CCD President Remarks on Importance of Democracy Education at Ulaanbaatar International Seminar
May 31, 2012
By: Rebecca Aaberg | Printer Friendly
On May 21, CCD President Robert LaGamma spoke to the Ulaanbaatar International Seminar on Education for Democracy. The two-day seminar included input from both experts on democracy education and policymakers. LaGamma's remarks for the first session of the conference are posted below.
Ulaanbaatar International Seminar on Education for Democracy
Remarks by Bob LaGamma for the Ulaanbaatar Seminar on Democracy Education Session one, May 21, 2012
Introduction and Overview of Seminar Activities and Goals
Excellences, colleagues, friends, fellow democrats,
We have come together as a result of the dynamic Chairmanship of our host Mongolia to do the great work that the Community of Democracies was invented to do. In essence, that work involves the collaboration of the world’s democracies to advance their common values. To do so we have found it essential to link democratic governments with civil society. My organization, the Council for a Community of Democracies or CCD was created precisely to advance that partnership. Accordingly, we have built a civil society network, the International Steering Committee, the ISC, consisting of some 30 leaders of organizations devoted to democracy and human rights. My Council currently serves as Secretariat of that network. Mr. Paul Graham, president of South Africa’s IDASA, is our Chairman.
Since its founding the Community of Democracies has recognized that vibrant, sustainable democracy is only possible when there exists an educated citizenry that understands the need to support democratic institutions through participation in the political process. We understand that while a first free election may be the result of a long and sometimes painful process of democratic transition it is not an end in itself. In fact, we have come to recognize that the first democratic election is in a sense, only the beginning. It is the beginning of a long process of institution building that requires citizen engagement.
To ensure that citizens are committed to sustaining democracy in their country they must understand its history. They must comprehend the hopes and dreams of those who were responsible for founding their democracy. They must know their rights under their constitution and how to exercise those rights by petitioning their government, freely voicing their opinions on issues that affect their well-being, understanding how their institutions function, participating in the life of their communities and voting in elections.
If we accept this premise and agree to work together, then this seminar will take its place in history. It will be known as the beginning of a process that will fulfill a dream of the founders of the Community of Democracies.
Our schools are the key to inculcating an understanding of democracy and how it works. Experience shows that only through education can we develop a deep commitment among a people to their democratic institutions. The key to new educational strategies to developing curricula, training teachers will require the engagement of educators at every level beginning with a commitment on the part of Ministries of Education.
Let there be no mistake. The need is urgent. Around the globe, here in Asia, in Africa in the Americas democracies are in transformation. Many fragile democracies are seeking to consolidate their institutions. In the past year we have experienced the great awakening of the Arab peoples. Some are at this historic moment creating democratic institutions. Others are still struggling to achieve the ability to transform their countries against great adversity. When those democratic institutions come into being it is imperative that their citizens learn the democratic rules of the game if their democratic institutions are to survive and thrive.
What then can we hope to achieve during this seminar?
It will allow us to share ideas about ways in which to most effectively teach our citizens and especially our children about democratic ideas to explore what works well and what doesn’t.
It will allow us to design imaginative tactics to convey democracy through school curricula.
And it will allow us to better explore and design strategies to effectively teach about how to be a citizen in a democracy.
We all need to learn from each other. While some countries may be more advanced in these efforts, all of us can improve, can learn to do better. What we are proposing are the broad outlines of what can be done. But let me stress that there is universal agreement that each country must carry out its own strategy in its own way. Those strategies will be built on a country’s own culture and history; its own heroes and fundamental values. The democratic institutions that grow from those values, cultures and history will vary, sharing only the core values of freedom, human dignity and the fundamental rights of individuals under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Warsaw Declaration in which the democracies of the world agreed that all men and women had the right to a democratic government; a government of the people, by the people and for the people in the words of my country’s Abraham Lincoln.
My organization, CCD, has tried its hand at devising such strategies. We have held at three international conferences in 2003, 2005 and 2008. The Global Strategic Plan that we produced, copies of which we have distributed to you, was endorsed by the CD Bamako Ministerial in its final declaration.
Based in the ideas generated in that strategy we have proposed a plan of action for your consideration which we will discuss in Session 4 later today. At that time, based on our deliberations today, we will also review a declaration that will be proposed by Ambassador Badral. It is my hope that in our break-out sessions we will actively review both documents, suggest changes, propose new ideas and finally agree on both an action plan and a declaration. The quality of our work and the test of our accomplishments will depend on your ideas.
What will happen when we harvest your best ideas; when we agree on an action plan and a declaration? Those documents can then be provided to the participants of the conference for policymakers to be held in New Delhi in December. They in turn will be the key element in this Working Group process that Mongolia has made its priority for its chairmanship of the Community of Democracies. I would assume the decisions reached in New Delhi would then be acted upon by the Community of Democracies member governments. I would expect those actions would be monitored and reported on by the CD Permanent Secretariat and followed-up by the Working Group on democracy education and reported to the Ministerial held in this city next year.
I pledge the commitment of my own organization, CCD to supporting your efforts and that of our global civil society network, the non-governmental International Steering Committee. For its support in carrying out that work, I wish to express my appreciation to the United Nations Democracy Fund for its forthcoming grant that will allow us to conduct a two year project in support of this initiative. That grant will be extremely helpful, but it will not in itself be enough to carry out the ambitious goals that will emerge from this seminar. We are counting on the help of your countries to provide generous support during the next two years and beyond and to engage international donors including UNESCO, the United Nations Development Program and even the World Bank as well as donor nations.