Warsaw Dialogue for Democracy Hosts Democracy Education Panel with CD Secretary-General Maria Leissner and CCD Consultant Steven Wagenseil
December 18, 2012
By: Steven Wagenseil | Printer Friendly
On December 14 and 15, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland and the Polish Institute of National Remembrance organized an international conference entitled the “Warsaw Dialogue for Democracy.” Participants and attendees came from Europe (West, Central and Eastern), the Middle East and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, North and South America. The Community of Democracies was represented by Secretary General Maria Leissner, ISC Chairman Paul Graham, and CCD Adviser Steven Wagenseil. The Conference was held at the 18th Century Natolin Estate outside Warsaw, a former aristocratic residence which now serves as the Natolin Centre of the College of Europe.
In the words of the Conference organizers,
“Polish activities in the field of promotion of democratic values require the establishment of a permanent forum for the exchange of good practices and expertise in the evolution of democratic systems, as well as developments in that field taking place in different parts of the world, with emphasis on the European neighborhood. It is our ambition to make the Warsaw Dialogue for Democracy event act as such a forum.
The conference… will focus on regular monitoring of the international environment to pursue democracy, as well as on creating recommendations mainly for international organizations involved in supporting democratic transformations…. The forthcoming conference will concentrate on the difficult matter of democratization and systemic transformation.”
The conference was organized into four panels of experts; each session was opened with a testimonial presentation by a key Polish activist or intellectual, who explained the relevance of the Polish experience and example on each subject. Written input on each topic, received before the conference from Chile or Argentina or Morocco or Tunisia, was posted along with the agenda on the conference website at www.warsawdialogue.pl.
Panelists for the first session, “From Revolution to Transformation: Dreams and Reality,” came from the Heinrich Böll Foundation of Germany, the Jagiellonian University in Kraków; the Moroccan Institute of International Relations, and the Directorate for Democracy of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.
The second session, on the theme of “Transitional Justice” (which all agreed has many definitions), featured experts from the National Human Rights Institute of Chile; the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg; and the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law in Freiburg, Germany. It was chaired by a Professor from the Centre for Post-Communist Studies at St. Francis Xavier University in Canada.
Panel III, on “New Meanings of Civil Society,” was chaired by the Warsaw-based representative of the (U.S.) National Endowment for Democracy, and featured panelists from the Federal Foundation for the Reappraisal of the SED-Dictatorship in Germany; the Belarusian School Association; and the “Network of Associations for Civism and Development – TACID” in Tunisia.
The final panel of the conference, “Changing People’s Minds for Democracy,” was chaired by Amb. Maria Leissner, Secretary General of the Community of Democracies, and included panelists from the School of Democratic Leadership in Montenegro; the Moscow School of Political Studies in Russia; the Institute of National Remembrance in Poland, and the Council for a Community of Democracies, based in Washington. (His presentation on Education for Democracy can be found here.)
Each panel’s presentation was followed by a lively Question-and-Answer session, with numerous interventions focused on the countries of the Arab Spring (Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan) while others considered challenges faced and strategies adopted in sub-Saharan Africa (Nigeria, Senegal). There was considerable discussion of the newly-established European Endowment for Democracy -- first suggested by the Polish Government when it chaired the European Union last year – and how it will function as a separate and flexible instrument helping implement the EU’s democratization policy in Eastern Europe and North Africa.
At the concluding plenary session, the Polish Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs pronounced himself well pleased with the caliber of the discussions and repeated Poland’s intention to make this meeting an annual event.
Many participants found the agenda challenging, with too many interesting things to say and hear, and too little time for each participant to offer her opinion or tell his story. Still, it was an excellent occasion for some thematic cross-pollination: how many civil society activists have listened to academics discuss the advantages and disadvantages of transitional justice? How often have educators considered their role in revolution and transformation, especially when faced with recent, concrete examples? An in-depth analysis of these topics would have required a much longer conference, but the Polish authorities are to be complimented for this new initiative.
It also proved an excellent opportunity to tell the story of CCD’s decade-long efforts -- within the Community of Democracies framework -- to promote Education for Democracy, to inform attendees of the recent adoption of the first ever UN General Assembly Resolution on the subject, and to encourage them to launch their own national Action Plans upon their return home. It is to be hoped that when the next such meeting convenes in Warsaw, there will some participants with news to tell of those projects.
Read Mr. Wagenseil's remarks, posted on CCD's Democracy Dialogue.