2021 m. lapkričio 20 d. 9.00 val.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you all for accepting my invitation to attend this Forum.
Our event is intended to help prepare ground for the upcoming Summit for Democracy in the U.S. It is, therefore, not by coincidence that some of its key architects are here with us today.
Our turbulent world is increasingly driven by very valid and urgent concerns about climate change and environment, public health and control of pandemics, economic and financial stability, technological development, armed conflict and civil unrest. Against this dynamic backdrop, we must not overlook the need to preserve and further develop Democracy as the most cherished and important part of our political heritage that embodies the key values of freedom, liberties, human rights, justice, rule of law, good governance, international cooperation, and rules-based world order. We chose “Future of Democracy” as a title for our Forum because it is Future of Democracy that is currently at stake.
To me, Vilnius sis THE place for such Forum because Lithuania feels very strongly about democracy and human rights. These are the foundations on which our own nation is built. These are values we believe in and are committed to. And these are top priorities of our domestic and foreign policy, because democracy, human rights and rule of law at home and abroad guarantee our continued independence and prosperity.
Today, democratic political systems and values are in danger globally:
externally – because authoritarian superpowers deliberately attack democratic narrative and policies and compete for the hearts and minds of the developing world with increasing energy and, arguably, success;
and internally – because occasionally our democracies experience domestic erosion due to populism and, in some cases, corruption.
China ideologically attacks, undermines and tries to supplement the democracy, human rights and rule of law with a narrative that hierarchically subjugates those values to development, thus artificially creating antagonism between development and democracy. At the same time, it is trying to conceal or demagogically justify violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms of its own citizens and abuses in Tibet, Hong Kong, Xinjiang.
Russia poisons people with radioactive substances abroad and at home, fabricates charges to incarcerate opposition leaders; strangles its civil society by banning leading NGOs as foreign agents, and religious communities as extremist organizations; illegitimately occupies parts of the territories of several neighboring countries and supports puppet authoritarian rulers in others.
Alexander Lukashenka’s regime in neighboring Belarus tries to divert international attention from its electoral fraud and violent suppression of peaceful protest and political opposition. Its instance of aggressive and unlawful interference with international civil aviation amounts to air piracy. In way of revenge for EU’s principled stance on systemic human rights violation inside Belarus, Lukashenka has tried to create artificial flow of third-country migrants into and through Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, caused a local migration crisis endangering human lives and, as of late, supports direct physical attacks on EU borders.
Afghanistan has recently been taken over by Taliban, which immediately dismantled the achievements of two decades of international development and democratization efforts. Especially women’s rights have been severely affected.
Venezuelan citizens struggle against a regime cynically violating their human rights. Myanmar is controlled by a military junta perpetrating serious crimes including genocide. Recently, military coups occurred in Guinea and Sudan removing elected authorities from power. These are just a few examples.
Anti-democratic forces are on the rise and becoming increasingly belligerent in many other countries and regions of the world. Authoritarian regimes suppress free media, limit access to the internet, persecute independent journalists and human rights defenders, and recourse to reprisals against citizens cooperating with international institutions on human rights issues.
Let us be honest and realistic: our community of democratic values has lately been losing ground to authoritarianism. Let us use today’s Forum as an opportunity to join our collective creativity, cumulative experience and intellectual energies to generate ideas and define specific actions democratic governments and civil society can undertake to reverse this dangerous trend.
Notably, we need to explore together how we can become better democracies, so our paradigm of values and ways of political and social interaction gain new traction with our own populations and in the countries that are choosing their path into the future right now.
We should, further, discuss how to thoroughly update and rejuvenate our democratic narrative, link it to the needs of every-day life of citizens and communities, free it from clichés and wishful thinking, make it more understandable, appealing and convincing than ever before.
It would be important to try and figure out how we can best secure and enhance internal resilience of our societies as well as political and business elites against narratives and hybrid attacks by authoritarian regimes; how we can teach our citizens to detect and recognize their increasingly sophisticated tactics and to deconstruct their misinformation and fake news. Inalienable part of such resilience should be firm commitment to fighting populism and corruption. In my opinion, nothing undermines effectiveness and credibility of democratic institutions as the latter.
I hardly need to mention that our unity in face of the threats to democracy is of paramount importance. I hope our Forum will help reinforce our mutual support, commitment and solidarity. This sense of unity and solidarity should expand beyond the traditional boundaries of the transatlantic community of NATO and EU member states. It should encompass our partners in Australia and New Zealand, Japan and India, Argentina and Mexico and numerous other well-established and young or emerging democracies in Europe, Latin America, Africa, Asia and Pacific region. Moreover, this network of global solidarity and mutual support of democratic forces should fully embrace the freedom-seeking civil society members and organizations in countries that are still under authoritarian rule AND civil societies in our own countries.
Unity means fully sharing with all of those actors in the ownership and leadership of the global democratic revival.
It is time to sound alarm about the global offensive of the authoritarianism. In order to stop it from advancing further, to take over the initiative and to make progress toward universal liberty, human rights, rule of law and rules-based world order, the democratic community must once again become strategic and geopolitical – the attitude which, decades ago, helped it endure and win the Cold War.
Being strategic also means inclusiveness. Our democracy building efforts will not be complete or successful unless they fully include and integrate such social groups as parliamentary opposition, women and girls, youth, LGBTQI community, ethnic and linguistic minorities. Women and girls account for one half of the humanity. For centuries, they have suffered from various forms of discrimination. Conflicts and crises, the pandemic and climate change have a particularly painful impact on them and often result in more domestic and gender-based violence and in limiting girls’ and women’s access to work, education, healthcare and basic public services. Women’s underrepresentation in decision-making positions in business and politics, the pay gap between genders, all forms of violence and discrimination against women should be organically addressed as part of democracy building. Youth is another key group that needs to be heard, understood and included. Youth is the future of democracy. This is true for any country. The challenge of integrating youth and addressing its dreams, and meeting its expectations and requirements is particularly urgent in those developing countries, notably in Africa, where the average age of the population is in early twenties or even in the teens. Today’s youth will support the democratic system for decades to come as long as democracy succeeds today in offering them credible education, employment, careers, social services and opportunities for self-expression, self-realization, civic activism and participation in politics and public decision-shaping and making. I hope our Forum may result not only in a productive exchange of views and ideas but also in specific pledges by governments on various aspects of preserving, consolidating and promoting democracy at home and globally. I also hope it can serve as a stepping-stone to the upcoming virtual Summit for Democracy convened by the U.S. President.
At the end of today’s Forum I intend to issue a final document summing up the key ideas and strategic pledges. The initial draft has already been made available to the participants. Please do not hesitate to make editing suggestions to my drafting team and we will try to accommodate them to the extent possible.
I rejoice that this Forum is attended, physically or online, by representatives from numerous NATO Allies and EU Member States, several Western Balkan countries, Ukraine, Moldova, South Korea, Israel, Palestine, Taiwan, Armenia, Georgia as well as from Russian, Belarusian and Venezuelan democratic opposition and, of course, from across the political spectrum and civil society of my own country. I look forward to their active contribution to our debate and outcome document.
Friends, our support to concrete people suffering imprisonment just for their courage and love for freedom is very important. A letter from democratic world can ease their hardship, provide HOPE. I invite you to write a letter to someone from current 862 political prisoners in Belarus. [Parodyti savo laišką]. Our friends from human rights center “Viasna” will help us with this meaningful action.
With this, let me wish you all a very worthwhile and fruitful event. Thank you.