Integrating Democratic Values with Traditional Culture and National Identity

May 31, 2018

Authoritarian governments frequently claim that traditional and democratic values are incompatible in order to sow distrust between civil society and citizens. To counteract this fabricated conflict of values, civil society actors must develop counter narratives that demonstrate how democratic norms support, rather than contradict, a community’s traditional values and identities. Panelists observed that traditionalists are often left out of discussions among members of civil society—with their beliefs labeled as archaic and incongruent with democratic ideals. Members of civil society must bridge this gap by attempting to initiate this dialogue with, and break the stigma that has been created around, traditionalists.

In the case of Georgia, noted Ketevan Chachava, executive director of the Center for Development and Democracy, “only 4% of people in society said that they fully trust NGOs…but the Orthodox Church approval rating has been 80-85%.” With this clear discrepancy in mind, Chachava emphasized that working with religious leaders to build mutual understandings is instrumental if democrats want to spread their message to all of society. “When it comes to building strategic partnerships for democratic renewal, we need to become more open ourselves…Now we have seen religious leaders like bishops [and] the Vicar of Patriarch making these statements, promoting tolerance and promoting the freedom of choice, saying that [these values are] given to us by God and no one can take it away from us.”

In Jordan, Oraib Al-Rantawi, the director of Al Quds Center for Political Studies, had a similar experience. “We decided to launch a regional program under the title ‘Coalition for Civic and Democratic Islamic Discourse.’ We reached a conclusion that without the Islamic movement being adept in more democratic and civic values, democracy will not work…And now, in the Islamic movement, we have serious debates about civic and democratic values. We have four Islamist parties…willing to join forces with democrats, and they have more open-minded approaches and discourse. It just so happens that most of their leaders used to be frequent participants in our program.” By taking initiative to create a dialogue between leaders in civil society and religious leaders, panelists agreed, democrats will be able to expand their audience and bring other community stakeholders to the table.