22 April 1993 - 24 April 1993

Fostering Democracy World-Wide: Lessons from Experience

Chair: The Rt Hon John Biffen MP

Our conference sprang from a continuing excitement at the historic surge of democracy in the last few years, alongside a growing sense of the vast task which harnessing it, and preventing its ebb, posed for those directly experiencing it. Particularly in the ex-Communist countries - on which inevitably our discussion tended to focus, though not to the exclusion of other regions - this task fell to political communities handicapped not only by inexperience but also by the fact that, almost ex hypothesis, their legacy from previous regimes was typically one of grave economic and social failure. The established democracies (“the West”), for their part, could now view all this without the distorting prism of the Cold War agenda. What could they best do to help

We were clear that the West must approach the question in a spirit of modesty, in relation both to its own wisdom and capacity and to the expectations it could fairly entertain of the new democracies. Understanding the realities of the settings into which would-be helpers moved was not easy - analogies were precarious and verbal similarities often misleading; there was learning to be done, and sensitivity needed as to the line between didactic interference and facilitatory involvement The simple export of existing Western models, like Westminster or the US Constitution, was no panacea - often they would simply not fit, and even at home their performance was not necessarily glorious or up-to-date. All that said, there were solid basic principles about which aid-givers were entitled to be firm, even if implementation had to be gradual and ultimately home-grown. Patterns like the European Convention on Human Rights - the core condition of Council of Europe membership - could be both exemplar and stimulus.

The picture among emerging democracies varied widely between countries, and the aspects most capable of absorbing and benefiting from outside help differed. Our judgments were not unanimous on the priority to be given to helping political-party structures; in mature democracies these were plainly crucial, but in many of the countries we were discussing they amounted to little more than groupings around prominent individuals or particular past events, lacking grass-roots reach and backing and also coherent future agenda (this last perhaps understandably in the wake of so massive an ideological collapse as that of Communism). We all agreed on the importance of building true civil societies, capable of sustaining stronger pressures of expectation on central government, fuller citizen involvement and less passivity. Growth in all this, bottom-up, through a wide range of non-governmental organisations was the key; but helping to make it happen, especially from the outside, was a tough and multifarious task needing patient effort. External NGOs were themselves best able to make contact and provide stimulus, though Governments could usefully help fund them.

Structures in themselves were neither the main problem nor the main solution; people and motivations were what ultimately mattered, and the dip from excessive initial hope to hand-washing disappointment among electorates was doing widespread damage. The improvement of Government bureaucracies, though unglamorous, could progressively make an important difference to public confidence; at present there were widespread difficulties over standards, coordination, role confusions with new Parliamentary institutions, and the clash between valuable experience levels and the desire to root out the remnants of past regimes; corruption remained a widespread problem. Some though not all of us thought that Western know-how could still contribute much to improvement in this field.

We noted, without considering at length, the importance of plainly-independent judicial institutions, and for the police to be trusted as fair and politically impartial. The media posed crucial yet awkward issues. They carried huge responsibilities, especially in the frequent absence of real political parties and amid the turmoil of new state and social structures; yet they themselves were, as a rule, far from being exceptions to the general defects of inexperience amid the disorienting challenges of unfamiliar freedom. None of us, however, saw state or legal fetters on their independence as a sensible way to manage the resulting risks.

Perhaps surprisingly, we heard relatively little - at least in the post-Communist context - of possible threats to democracy from the armed forces, though we registered the importance of avoiding any notion that they had some last-resort right and duty as ultimate domestic protectors of society. There was almost as much mention of the churches as potentially ambivalent influences, especially in countries where their general salience in society and a particular history as anti-totalitarian standard-bearers gave them special leverage.

We asked ourselves what channels and techniques of Western help were apt to be most useful. The best general principle, we concluded, was (though not without exceptions) peer-to-peer: bureaucracy to bureaucracy, NGO to NGO, broadcaster to broadcaster. Practical training could often help; more generally, the focus of aid needed to be clearly upon the recipient - there was a good deal of criticism that too high a proportion of aid went to finance donor-country participants like consultants rather than (for example) helping to fund in-country study and teaching institutes. Several of us urged a particular focus upon the young, as travelling free from their elders’ historical baggage; immersion in the West, and the building of personal contacts, could be very valuable - though we heard an occasional sceptical voice querying how realistic it was to expect in the emerging democracies a younger-generation concern for politics mostly absent in the mature ones.

With the Bosnian disaster vividly in our minds, we naturally spoke of the difficult interaction between new constitutions and ethnic identity. We were convinced that any general attempt to make such identity the central basis of statehood would be catastrophic, whether in Europe or elsewhere; but arresting the spread of that concept would require careful and subtle constitutional design. Institutions must be able to accommodate different groups, and the rights of these would have to be established, even though in fully mature democracies individual rights were ultimately a better and surer foundation for freedom and justice. Rule by simple Parliamentary majority, especially with a first-past-the-post electoral system, was rarely adequate in itself amid ethnic tensions; federal models and stronger local government might sometimes point the way towards solutions, but not where there was extensive ethnic intermingling. In the long run the best hope lay perhaps in frameworks which fostered identities other than the ethnic; within Europe, the future course of EC development would be important in this as in so many respects.

Were we at some epochal turning-point of opportunity in the advance of democracy? Some participants strongly thought so, and we heard vigorous pleas that the established West should take the lead in shaping a compact embracing the new democracies whereby all signatories would commit themselves to refuse acquiescence - to the point ultimately of forcible intervention if needed - in reversal of the “core” democratic features in any-one. Not all of us thought this yet workable, but we did recognise that aid and cooperation of all kinds could carry clear conditionality upon democracy. Overall, we were in no doubt that there was merit and indeed obligation in large- scale external backing for democratic development - primarily now to help consolidation rather than to achieve wholly new breakthrough - by means of practical measures of support sensibly prioritised, coordinated and monitored (three functions, as we accepted, more easily listed than discharged).

Underlying all this, as we knew, was the reality that the achievement of democratic goals could not be reliably separated from economic improvement. We managed to avoid long debate about which the was chicken and which was egg, but the link was beyond question. And this re-emphasised the fact that, for all that was to be welcomed in the changes of recent years, democracy could not be taken for granted, especially among economically-vulnerable countries. That in turn reminded us, as have so many recent Ditchley conferences, of the massive global importance of the GATT outcome; to purport to help new democracies politically while closing markets to them would make no sort of sense.

This Note reflects the Director's personal impressions of the conference. No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.

Chairman: The Rt Hon John Biffen MP
Member of Parliament (Conservative), Shropshire North


Mr Vernon Bogdanor
Reader in Government, Brasenose College, Oxford University

Mr Ralph Land OBE
Director of Eastern European Affairs, Rolls-Royce pic, London

Mr Edward H C McMillan-Scott MEP
Member (Conservative), York, European Parliament

Mr Rhodri Morgan MP
Member of Parliament (Labour), Cardiff West

Dr Zbigniew Pelczynski OBE
Oxford University Lecturer in Politics; Official Fellow and member of Governing Body, Pembroke College, Oxford

Dr Michael Pinto-Duschinsky
Senior Lecturer in Government, Brunel Universit

Mr Kevin Sparkhall
Principal Adviser, Finance, Management and Administration Advisory Department, Overseas Development Administration, London

Sir Roger Tomkys KCMG
Master, Pembroke College, Cambridge

Mr John Tusa
President, Wolfson College, Cambridg

Miss Diana Warwick
Chief Executive, Westminster Foundation for Democracy, London

Mr Richard Wilkinson
Head, Policy Planning Staff, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Mr Andrew Adonis
Local government correspondent, The Financial Times, London

Dr L George Bonar
Chairman and CEO, UNP Industries Ltd
Professor John Helliwell
W L Mackenzie King Visiting Professor of Canadian Studies, Harvard University

Mr Max Gaylard
Director, International Affairs Division, Commonwealth Secretariat

Mr Jack Zetkulic
Deputy Director, Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), Warsaw

Mr Hans-Peter Furrer
Director of Political Affairs, Council of Europe, Strasbourg

Mr Pavel Bratinka
Deputy Foreign Minister, the Czech Republic

M Claude Moisy
Recently retired as Head of Agence France Presse

Dr Erfried Adam
Head of Africa Department, Division of International Cooperation, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (Foundation of the Social Democrats (SPD)), Bonn

Hen Reinhard Bettzuege CMG
Director, Public Information Department, Foreign Office, Bonn

Hen Uwe Johannen
Director, Institute for Political and International Cooperation, Friedrich Naumann Stiftung (Foundation of the Free Democrats (FDP))

Dr Tamás Bauer
Research Fellow, Institute of Economics, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest

Dr Vasile Secares
Vice President and Deputy Chairman of the Board, Eximbank of Romania, Bucharest

Professor Sergei E Blagovolin

HE Mr Jan Vilikovsky
Ambassador of the Slovak Republic to the Court of St James’s

Mr William J Burns
Principal Deputy Director, Policy Planning Staff, US Department of State, Washington DC

Dr Morton H Halperin
Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Ms Deborah H Harding
German Marshall Fund of the US: Programme Officer, Programme of Political Development in Central and Eastern Europe

Professor Samuel P Huntington
Eaton Professor of the Science of Government and Director, John M Olin Institute for Strategic Studies, Center for International Affairs, Harvard University

Mr James Kelly
Assistant Managing Editor, Time Magazine

Jane E Kirtley Esquire
Executive Director, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (a voluntary, unincorporated association of reporters and editors devoted to protecting the First Amendment interests of the news media)

Dr Michael McFaul
Research Associate, Center for International Security & Arms Control, Stanford University (co-director of project on military conversion and privatization in former Soviet Union)

Professor Bryce Nelson
Professor, School of Journalism, University of Southern California

Dr Richard A Nuccio
Staff consultant, Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, House Foreign Affairs Committee

Mr William Pfaff
Paris-based author and journalist

Dean Sanford J Ungar
Dean, School of Communication, The American University, Washington DC