Does Democracy Matter

  • October 20, 2014

Cosponsored by the Project on Democratic Transitions and the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center

Negative experiences from state-building projects in Iraq and Afghanistan, the mixed record of the post-communist revolutions and the aftermath of Arab Spring have led many to question the efficacy of democracy promotion. Some argue that Western democracy support is ineffective at its best and counterproductive at its worst. Domestic support for international involvement, including democracy assistance is waning, and there is increasing focus on “pragmatic” short-term interests.

Despite significant successes in some parts of the post-communist region, critics point to continued democratic deficiencies in Eastern Europe and renewed authoritarianism in most of the former Soviet republics. Some argue that democracy cannot be readily transplanted into cultures and societies that are dissimilar to those of established Western democracies. Are such conclusions valid, or is there a case for continuing efforts to encourage transitions to democracy?  The unresolved Ukraine crisis has heightened the importance of this question.

Taking stock of democracy promotion over the past 30 years, particularly in the post-communist region, what are its strengths and weaknesses – both in the theories that underlie it and in its programmatic application? Are some lessons transferable across regions and, if so, which ones? Has Western assistance shown an adequate balance between advancing the procedures of democracy and nurturing more democratic political cultures? If U.S. and European democracy promotion should be continued, how can it be better targeted and reformed to more effectively advance democratization in post-authoritarian societies? If such assistance programs deserve to be terminated, should there be alternative policies to support human rights and other aspects of pluralism?

For more information about the event or the individual panelists and moderators, please visit the conference’s event page.

Part 1: Welcoming Remarks by Matt Rojansky and Adrian Basora & “Revisiting the case for democracy assistance” Carl Gershman, Nick Gvosdev, Barak Hoffman and Thomas Melia. Moderated by Will Pomerantz

Part 2: “How effective are the core components of US democracy promotion? Are they adequate for today’s circumstances?” Sarah Bush, Tsveta Petrova, Michal Koran and Melinda Haring. Moderated by Christian Caryl

Part 3: Keynote Address by Larry Diamond, Introduction by Alan Luxenberg & Concluding Remarks by Amb. Adrian Basora, Richard Kraemer, Matt Rojansky & Larry Diamond

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