ministers, heads of parliamentary majorities, even chiefs of defense and intelligence. And then, only a dozen or so years after their revolution, almost all of them were out of mainstream politics again, shoved aside by a new generation of media-savvy political pros in the new democratic world they created. They went back to teaching, back to writing, back to preaching liberal ideals to a new governing class that mostly didn’t want to listen.

Bronek lived that trajectory in full: from medieval history professor to prison inmate to shunned dissident—and then, suddenly, to parliamentarian, defense minister, and foreign minister. He signed Poland’s accession to NATO—and then, just a dozen years after he helped to bury Soviet communism, his newly free country rejected him. His party was wiped out in elections and he went back to being a professor. He eventually returned to the European parliament, but he remained on the [End Page 184] margins of the new Polish politics. In this he was like most of the Polish, Czech, and Hungarian leaders of the 1989 revolution. Theirs was a politics based not on nationalism or populism but on morality, not on personal charisma but on personal integrity. They could destroy a totalitarian government, but they didn’t have much chance in a modern democracy. . . .

It was perhaps too much to expect that a politics of morality would survive in a normal democratic society. But the indelible achievement of Geremek and his European dissident allies was to fashion that moral agenda, and show how it could be used to topple a totalitarian government. It’s an example that remains vital today to dissidents around the world, from Egypt to Burma. To them Bronisław Geremek is what he was to all of us: an example of courage, integrity and unyielding commitment to the cause of democracy and human rights—and a guide to how those ideals can be put into practice.


On October 20, 109 Iranian university professors signed an open letter to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad concerning state policies being implemented in universities. Excerpts appear below:

This statement addresses concerns about the failure to maintain the sanctity and academic independence of the university, the decrease in reputable knowledge, and the security forces’ sporadic intrusions into the universities that subsequently upset the tranquil atmosphere in which the mind is nurtured. . . .

Scant respect for the necessity of academic freedom in educational and research activities, as well as the limited toleration for scientific criticism of current viewpoints, policies, and plans, has weakened the university’s role in producing scientific information, in yielding healthy societal intellect and thought, and in supporting development plans. . . .

The forced retirement of top professors within the country, as well as the imposition of political and official restrictions—especially in the humanities and social sciences—has resulted in the steady deprivation of expert and independent faculty in the universities who have been sources of inspiration for their students. . . .

The security forces’ disciplinary actions against students who speak out, closing down and seizing properties belonging to legal student organizations, and expelling student activists have left the university atmosphere stagnant and lifeless, greatly reducing student participation in political and cultural activities. . . .

If these trends continue, the university will be transformed into a one-dimensional . . . and inward-looking center that is unable to respond to the extensive set of needs and complex demands of multifaceted development. [End Page 185] In conditions in which certain academics and university graduates are denied from participating in improving society, they either lose all motivation and productivity or find no other option but emigration.

Africa, Asia, and Latin America

On 8 November 2007, the UN General Assembly declared September 15 the International Day of Democracy. On 15 September 2008, three regional democracy networks associated with the World Movement for Democracy issued statements marking the occasion. Excerpts from these statements appear below:

African Democracy Forum

Today, the African Democracy Forum (ADF), a network of over 450 democracy and human rights organizations throughout Africa, joins the world to celebrate the United Nations’ first International Day of Democracy. The members of the ADF congratulate the UN on recognizing the importance of democratic societies by declaring this International Day of Democracy. We also note that the first International Day of Democracy is launched during this important year marking the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In addition, we welcome the UN’s recent efforts to strengthen democratic institutions and culture around the world by creating the UN Democracy Fund and cooperating with the Community of Democracies on the establishment of the Democracy Caucus. . . .

In commemorating this International Day of Democracy, as citizens on the African Continent, we re-commit ourselves to efforts to promote democratic values and respect for human rights and to strengthen democratic institutions. We also call on all member states of the United Nations to reaffirm their commitment to all the UN treaties, conventions, and declarations that seek to ensure the protection of human rights, gender equality, rule of law, and interests of citizens.

World Forum for Democratization in Asia

The World Forum for Democratization in Asia (WFDA) welcomes the first commemoration of International Democracy Day today, noting that 15 September is also the anniversary of the opening of the first WFDA Biennial Meeting in Taipei in 2005. The designation of this day by the United Nations is a useful recognition of the importance of democracy, which although clearly enunciated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 21), has long been given short shrift in the international efforts to promote human rights.

We believe strongly that democracy is a universal aspiration of all peoples. In all parts of Asia, peoples have time and again placed their hopes in democracy to bring progress to their societies. We note the [End Page 186] resilience of Indian and Japanese democracy, the amazing progress in Taiwan, South Korea, and Indonesia, and recent positive developments in Nepal, Afghanistan, and Malaysia.

Unfortunately, even today authoritarians and their apologists continue to try to argue that Asians are somehow unsuited or unready for democracy. Sadly, these arguments are not confined to countries such as Burma, China, North Korea, Vietnam, or Singapore. They have also recently been advanced in Thailand to justify the current backsliding of democracy there. At the same time, several Asian countries are still suffering from internal conflicts which severely weaken their democracies, notably Pakistan, Mongolia, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka. This reminds us that, just as democracy is never perfect, it is never completely secure. It requires continual vigilance as well as periodic reform and renewal.

Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy

The Civil Society Organizations undersigned, which work on various efforts to strengthen democracy in the Americas and the Caribbean, express our desire to live in democratic systems where we can achieve peace, prosperity, respect for human rights, the rule of law, solidarity, shared responsibility, consensus, and environmental protection.

We endorse the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and we call on governments to adhere to the principles found in these documents. We also endorse the commitment to defend democracy whenever and wherever it is threatened.

We propose to governments, media, businesses, religious groups, academics, and other civil society actors to promote a profound and inclusive discussion about the ways to achieve a total adherence to democratic ideals. . . .

[We] demand that governments be chosen in free and fair elections, without manipulation, through transparent voting systems, with technical credibility and proven mechanisms of political participation based on law and international standards. . . .

[We] demand respect for freedom of the press and the right to transmit and receive information without prior censorship. We also call upon States to create or improve legislation on access to public information as a fundamental right of an active and participatory citizenship. . . .

[We] demand that governments ensure the right of association and respect the free functioning of civil society organizations and other forms of association [and] of democratic participation. We demand the cessation of persecution against journalists, members of trade unions, defenders of human rights, democratic activists, civil society organizations and academics, and we remind States of their obligation to protect all men and women who defend or promote fundamental human rights. . . . [End Page 187]