20 years of the Community of Democracies

June 2020 marked the 20th anniversary of the Community of Democracies and its founding document, the Warsaw Declaration.

Two decades ago, with democratic transitions happening across the world and a spirit of optimism at the dawn of the new Millennium, representatives of more than 100 countries gathered in Warsaw on June 27 in the year 2000, for the opening ministerial conference “Towards a Community of Democracies.” The Community of Democracies (CoD) was born as a collective initiative of former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Polish Foreign Minister Bronisław Geremek. ‘He (Geremek) wanted this city- his city- to be known for something other than the Warsaw Pact; the Warsaw Declaration,’ said Secretary Albright at the opening conference.

A unique coalition of states built on the commitment to shared values of the Warsaw Declaration

As we celebrate twenty years of the Community of Democracies, we also celebrate twenty years of its founding document- the Warsaw Declaration. Adopted by 106 states participating in the CoD opening ministerial conference, the Warsaw Declaration outlines 19 principles of human rights and democracy. The adopting states recognized the universality of democratic values and agreed to respect and uphold these principles. The Community of Democracies is a unique coalition of democratic countries built not on linguistic, geographical, or economic criteria but the commitment to shared democratic values enshrined in the Warsaw Declaration.

Twenty years on, the Warsaw Declaration provides a set of norms and standards for a country to flourish as a democracy. Covering an extensive list of democratic essentials makes the Warsaw Declaration a unique document, providing both a roadmap for aspiring and transitioning democracies as well as a checklist for established ones.

“A different environment exists today than in 2000. Authoritarian regimes are more aggressive and sophisticated in interfering and undermining democratic societies. New challenges such as the global pandemic have appeared. By respecting and upholding the democratic values of the Warsaw Declaration, we can make democracies stronger and remain resilient and more effective in addressing new challenges. Adopted in 2000, the Warsaw Declaration is made for 2020,” says the CoD Secretary General Thomas E. Garrett.

From 2000 to 2020: The Community’s mission is even more relevant now than it was in the year 2000

The world has changed during the past two decades, and so has the Community of Democracies. It has developed from a conference initiative into a global intergovernmental coalition of democratic states and a multi-stakeholder platform for dialogue and discussion on issues affecting democracy and its institutions. The global context in which the Community operates has also transformed. With many complex internal and external challenges to democracy, the Community’s mission is even more relevant today than 20 years ago.

Although the CoD is an intergovernmental coalition, one of its critical assets is a prominent role played by the civil society. Through the Civil Society Pillar, civil society organizations are represented at the Governing Council, providing a much-valuable resource to the Governing Council discussions.

Today the CoD works with its Members and civil society to deepen the dialogue on challenges to democracy; encourage adherence to the Warsaw Declaration, and support transitioning democracies. Cross-cutting themes of gender equality, youth empowerment, and democracy and development mainstreamed into all its activities.

Democratic solidarity in the new decade

The Community of Democracies was founded in 2000 with the idea that democracy doesn’t move only from triumph to triumph but faces changing and new challenges. Since then, we have witnessed democratic backsliding, and a growing lack of public trust in representative government, even in established democracies. But we have also seen inspiring examples of activism and new energy in many countries across the globe, particularly among marginalized groups, such as young people and women.

Addressing complex challenges affecting democracies in the modern world as well as embracing new opportunities for democratic developments can only be done through multilateralism and collective action. The Community of Democracies takes an active part in multilateral fora and initiatives aimed at promoting and advancing democracy and human rights worldwide, including activities at the UN General Assembly, UN Human Rights Council, Council of Europe’s World Forum for Democracy, Inter-Regional Dialogue on Democracy, and many other democracy-related events held at global and regional level.

Democracies are strengthened as countries work together. The CoD has long advocated for inclusive, transparent, and participatory political processes, advancing youth civic engagement and participation of women in public life at all levels of governance. Through a soon-to-be-launched campaign #CoDYouthLeads, the CoD will engage young leaders to revitalize and promote the principles of the Warsaw Declaration for a new generation.

Entering a new decade, the CoD will continue to work together with governments, civil society, and other stakeholders to take concerted actions to advance and protect democratic freedoms and expand political participation.