Documents on Democracy

Issue Date October 2010
Volume 21
Issue 4
Page Numbers 179-183
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On July 2–4, the Community of Democracies, a global intergovernmental organization working to strengthen democracy around the world, held a high-level meeting in Krakow, Poland, to mark the tenth anniversary of its founding. The member governments reaffirmed their commitment to the Warsaw Declaration of 2000, the Community’s founding document. Speakers included Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt, U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton, and Jerzy Buzek, president of the European Parliament. Their remarks are excerpted below:

Carl Bildt: Is democracy losing ground in our world of today? No. I will argue that it’s the other way around.

We all know that there is no one-fit-for-all blueprint for democratic governance. We are keenly aware of the fact that there are no quick-fixes or instant solutions when it comes to building the institutions and practices of democratic governance in fragile nations. … And we are certainly aware of the fact that there have been painful setbacks in the different efforts to safeguard freedom and build democracy around the world.

The campaign for the presidential election in Iran just over a year ago was a vibrant, vital, and to a very large extent, open contest between the contenders—it brought real hope to the people of Iran, and to those of us in the rest of the world looking forward to a new Iran to work together with. We know what happened: Repression deepened; there were massive violations of human rights. For many, hope was lost, at least for the time being. But we all know that this was not the end of the story—not in Iran, not anywhere else in the world where freedom is still in danger and democracy de facto suppressed or curtailed.

The remarkable fact is that there is—to my knowledge—not a single regime in the world today that is not claiming that it is democratic. In [End Page 179] very many cases they distinctly are not. In numerous cases the mismatch between their words and their deeds is monstrous. But it’s still a fact that a regime in our world today that wants to be seen as legitimate has to claim that it is democratic.

In claiming to be democratic, even the most autocratic rulers of this world are confirming that the moral imperative of governance in our modern world is based on the consent of the governed and on respecting the life and liberty of their citizens. There is thus no real philosophical or ideological challenge to the idea of democracy in the modern world. And that is truly a great victory.

Our task then is twofold. To highlight and expose the hypocrisy of those claiming the principle of democracy but practicing… the suppression of freedom, the undermining of the rule of the law, the denial of freedom of expression, and the manipulation of the processes of democratic elections. …

But the other and certainly not less important task is to give help to those working with the building of free and democratic societies.

Hillary Clinton: I would argue that [Poland’s] progress was neither accidental nor inevitable. It came about through a generation of work to improve governance, grow the private sector, and strengthen civil society. These three essential elements of a free nation—representative government, a well-functioning market, and civil society—work like three legs of a stool. They lift and support nations as they reach for higher standards of progress and prosperity. …

Today I would like to focus on one leg of that stool: civil society. Now, markets and politics usually receive more attention. But civil society is every bit as important. And it undergirds both democratic governance and broad-based prosperity. …

Now, not every nation has a civil society movement on the scale of Solidarity. But most countries do have a collection of activists, organizations, congregations, writers, and reporters that work through peaceful means to encourage governments to do better, to do better by their own people. Not all of these organizations or individuals are equally effective, of course. And they do represent a broad range of opinions. And, having been both in an NGO and led NGOs and been in government, I know that it’s sometimes tough to deal with NGOs when you are in the government.

But it doesn’t matter whether the goal is better laws or lower crime or cleaner air or social justice or consumer protection or entrepreneurship and innovation, societies move forward when the citizens that make up these groups are empowered to transform common interests into common actions that serve the common good. …

So, along with well-functioning markets and responsible, accountable government, progress in the 21st century depends on the ability of individuals to coalesce around shared goals, and harness the power of [End Page 180] their convictions. But when governments crack down on the right of citizens to work together, as they have throughout history, societies fall into stagnation and decay. …

Over the last six years, 50 governments have issued new restrictions against NGOs, and the list of countries where civil society faces resistance is growing longer. …

In the 20th century, crackdowns against civil society frequently occurred under the guise of ideology. Since the demise of communism, most crackdowns seem to be motivated instead by sheer power politics. But behind these actions, there is an idea, an alternative conception of how societies should be organized. And it is an idea that democracies must challenge. It is a belief that people are subservient to their government, rather than government being subservient to their people. Now, this idea does not necessarily preclude citizens from forming groups that help their communities or promote their culture, or even support political causes. But it requires these private organizations to seek the state’s approval, and to serve the states and the states’ leadership’s larger agenda. …

The idea of pluralism is integral to our understanding of what it means to be a democracy. Democracies recognize that no one entity—no state, no political party, no leader—will ever have all the answers to the challenges we face. And, depending on their circumstances and traditions, people need the latitude to work toward and select their own solutions. Our democracies do not and should not look the same. Governments by the people, for the people, and of the people will look like the people they represent. But we all recognize the reality and importance of these differences. Pluralism flows from these differences. And because crackdowns on NGOs are a direct threat to pluralism, they also endanger democracy.

More than 60 years ago, Winston Churchill came to the United States to warn the world’s democracies of an iron curtain descending across Europe. Today, thankfully, thanks to some of you in this room, that iron curtain has fallen. But we must be wary of the steel vise in which many governments around the world are slowly crushing civil society and the human spirit.

Today, meeting together as a community of democracies, it is our responsibility to address this crisis. Some of the countries engaging in these behaviors still claim to be democracies because they have elections. But, as I have said before, democracy requires far more than an election. It has to be a 365-day-a-year commitment, by government and citizens alike, to live up to the fundamental values of democracy, and accept the responsibilities of self government.

Democracies don’t fear their own people. They recognize that citizens must be free to come together to advocate and agitate, to remind those entrusted with governance that they derive their authority from [End Page 181] the governed. Restrictions on these rights only demonstrate the fear of illegitimate rulers, the cowardice of those who deny their citizens the protections they deserve. An attack on civic activism and civil society is an attack on democracy. …

The persecution of civil society activists and organizations—whether they are fighting for justice and law, or clean and open government, or public health, or a safe environment, or honest elections—is not just an attack against people we admire, it’s an attack against our own fundamental beliefs. So when we defend these great people, we are defending an idea that has been and will remain essential to the success of every democracy. So the stakes are high for us, not just them. …

Jerzy Buzek: Only twenty years ago no one would have believed that a Pole would become president of the European Parliament or that Lithuania would hold the presidency of an organization such as this. Ten years ago we were already halfway along the road towards the European Union. Today, we are part of that Union. Some may say that we have achieved our goal. I believe, however, that this success has brought with it a shared responsibility for promoting democracy throughout the world. …

It is true that over the last 30 years the number of democratic countries in the world has more than doubled; 116 countries now hold free and fair elections; and oppressive regimes have been overthrown before our very eyes in countries such as Chile, Brazil, and South Africa. But that does not alter the fact that still only 46 percent of people worldwide live under democratic systems. And in some countries our hopes for democratization have been frustrated. I am thinking, for example, of some of the countries of the former Soviet Union, which, regrettably, have provided evidence that the achievements of democracy can be squandered.

The founding Charter of the United Nations sets a clear obligation on its member countries to continually “reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person.” After decades of experience of various political systems, today we can be certain of one thing, which is that democratization is the only means by which to achieve that aim. And it is only the individual casting a vote in free elections who can bring that about.

In his speech ten years ago, Professor [Bronis³aw] Geremek listed five reasons why the world needs democracy. They all had one thing in common—the individual.

I believe that in order to be fully successful we need to work together with countries around the world which carry weight in their respective regions. We must not let democracy be seen as something imposed by the West, because, fundamentally, that is not the case. The universality of its principles—with the individual at its centre—demonstrates that it is a system which is suited to all open societies and cultures. … [End Page 182]

Returning to what Professor Geremek said ten years ago, I should like to list the five things that democracy brings us, namely: peace, justice, economic development, human rights, and a civil society. That list shows us just how inseparable democracy and freedom are, and how equally difficult they are to achieve. In the words of Alexis de Tocqueville, “nothing is more fertile in prodigies than the art of being free; but there is nothing more arduous than the apprenticeship of liberty.” So we must never claim that we have learned all there is to know about democracy. What we must do instead is to encourage others to learn alongside us.


Benigno S. (Noynoy) Aquino III of the Liberal Party won the May 10 presidential election in the Philippines, and was sworn in as president of the Philippines on June 30. Below are excerpts from his inaugural address:

Although I was born to famous parents, I know and feel the problems of ordinary citizens. We all know what it is like to have a government that plays deaf and dumb. We know what it is like to be denied justice, to be ignored by those in whom we placed our trust and tasked to become our advocates.

Have you ever been ignored by the very government you helped put in power? I have. Have you had to endure being rudely shoved aside by the siren-blaring escorts of those who love to display their position and power over you? I have, too. Have you experienced exasperation and anger at a government that instead of serving you, needs to be endured by you? So have I. …

Today marks the end of a regime indifferent to the appeals of the people. It is not Noynoy who found a way. You are the reason why the silent suffering of the nation is about to end. This is the beginning of my burden, but if many of us will bear the cross we will lift it, no matter how heavy it is.

Through good governance in the coming years, we will lessen our problems. … We are here to serve and not to lord over you. The mandate given to me was one of change. I accept your marching orders to transform our government from one that is self-serving to one that works for the welfare of the nation. This mandate is the social contract that we agreed upon. It is the promise I made during the campaign, which you accepted on election day. During the campaign we said, “If no one is corrupt, no one will be poor.” That is no mere slogan for posters—it is the defining principle that will serve as the foundation of our administration. Our foremost duty is to lift the nation from poverty through honest and effective governance. [End Page 183]