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Dobriansky: Center for Democratic Transition

Remarks at Opening of International Center for Democratic Transition

Paula J. Dobriansky, Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs

Budapest, Hungary November 2, 2005

Ambassador Gyarmati, thank you for that introduction. It is a pleasure to be here with Sonya Licht, István Stumpf, and so many other people committed to the cause of freedom and democracy. I am delighted to join this discussion on democracy on the heels of the historic opening of the International Center for Democratic Transition -- a timely event, given the recent democratic achievements in Europe and elsewhere, and the need -- or rather the mandate -- to support this ongoing historic transformation. In fact, our gathering in this city brings to mind the famous words of Hungarian leader Lajos Kossuth, when he said, "All for the people and all by the people. Nothing about the people without the people. That is Democracy, and that is the ruling tendency of the spirit of our age." While we convene many years after he spoke those words, democracy is still the ruling tendency of our age. Indeed, never before has it been so clear that this is the calling of our time.

The events of the past years have given us great reason for hope, and yet reminded us of the serious challenges we face and the immensity of the task that lies ahead. Juxtaposed against surges of freedom in places like Ukraine and Georgia is a litany of terrorist attacks around the globe and the lingering existence of several outposts of tyranny. As was said by Reinhold Niebuhr, the American theologian who came to see the necessity of fighting tyranny, a "man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary." There can be no greater demonstration of the truth of this proposition than the events of our time.

We live in a period full of opportunity and yet, fraught with danger, where the only constant factor is change itself. This is an era, as Secretary of State Rice has noted, where "the very terrain of history shifts beneath our feet." We must have firm grounding as this terrain moves. And that grounding is the universality of democratic principles.

Certainly, the emergence of rapid and diverse change is not unprecedented. The 20th century saw several such dramatic phases, including the two world wars, the rise and fall of fascism, the communist oppression of half of Europe and several parts of Asia, the Cold War, and the ultimate overthrow of communism, among other dramatic global developments. Each generation that faced these periods rose to the challenge in their own way. It required the courageous to stand up for the ideals that were put into question by those opposed to human freedom.

Today, as we find ourselves in another such era, there is a wave of understanding that is crashing around the globe. There is a recognition that democracy is a universal desire and that there is a universal drive for freedom and government acting only with the consent of the governed.

For those of us born on the right side of freedom's divide, as Secretary Rice has so aptly described it, this is truly the calling of our time. This is not an optional mission: it is essential. We no longer can allow the argument to be made that some are not ready or interested in democracy. When we see others willing to stand up for their rights, we recognize that this is not a drive that is unique or confined to one ethnic group, one race, one religion, or one geographic region. While the faces and the manifestations of this democratic longing may differ, the desire and the vision are the same.

We face a clear choice: accept the status quo and condemn others to live without freedom and under the thumb of tyrants, or stand boldly against those who challenge the very ideals for which we have fought in the past.

The stakes in the struggle for freedom and democracy are well known to the people of Hungary and throughout Europe. We pay tribute today to those who risked everything for freedom. It was this time of year some forty-nine years ago that patriotic Hungarians took to the streets to end their subjugation. The people demanded what many of us now take for granted -- the right to own their land, to organize freely, to have freedom of thought and speech, and to be able to choose their government, religion and national symbols. They wanted to live in freedom. They did this despite fear of retaliation. And when that brutal retaliation came, they suffered for all who love freedom.

The dawn of full freedom in Hungary would not come for another three decades. When it did, those fighting at home reached out to help those fighting abroad. As Hungary grappled with its own democratic rebirth, it opened its borders to refugees from East Germany, thus hastening the fall of the Iron Curtain. Hungarians certainly demonstrated that free people should reach out and help others striving for freedom.

What had changed from 1956 to 1989 was that decades of sustained indigenous pressure, that was matched by support from abroad, had shifted the locus of power from a small cadre of individuals to the Hungarian people themselves. The power of the average citizen to claim his or her right to have a say over his or her own life was finally obtained.

And let us not overlook the transformation that has taken place in Hungary since 1989 -- the key years in solidifying representative government. In 1989, President George H. W. Bush visited Budapest and committed the U.S. to support reform within Hungary. Just 16 years later -- a veritable blink of an eye -- we have greatly expanded our relationship and are now partnering with Hungary and its neighbors to share and use their experiences as examples of successful democratic evolutions, whose skills and approaches many desire to know more about and apply to their efforts in spreading democracy.

Hungary's experience is unique but not unfamiliar to many countries in this region. In fact, you will be marking in 2006 the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian uprising and your pivotal role in the democratic transformation of the region. We know that Europe has given the world examples of democratic struggles and successes -- from Prague Spring, to the rise of Solidarity, the Velvet Revolution, to the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the Rose Revolution in Georgia.

The mixture of indigenous drive, regional organizations and leadership, and external pressures translated into a victory for democracy throughout this region. The combination of key leaders and their protégés -- people like Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa and Bronislaw Geremek -- as well as regional organizations such as the Helsinki Committee, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the European Union and the Council of Europe had all done their part to chip away at dictatorships.

The combination of these factors cannot be underestimated. We must not forget the lessons that worked years ago. Those who still struggle for freedom today need no less support than this region sought over the last 60 years. We must match our assistance through regional initiatives and external pressure.

The countries of Eastern Europe stand today as a model for other countries that are seeking to consolidate themselves as democracies or bring about democratic change. The dramatic images of the Berlin Wall coming down, of people moving freely across borders, and the pent-up energy of a creative and talented people being unleashed is rooted in the memories of all.

Let there be no mistake -- the situation in other parts of the world is in no way a replica of what this region faced and achieved in the mid to late 20th century. But what is the same is the longing for freedom, the grassroots energy and desire, and -- in many cases -- individual experiences and challenges. While whole cases are not transferable from this region to other parts of the world, many specific Central and Eastern European lessons learned, strategies and methods, successes -- and failures -- and best practices are tremendously applicable for those striving for democracy today.

For example, the Government of Lithuania invited a group of Iraqi election officials and others involved in Iraq's election process to Vilnius to observe their elections. Two decades ago, no one could have imagined that Lithuania would be sharing such information, much less that Iraqis would be allowed to travel or for whom such knowledge would be useful. Yet, it was a tremendously successful endeavor, thanks to the creativity and commitment of the Lithuanian government to identify how it could share its experiences with a country in transition. Slovakia, which went through its own peaceful transition in 1998 and is now sending its NGOs to share their experience with democratic organizations and leaders not only throughout the former Soviet bloc but also to Cuba, Africa, and the Middle East. Central and Eastern Europe has much to offer with the rest of the world.

We must continue to build on not only this region's experience, but also the work that has been done through the trans-Atlantic partnership, which can become an even greater force in democracy promotion. Our countries have been through a great deal together, and we have much to offer to those who still struggle for freedom. Sixty years ago, there were few democracies outside of Europe and North America. Since then, we have fought to enable those who seek representative government and individual rights, and their progress is historic.

During the Cold War, we created institutions like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to advance freedom. While adapting their role to current conditions, we should also create new tools that are tailored specifically to advancing freedom and democracy in today's world. This is where the Center comes in. It is a unique venue, which we should use to fill those areas of greatest need in our existing democracy-support capabilities.

The Center will tap into the extraordinary experiences and talents of leaders from every continent. It has the potential to go above and beyond Central Europe's experience and the transatlantic framework. It can draw from lessons learned in all corners of the globe, a task all the more important because different democracies have different skills and assets, which they can bring to the table. For example, some countries have resources to monitor elections, others to train police, and others to provide legal expertise or develop independent media. The Center can capitalize on this by functioning as a coordinating mechanism -- by helping each democracy do what it does best in assisting democratic transitions around the globe. What this Center has the potential to do is to build cross-cultural ties between countries that have traversed the difficult path of democracy with those that are taking their first steps. The Center can be a forum for debate and discussion on best practices and where experiences can be relevant. It can be a training hub for practitioners who are eager to strengthen their democratic skills. And, it can be the vehicle to reach out to those in Europe and beyond to identify and share best practices.

As Secretary Rice said this September, we must be "serious about the universal appeal of certain basic rights." She recounted that the mission of statecraft is to "transform our institutions and partnerships to realize the new purposes on the basis of enduring values." If you look around the world, that is what we are doing. The democracies of the world are answering this call. The United Nations has a new commitment to democracy, evident in the creation of a UN Democracy Fund. The United Nations Development Fund has also addressed the needs of emerging democracies. The Community of Democracies, a coalition of over one hundred governments, grows ever stronger. This Center too will play its role in supporting the march of freedom. May it be a beacon to all who want justice and to all who crave liberty.

Lajos Kossuth, whose words ring timeless in giving us a mission for the 21st century, said "So far as one civilization prevails, the destiny of mankind is linked to a common source of principles, and within the boundaries of a common civilization a community of destiny exists. Hence the warm interest which the condition of distant nations awakes now-a-days in a manner not yet recorded in history, because humanity never was yet aware of that common tie as it is now. With this consciousness thus developed, two opposite principles cannot rule within the same boundaries -- Democracy and Despotism." Let us be united in our support for the Center and its work to contribute to this destiny of mankind.

For more information, please contact Christian Whiton (202-647-1038)

Released on November 8, 2005


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