On May 10, five organisations with an international outreach and perspective – European Endowment for Democracy, International Media Support, Danish Institute for Parties and Democracy, Danish Foreign Policy Society and EuroMed Rights –  came together to organise a very interesting and relevant one day conference in Copenhagen on the somewhat provocative heading of SECURITY OR DEMOCRACY – DO WE NEED TO MAKE A CHOICE? Many argued, not surprisingly, that in the turbulent and unpredictable times we presently live, we do not have the luxury of choosing one over the other. However, particpants also argued that in the broader understanding of the concept of ‘security’, we must insist that democracy is a precondition for real human security.

The meeting started with a panel discussion between two seasoned politicians: Alexander Graf Lambsdorff from Germany and a member of the German Liberal Party, and Member of the European Parliament and also Vice-President of the EP responsible for Human Rights and Democracy, and Mogens Lykketoft, member of the Danish Social Democratic party, former Minister of Finance, Speaker of Parliament, and most recently President of the UN General Assembly. The moderator challenged the two politicians on the values about democracy and human rights in Europe, asking if in fact we have common values when we see what is happening in countries like Poland and Hungary? The moderator also asked if Europe could continue to be an example for the rest of the world, considering the populism and nationalism growing in many parts of Europe? Both politicians accepted that our values are being threatened and questioned, both from the outside and from the inside, but they also maintained that the values are strong enough to survive. They both predicted that we will see the values prevail.

The conference hall was decorated with mega-size banners, this one showing Markiyan Matsekh playing the piano in Kiev during early December 2013 in minus 15 degrees. It is titled ‘Piano in Maidan’.  

Most of the day was dedicated to panels on Ukraine, Egypt and Syria. Representatives from civil society organisations, working for democracy and fighting corruption, shared their experiences under very difficult circumstances. Below you will find the background notes from the organisers.

Ukraine | Breaking the vicious circle of corruption?

The role of civil society and citizens in ensuring effective anti-corruption reform

Denmark was recently chosen to lead EU’s programme to fight corruption in Ukraine. How should the country approach this task? In which way can it harness the resources of Ukrainian civil society to ensure that the required reforms are implemented and produce results? Are NGO laws, new reform legislation and creation of special government structures sufficient to eliminate corruption? Or, are more fundamental changes in the culture of society also necessary, and if so, how can this be achieved?

In this panel, Ukrainian grassroots civil society activists will share their thoughts and experience in fighting corruption, from street protests to formal court proceedings, and through taking the step from activism into real politics. Both speakers will tackle the overarching question: is politics without corruption possible in Ukraine today?

Automaidan is the Euromaidan-born movement that became famous for holding car rallies at the homes of high-level government officials suspected of corruption. As they are contributing to the ongoing work on anti-corruption in Ukraine, for example, by monitoring the police reform and the process of re-certifying police officers, they will talk about the judicial and law enforcement sector reform as a key to the country’s transformation, as well as tools of anti-corruption available for citizens.

The Euromaidan activists in Dnipropetrovsk united within the Civic Control Platform are working to stimulate reforms in their city through involvement in local affairs and overseeing the local authorities. Having successfully lobbied for a transparent system of local public procurement, they will shed some light on their corruption investigations, controlling public procurement on the local level and inspiring citizen engagement.

The conference took place in the harbour area of Copenhagen, with a view to the waterfront.

The future of the Egyptian human rights movement

Possible forms of civic activism in a closing space

Over the past years, the Egyptian state has introduced increasingly repressive and restrictive legislation to curb the activities of civil society and human rights organisations in Egypt. One of the most recent attacks from the Egyptian state on human rights organisations was the decision to freezepersonal and organisational bank accounts of a group of leading and award-winning human rights lawyers and campaigners. In November 2016, Egypt’s Parliament hastily approved a new NGO law, the law being a part of a wider crackdown on human rights groups.

What has the reaction to these official actions been? Are there any strategies that civil society and the human rights movement can apply to defend itself and preserve some level of activity despite the repressive environment? The panellists will look at Egypt from the human rights angle, looking for strategies for continued civil society activity in the country, in light of the latest steps the state has undertaken to eliminate Egyptian human rights movement.

The Arab Reform Initiative is the leading independent Arab think tank working with expert partners in the Middle East and North Africa and beyond to articulate a home grown agenda for democratic change. It conducts research and policy analysis and provides a platform for inspirational voices based on the principles of diversity, impartiality and social justice.

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) is a regional non-governmental organisation founded in 1993 to promote respect for the principles of human rights and democracy in the Arab region. It produces analysis on the difficulties of applying international human rights law and disseminating human rights culture in the Arab region, conducts advocacy in national, regional and international human rights mechanisms, and contributes to the capacity building of Arab human rights NGOs.

Syria | Fighting for democracy in the shadow of war

Developing civil alternatives to authoritarianism and extremism

As the war in Syria is entering its 7th year, efforts to negotiate genuine political solutions have been in vain or never stood any chance in the first place. And while the situation in Syria continues to turn from bad to worse, civil society activists do not give up their efforts to fight to build their communities, local councils and develop media outlets. What are the lessons that can be drawn from the work with civil society inside Syria and what challenges do activists face in their work?

Al Jumhuriya Collective is an online media platform providing in-depth coverage and analysis of Syrian politics, society and culture, by combining the methods of investigative journalism with the tools provided by the digital medium, and by building a world-class network of Syria-specialised commentators, analysts and critics.

Badael is working on empowering and supporting Syrian civil society activists in peacebuilding, nonviolent and inclusive citizenship work inside Syria. Through this work, Badael makes an important contribution to efforts to counteract the escalating violence, sectarian and ethnic tensions in the country.

Afaq Academy aims at raising awareness and building capacities of local stakeholders on democracy and good governance through a bottom-up and learning-by-doing approach. The NGO has also provided training on International Humanitarian Law for some armed groups to encourage the protection of civilians. The facilitation of inclusive dialogue between the relevant stakeholders has been at the core of Afaq’s approach and operational priorities.

Baytna is a leading institution fostering the Syrian civil society movement. Established in 2013 with generous support by Denmark, Baytna Syria is run independently by Syrian professionals. Its focus is on active citizenship and creative involvement. Based in Gaziantep in the south of Turkey, it has a number of focal points in Syria. Syria Baytna also provides funding to Syrian civil society groups.