Sunday, July 11, 2010

Democracy in trouble

Washington Post
July 6, 2010

A riot of golden curlicues embellished the theater boxes; in the plush velvet seats below, ambassadors in saris crowded against activists in crumpled suits. It was standing-room only on Saturday for Hillary Clinton's speech at the 10th anniversary meeting of the Community of Democracies, and the American secretary of state had the crowd behind her. First she paid compliments to her predecessor Madeleine Albright, who co-founded the organization a decade ago with Poland's then-foreign minister, Bronislaw Geremek.

Then she spoke not about democracy, exactly, but about civil society, those "activists, organizations, congregations, writers and reporters that work though peaceful means to encourage governments to do better." Civil society, along with representative government and well-functioning markets, she said, "undergirds both democratic governance and broad-based prosperity." Yet civil society is under threat, and she mentioned activists in prison in many countries, including some that call themselves democracies: Egypt, China, Burma and Zimbabwe.