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International Day of Democracy Brussels

IDD 2023 - Report

Day 1 - 14 September

On 14-15 September 2023, the ninth edition of International Democracy Day Brussels took place in the European Committee of the Regions in Brussels. Under the title ‘An Era of Democratic Unrest?’ experts and activists discussed how the global decline of democracy has been met with a new wave of civic activism, with people taking the streets from Iran to Georgia, from Pakistan to Hong Kong to Syria.

On the first day of IDD, after a welcome by moderator Shada Islam and by Patrick Molinoz (CIVEX commission, Committee of the Regions), Commissioner Věra Jourová took the stage, urging the public not to take democracy for granted and discussing the balance between fighting misinformation and protecting media freedom.

The Commissioner was followed by Rosa Balfour (Carnegie Europe), who questioned the popular narrative of a return of geopolitics in the field of democracy support, and by Hong Kong activist Nathan Law, who delivered a  powerful keynote speech on his experience as an activist and political refugee: “Sometimes it is difficult to know what is right to do, but we know what is left to treasure. Our democracy and freedoms are the most important cornerstones, and cement the values of the EU.”

After the keynote speech, Jerzy Pomianowski (European Endowment for Democracy) and Damon Wilson (National Endowment for Democracy) discussed the necessity of building a transatlantic movement for democracy support to quickly respond to demands for democracy from the ground and to amplify the voices of civil society.

This conversation was followed by a series of “lightning talks”: fast-paced 5-minute presentations where Tigran Amiryan (CSN Lab, Armenia), Youssef El Idrissi (Kounaktif pour les arts et les cultures, Morocco) and Olga Caballero (Alma Civica, Paraguay) talked about their experiences, challenges, and successes as activists.

Nathan Law then took the stage a second time for a panel titled ‘Global Faces of Activism’, together with Zaza Abashidze (RealPolitika, Georgia), Leila Alikarami (Lawyer and human rights advocate, Iran), Nathan Law (Hong Kong democratic activist), Olga Rudenko (The Kyiv Independent) and moderator Hardy Merriman (International Center on Nonviolent Conflict). The conversation touched upon activism as a collective effort; the role of Gen Z in protests and politics; and having to become an activist and advocate at a time of war.

Ken Godfrey (European Partnership for Democracy) closed the first day of IDD Brussels noting that, despite challenges, there are still reasons to be optimistic about democracy, namely its ability to change and adapt.

Day 2

On 15 September, IDD Brussels continued in the morning, starting with an address by H.E. Elena Gómez Castro (Spanish Ambassador to the EU Political and Security Committee), who highlighted how the EU’s value-based model remains an example to follow for many others.

Olaf Böhnke (Alliance of Democracies) presented the main findings from the Democracy Perception Index: many people, even in established democracies, express dissatisfaction with the state of democracy in their country.

The keynote speech of the day was delivered by Karam Nachar (Al-Jumhuriya), who talked about solidarity between democratic movements around the world and on the struggle for democracy in his home country, Syria: “The democratic idea is clearest and most poignant in the places where it battles most for its life, where thousands of people could perish, as in Syria.”

Elene Panchulidze (European Partnership for Democracy) then introduced the work of the European Democracy Hub, an initiative to accompany the designing, implementation, and evaluation of EU and member state democracy support policies.

Shada Islam moderated the panel titled 'Policy and democracy community', with Helena König (EEAS), McDonald Lewanika, (Accountability Lab South Africa), Sam van der Staak (International IDEA) and Hardy Merriman. Topics discussed include the need for politicians to encourage and support youth activism; the need to understand local contexts in order to promote democratisaiton; and the importance of bottom-up movements to achieve a genuine democratic transition.

The following panel, 'The future of the Summit for Democracy: insights from summit organisers', moderated by Marilyn Neven (International IDEA), provided insights, future plans, and lessons learned on the Summit for Democracy, with Julia Keutgen (International IDEA), Christina Droggitis (US Department of State) and Kang Byongjo (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Korea).

Youth took the stage for the final panel of this edition of IDD Brussels, 'Democracy in action: youth driving innovative engagement'. Ismael Paez Civico (Youth Forum), Natalia Gómez Solano (Special Adviser on Youth to the EU), Olga Caballero and McDonald Lewanika (Accountability Lab South Africa) showcased how youth-led initiatives are playing a pivotal role in shaping democratic engagement through innovative projects.