Lessons from 1989: Reinvigorating Democracy in Europe | Freedom House

Lessons from 1989: Reinvigorating Democracy in Europe

Mark Palmer Forum
for the Advancement of Democracy Annual Conference

Thursday, October 17, 2019 - 9:00am

Lessons from 1989: Reinvigorating Democracy in Europe

Thursday, October 17, 2019
9:00 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Registration and a light breakfast will begin at 8:30 a.m.

Freedom House
1850 M Street NW
Suite 1100
Washington, D.C. 20036

November 9, 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. This event, combined with the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, cleared the way for the formation or restoration of liberal democratic institutions not only in Eastern Europe, but around the world.

But, this surge of progress has begun to roll back. Many countries have struggled to accommodate the political swings and contentious debates intrinsic to democracy and antidemocratic leadership is on the rise. This conference will seek to examine the biggest challenges facing democracy in Central and Eastern European states today, how lessons from 1989-1991 can be applied to present circumstances, and how the United States and other democracies can work to reinvigorate democracy in the region.

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Event Program

Opening Conversation — Why the Future of Democracy in Europe is Critical for the Future of Democracy Globally

  • Timothy Garton Ash, author, historian, Professor of European Studies in the University of Oxford, Isaiah Berlin Professorial Fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford, and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University
  • Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House


Panel 1 — Democracy in Europe: Present Day Challenges

In Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans, antidemocratic leaders are undermining democracy by weakening democratic institutions, restricting freedom of expression and attacking the media, and in some cases even consolidating power beyond constitutional limits. Antiliberalism and extremism are on the rise, attacks on the media are intensifying, and efforts to undermine key institutions that protect freedom and the rule of law are growing. This panel will seek to identify the largest and most pressing internal and external challenges facing democracy in Central and Eastern Europe today, including challenges for civil society, local governments, and the international community.

  • James Kirchick, author, columnist, and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution
  • Malgorzata Szuleka, lawyer and advocacy officer at the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights in Poland
  • Vessela Tcherneva, deputy director of the European Council on Foreign Relations
  • Edit Zgut, Political analyst and lecturer at University of Warsaw


Panel 2 — Reinvigorating Democracy in Europe: Recommendations for a Comprehensive US Strategy

This panel will look at the threats identified in panel one and provide specific recommendations for US policy toward Central and Eastern Europe. Under various administrations, the US has worked closely with the new democracies of Eastern and Central Europe. How should our policy be changing in light of democratic backsliding in the region? What should an official US strategy toward Central and Eastern Europe include and how should the United States respond when dictatorships or quasi-dictatorships arise? What is the role of US democracy assistance in the competition with authoritarian powers in Europe? What role does civil society play in pushing back against authoritarianism?

  • Anne Applebaum, Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post, journalist and professor of practice at the London School of Economics
  • Susan Corke, senior fellow and director of the Transatlantic Working Group on Democracy at the German Marshall Fund of the United States
  • Alex T. Johnson, chief of staff at the U.S. Helsinki Commission
  • Nate Schenkkan, director for special research at Freedom House

Tweet with us at #democracyforum

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