Enlightened post Cold War Initiative for Peace Building and Democracy: Enhancing the Role of the Parliament and the NGOs

Welcoming Remarks by Carl Gershman, President, November 13, 2002

The National Endowment for Democracy

Tokyo, Japan

Before I begin my formal remarks, I want to express my sympathy to Schu Sugawara, the person who played the main role in organizing this meeting and whose mother passed away just yesterday. The spirit of Schu’ s mother lives on in his idealism, his energy, his compassion for those in need, and in his devotion to democratic values. In her memory, I ask that we pause for a moment of silence.

I want to congratulate the Committee to Aid Democracy for Peace Building, the Diet League to Aid Democracy for Peace Building, and the Yukio Ozaki Memorial Foundation, the three sponsors of this important conference on enhancing the role of the Japanese parliament and NGOs in promoting democracy. They have taken the lead in an initiative that has great importance for Japan and the cause of world peace.

I want to pay special thanks to the U.S.-Japan Foundation for its support for this conference, and for being an effective catalyst in helping the United States and Japan find new ways to work together to advance the goals they share in common.

I think it’s important and auspicious that Diet Members representing both the governing and opposition parties have joined together to support this conference. This demonstrates that democracy is a unifying idea, and that the objective of promoting democracy in Asia and other regions has the backing of all of Japan’s political parties.

Since the end of the Cold War, the promotion of democracy and good governance has been widely recognized as one of the principal ways to build peace, promote development, and resolve conflicts within and between countries. Toward this end, most of the advanced democracies have established independent democracy foundations that enlist the talents and energies of political parties and non-governmental organizations. I’m gratified that the leaders of so many of these foundations have come such a long distance to be with us today. By establishing such a foundation, Japan can expand its role as a partner with other democracies in the defense of common values. As a bridge between Asia and the West, it can make a unique contribution to the strengthening of democratic culture and political stability throughout the world.

I think it’s especially important that the foundation established in memory of Yukio Ozaki is sponsoring this conference. Yukio Ozaki is known in the United States for giving the cherry trees that blossom so beautifully in the spring and that surround the Tidal Basin near the Jefferson Memorial. But he was also one of the great democratic figures of the last century. I want to thank his daughter Yukika Sohma for her support of and participation in this conference, and for giving me a copy of her father’s autobiography, from which I have learned a great deal.

The life of Yukio Ozaki contains important lessons that can guide us today. I would like to explain briefly three of these lessons.

The first has to do with the importance of democratic culture. In the aftermath of the First World War, Ozaki-san fought to expand voting rights and opposed his own party when it watered down a suffrage bill he supported. He was expelled from his party and reluctantly came to the conclusion that before Japan could have an effective party system, it would be necessary to promote the political development of the Japanese people, meaning that the attitudes of the people towards politics and society as a whole, and their understanding of the responsibilities of democratic citizenship, would have to change. He became a partyless politician, a conscience to the government, and a voice for democratic principles.

Following the Second World War, Ozaki saw his chance to fulfill his dream of educating the Japanese people about the philosophy and practice of democracy. In 1946, therefore, he wrote Kokumin Seiji Tokuhon, or “People’s Political Reader,” which was, in effect, a civic education manual for post-war Japan. In it, Ozaki drew on historical incidents, well-known problems, and his own experiences to explain the foundations of democratic constitutional government. Kokumin Seiji Tokuhon was described by the historian Jon Dawson Sucher as Yukio’s Ozaki’s “expression of faith in the Japanese people.” It was written to them and for them, explaining how past thinking had led to disaster and how looking at issues in the light of modern democratic experience could lead them to fulfill their personal hopes and national goals. This vision, which expressed the political beliefs Ozaki-san accumulated during his long life — he was 88 years old when he wrote this book — can still guide us today as we seek to give new strength to the democratic idea.

The second lesson to be learned from Yukio Ozaki is the importance of democratic internationalism. Ozaki saw very early on that modern technology was creating a totally different world. Writing in 1933, he observed that the progress of civilization and new inventions had “reduced time and space” and had broken down barriers until “the world grew to resemble a human body in that an injury to one part of it caused suffering to the whole.” He was deeply troubled that people in every country were increasingly “looking at things from the narrow point of view of nationalism, and in so doing are sacrificing the greater interests of the world….If we continue in this way of thinking,” he warned prophetically, “we shall surely witness a second world war.”

Japan, he said, faced a cross-roads – it could choose isolation or cooperation, nationalism or internationalism. He believed that Japan, by virtue of its economic and territorial circumstances, was utterly unsuited to isolation. It needed the free circulation of wealth and people and should, therefore, take advantage of “the progressive tendency of civilization” to become a pioneer for a policy of “Open Doors.” He believed that Japan, if inspired by “a noble and divine spirit,” could “lead the way along the road to Greater Justice,” and “by helping the weak and small nations” also “save herself.”

It is almost 70 years since Yukio Ozaki wrote “Japan at the Crossroads,” in which these thoughts appear. As we try to deal with the awesome challenges of a world divided not only by wealth and culture, but also by hateful emotions and violent actions, his words have lost none of their relevance or force.

The third lesson that we can learn from the life of Yukio Ozaki is that democracy cannot exist without democrats. His whole life was a model of democratic activism. It is democratic idealists like Yukio Ozaki who give democracy its spark of life. And it is democratic citizens who must take upon themselves the responsibility to give life and energy to everyday democratic processes. Democracy does not come about automatically. It is not the natural state of mankind. It requires hard work to build its structures, to renew its possibilities, and to defend its values.

Broadening democratic culture; strengthening democratic internationalism; encouraging and inspiring democratic activism – these are three goals that can guide us today as we look for new and creative ways to address the challenges of the 21st century. I am confident that our deliberations will help Japan and all of us realize Yukio Ozaki’s vision of an open and democratic world order.


Comments at the Public Symposium on “The Role of Parliament in the Field of Democracy Assistance”

Before I introduce former Senator Nancy Kassebaum Baker, which I consider a great honor, I want to make three points about the role of parliaments in democracy assistance. The first is that parliaments have a special role to play in highlighting the importance of democracy and human rights in international relations and in a country’s foreign policy. This is certainly true in a presidential system such as ours in the United States, where you have the separation of powers; but I think it is also true in a parliamentary system such as the one that exists here in Japan.

The executive branch of government will always focus on state-to-state relations. That is what governments do in foreign relations – they relate to other governments. It is within the parliament that you are most likely to get individuals who raise issues having to do with human rights; and who are concerned with values and long-term objectives, such as the promotion of democracy, as opposed to day-to-day policy considerations. In the U.S. there is often a tension between the Congress and the Administration — the latter prefers quiet diplomacy, while the former often presses for more public statements on human rights and more political pressure on non-democratic governments. I think this is a creative tension that produces a more balanced, integrated foreign policy.

Earlier today one of the participants, Nobuaki Tanaka, said that Japanese foreign policy, and Asian policy more generally, is “driven by concerns for stability” and is very conservative. The West, he said, is more likely to speak out for human rights and to press for sanctions on offending states. I don’t deny that there are cultural differences between Asia and the West. But I suggest that one factor that explains the different approaches to foreign policy is that parliaments in Asia tend to be weak and unassertive. Tanaka-san said that more grassroots action by NGOs would focus greater attention on human rights issues. I agree. But I also think that a more active parliament would have a great impact on foreign policy and would place issues related to human rights and democracy on the agenda. Japan may be headed in this direction. It is not an accident, after all, that we are having this meeting on democracy in the Diet. That’s where you find the energy to push ahead on the initiative to establish a new democracy foundation.

Such a foundation cannot succeed if there is not a political consensus supporting it, and that leads to my second point: Parliaments are the vehicle in a democracy through which consensus can be established among the various parties. It is in parliament all the parties are represented, so it is the natural arena where they can come together to fashion a common approach to an issue of this kind — the creation of a new institution to promote democracy — that will give all the parties a sense of ownership. Such a consensus is especially important once the foundation is up and running. If the government changes hands, the foundation will not be affected. It will have stability and be able to pursue long-term objectives — and the promotion of democracy is nothing if not a long-term objective.

Finally, the parliament can secure the independence of a democracy foundation from control by the executive or the bureaucracy. It stands between the government and the foundation, assuring that the foundation will be able to pursue consistent, long-term objectives and not become a mere instrument used by the government to achieve short-term policy goals. Such independence is indispensable if the foundation is to be effective and be regarded abroad as a genuine advocate of democracy, one that can earn the trust of non-governmental activists who are on the front-lines in struggles to defend human rights, fight corruption, and improve democratic governance.

These are issues that Nancy Kassebaum always understood when she was a Senator representing the great state of Kansas. To be sure, when the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) was first proposed, she was a skeptic who had to be convinced that a new institution was needed and could actually make a difference. She raised questions, but once she was convinced that the NED was a serious institution able to advance important American interests, she became one of our most devoted friends. She had a special interest in Africa, since she was the Chair of the Africa Subcommittee of the Committee on Foreign Relations, and also in women. Her door was always open when we had visitors from African NGOs or from organizations promoting women’s participation and empowerment. She also took part in our events and conferences, introducing in 1989 the future Nicaraguan President Violeta Chamorro, and at another conference presenting our 1995 Democracy Award to Monique Mujawamariya, the Rwandan human rights activist who survived the genocide in her country the year before. Senator Kassebaum has not only been a voice for a democratic foreign policy; she also has an attribute that I know is appreciated in Japan — she is a wise person. I personally have benefitted from her sound advice. I’m proud that Nancy Kassebaum Baker is representing the United States in Japan, and I’m honored to introduce her to you today.


Comments in response to a question about political apathy in advanced democracies

I am reminded of a comment made by the American abolitionist leader Wendall Phillips 150 years ago, that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. In all advanced democracies that are stable and relatively unified, there is a tendency for the public to become apathetic and uninvolved. It might be different if a country were deeply divided and people participated in politics because they had a great stake in the outcome of political conflicts. But that is not a condition that one would wish for.

One way to address the problem of non-involvement is through civic education. Uwe Optenhoegel of the Frederich Ebert Stiftung earlier pointed out that the German party foundations spend half of their money inside Germany on civic education programs. This is something that Japan will have to consider if and when it creates its own democracy foundation. Two years ago, when I first met Mrs. Sohma, I mentioned to her that I had read the civic education manual written by her father for the Japanese people near the end of his life. I remember clearly what she said: Japan never carried out such a program of civic education once the Cold War began and all energies were put into economic reconstruction. She thought there was still a big job to do in this area.

A democracy foundation can also promote education about democracy simply by connecting NGOs and others in Japan to people in non-democratic countries that are struggling to build democracy. Such people exist in scores of countries. Knowing who they are, what their struggles are about, how much they want democracy, and how much courage and commitment they demonstrate in fighting for it — knowing all of this is a powerful antidote against taking democracy for granted. Helping those who are working for democracy is thus an excellent cure for complacency. That is one of the unintended benefits that might accompany the establishment of a democracy foundation in Japan.


Remarks at the Reception hosted by both Chairpersons of the House

I want to thank Speaker Watanuki and President Kurata for so graciously hosting this reception, and especially for their important remarks embracing the work of democracy foundations and encouraging Japan to enhance its efforts in this field.

We have had a truly wonderful conference. I believe that Japan is proceeding the right way in considering how it might enhance the role of parliament and NGOs is promoting democracy. The creation of a Diet League with the participation of all the parties is of great significance. Having a consensus from the beginning of this process augurs well for a successful outcome.

It has been 12 years since I first spoke with Ambassador Yukio Sato about the idea of Japan’s establishing a foundation like our own which would have the purpose of advancing democracy through non-governmental efforts.

There were many discussions after that. But the idea did not begin to gather momentum until people associated with the Diet became involved. Starting with Yukihisa Fujita and then Taro Kono, the coalition grew to include former Prime Minister Hata and former Justice Minister Tanikawa to the point where today we have had this excellent conference with broad participation from the Diet. This is tremendously encouraging.

I want to say a special word about two people. The first is Yukika Sohma, the daughter of Yukio Ozaki. She has participated in the entire conference, humbling us by her presence. She is not only a great democrat but, like her father, she is an independent and irrepressible democratic spirit.

The second is Schu Sugawara, the organizer of this conference, whose mother passed away just the day before the conference began. Despite his great personal loss, he has been with us for most of the conference, taking care of every detail to ensure the success of this important meeting. He is doing this to honor his mother, who believed in helping people who are poor and lack freedom.

On behalf of the eight democracy foundations from six countries that took part in this conference, I want to say how grateful we all are for your hospitality and how much we look forward to Japan’s participation in the worldwide effort to promote democracy. Japan has an important contribution to make to this cause, and we are all ready to be helpful in whatever way we can as you develop your new initiative.

In my opening remarks yesterday, I mentioned that 70 years ago Yukio Ozaki wrote a prophetic essay. He had already seen that modem technology was creating a new global civilization. The new world, he wrote, was like a human body in that injury to any part of it would cause suffering to the whole. These words are even more relevant today than when they were written. Let us strengthen our cooperation in promoting democracy and our solidarity with those who are struggling for democracy. And through democracy let us build a new and more peaceful world order.

Thank you for welcoming us so graciously!