Foreign Affairs
Human Rights

Speech by President Jerzy Buzek at conference in Krakow commemorating the 10th Anniversary of the Community of Democracies

Krakow -
Saturday, July 3, 2010

Dear Mr President,
Members of Parliament,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to have this opportunity to meet with you at the celebrations marking the 10th anniversary of the Community of Democracies. The Community of Democracies is particularly close to my heart. It was established in Warsaw at a time when I had the honour to serve as Poland's Prime Minister. One of its initiators was the then Foreign Minister, Professor Bronisław Geremek - a great Pole and a great European who is sorely missed.

Ten years ago, Madeleine Albright, who is here with us today, proposed setting up a club of democratic states under the auspices of the UN. The club was founded by over 100 countries. The principles they agreed to abide by were set out in 19 points, all of which had a common denominator, a single focus: the individual.

In Kraków today I would like us to acknowledge just how little time it took for this part of Europe to build mature democracies. We were fortunate that the European Community had existed alongside us for many years, providing a model of democratic success which attracted us and became our goal.

Only 20 years ago no one would have believed that a Pole would become President of the European Parliament or that Lithuania would hold the presidency of an organisation such as this. Ten years ago we were already halfway along the road towards the European Union. Today, we are part of that Union.

Some may say that we have achieved our goal. I believe, however, that this success has brought with it a shared responsibility for promoting democracy throughout the world.

Some may find the question posed in the title of today's forum to be an exaggeration. As far as I am concerned, however, it is all too alarmingly relevant, for we are living in an age when democracy does come under threat.

It is true that over the last 30 years the number of democratic countries in the world has more than doubled; 116 countries now hold free and fair elections; and oppressive regimes have been overthrown before our very eyes in countries such as Chile, Brazil and South Africa. But that does not alter the fact that still only 46% of people worldwide live under democratic systems. And in some countries our hopes for democratisation have been frustrated. I am thinking, for example, of some of the countries of the former Soviet Union, which, regrettably, have provided evidence that the achievements of democracy can be squandered.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The founding Charter of the United Nations sets a clear obligation on its member countries to continually 'reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person'. After decades of experience of various political systems, today we can be certain of one thing, which is that democratisation is the only means by which to achieve that aim. And it is only the individual casting a vote in free elections who can bring that about.

In his speech 10 years ago, Professor Geremek listed five reasons why the world needs democracy. They all had one thing in common - the individual.  

I believe that in order to be fully successful we need to work together with countries around the world which carry weight in their respective regions. We must not let democracy be seen as something imposed by the West, because, fundamentally, that is not the case. The universality of its principles - with the individual at its centre - demonstrates that it is a system which is suited to all open societies and cultures.

I am the President of the most democratic of all the European institutions. Our resolutions and our diplomatic efforts help to support democracy wherever it is in need of support. The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, which we set up more than 20 years ago, backs up those efforts. The Members of the European Parliament play an active part in promoting democracy around the world.

Two weeks ago, I made an official visit to Russia, during which I held talks lasting one and a half hours with President Medvedev. The subjects discussed included also human rights and democracy. I argued that Mr Medvedev's modernisation plans should have a strong civil society dimension to them. It is pleasing to see that encouraging signs have been coming out of Russia in recent times. These include the ratification of Protocol 14 to the European Convention on Human Rights and the decision to maintain the moratorium on the use of the death penalty. However, a number of major concerns still remain, and my visit provided an opportunity to discuss those concerns.

Similar remarks may be made about my earlier visit to China. Today's China is a major partner, not just for the European Union but for the global community as a whole. However, China's importance does not mean that we, on our side, should compromise on the fundamental issues of human rights and democracy. By maintaining an open dialogue with China, we increase the likelihood of us finding common ground on those issues too.  

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The democratisation process is not only about holding elections. What is equally important is to ensure that an entire society - associations, trade unions and, most important of all, parliaments - has a real say. Without strong representative institutions, able to carry the aspirations and expectations of the citizens into state's policies, democracy will remain week and incomplete. Parliaments have a unique role to play in this. It is in the parliaments that different political groups, different political visions, come together. It is in the parliaments, where the democratically elected representatives of different social groups, from different regions, come together. It is the members of parliaments who are the voice of the entire society.

We are reminded of the great the importance of the parliamentary democracy, when we look at India. It is one of the largest and most populated countries in the world, and it is by far the largest parliamentary democracy in the world, allowing its more than 700 million citizens, who are eligible to vote, to actively play their part in the political life of their country.

Building strong state institutions is the most important stage in the transition from talking about democracy to living it. And an effective parliamentary democracy gives the necessary guarantees that the citizens will be engaged in the affairs of the country - a country which they will see as their own.

And by promoting democracy, we are making a long-term investment in our own security. We all know what has happened in those countries where democracy has failed. One only has to look at Somalia or Afghanistan to see the effect this can have. And the main victims of the lack of democracy in those countries are, as always, the ordinary people.

Returning to what Professor Geremek said 10 years ago, I should like to list the five things that democracy brings us, namely: peace, justice, economic development, human rights and a civil society. That list shows us just how inseparable democracy and freedom are, and how equally difficult they are to achieve. In the words of Alexis de Tocqueville, 'nothing is more fertile in prodigies than the art of being free; but there is nothing more arduous than the apprenticeship of liberty'. So we must never claim that we have learned all there is to know about democracy. What we must do instead is to encourage others to learn alongside us.