The Obama administration will use this week’s meeting of the Community of Democracies to shine a light on the backlash against democracy and growing threats to civil society.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be “trying to reenergize” the organization, Michael H. Posner, Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, said yesterday.
The Community’s 10th anniversary meeting in Krakow, Poland, will be the occasion for assessing how to ensure that “democracies reinforce each other and help emerging democracies flourish,” he said. “Democracy is being challenged in large parts of the world, and this is an effort to kind of rally the forces that are trying to make democracy a reality.”
Democracy’s failure to deliver tangible benefits, goods and services is one of the reasons it has been in retreat, particularly in Latin America, according to Madeleine Albright, the Community’s principal architect.
The world has become more complex since the establishment of the National Endowment for Democracy during the polarized conflict of the Cold War, she told a forum of the Transatlantic Dialogue on Democracy Support.
But democracy remains a universal value and aspiration as people everywhere want to be free to make choices in their lives. Democracy assistance is not about pushing American or Western values and interests but simply “providing the tools so people can make choices themselves.”
The intense ideological opposition to the NED’s formation faded as critics on both the Left and the Right witnessed the effective and bipartisan way in which the NED and its institutes operated, said former Congressman Vin Weber.
But he is concerned that the understanding of how we promote democracy has “faded considerably”, especially among the emerging generation of politicians and activists. It is important to educate new members of Congress especially, who may be frustrated with the apparent failure of recent efforts to promote democracy.
Having spent two-thirds of his life under communism, Jerzy Buzek stressed the need for a strategic patience in building democratic institutions.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to developing democracy said Buzek, President of the European Parliament and a former Solidarnosc leader. In Poland’s case, trade unions and the church were vital players but the key agents for democratization will differ from country to country.
Nor are there major differences between U.S. and European approaches to democracy assistance, said Maria Leissner, Sweden’s ambassador for democracy and development, who recently sponsored an analysis of new challenges to democracy building
She rejected “development first” arguments that the poor aspire to eat before they want to vote, insisting that poor people are “impoverished by a lack of political power.”
Some analysts have argued that the EU’s strategy for supporting democracy is faltering, as a reluctance to extend the prospect of EU accession has taken the momentum out of its gravity model of democratization.
But former Spanish foreign minister Ana Palacio rejected suggestions that the European Union had become more blasé about promoting democracy than the US. Democracy is “entrenched in the DNA” of the EU, arguably the world’s leading force for promoting democracy over recent years.