Transition time: From democratic decay & breakdown to innovation & renewal?


There has never been a more appropriate and urgent occasion to celebrate International Democracy Day, say advocates and analysts.

On 25 June the joint Letter to Defend Democracy was issued as an initiative of International IDEA and the National Endowment for Democracy, with the backing of over 150 organizations and over 800 individual signatories. Read the letter in one of 13 languages and join the campaign.

The global pandemic has highlighted the resilience of democratic institutions, the universal desire for fundamental freedoms, and the necessity of multilateralism, said International IDEA. Yet the crisis has also shed light on the ease with which restrictions can be imposed on democratic checks and balances, civic participation, and human rights, and it has exposed challenges for cooperation in times of need.

“This pandemic has been a gift to dictators and authoritarian leaders all over the world,” said the Free Russia Foundation’s Vladimir Kara-Murza (above), citing the destruction of Hong Kong’s autonomy, political prisoners in Turkey, emergency powers in the Philippines, the crackdown in Belarus, and Putin’s constitutional coup d’etat in Russia. “All of this while people were looking the other way,” he added. “When the world reopens, all of these and many other crises must be addressed.”

Open societies must unite in defense of what they know is right, argued Chris Patten, Chancellor of the University of Oxford, the last British governor of Hong Kong and a former EU commissioner for external affairs. What will happen to the values that form the core of our political and cultural identity if we do not stand up for them? he asked.

Democracies, authoritarian governments, and dictatorships are equally challenged by the coronavirus pandemic, but only democracies are free to debate openly how to respond, the US State Department observed. 

More than 500 political, civil leaders, Nobel Laureates and pro-democracy institutions have signed an open letter to defend democracy, warning that the freedoms we cherish are under threat from governments that are using the crisis to tighten their grip on power (see above).

“Democratic ideals will always have enemies who are inventive and concocting reasons for what they do, but democracy defenders should have confidence, because democracy is the one road all people can walk down together,” Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State and Chairman of the National Democratic Institute, stated in her #DefendDemocracy video message. “It is the only system that contains, within itself, the capacity to open debate to heal itself.”

Others joining the debate through video statements (above)  include leading political scientist Francis Fukuyama; president of World Uyghur Congress, Dolkun Isa; the Chairman of the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy, Natan Sharansky, policy makers, student activists, and dozens of leaders from around the world.

COVID-DEM Director Tom Daly has announced a Global Roundtable: ‘Democracy 2020: Assessing Constitutional Decay, Breakdown, and Renewal Worldwide’, organised with Prof. Wojciech Sadurski, under the aegis of the International Association of Constitutional Law (IACL), to discuss the state and future of democracy with scholars and policymakers from some 30 countries.

Other webinars to mark International Democracy Day (HT: COVID-DEM)

Friday Stimson Center & IDEA: ‘Reinventing the role of international and regional organizations in promoting peaceful, just and inclusive Institutions in times of crisis: What was done and what Is next?’ – 18 September 2020, 10.30 (EDT)

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