The Lessons of Democracy Promotion in Europe
WASHINGTON, DC (December 10, 2012) - The Bertelsmann Foundation hosted on December 7 a briefing on democracy promotion for Congressional staffers. The event, entitled “Democracy Promotion: Applying Success Approaches from Central and Eastern Europe” and held on Capitol Hill, explored the successes and lessons learned from Central and Eastern European during their transitions to democracy, and the relevance of those experiences for post-Arab Spring emerging democracies. Panelists also discussed the future of the European Endowment for Democracy, an initiative launched during the Polish presidency of the EU Council. Bertelsmann Foundation Transatlantic Relations Director Tyson Barker moderated the discussion.
The briefing featured two political leaders who significantly influenced their countries’ democratic transitions: Polish Undersecretary of State Jerzy Pomianowski and Lithuanian Ambassador to the US Žygimantas Pavilionis. The panel also featured François Rivasseau, the deputy head of the Delegation of the EU to the US, who discussed the EU’s approach to encouraging democratic transitions. Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy, spoke about how this organization’s unique structure allows it to empower indigenous groups in more than 90 countries. Finally, Marek Svoboda, head of the Human Rights and Democracy Department of the Czech NGO People in Need (PIN), spoke about his organization’s struggle during the Czech Republic’s democratic transformation and how this experience inspired its democracy programs in countries such as Egypt and Libya.
The panelists concluded that there is no distinct transition model for emerging democracies but held that Central and Eastern Europe can provide lessons for today’s newborn democracies in the Middle East. Ambassador Pavilionis and Undersecretary Pomianowski went further, stating that their region has an obligation to share its experiences. They noted that any transition to democracy must embrace an entire society, well beyond just the political structure. Mr Gershman emphasized that transformations are struggles and that offering assistance to domestic activists leading a transition gives them an “alternative to violence”. Mr Svoboda discussed ways governments can support the work of NGOs through legislation and knowledge-sharing.
The panelists also tackled audience questions concerning a democratic transition in Syria and the framework of the European Endowment for Democracy.
The event was the last in a series of “EU Voices” briefings of the Congressional European Parliament Initiative (CEPI) for 2012. The CEPI is supported by a grant from the European Commission.