Supporting democracy in challenging times


When it comes to advancing democracy, the current period is very different, and we know its core features very well, the National Endowment for Democracy’s President Carl Gershman told a CSIS Forum (above) this week: 12 consecutive years of democratic decline, according to Freedom House; resurgent authoritarianism – the growing power and assertiveness of dictatorships like China, Russia, and Iran; democratic backsliding in countries like Turkey, Venezuela, the Philippines, Thailand, Poland, and Hungary; and growing illiberal populist and nationalist movements and parties in the established democracies.

But it’s important to put the difficulties of the current period in context, he added:

The NED was founded in 1983/84, which was when the third wave of democratization was just beginning to gain momentum.  The NED’s first decade was a very hopeful period for democracy, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the greatest expansion of democracy in human history.  But it was also very unusual. Huntington’s book on the third wave was published in 1991, and in it he predicted some tough times ahead; and his theory of democratic waves also included the idea that waves, or periods of democratic expansion, are followed by reverse waves.  But in the 1990s, which Charles Krauthammer called a vacation from history, many people just assumed that the expansion of democracy was inevitable.

“Some even felt that because the Cold War was over, the work of aiding democracy was no longer politically sensitive and that an independent, arms-length institution like the NED was no longer needed,” said Gershman.

“NED is an institution that was built to take on tough challenges. We thrive on that, so the crisis of democracy has actually made us a stronger institution.” RTWT

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