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Forum History

 

The Forum was established by the Third Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe  (Warsaw, May 2005), to strengthen democracy, political freedoms and citizens' participation.

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Forum previous sessions

Forum_Democracy2011

(Limassol, Cyprus, October)

Interdependence of democracy and social cohesion.

New: Proceedings

"Radical measures taken in many countries to try to balance public budgets are both necessary and understandable” but  “Countries are running a high risk of seriously undermining the European model of social cohesion.”  declared Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland while opening the Cyprus Forum.

2010

(Yerevan, October)

Perspectives 2020 Democracy in Europe - Principles and Challenges

Proceedings

 

''The Council of Europe has a unique strategic role to play in strengthening good democratic governance at all levels in the European space''. Democracy, or rather good democratic governance, is now not only intrinsically linked to the respect of human rights but is also recognised as the most effective form of governance to ensure stability, sustainability and well-being.

 That was the main message of the 2010 Forum.

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2009

(Kyiv, October)

Electoral systems: strengthening democracy in the 21st century

(Proceedings)

 "In a genuine democracy, the citizen is sovereign and the voter decides" - that was the main message of the 2009 Forum, which highlighted the need for greater public involvement, with a view to increasing voter turnout and ensuring that all stages of public life are democratic..

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2008

(Madrid, October)

"E-democracy: who dares?"

 

The discussions addressed the impact of information and communication technologies (ICTs) on democracy.

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2007

(Stockholm, June)

"Power and empowerment - The interdependence of democracy and human rights"

 

This event addressed issues such as the role and responsibilities of the opposition, representative democracy at the local and regional level, empowerment of the individual and non-discrimination, respect for freedom of expression and association for civil society, and fostering democracy, human rights and social networks.

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2006

(Moscow, October)

"The role of political parties in the building of democracy"

 

The Forum reflected on  the role and responsibilities of political parties in finding democratic solutions to contemporary challenges, the interaction between political parties and with other actors in the democratic process, and the building and strengthening of democratic institutions.

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Launch meeting (Warsaw, November 2005)

"Citizens' participation"

 

 

The discussions addressed the state of contemporary democracy in Europe.

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Previous projects

("Making

Democratic institutions work")

 

Forum for the Future of Democracy 2010
Keynote speech

Adam MICHNIK,
Editor in Chief, Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland

“Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a great honour for me to be able to stand here before you and share my thoughts on the principles and challenges of democracy in contemporary Europe. Having heard the Serbian Minister speak from the Serbian point of view, I will now give you the Polish slant on the question. I will tell you that the transformation from a communist dictatorship to a democracy is, as Vladimir Ilich Lenin put it, not a stroll down the Nevskiy prospekt, but a very complex process.

If we look at all the post-communist countries, we can see both the specific and general workings involved. I would say that my point of view is a personal one - our Chair has already said quite a lot about me - the viewpoint of a member of the democratic opposition in a communist country, an individual working with his friends and colleagues. I was never the leader of Solidarność; the leader of Solidarność was our dear Lech Wałęsa, but I was very close to him in the difficult times of the dictatorship. And we endured prison, life in the underground, and we thought that democracy was a panacea. Then, after the dictatorship, we saw that there was no such thing as paradise and that the problems were starting over again.

In Poland we have a great deal of sympathy for Armenia. We fully understand the very complicated and tragic road travelled by this country to freedom, just as we understand the history of Armenia too, the history of a genocide. And during the perestroika period, we remember how Armenian society supported the democratic process in the Soviet Union.

Those of us in the democratic movement in Poland had a philosophy. Firstly, it had to be a non-violent struggle; that was the most important thing. We had closely studied all past revolutions and we fully realised that violence breeds violence. We had to look for another path and that was the path of compromise. I would say it was a kind of Spanish way to freedom: from dictatorship through round-table compromise to democracy. Our route to democracy was very complicated but it also went via the compromise of a round table. We realised that already in the context of democracy, we were staring into pitfalls.

Firstly, the philosophy of the democratic opposition in Poland was solidarity. The philosophy of democratic Poland is the market economy, privatisation and competition. The path from solidarity to competition is a very complicated one.

The force that drove Poland towards democracy was the working class of the great factories and production plants: shipyards, mines and so on. In those archaic shipyards and factories, through their struggle, their protests and their strikes, it was the workers united by solidarity who won us our freedom. But in those industrial enterprises the workers were the first victims of the market economy, because the factories were so archaic.

Let us take the example of a factory which produced busts of Lenin. That was a real market in the soviet era; every director, every communist party secretary had to buy a bust of Lenin. Then came the end of communism and there was no longer a market for busts of Lenin. The workers were very skilled, as they always had been. So what happened? Since the market had simply disappeared, it was a question of either refurbishing the factory or otherwise going bankrupt.

And in Poland that was what happened to the very symbol of our movement - the Gdansk shipyard. The shipyard workers thought that they were not in any danger. The President of the Republic was Lech Wałęsa, the shipyard's leading figure. But the logic of the market economy was such that the Gdansk shipyard - the symbol of Poland's victory over dictatorship - has now all but disappeared.

Another pitfall is the role of the State. In communist times, the State bossed the country and was responsible for it. The logic of democracy means that the citizen is responsible for deciding everything. For many people that came as a shock because they had been conditioned by the logic of dictatorship. How can you adapt to the logic of normal life, if the State - like your own personal legal counsel or maybe the director of a prison, your prison - is responsible for deciding where you live or what you eat? In a parliamentary democracy and a market economy, you yourself, as a citizen, are responsible for your own life. There was a debate on this point, and it is still ongoing: how much State, how much market? In Poland we have not come to the end of that road. What type of State do we want? Should we adopt the philosophy of the ethnic State or the citizens' State?

Regarding the problem of borders, as you know, there are no rightful borders in Europe. All the borders are the result of the Second World War, of Yalta, of Stalin's pacts, firstly with Hitler and then with our emissaries, with Roosevelt and so on. If there are no rightful borders, one of two things can be done: either change the borders or open them.

We all remember what happened in Europe after the fall of communism: what happened in the Caucasus and in Sumgait; we remember Yugoslavia and the Balkans; we remember Transylvania and the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. In all the member countries of Europe, we feared that we too would suffer balkanisation in the worst sense of the term. In fact, I believe that our greatest success, as continental Europeans, was that we did not think like Milosevic in Serbia, for example, but turned our thoughts to how to join forces and forge dialogue between us. I think that, for the first time in the history of my country, we had virtually no conflicts with our neighbours. If we look back at history, the history of Poland is a story of conflict with practically all our neighbours: with the Lithuanians, the Ukrainians, the Russians, the Germans, the Czechs. Today I think that those conflicts are virtually over.

There is also the question of ethnic minorities. In Poland, the problem was never-ending, like an open wound. Now that war is more or less over. Problems have remained of course, because since communism and communist ideology came to an end all our countries have been looking for a new identity.

I believe that authoritarian ethnic nationalism is the ultimate stage of communism. We saw that in Serbia, and elsewhere. The unanswered question in all our countries is what will our new identity be? What do we see in Poland for example? There is currently fierce debate over the place of the Catholic church and religion in the life of the country, because there is such a mindset of post-communist authoritarianism in society. Now that all the Marxist-Leninist dogma has gone, people are looking for new dogmas. This ideologisation and politicisation of religion is happening in my country but I think that it is happening in Russia too. There is already debate on this point in Russia, and that debate will continue.

I think that we have actually made another choice. After the fall of communism, there was what was called the "philosophy of the third way": not the east, not the west but the construction of a European Union. Today that is even a guarantee for civil rights in our country. But there are a lot of people saying: "What are you doing? This is the end of our country's independence. Many generations have fought for the country's independence, and what are you doing with it? After Moscow, now it is Brussels. What an insult!" Yes, in a manner of speaking, this is the end of the traditional idea of independence.

Why am I in favour of this? Look at Russia to see what has happened there. The country has gone from perestroika and the problems it had before, to the idea of sovereign democracy. What is sovereign democracy in Russia? What does it mean? It means that we, the government, have the sovereign power to put all our opponents in prison and there is no EU to stop us.

In that sense, the idea of sovereign democracy is an anti-European idea that is contrary to all European values. Thus, whoever would prefer to live not in a sovereign democracy but in a normal one, where our civil rights are guaranteed - not only by the goodwill of our government and our president - must also be in favour of the European Union.

When I was last in Moscow people asked me: "Do you have democracy in Poland?" I told them that we did. "Why?" they asked. "Because", I said, "when we have presidential elections we do not know until the last minute who will become president". I also told them that they could surely think of a country where everyone knew who would become president one month before the elections, pointing out that I was of course talking about Uzbekistan. This is Russia's problem, and it is a challenge for democracy. Russia, in my view, is not a democratic country because there is virtually no democratic alternative in Russia. Of course this is not the old bloodthirsty, criminal Stalinist regime we are talking about. Russian authoritarianism is now very liberal and today Russia is at a crossroads. When we observe the situation from Warsaw, we see not only the pitfalls and dangers but also an optimistic scenario for the future.

I would like to touch on two more aspects, regarding the problem of young democracies. It is clear that this is a problem of deciding on a course of action, if we look at all the problems we have had during our history, in our past. We have seen this in different countries: problems that existed before communisation and problems in internal and external policy. There is no single recipe catering for everything.

Personally, I think that the greatest triumph of the European Union was when, after the Second World War, the French and Germans said with one voice: "Yes, we were both mortal enemies, but now we have to pull together". That was a European revolution, the most successful revolution in Europe because it was a positive one – not against someone but for something. I believe that we all have such an opportunity: we have very good relations with Germany, we will have very good relations with Russia, and we have seen some very interesting and important moves coming from the Russian side, for example in connection with the Katyn Wood massacre. In that respect, I think that there are grounds for expecting positive developments but, of course, there are terrible historical issues, such as the one between Armenia and Turkey. Nevertheless, the decision of the Armenian President, despite all the problems, to seek dialogue and accord with Turkey is a very good, positive move.

So where does the problem lie? It lies in a weak civil society. There are two forces wielding real power: the new oligarchs and the old and new intelligence agencies. Here I believe that we will see a great many more problems yet. If we look at Russia and Ukraine, this is a very complex and dangerous issue for democratic construction. Then again, corruption is not only a problem in the new countries of Europe.

If we look at what goes on in western Europe, I think we can see the same kind of choice between the sovereign democracy of Putin and the - thankfully not yet fully fledged - sovereign democracy of Berlusconi. Berlusconi and Putin are two symbols of what is dangerous for democratic construction in Europe. With Putin, the road has gone from the intelligence agencies via state power to money and then on to the media. Where Italy is concerned, the path has gone in the opposite direction, from money via the media to state power.

Not long ago, in the Russian city of Yaroslavl, it was the first time I had ever heard such an open and frank report by Prime Minister Berlusconi, who more or less said: "On the subject of democracy, well of course there is democracy in Russia. I know very well because that is what my friend Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin told me. So, of course, there is democracy! We have democracy in Italy too, but it is not yet fully fledged. We still have problems, namely the judges and the courts. That is where the problem is!"

I would say that if we hear calls for modernisation all the time, the need is clear to everyone. We need modernisation, both in Russia and in Europe. But what do we mean by "modernisation"? Ultimately, my Russian friends do not know what it means. Is it possible to have modernisation without democracy, without human rights? This is where the problem lies.

For my final point, I will leave Europe and head for China. This is the big question: could the Chinese project work? Economic growth and a good life without freedom or democracy? I was delighted when the Norwegian Parliament awarded the Nobel prize to Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese philosopher and writer who stands up for freedom of thought and civil rights. I have been to China and was fortunate enough to meet Liu. I believe that China too is on the way to democracy, despite its communist leaders. I salute the Norwegian Parliament, even though Norway is not yet a member of the European Union.

Thank you for your attention.”