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The European Endowment for Democracy was delighted to contribute to as a partner to the fifth Warsaw Dialogue for Democracy. The event, organised annually by the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, brings together activists from around the world.

The theme for 2016 was “From past to future: strengthening democratic values”, with the event taking place in the Polish capital on 15 – 16 December. EED invited 20 of its grantees from 15 countries of EU’s Eastern and Southern Neighbourhood - facilitating exchange of experiences and bringing the work of grassroots activists from under-supported regions to the fore.

Already the opening remarks set a positive tone for the Conference with the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Minister Waszczykowski stating that "civil society is indispensable for democracy” and that "every voice, point and concern raised at the Warsaw Dialogue will be heard and listened to". Yves Leterme from International IDEA talked about how crucial it is for democracy to support individual actors coming from civil society. In a similar vein, the key message by Abdessattar Ben Moussa “Dialogue for democracy and peace is a key for civil society action”, was amplified by another Nobel Price Laureate Tawakkol Karman and her powerful call for worldwide peace: “Democracy will win ultimately,” she concluded.

EED session | civic activism and the struggle for democracy in the European neighbourhood

Social activism faces new challenges: shrinking space for civil society, consolidation of some authoritarian regimes, increased cooperation between authoritarian regimes in combating pro-democracy actors, rise of populism and extremism undermining core democratic values, violent conflicts, new technologies which facilitate oppression…

This new environment requires new strategies to fostering democracy – with these in mind we designed our session “Civic activism and the struggle for democracy in the European Neighbourhood”, hosted on the second day of the conference. Our aim was to provide a platform for exchange of experiences of local activists who struggle for democracy in very difficult circumstances, often taking personal risks. Despite all the problems they face, activists manage to find innovative ways of fighting for freedom, democracy and human rights – experiences which they were able to share with a wider public within the framework of the Warsaw Dialogue for Democracy.

Isam Uraiqat, co-founder of Al Hudood (Jordan) talked about his Arabic satirical news platform, launched in July 2013. Al Hudood seeks to provide an alternative way of absorbing and analysing current events and mainstream media and has managed to create an open, tolerant space for people to discuss political and delicate topics.

“The outmost priority of our satire is to stay balanced,” Isam said.

Karine Harutyunyan, Executive Director of an independent Armenian media outlet “Gala TV”, started her intervention with a moving video presenting the current situation in some of the Armenian regions and a powerful statement that “democracy is civil society”. Her mission as an independent information provider is enabling civil society to act, being properly informed by unbiased media, regardless of the nature of events happening in the country.

Karam Hilly, founder of Sahem Initiative (“Contribute” in Arabic) drew the audience’s attention to the fact that international community is not making enough effort to make the voice of local communities heard. “We need to raise our voice,” Karam stated. He defined democracy as practice based on two components, first being an empowered community who speaks up, the second international support through outreach and advocacy, acting as a loudspeaker in case the local community’s voice is not heard or is too low to “break the walls”.

Many EED grantees from countries as diverse as Egypt and Russia and more took the floor to share their experiences after the main presentations. The plethora of interventions from the audience indicated that no matter the country, civil society activists are not alone - challenges to democracy are shared globally, whilst the democratic struggle is similar in different parts of the world.

Conference summary

In the closing session, EED Executive Director, Jerzy Pomianowski concluded that:

“While there is much cause for pessimism about the state of democracy around the world, events such as these provide us with renewed faith, optimism and hope for the future.”

EED Executive Director Jerzy Pomianowski speaking at Warsaw Dialogue for Democracy

Having met dozens of courageous pro-democracy activists at the event who take personal risk to fight for freedom, be it from Pakistan or Azerbaijan, Libya of Syria, Armenia or Indonesia, he added that: “These activists also show us what that the argument that democracy is only a Western device, not suitable for other cultures and regions, is a false one. They prove that democracy and fundamental values associated with it are indeed universal, and can be embraced by all cultures. Thanks to them and their colleagues democracy is alive and eventually will prevail.”

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