Mobilizing youth adds momentum to democratic renewal


A new international youth movement would bring energy and momentum to efforts to realize The Prague Appeal for Democratic Renewal, a leading democracy advocate told last week’s Zagreb Youth Summit (above), a biennial event organized by the Belgrade-based Youth Initiative for Human Rights.

“Liberal Democracy is under threat, and all who cherish it must come to its defense,”notes the appeal, citing the threat from the expanding power of authoritarian and increasingly repressive countries like Russia and China that are “filling vacuums left by the fading power, influence, and self-confidence of the long-established democracies,” said Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy.

He proposed three core objectives for a new international youth movement for democratic renewal:

  • The first is to build grassroots pressure for democracy through citizen movements like Y’en a Marre in Senegal, one of whose founders is with us today – my good friend Thiat, who helped mobilize 700,000 young people in 2012 to oust a corrupt and ineffective president who wanted to perpetuate his power.  Similar movements exist in other African countries, including Le Balai Citoyen in Burkina Faso, Togo Debout, and Struggle for Change (or LUCHA) in the Congo.  Such movements need to become an international force.
  • The second objective is to carry on after the protests, because building democracy takes a long time.  That’s why Y’en a Marre is active today throughout the schools in Senegal.  Their goal is to change a culture, not just to remove a failed leader.  That takes education, which is why I think a new youth movement for democratic renewal should mount a global campaign for civic education – a campaign that will help young people understand what democracy is and why it is so important.
  • That leads to the third objective, which is to orient and train young people to prepare themselves to become future leaders of governmental and social institutions.  If they’re going to change the system, they will have to move from protest to politics.  Protest movements are not enough.  What’s needed is a movement for a new society.

“The current crisis of democracy offers a unique opportunity to mobilize young people,” Gershman added. “If they can find their voice on the importance of democracy to their own future and that of the world, they can help spark a revival of democratic conviction in the established democracies, including the United States.”

It’s also significant that the movement should start in the Balkans, “a region that has suffered so much from nationalism and illiberalism,” he noted, with the Youth Initiative for Human Rights’ regional network serving as the secretariat of the World Youth Movement for Democracy.


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