Regional Democracy Conference Welcomed
Freedom House welcomes the opening of the first-ever Regional Conference of the Community of Democracies for Central and Eastern Europe.
Organized by the Romanian Government and set to take place in Bucharest November 14-15, the conference will bring together political leaders from 21 post-Communist countries to discuss strategies for furthering the advance of democratic reforms in Central and Eastern Europe.
The conference builds upon the Community of Democracies (COD) process, begun in June 2000 when the foreign ministers of more than 100 democratically elected governments gathered in Warsaw, Poland, to enhance cooperation among democratic states in global and regional institutions and to coordinate efforts to deepen respect for human rights and democracy.
In July 2003, Freedom House helped establish a nongovernmental coalition that has urged the creation of a permanent Democracy Group at the United Nations (UNDG). Such a group would help promote the values of democracy and human rights within the UN system.
Participants in a parallel nongovernmental forum in Bucharest will formulate specific recommendations for improving NGO-government cooperation in the areas of democracy education and the fight against pervasive corruption.
"These unprecedented gatherings in Bucharest provide important proof of the dramatic transformation that has occurred in Europe since the collapse of Communism," said Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor. "While they acknowledge acceptance of the critical role that vibrant, free, and engaged civil societies play in the building of democracy, they still serve as reminders that much work remains to be done to consolidate the gains of the last decade," she said.
Freedom House calls on the governments represented in Bucharest to:
- Renew commitments to respect and uphold core democratic principles and practices made in 2000 at the first global COD meeting in Warsaw.
- Adopt a concrete plan of action, based on proposals from the NGO forum, for promoting deeper engagement from civil society in democratic processes.
- Develop a regional strategy for urging democratic change in Belarus, the only European country not represented in the COD process at the governmental level.
For more than a decade, Freedom House has supported and documented the momentous changes that have occurred in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Today, the inclusion of many of these states in Western democratic institutions, and the extension of invitations to others to join, not only acknowledges significant progress in the building of democratic infrastructures and market-oriented societies, but also recognizes the fact that citizens of the region enjoy fundamental rights and freedoms in practice.
Nevertheless, as Freedom House's latest Nations in Transit study of post-Communist transitions notes, important challenges remain. Even in the most advanced countries, including those slated for EU membership in 2004 and 2007, sustained efforts are needed to build societies in which individuals are actively engaged in the work of political parties and civic groups, to cultivate mature and independent media outlets, and to instill values that respect democracy and good government and shun corruption at all levels.
As programs like Freedom House's Regional Networking Project have revealed, much work remains to be done to transfer the lessons of transition, particularly to Southeastern Europe and the non-Baltic countries of the former Soviet Union, and to close lingering democracy gaps. Belarus, considered Europe's last dictatorship, poses one of the region's most significant tests.
"In Freedom House's experience, regional and cross-border exchanges at both the governmental and nongovernmental levels are some of the most effective mechanisms for promoting change through the sharing of best practices and lessons learned," said Ms. Windsor. "The governments and representatives of civil society attending the Bucharest conference should be applauded for their initiative in this regard. At the same time, political leaders should be pressed to produce concrete plans of action that further engage civil society and lead to lasting progress in the expansion of democracy in Europe."
For more information about the organization's regional and U.S.-based programs, visit their programs page.
For background papers on the countries represented at the regional COD meeting in Bucharest, visit Nations in Transit 2003.
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.