News and Notes

Issue Date January 2016
Volume 27
Issue 1
Page Numbers 189-89
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Nobel Prizes

On October 10, the Nobel Committee announced that the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize would be awarded to the Tunisian “national dialogue quartet.” The quartet is a coalition of four key civil society groups: the Tunisian General Labor Union; the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade, and Handicrafts; the Tunisian Human Rights League; and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers. Following its formation in 2013, the quartet proved instrumental in establishing a peaceful political process in the country’s post–Arab Spring environment. The Nobel Committee emphasized the quartet’s “decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution.”

The Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Svetlana Alexievich, a Belarusian author whose nonfiction writing has exposed the harsh realities of life in the Soviet Union and the post-Soviet space. She has also written about female Russian soldiers in World War II and the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Alexievich was forced into exile for over a decade for speaking out against the Belarusian government. The Swedish Academy praised her work as a “monument to suffering in our time.” Alexievich delivered her Nobel lecture in Stockholm on December 6 (http://tinyurl.com/gqq5q2x).

Eighth Assembly of the World Movement for Democracy

On November 1–4, the World Movement for Democracy held its Eighth Assembly in Seoul, Korea, with the participation of 435 democracy activists and practitioners representing more than 100 countries. The theme of the Assembly was “Empowering Civil Society for Democracy and its Renewal.”

The opening session featured remarks by former Canadian prime minister Kim Campbell; Korean prime minister Hwang Kyo-ahn; Seonghoon Lee of the Asia Democracy [End Page 186] Network; and Ambassador Maria Leissner of the Community of Democracies. The Assembly concluded with the John B. Hurford Memorial Dinner (sponsored by the Hurford Foundation), at which the World Movement’s Democracy Courage Tributes were presented. Wai Wai Nu accepted the award on behalf of the Rohingya people in Burma, Rafael Marques de Morais accepted the award on behalf of investigative journalists in Africa, and Nathan Law accepted the award on behalf of the prodemocracy Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong. Transcripts of major speeches and other information about the Assembly are available at www.wmd.org.

Democracy Award Ceremonies

On September 10, the International Republican Institute (IRI) presented its annual freedom award to Sudanese philanthropist Mo Ibrahim, founder and chair of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, and John Boehner, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives (R-OH). Also honored with a posthumous award was Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who was assassinated in February 2015. At the time of his death, Nemtsov was working on a report exposing the Kremlin’s military involvement in Ukraine. Opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza, Nemtsov’s close friend and colleague, accepted the award on his behalf (see pp. 184–85). IRI chairman Senator John McCain (RAZ) and former assistant secretary of state Constance Berry Newman also delivered remarks. For videos of the speeches, visit http://tinyurl.com/pknw8t8.

On September 29, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) hosted its sixth annual Charles T. Manatt Democracy Awards ceremony. The honorees included Attahiru Jega, former chairman of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA); and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce (R-CA).

Jega, who served as chairman of INEC during Nigeria’s historic March 2015 presidential and legislative elections, was honored for his role in ensuring a credible and transparent electoral process in what marked the country’s first democratic transfer of power. Pelosi and Royce were recognized for their commitment to supporting human rights and democracy.

On November 10, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) presented its annual democracy award to four Tunisian political and civic leaders—Yassine Brahim, Rafik Halouani, Wafa Makhlouf, and Sayida Ounissi. Brahim serves as Minister for Development, Investment, and International Cooperation, and is the president of Tunisia’s center-right Afek Tounes Party. Civil society activist Halouani is the president of Mourakiboun Network, a leading election-observation body. Makhlouf and Ounissi are elected members of Tunisia’s parliament. Also honored, for his role in helping to resettle Syrian refugees, was António [End Page 187] Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Guterres, who was on the front lines of Portugal’s democratic transition, served as Portuguese prime minister from 1995 to 2002. NDI chairman Madeleine Albright also delivered remarks. For videos of the speeches, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=2WsjCmJhYLg.

Twelfth Annual Lipset Lecture

On October 20, Andrew Nathan, Class of 1919 Professor of Political Science at Columbia University, delivered the twelfth annual Seymour Martin Lipset Lecture on Democracy in the World at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C. Nathan spoke on “The Puzzle of the Chinese Middle Class.” He also delivered the lecture at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto on October 13. An article based on the lecture will appear in the April 2016 issue of the Journal of Democracy.

Honoring Human-Rights Defenders

On October 29, the European Parliament awarded its 2015 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Raif Badawi, a Saudi Arabian blogger and activist. In 2012, Badawi was convicted of “insulting Islam” on his Free Saudi Liberals website and was sentenced to ten years in prison and a thousand lashes. While the first fifty lashes were administered in January 2015, subsequent sets were postponed following an international outcry. The award ceremony is scheduled to be held in Strasbourg on December 16.

On November 19, Russian human-rights defender Natalia Taubina received the 2015 human rights award presented by the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. Taubina serves as director of the Public Verdict Foundation, a Russia-based organization that offers legal assistance to victims of human-rights abuses by law-enforcement officers. Despite efforts by the Russian government to shut down the foundation—in 2014, it was categorized as a “foreign agent” by the Kremlin—Taubina has remained committed to supporting victims of torture and holding Russian law-enforcement agents accountable for human-rights violations.

International Forum

On September 24, the Forum—in partnership with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Inter-American Dialogue, and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance—cosponsored a panel discussion entitled “Searching for Answers to Troubled Democratic Transitions.” The event celebrated the publication of a new book edited by Sergio Bitar and Abraham Lowenthal, Democratic Transitions: Conversations with World Leaders. (A review of this book by Alfred Stepan appears on pp. 167–72.) [End Page 188]

The discussion featured remarks by the book’s editors—Sergio Bitar, president of Chile’s Foundation for Democracy, and Abraham Lowenthal, professor emeritus at the University of Southern California—as well as Priscilla Clapp (U.S. Institute of Peace), Carl Gershman (NED), Yves Leterme (International IDEA), and Moisés Naím (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace).

On October 15, the Forum hosted a discussion on “Stifling the Public Sphere: Media and Civil Society in Egypt, Russia, and Vietnam,” based on a Forum report published online in October (http://tinyurl.com/o7tyrev). The event featured remarks by the report’s contributors: Zachary Abuza of the National War College, Sherif Mansour of the Committee to Protect Journalists, and Maria Snegovaya of Columbia University. The panelists examined the growing and increasingly sophisticated restrictions on civil society and the media in these three countries.

On October 26, the Forum organized a session on “The Rise of the World’s Poorest Countries,” based on an October 2015 article in the Journal of Democracy by Steven Radelet, Director of the Global Human Development Program at Georgetown University. In addition to remarks by Radelet, the discussion featured comments by Richard Messick, former World Bank official and senior contributor to the Global Anticorruption blog.

On November 17, the Forum hosted an event on “The Global Assault on Civil Society,” based on articles in the October 2015 issue of the Journal of Democracy by Anne Applebaum of the Legatum Institute and Douglas Rutzen of the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law. They were joined on the panel by Michele Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment and Louisa Greve of NED. The discussion examined the repression of civil society by authoritarian regimes and the challenge this poses for democratic development.

In August, Johns Hopkins University Press (JHUP) published Democracy in Decline?, a collection of essays exploring the current state of democracy. Contributors to this Journal of Democracy book include leading public intellectuals and scholars of democracy—Thomas Carothers, Francis Fukuyama, Robert Kagan, Steven Levitsky, Philippe C. Schmitter, Lucan Way, and editors Larry Diamond and Marc F. Plattner. On September 3, JHUP organized a reception to celebrate the book’s publication at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA) in San Francisco.

In March 2016, JHUP will publish the next Journal of Democracy book, Authoritarianism Goes Global: The Challenge to Democracy. This collection of essays, edited by Larry Diamond, Marc F. Plattner, and Christopher Walker, brings together articles that appeared in the Journal of Democracy between January 2015 and January 2016. The contributors analyze the leading authoritarian powers and discuss the threats to democracy and to the liberal international order posed by the authoritarian resurgence. [End Page 189]

Copyright © 2016 National Endowment for Democracy and Johns Hopkins University Press