Tomorrow is the International Day of Democracy at the UN, and the chairman of the Danish parliament wrote an op-ed for the occasion in yesterday’s Jyllands-Posten. Henrik from Europe News volunteered to translate it:
Democracy — a common responsibility
By Thor Pedersen, chairman of the Danish Parliament (V)
Monday the 15th of September is the United Nations International Day of Democracy. This is a new day of observance, adopted by the UN General Assembly last year (2007). According to the UN, this day should be taken as an occasion to celebrate common democratic values and at the same time remind us that the need to further and protect democracy is more urgent than ever, writes the chairman of the Danish Parliament.
Relatively few people live in democracies. It is frequently heard that democracy is the most common form of government in the world, and it has been so for quite a while. But is this true? Hardly, for democracy is still but a parenthesis in global history, and as late as early 19th century, the word ‘democracy’ had a distinct negative connotation, as in ‘Mob rule’.
The unfortunate truth remains that less than one fifth of the Earths’ population live in fully developed democracies, and even fewer in societies where democracy is firmly rooted.
Also, the spread of democracy through the world has suffered from stagnation in recent years. This is worrisome, for as Winston Churchill once said: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those others that have been tried.”
Denmark supports new democracies.
The wave of democracy, which after the fall of the Berlin Wall swept Europe and the remains of the Soviet Union, apparently has had no effect in the remaining world. This is where the real challenge lies.
Denmark is gaining much praise for not only being a top contributor of support for developing countries, but also for our making the development of good governance and new democracies a top priority.
In the Danish Parliament we contribute to this through bilateral agreements, where we support the establishment of parliamentary systems, relevant knowledge etc. We do this based on the experiences gained as one of the oldest democracies in the world.
Could we Danes desire to live in an undemocratic country? Obviously not. But that also implies that we all share the responsibility to safeguard democracy and democratic principles.
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It makes no sense to speak of democracy without also speaking of civil liberties. For without these liberties, there can be no democracy! And these liberties consist not only of the right to vote in parliamentary or regional elections.
Civil liberties are the foundation for the everyday life of the individual. What we in Denmark know as the right to express oneself in writing and in speech. The right to freely choose a religion, equal rights for men and women, and the right to own property. These are rights that we all share a responsibility not to see bent or diluted.
During the crisis of the Muhammad cartoons, we unfortunately witnessed the opinion held by some that we do have a freedom to express ourselves — but!!! This ‘but’ we all bear a responsibility to fight. If the citizens of a country do not have the right to free expression, democracy is void and hollow. An empty container.
Civil liberties did not come about by themselves, nor are they eternally secured. For this reason, knowledge of history is of vital importance for every generation, and I can only lament the lack of historical awareness often encountered in the younger generations.
Therefore it is important that democracy and knowledge of democracy be put on the agenda. This was the case in Denmark, when the ‘Canon of Democracy’ (www.demokratikanon.dk) was launched this spring. The Canon of Democracy is a reproduction of the philosophical and political developments that influenced the development of democracy in Denmark. I sincerely hope that this will be actively used for teaching in public schools etc.
For democracy is not solely about rights, but also of duties. Even though the Danish democracy is solid and well-founded — no one would presumably disagree with that — we must not take for granted that we can lean back and let democracy run on automatic pilot.
Unfortunately, in Denmark we also face movements, persons and groups applying undemocratic methods. One does not need to follow the media closely to notice the challenges to democracy. The groups around Ungdomshuset (http://www.ungdomshuset.dk, www.antifa.dk etc.) on Jagtvej in Nørrebro turned their backs on democracy and indulged in brutal violence and destruction against innocents. A behavior we can only condemn in the sharpest terms.
Democracy is not exactly secured with the assistance of Hizb ut-Tahrir, who basically want democracy to go to Hell, and who aspire to adopt Sharia law with a system of punishment and a view of humanity which would lead us back to the darkest of the Dark Ages.
The current conflict between bikers and immigrant gangs in Copenhagen and other major cities are again suspending the rules of democracy in favor of raw violence and reckless destruction. Also here we observe a complete lack of respect for democratic values. It is our responsibility to do what we can to stop this.
The many individuals who each year visit the Danish parliamentary building Christiansborg can see and study the original edition of the Danish Constitution. The Constitution which assures the fundamental rights of all Danes. I have the very good fortune that my own office in Christiansborg is located next to Vandrehallen, where the Constitution is visible for all in its glass display.
Thus, I am reminded every day of the responsibility that I as a legislator and citizen have to make my contribution to ensure that the Constitution — the crown jewels of our democracy — is being respected and followed. The Constitution is the foundation of all democratic debate in Denmark — a debate that I encourage all Danish citizens to participate in.