The Global Exchange 

On July 7 and 8, 2021, the World Movement held a two-day series of online conversations. Below are summaries of those sessions with links where you can watch them in their entirety.

Day One

The Role of Youth in Democratic Transition: Building a Democratic Future

The World Movement for Democracy’s Global Exchange opened with a panel of young democracy activists from different regions of the world, during which they discussed young people’s efforts for shaping a more democratic society during a critical transitional period. A consistent theme in the discussion, which was moderated by Risham Waseem of Maati TV (Pakistan), was how young people need to directly participate in decision making institutions, rather than having other people speak on their behalf.

Anna Bondarenko of the Ukraine Volunteer Service explained that in Ukraine, youth protests and their calls for democratic reforms were part of the spark that led to the 2014 EuroMaidan Revolution, otherwise known as the Revolution of Dignity. She noted a recent trend: “I see young people active on two levels: 1) the level of civic activism and grassroots initiatives, and 2) political organizing and engagement through the emergence of youth councils and youth working groups.”

Ruaa Bakri Mohamed Senada of the Waey Association (Sudan) discussed that youth were the backbone of the movement that led to the ousting of Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir in April 2019. Since the fall of that regime, young people have attempted to contribute to the transitional government and its negotiations. However, the lack of basic services has hindered them from participating in the formal political process.

Margarita Maira of Ahora Nos Toca Participar (Chile) noted that “what’s interesting about the uprising in Chile in 2019 is that the first people who took to the streets were high school students…They threw this tiny snowball and suddenly Chile had an avalanche.” Maira is currently working with stakeholders and young delegates to the constitutional convention to establish a role for youth in political institutions.

Watch the discussion below:

 

Innovative Project: Anna Dolidze, Eurasia Democratic Security Network

Anna Dolidze, former member of the High Council of Justice and former Deputy Minister of Defense in Georgia, insightfully discussed how to build a movement to advocate accountable and responsive governance. She explained that her movement, called “For the People,” started when she was serving on the High Council of Justice, which oversees the judiciary in the country and seeks to establish the independence of the judiciary in the country. Since they had been part of the previous authoritarian regime, some judges in office at the time were opposed to reform. In order to build enough momentum for reforms to overcome such resistance, she began a public campaign for judicial changes, which snowballed into the “For the People” movement, now a political party.

Dolidze recounted that she kept allies engaged in her movement by showing how their interests coincided. For instance, with NGOs she was able to draw on their expertise and in return give them much wider media coverage. “But,” she said, “the danger is that various stakeholders start to dilute your message by adding their own agendas. The key here was to control the objective of the movement” and to keep it focused on original principles.

She also pointed out that another important lesson is to “celebrate small victories. A long time will pass before we’re able to substantially change the composition of the courts and establish a new system. This protracted struggle isn’t easy, and it takes a lot of resources. And how can you refuel the campaign when it’s lasting so long? By celebrating small victories.”

Watch her presentation here:

 

10 Years After the Arab Spring: Tunisia’s Transition to Democracy

How has Tunisia’s democracy progressed since the 2011 Arab Spring? With two civil society leaders from Tunisia, this session examined the country’s democratic achievements and assessed the social and economic challenges facing Tunisia. In her opening remarks, the panel moderator, Bassma Kodmani of the Institute Montaigne (Syria) highlighted that Tunisia has become more democratic and that Tunisians have more freedoms guaranteed in its new constitution. However, she questioned how a stagnant economy and limited economic opportunities might threaten Tunisia’s democratic future.

Lobna Jeribi, founder of Solidar Tunisia, agreed that in order to safeguard the progress on civil rights and freedoms, the level of economic opportunity needs to be improved. In her remarks, Ines Jaibi of Tunisian Youth Leaders stated that political stability and fighting corruption are very important for economic development and that this is where civil society’s role comes in nurturing good governance. “Economic improvement is not the responsibility of just the government, but also civil society needs to play an important role. We too need to suggest solutions,” Jaibi said.

Watch the discussion below:

 

DemocracyTalk with Jose Ramos-Horta & Carl Gershman

Carl Gershman, then-president of the National Endowment for Democracy, joined the Chair of World Movement for Democracy Steering Committee, Jose Ramos-Horta, for a “Democracy Talk.” During their conversation, Ramos-Horta, former President of Timor-Leste, recounted his experience as an exiled democracy activist. He recalled that support from democratic governments around the world and international NGOs was crucial to the cause of Timor Leste’s independence in 1999 and his country’s efforts for building democratic governance after the independence.

Gershman and Ramos-Horta discussed the growing threat of democratic backsliding and the rise of authoritarian forces. Ramos-Horta pointed out that the best defense against the rise of authoritarian regimes is a democratic dividend to average citizens. Democracy must deliver the basic needs and wants of a society, and citizens need to see ways in which their daily lives improve. “If democratic regimes are not able to address the root causes of extreme poverty, of inequality, of corruption,…then demagogues emerge,” Ramos-Horta said. This conversation also highlighted the need for civil society groups to work together and with networks such as the World Movement for Democracy to bolster democratic norms and institutions.

Watch the discussion below:

 

Bringing Democratic Transitions Back on Track

2018 was a period of democratic transition for Armenia, Malaysia, and Ecuador, among others. This panel gathered experts from those three countries to discuss where these transitions are three years after. In the discussion, all panelists highlighted the difficulty in deconstructing the old regime’s legacies. Haykuhi Harutyunyan of the Corruption Prevention Commission in Armenia pointed out that when that country’s new government was formed it was strongly backed by civil society. However, supporters of the old regime stayed in the bureaucracy and resisted reforms, and clearly hope for a return of the previous authoritarian order. Mauricio Alacron of Fundacion Ciudadania y Desarrollo in Ecuador similarly discussed that nostalgia for the previous regime is never far away during a transition, and gave the example of how the authoritarian candidate won the first round of the vote in the country’s presidential election this year (although he lost the final round). One way Ecuador has moved reforms forward is that many civil society groups have a culture of basing their proposals on data & facts, not just opinions, and that this promotes trust among citizens. Ibrahim Suffian of Malaysia’s Merdeka Center argued that the return to power by the old ruling party, UMNO, in Malaysia is an example of how one can “never underestimate the influence and resources of powerful corrupt leaders.” The UMNO regime had been in power for more than six decades; thus, “their followers exist not just in the political space but they also have strong supporters in the state administration and other branches of government.”

In addition to dealing with the legacy of the past, democratic transitions in these three countries face similar challenges of the public’s expectation. The public sometimes develops unrealistic expectations that a change to a democratic form of government will instantly solve most of their problems. Suffian recounted that in Malaysia, the new leaders overpromised reforms, such as abolishing the sales tax., which they weren’t able to realize once they took power. Their inability to deliver on promises cost them some support among the public. Harutyunyan also noted that in Armenia the young democratic state is leaning towards quick fixes which it then oversells, instead of creating more substantial changes. That mistake is being compounded by the fact that “the government hasn’t worked to create a way for the public to be engaged in the reform agenda, so the public can’t see how reform is progressing.”

That need for the public to understand how progress is occurring was echoed by Alacron who pointed out that during transitions there could be “a lot of mistrust and ignorance, and this ignorance can cause divisions among citizens.” To achieve democratic reforms, Alacron emphasized the importance of raising awareness among citizens and allowing them to participate in processes of achieving changes.

Watch the discussion below:

 

Innovative Project: Moussa Kondo, Accountability Lab

Moussa Kondo of Accountability Lab in Mali explained his group’s innovative approach to strengthening accountable public institutions. Its flagship program, “Integrity Icon,” names and celebrates Mali’s exemplary public servants and provides an inventive way to break the cycle of bad governance. Much of Mali’s bad governance is the result of its recent history with military rule and deeply rooted corruption in public services. This has caused most citizens to distrust their government and its officials. However, many public servants who report for work every day do provide services to citizens in ways that uphold the ideals of honesty and community well-being. Such officials need to be recognized, encouraged, and celebrated. This “naming and faming” is the essence of the Integrity Icon.

The program aims to build resilience in governance structures through targeted trainings and citizen-led campaigns. Accountability Lab works with hundreds of volunteers across the country who visit schools, courts, hospitals, police stations and even prisons, to find excellent public servants who are motivated by the desire to serve their communities. These public servants then are featured in short films and presented at a gala event in front of the public and media. By highlighting the stories of these icons, the program helps to build trust among citizens and change the narrative about public service. Kondo noted, “being noticed and celebrated for doing the right thing is a powerful motivation!”

Kondo highlighted that the program has expanded to 13 countries with hundreds of thousands of people voting for their favorite icons to choose a “People’s Choice Award.” For this year’s campaign, Accountability Lab Mali holds “Meet the Icons” events to increase engagement with communities and mobilize public servants as the country gets closer to election time.

Watch the discussion below:

 

Protecting Democracy from Backsliding

Over the past 15 years, illiberal forces have gradually worked to polarize their societies and limit press freedom, freedom of religion, and minority rights while consolidating their political power. This incremental erosion of democracy has been witnessed even in countries that were once considered consolidated democracies. Larry Diamond of Stanford University (US) described this negative trend of democracy as “death by a thousand cuts.” As he opened this panel discussion, Diamond noted “we now live in a world, for the first time since the end of the cold war, where the majority of states with more than 1 million people are not democracies.”

The dismantling of an ecosystem of independent media is an easily recognizable sign of such backsliding in democracies. Zoltán Kész of the Civitas Institute (Hungary) described how Victor Orban’s government has been able to shut down large independent media companies. To counter the government’s efforts to control information space, he suggested to focus on using some new alternative forms of independent media, such low budget, self-printed newssheets. For example, average citizens are able to use “Print It Yourself” websites and make many copies to distribute widely. Since parts of the country have little access to the internet, this has become an important source of news.

Medeni Sungur of the Digimar Institute in Turkey explained that in his country the opponents of the authoritarian Erdogan regime have stopped positioning themselves in reaction to it. Instead, they now create media products talking about their own agenda from a more positive tone, which has helped them prevail in elections.

Maria Ressa, co-founder of the Filipino news site Rappler, stressed the point that these struggles of independent media are also not only the result of work by authoritarian governments, but by social media platforms themselves. She argued that Facebook, which is the world’s largest distributor of news, “is biased against facts. Social media companies are biased against journalists. By design, they are dividing citizens and radicalizing them.” Major social media companies need to “stop insidiously manipulating its users.”

Watch the discussion below:

 

Musical Performance: Cill

The Global Exchange was enlivened with a musical performance by Cill, a Nigerian musician and human rights activist who has been part of the World Movement’s “Music as a Messenger for Democracy” project since 2018. She and her band performed her song “All You’ve Got,” a piece about how everyone—all citizens as well as elected officials—have a part to play in building democratic governance.

Watch the discussion below:

 

Day Two

DemocracyTalk with Karen Bass & Nicholas Opiyo

In an era of democracy in decline, how should the international community support democracy movements around the world? In a “Democracy Talk,” Nicholas Opiyo, prominent human rights lawyer from Uganda and member of the World Movement’s Steering Committee, discussed this question with U.S. Congresswoman Karen Bass, chair of the US House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations. Rep. Bass explained how the U.S. Congress seeks to support democracy and human rights advocates aboard while building democracy at home. Mr. Opiyo himself is an activist whom Rep. Bass recently supported by releasing an official statement urging the Uganda Government to release him after his unlawful arrest in December 2021, and he underlined how impactful that statement was. Rep. Bass pointed out that letters and statements are just one tool in toolbox that the U.S. Congress can employ to defend civil society efforts around the world. Rep. Bass stated that she considers US foreign aid to be “not charity but about building capacity.” She also reiterated that strengthening civil society and strong democratic institutions is essential since they are the foundations for future economic growth.

Watch the discussion below:

 

Identifying Opportunities for Building International Solidarity

Member of the Canadian Parliament, Anita Vandenbeld, moderated a panel discussion exploring ways to build stronger international solidarity. Hakima El Haité, former Moroccan Minister of Environment, representing Liberal International, and Conny Reuter, secretary general of the Progressive Alliance, discussed the role that international networks of political parties and parliamentarians can play in demonstrating solidarity with democratic struggles around the globe. However, Jose Manuel Ormachea, member of Bolivia’s National Congress, noted that acts of solidarity from the U.N. and international organizations are sometimes limited in effectiveness without having allies within the region where the activist at risk works. He emphasized that, “It is crucial to have [a] network of regional and international allies to make your story visible.” The panel concluded that to keep up democratic momentum and to provide effective support democrats in peril, democrats all must be able to rely on allies to stand shoulder to shoulder when freedom and democracy is threatened.

Watch the discussion below:

 

Understanding and Designing 21st Century Solidarity

This panel explored ways to make solidarity effective, so that it helps democracy movements sustain themselves and make progress. Moderated by Glanis Changachirere, founder of the Institute for Young Women Development (Zimbabwe) and member of the World Movement’s Steering Committee, the panel recognized that in many countries, civil society organizations have been mobilizing successfully and finding great support from their fellow citizens. Antoine Bernard of Reporters Without Borders (France) noted that “the most striking thing is that in the past two or three years civil society mobilization and civic movements have developed sustained action in an unprecedented number of countries around the world.”

The panel explored unusual ways that solidarity play out amongst democracy movements. For example, multi-stakeholder coalitions, such as the International Forum on Information and Democracy, bring together governments, civil society, and tech companies to defend press freedom, independent journalism, and democratic information space. Daria Kaleniuk of the Anticorruption Action Centre (Ukraine) described how sharing success stories in fighting corruption, which is one of the purposes of the Zero Corruption conference which her group holds annually, is not only useful at creating effective action at the national level, but also helps to find allies in other countries who can work together to combat the flow of dark money and networks of corruption enablers, which themselves operate across borders. “Fighting corruption successfully in Ukraine means also impacting change in the West. … The world is very much interconnected.”

The panelists also discussed many cases of how traditional messages of cross-border solidarity can be very effective. Kaleniuk recounted how international messages of support were crucial in helping build the momentum of Ukraine’s EuroMaidan Revolution. Changachirere offered the case from this year of Zimbabwe’s government persecuting and brutalizing 3 female activists. As their case became publicly known these activists received tremendous support from across the African continent as well as the world. Hashtags, in this case #ZimbabweLivesMatter, can be extremely impactful at building large solidarity movements quickly.

The panel agreed that democracy activists need to look for allies and supporters everywhere. Bernard pointed out that there is a reason those searches are fruitful: “The values we are fighting for have broad support; otherwise, why would we see so many of our fellow citizens in so many parts of the world taking so many risks to fight for positive political change? That’s the fundamental point about building international solidarity: it is wanted, democracy is wanted!”

Watch the discussion below:

 

Introduction to the Democracy Courage Tribute Ceremony

The Democracy Courage Tribute Ceremony opened with remarks from Ketevan ChaChava (Georgia), as well as from Robert Miller and Jayne Kurtzman, representatives of the Hurford Foundation.

Watch the introduction below:

 

Democracy Courage Tribute Ceremony Musical Performance: Emel

Emel Mathlouthi, a Tunisian singer and performer, helped us celebrate the Democracy Courage Tribute ceremony by singing the song titled “Holm” which means “a dream” In Arabic. The song expresses how “even if our steps forward are followed by steps backwards, we can always dream of a better tomorrow,” Emel explained.

Watch her performance below:

 

Democracy Courage Tribute to Independent Journalists in the Middle East and North Africa

Much of the Middle East and North Africa region has become increasingly hostile to the idea of a free press, and Reporters Without Borders ranked the region at the bottom of all regions in the world in its 2021 World Press Freedom Index. The World Movement honored the courageous work of reporters who remained committed to the values of a free press despite persecution and great personal risk. In this Tribute, the World Movement looked at the problems facing reporters through three lenses: “Those who paid the ultimate price;” “Those who lost their freedom;” and “Those who continue to struggle.”

The Tribute saluted:

  • Hisham al Hashimi, who was a prominent advocate for democratic reform and freedom of speech in Iraq and appeared frequently in the media. He was assassinated in Baghdad in 2020.
  • Esraa Abdelfattah, who is an Egyptian female human rights defender and journalist at the al-Tahrir newspaper. The Egyptian government jailed her in October 2019 on spurious charges and tortured her in prison. She was released soon after the Tribute presentation on July 18, 2021.
  • The Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), which is a nonprofit civil society organization working to protect freedom of speech and reporting in Syria. Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime has shut down their offices many times in attempts to halt their reporting on the country.

The Tribute was accompanied by remarks from Farhad Alaadin of the Iraq Advisory Council and Sherif Mansour of the Committee to Protect Journalists (Egypt).

Watch the Tribute below:

 

Democracy Courage Tribute to Advocates for Democracy in East Turkistan, Hong Kong, and Tibet

The World Movement for Democracy presented a Democracy Courage Tribute to “Advocates for Democracy in East Turkistan, Hong Kong, and Tibet Working to Build Solidarity and Resilience” against China’s authoritarian measures. In East Turkistan and Tibet, China has openly moved to erase regional cultures and violated the civil rights of the indigenous ethnic groups on a massive scale. In the past years, it’s been reported that up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are in 380 “political education” camps in East Turkistan. Similarly, Tibet’s people have for generations faced government policies of imprisonment and use of force to limit freedom of religion, speech, or movement. Hong Kong, which had been a comparatively open society, increasingly experiences a searing restriction of civic freedoms with the National Security law of 2020.

In response to these severely restrictive policies of the Chinese Community Party (CCP), the large exile communities from these three places have increasingly worked together. They support each other’s efforts to report abuses, amplify democratic voices, and counter the ’CCP’s disinformation campaigns. The World Movement bestowed a Democracy Courage Award shared by groups from each of these communities who are inspiring examples of this work: Students for a Free Tibet, The Campaign for Uyghurs, and Hong Kong Watch.

In his remarks accepting the Tribute for his group, Dorjee Tseten, Executive Director of Students for a Free Tibet, said “We are building an unprecedented alliance of nations and people who are committed to struggle for freedom and democracy. Tibetans, Uyghurs, Hong Kongers, Taiwanese, Mongolians, Chinese democracy activists, and other activists around the world are coming together to take non-violent actions to resist” authoritarianism.

Watch the Tribute below:

 

Democracy Courage Tribute to Artists Fighting for Freedom of Expression in Cuba–The San Isidro Movement

The World Movement for Democracy gave a Democracy Courage Tribute to the Movimiento San Isidro (MSI) and Cuba’s artistic community as they struggle against heightened restrictions that the Cuban regime has imposed on free speech and artistic expression. In 2018 Cuba’s government passed Decree 349, which added new limits on the rights of artistic expression and speech. MSI, formed in reaction to that law, has since become an inspiring example of how “artivism” can be an effective tool against repressive regimes. It encourages artists and intellectuals, as well as Cubans from all walks of life, to stand up against the attempts by their government to silence their voices.

One of the founders and leaders of MSI, Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, who has been jailed over 70 times for his artivism and protest activities, spoke about the group’s commitment to free speech as he accepted the award on the MSI’s behalf. Alcantara declared, “We want there to be a space for everyone, for all people, for all points of view, for all Cubans.”

Watch the Tribute below:

 

Democracy Courage Tribute to Pro-democracy Journalists in Burma

With a Democracy Courage Tribute, the World Movement for Democracy expressed its solidarity with independent and pro-democracy journalists working in Burma. As Burma’s military junta has committed extensive violence against citizens who have peacefully protested its coup since February 1, 2021, the world has seen an outpouring of support for Burma’s protesters. Without news reports by independent media and pro-democracy citizen journalists, the military junta’s brutal response to peaceful protesters and non-violent resistance by civils society would have kept largely unknown. As Than Win Htut, member of the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), explained that since the day one of the coup, the military junta has used internet shutdown as a tool to block the information flow. The World Movement salutes the bravery of these journalists who have risked their lives in support of free speech and democracy.

Watch the Tribute below: