Monday, October 15, 2012

Opening of the Seventh Assembly of World Movement for Demoracy in Lima

This is the second post about my participation at the Lima Assembly of the WMD. Check out the first post in the series.

The first day of the Seventh Assembly of the World Movement for Democracy provided much food for thought. It was quite busy, which proved a bit taxing when confronted with my overly optimistic attitude towards effects of jet lag. The highlight of the day was the opening session featuring several renowned speakers from various world regions relating their own experiences and positions on state of democracy, in a way opening the issues to be discussed in the next three days. This post will provide brief introductions with links, in expectation that the text/videos of the speeches will be made available, as they all were well worth the time to (re-) read or watch/listen. Find out more real-time coverage via Twitter at #LimaAssembly.

The session was chaired by former Canadian PM Kim Campbell, Chair of World Movement Steering Committee, who thanked Peruvian co-hosts from the Legal Defense Institute and Transparencia. Her speech was focused on the simple argument of goodness of democracy, and inclusion as its essential, non negotiable element. In retrospect, after listening of the experiences by other speakers, getting to basics seems justifiable world over, even though it should be obvious in the 21th century, many decades after Churchill famously remarked that "...democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."

Kim Campbell opening the Seventh Assembly of World Movement for Democracy.

The first participant to speak was Yemeni journalist activist Tawakkol Karman (@TawakkolKarman) who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her "non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work." She emphasized the importance non-violent, "peaceful" resistance to dictators everywhere. It needs to be active, through protest and demonstration towards any form of injustice. In that vein, she expressed support for the people fighting the dictatorial regimes of Syria and Bahrain.

Kazakhstan human rights activist Yevgeniy Zhovtis, who was imprisoned by his country's regime and later released thanks to international pressure, first used the opportunity to issue a public call for support of jailed dissident Vladimir Kozlov.  He also spoke about the danger of mock democracies which declare lip-service allegiance to the international framework of democracy and human rights, while enacting regressive legislation and implementing authoritarian and totalitarian practices within the countries they rule. Authoritarian regimes need to be held accountable or we should recognize that international treaties are simply optional. He reminded that democracy is a process, not a destination. At its core is devotion to the truth, the capacity to say black is black and white is white.

Glanis Changachirere spoke about her experience as a grassroots fighter for gender rights in Zimbabwe. She had personal courage to stand up to oppressive traditions, exclusion within the education system and intimidation through imprisonment as a "rebellious girl-child," growing into a founder of youth-based human rights movement. This was quite refreshing, as it reminded by example that the future of democracy might be envisioned by experienced activists and statesmen/women, but would be unattainable without young people who are brave enough to break the chains of conformism and peer pressure.  

In his elaborate speech, Peruvian Foreign Minister Rafael Roncagliolo, also in a way addressed the gerontocratic "argument" that the level of democratization of a country is somehow related to the "age" of its democratic tradition. He pointed that South American countries were among the first in the world to establish democratic systems with their independence, and with their 200-years tradition have longer "track record" than many others, including bulk of European states which achieved that during the XX century. These democracies proved fragile and imperfect, but that is the nature of this historical, evolutionary process. On the other hand, backsliding into non-democratic practices is a danger that looms everywhere.  He also emphasized the essential strength of inclusive democracies as the single civilized form for ensuring social cohesion.
The event ended with a concert by a children orchestra from the Sinfonia por el Perú, part of a movement of musicians and youth workers who utilize music education and performance to instill valuable life skills among poor and "at risk" youth. Their efforts received a standing ovation by the hundreds of participants. 

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