Opening speech – Simone Filippini Director at NIMD

Innovating democracy is a very important issue world wide these days. Democracy is a dynamic concept, and it has multiple appearances, one can observe it is different everywhere when comparing different countries, one can see that there are many versions and concepts.

The pillars underneath, for deep and sustainable democracy might still be the same everywhere, these are: Rule of law; strong institutions, independent and free media; well functioning and inclusive parties, effectively translating the voice of people into political priorities, programs, directions; and finally, integrity and accountability of leadership.

Many countries are working at this moment on strengthening those pillars in order to get an irreversible state of democracy. But does that exist? Is there an irreversible state of democracy? Or rather, do we always have to remain extremely vigilant to uphold democracy and especially the pillars that are the basis of our democracies?

Looking at the world report on the global state of democracy, we can see there is some back-sliding going on in many countries, and we see the examples every day. Think of present day Turkey, Poland, Hungary, or even US and India, democracies which are struggling to uphold those pillars. We see that democracy is being undermined by the leadership in those countries. We witness abuse of the open nature and instruments of democracy to undermine democracys’ pillars, the checks and balances.

Research shows that when that happens, it is difficult to reverse it again towards positive change.
Democracy is a fragile animal, it requires constant care. World-wide we are constantly working on democratic innovations and developments. But today we are being faced with specific challenges as to our democratic systems and they have to do with some of the topics of today’s’ conference, mainly, digital developments. These are opportunities which could enable people to engage more than ever before but could also be used to limit free speech, to feed people with fake news and misinformation which can disrupt democratic processes.

We all are aware of the examples from the US to Turkey. Even in the Dutch elections last time, one party, used means to discredit politicians through Facebook advertising, and another one, named ‘Denk’, used trolls in a large scale to push certain information which is all fake, to influence public opinion. And this is a country where we have a very stable democracy, but this is still happening.

Therefore, the issues which will be discussed during this day, are very relevant to our current state of democracy. Therefore, the reason why we gathered here today is of course to listen, to learn, and to exchange thoughts on these types of issues. If we want to contribute to inclusive, effective, accountable, free and just democratic political systems, and we want to uphold those systems, we really have to find answers to the challenges of democratic backsliding today.

We have innovations that could be used to both positive and negative terms, it is up to us to use them wisely.

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