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Adopted in Prague on May 26, 2017
Democracy is threatened from without by despotic regimes in Russia, China, and other countries that are tightening repression internally and expanding their power globally, filling vacuums left by the fading power, influence, and self-confidence of the long-established democracies. The authoritarians are using old weapons of hard power as well as new social media and a growing arsenal of soft power to create a post-democratic world order in which norms of human rights and the rule of law are replaced by the principle of absolute state sovereignty.
Democracy is also being threatened from within. Illiberalism is on the rise in Turkey, Hungary, the Philippines, Venezuela, and other backsliding democracies. In other countries - even long-established democracies - support for liberal democracy has eroded in recent years, especially among younger people who have no memory of the struggles against totalitarianism. Faith in democratic institutions has been declining for some time, as governments seem unable to cope with the complex new challenges of globalization, political processes appear increasingly sclerotic and dysfunctional, and the bureaucracies managing both national and global institutions seem remote and overbearing. Compounding the difficulties, terrorist violence has created a climate of fear that is used by despots and demagogues to justify authoritarian power and restrictions on freedoms.
Such problems have caused widespread anxiety, hostility to political elites and cynicism about democracy – feelings that have fueled the rise of anti-system political movements and parties. These sentiments, in turn, have been stoked and inflamed by authoritarian disinformation, which increasingly penetrates the media space of the democracies. The latest Freedom House survey shows that political rights and civil liberties have been on the decline for eleven consecutive years, and this year established democracies dominate the list of countries suffering setbacks in freedom.
Collectively, these factors – the geopolitical retreat of the West, the resurgence of authoritarian political forces, the erosion of belief in democratic values, and the loss of faith in the efficacy of democratic institutions – have brought a historic halt to democratic progress and threaten a possible “reverse wave” of democratic breakdowns. Democracy’s supporters must unite to halt the retreat and to organize a new coalition for its moral, intellectual, and political renewal.
The starting point of a new campaign for democracy is a reaffirmation of the fundamental principles that have inspired the expansion of modern democracy since its birth more than two centuries ago. These principles are rooted in a belief in the dignity of the human person and in the conviction that liberal democracy is the political system that can best safeguard this dignity and allow it to flourish. Among these principles are fundamental human rights including the basic freedoms of expression, association, and religion; political and social pluralism; the existence of a vibrant civil society that empowers citizens at the grass roots; the regular election of government officials through a truly free, fair, open, and competitive process; ample opportunities beyond elections for citizens to participate and voice their concerns; government transparency and accountability, secured both through strong checks and balances in the constitutional system and through civil society oversight; a vigorous rule of law, ensured by an independent judiciary; a market economy that is free of corruption and provides opportunity for all; and a democratic culture of tolerance, civility, and non-violence.
These principles are being challenged today not only by apologists for illiberalism and xenophobia, but also by relativist intellectuals who deny that any form of government can be defended as superior. Although democracy is often considered a Western idea, its most fervent defenders today are people in non-Western societies who continue to fight for democratic freedoms against daunting odds. Their struggles affirm the universality of the democratic idea, and their example can help bring about a new birth of democratic conviction in the world’s advanced democracies.
Despite its intrinsic value, democracy’s survival cannot be assured unless it can demonstrate its ability to help societies meet the challenges of a changing and unstable world. We acknowledge the deep anxiety and insecurity of large segments of democratic societies and believe that democracy will be strong only if no group is left behind.
While democracy embodies universal values, it exists in a particular national context, what Vaclav Havel called the “intellectual, spiritual, and cultural traditions that breathe substance into it and give it meaning.” Democratic citizenship, rooted in such traditions, needs to be strengthened, not allowed to atrophy in an era of globalization. National identity is too important to be left to the manipulation of despots and demagogic populists.
The defense of democratic values is not a luxury or a purely idealistic undertaking. It is a precondition for decent, inclusive societies; the framework for social and economic progress for people throughout the world; and the foundation for the preservation of international peace and security.
A new Coalition for Democratic Renewal will serve as a moral and intellectual catalyst for the revitalization of the democratic idea. The goal is to change the intellectual and cultural climate by waging a principled, informed, and impassioned battle of ideas; defending democracy against its critics; working to strengthen mediating institutions and civil associations; and fashioning persuasive arguments for liberal democracy that can shape the course of public discussion. It will also be necessary to go on the offensive against the authoritarian opponents of democracy by demonstrating solidarity with the brave people who are fighting for democratic freedoms, and by exposing the crimes of kleptocrats who rob and oppress their own people, falsify the political and historical record, and seek to divide and defame established democracies.
The Coalition will also be a broad and interactive forum for the exchange of ideas about the best ways to address complex new challenges facing democracy such as static or declining living standards for many citizens, the backlash against increased immigration, the rise of “post-truth politics” in an age of social media, and the erosion of support for liberal democracy. Such a global hub would also advocate and promote effective forms of action to revive faith in the efficacy of democratic institutions.
There is no excuse for silence or inaction. We dare not cling to the illusion of security at a time when democracy is imperiled. The present crisis provides an opportunity for committed democrats to mobilize, and we must seize it.
Mike Abramowitz, USA Sohrab Ahmari, USA Svetlana Alexievich, Belarus Tutu Alicante, Equatorial Guinea Mansoor Al-Jamri, Bahrain Maryam Al-Khawaja, Bahrain Hajar Al-Kuhtany, Iraq Manal Al-Sharif, Saudi Arabia Anne Applebaum, USA Timothy Garton Ash, United Kingdom Shlomo Avineri, Israel Leszek Balcerowicz, Poland Youssef Bassem, Egypt Paul Berman, USA Tom Bernstein, USA Ales Bialiatski, Belarus Sergio Bitar, Chile Igor Blaževič, Czech Republic Ladan Boroumand, Iran /France Darko Brkan, Bosnia and Herzegovina Martin Bútora, Slovakia Kim Campbell, Canada Juan Pablo Cardenal, Spain Scott Carpenter, USA Jean-Claude Casanova, France David Clark, UK Irwin Cotler, Canada Michael Danby, Australia Frederik Willem de Klerk, South Africa Rafael Marques de Morais, Angola Ronald Deibert, Canada Neelam Deo, India Larry Diamond, USA Nadia Diuk, USA Han Dongfang, China Brigitte Dufour, Belgium Andrej Dynko, Belarus Mustafa Dzemihlev, Ukraine Jørgen Ejbøl, Denmark Nidhi Eoseewong, Thailand João Carlos Espada, Portugal José Daniel Ferrer, Cuba Alejandro Foxley, Chile Francis Fukuyama, USA Cynthia Gabriel, Malaysia William Galston, USA Chito Gascon, Philippines Richard Gere, USA Carl Gershman, USA John Githongo, Kenya Ana Gomes, Portugal Leonid Gozman, Russia Paul Graham, South Africa Vartan Gregorian, USA Chen Guangcheng, China Borys Gudziak, Ukraine Ashok Gurung, Nepal Emmanuel Gyimah-Boadi, Ghana Chaibong Hahm, South Korea Barbara Haig, USA Amr Hamzawy, Egypt Husain Haqqani, Pakistan Miklos Haraszti, Hungary Robert Hardh, Sweden Bambang Harymurti, Indonesia Ivan Havel, Czech Republic Szuchien Hsu, Taiwan Carlos Fernando Chamorro, Nicaragua Cristiana Chamorro, Nicaragua Kinman Chan, Hong Kong Glanis Changachirere, Zimbabwe Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia Maiko Ichihara, Japan Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Estonia Ramin Jahanbegloo, Iran/Canada Chee Soon Juan, Singapore Nataša Kandić, Serbia Vladimir Kara-Murza, Russia Tawakkol Karman, Yeman Garry Kasparov, USA/Russia Mikhail Kasyanov, Russia Janos Kenedi, Hungary Zoltán Kész, Hungary Maina Kiai, Kenya James Kirchick, USA Jakub Klepal, Czech Republic Bernard Kouchner, France Ivan Krastev, Bulgaria
Enrique Krauze, Mexico Péter Krekó, Hungary Vytautas Landsbergis, Lithuania Walter Laqueur, USA Arthur Larok, Uganda Nathan Law, Hong Kong Sook-Jong Lee, South Korea Bernard-Henri Lévy, France Mario Vargas Llosa, Peru Bálint Magyar, Hungary Anar Mammadli, Azerbaijan Myroslav Marynovych, Ukraine Radwan Masmoudi, Tunisia Penda Mbow, Senegal Stjepan Mesić, Croatia Adam Michnik, Poland Ivan Mikloš, Slovakia Emin Milli, Azerbaijan Carlos Alberto Montaner, Cuba Davood Moradian, Afghanistan Manuel Cuesta Morúa, Cuba Yascha Mounk, USA Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, Romania Surendra Munshi, India Igor Munteanu, Moldova Joshua Muravchik, USA Ahmad Farouk Musa, Malaysia Dino Mustafić, Bosnia and Herzegovina Moisés Naím, Venezuela Ghia Nodia, Georgia Andrej Nosov, Serbia Wai Wai Nu, Burma Ayo Obe, Nigeria Ana Palacio, Spain Šimon Pánek, Czech Republic Zygis Pavilionis, Lithuania Rosa Maria Payá, Cuba Latinka Perović, Bosnia and Herzegovina Andrei Piontkovski, Russia/USA Marc Plattner, USA Jerzy Pomianowski, Poland Thitinan Pongsudhirak, Thailand Rodger Potocki, USA Arch Puddington, USA Vesna Pusić, Croatia Xiao Qiang, China/USA Sam Rainsy, Cambodia Aziz Royesh, Afghanistan Jacques Rupnik, France Walid Salem, Palestine Gabriel Salvia, Argentina Sima Samar, Afghanistan Maia Sandu, Moldova Elizardo Sanchez, Cuba Yoani Sánchez, Cuba Oscar Arias Sánchez, Costa Rica Lilia Shevtsova, Russia Karel Schwarzenberg, Czech Republic Slawomir Sierakowski, Poland James Smart, Kenya Timothy Snyder, USA Uffe Riis Sørensen, Denmark Ambiga Sreenevasan, Malaysia Daniel Stid, USA Tamara Sujú, Venezuela Borys Tarasiuk, Ukraine Vladimir Tismăneanu, USA/Romania J. S. Tissainayagam, Sri Lanka Jon Ungphakorn, Thailand Rostislav Valvoda, Czech Republic Franak Viacorka, Belarus Alexandr Vondra, Czech Republic Christopher Walker, USA George Weigel, USA Leon Wieseltier, USA Joshua Wong, Hong Kong Samuel Kofi Woods II, Liberia Jeta Xharra, Kosovo Jianli Yang, China/USA Richard Youngs, United Kingdom Leyla Yunus, Azerbaijan Yevgen Zakharov, Ukraine Svitlana Zalishchuk, Ukraine Yevgeniy Zhovtis, Kazakstan Philip Zimbardo, USA Min Zin, Burma Michael Žantovský, Czech Republic