The need for a more democratic United Nations was highlighted at the 2020 Athens Democracy Forum which was held from 30 September to 2 October in the Greek capital. The annual event was organized by the Democracy & Culture Foundation in association with The New York Times and under the Patronage of Katerina Sakellaropoulou, President of the Hellenic Republic.
The forum convened sixty governmental leaders, business actors, intellectuals, representatives from civil society and the non-profit sector to discuss and plan democratic resilience strategies around the theme of The New Abnormal: Reimagining Democracy. Because of restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference was held in a hybrid format with a global audience following an online live stream and some speakers joining virtually, too.
“Democracy is not an inescapable destiny”
“The whole humanity is being tested by inequality, climate change, fake news, migrations shift and populism to find better ways to govern ourselves and safeguard our planet”, said Achille Tsaltas, President of the Athens Democracy Forum. He stressed that better governance and citizen engagement are priority goals in order to open a new historical phase for democracy and help it navigate through its current adversities.
Throughout the conference references were made to the adverse impacts that the global health crisis is exerting on democracies worldwide and that novel ideas and concrete solutions are more than ever needed to strengthen democracy.
“This year’s Athens Democracy Forum alerts us to the reality that democracy is not an inescapable destiny” said Katerina Sakellaropoulou, President of the Hellenic Republic, adding that the forum “invites us to reimagine democracy once again as the eternally liberating project driven by reason, humanity and science, operating upon rational institutions and factful public debate, as an empowering project of people wanting to live with dignity, to have control over their destiny and a say over the course of their communities and their country”.
A global parliament and a world citizens’ initiative
The first panel discussion of the conference following the official opening on Wednesday featured panelists Andreas Bummel, Executive Director of Democracy Without Borders, Elhadj As Sy, Chair of Kofi Annan Foundation and Alison Smale, former UN Undersecretary General for Global Communications and former Executive Editor of the International Herald Tribune. Moderated by Steven Erlanger of The New York Times, the panel on “The Strong and the Weak” discussed the post-Cold War resurgence of authoritarianism, nationalism and the related crisis of democratic systems.
Video of the first panel discussion
When asked to share his own diagnosis of the current democratic crisis, Bummel said that there had been a “lost opportunity” after 1989 insofar as democracy was not reimagined. “This is something we need to do now”, he said. “As global problems are becoming more and more urgent and virulent in a literal way, we need to reimagine the scale at which democracy operates. The right scale to match global problems is the global one”, he added, arguing that a parliamentary body should be established at the UN in order to include minorities and strengthen democratic representation of the world’s citizens.
The issue was touched on again at a workshop on Thursday moderated by Andrea Venzon and Colombe Cahen Salvador, both co-founders and Co-Executive Directors of NOW that is organizing FridayForFreedom protests, among other things. Cahen Salvador stressed the global character of critical issues such as climate change and highlighted the need for global democracy. Venzon suggested that global protests calling for global democracy could be organized on the occasion of the G7 summit in the United Kingdom in 2021. Bummel, who was one of the participants of this session, explained that an important step in giving individual citizens’ a voice at the UN would be the creation of a World Citizens’ Initiative. This instrument would allow citzens to put proposals on the agenda of the UN if they manage to collect sufficient support globally.
Other speakers at the Athens Democracy Forum included Microsoft’s President Brad Smith who delivered the “Aristotle Address” on Thursday as well as bestselling author and historian Yuval Noah Harari and Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Prime Minister of the Hellenic Republic, who will participate in a “keynote conversation” on Saturday. The forum’s session can be watched at YouTube here.
Chapter in Greece, parliamentary endorsement
While in Athens, Andreas Bummel met with Charalampos (Harry) Stamelos and Athina Moraiti who are preparing a Greek chapter of Democracy Without Borders. “Greece was a cradle of democracy in ancient times and we want this country to become a pioneer in the next big step that is now overdue, namely the creation of a global democracy”, said Charalampos, a Lecturer of History of Law at the European University Cyprus.
In the meantime, the creation of a UN Parliamentary Assembly was endorsed this Friday in a policy platform published at an inaugural event of Parliamentarians for Peace at the World Normandy Peace Forum in France. The founding members of this new parliamentary group are elected representatives from France, Brazil, Canada, Norway, Senegal, Lebanon, UK, South Africa, India and Taiwan.