Carl Gershman Democracy Symposium: The Fight for a Democratic Future

September 21, 2021
10:00 am - 12:00 pm

About the Event

Around the globe, the struggle for democracy is in full-swing. In countries like Cuba and Belarus, courageous citizens are protesting against longtime authoritarian regimes. Formerly solid democracies like Hungary and Turkey are witnessing the rapid erosion of democratic rights and institutions. While democratic progress is seen in places like Moldova and Zambia, authoritarian powers—most notably China and Russia—repress rights movements and political opposition at home, and simultaneously reach beyond their borders to exert influence and undermine democracies. This year, Freedom House’s annual survey, Freedom in the World 2021, documented the 13th straight year of democratic decline.

Since 1984, the National Endowment for Democracy has provided support to thousands of grassroots efforts in more than 100 countries to advance and strengthen democratic rights, values, and institutions – work that is increasingly important in this challenging environment of authoritarian resurgence. For 37 years, NED’s founding President Carl Gershman, who retired in July 2021, led the development of the Endowment from small grant making start-up to the thriving institution it is today – America’s flagship democracy foundation, making nearly 2000 grants each year, and serving as a leading center for democratic thought and action.

To honor Carl Gershman’s service, the NED hosted a symposium that engaged leading thinkers about how to confront these challenges to democracy as well as frontline activists who shared their insights from the day-to-day fight for freedom worldwide.

ABout the Speakers

Carl Gershman was the founding president of the National Endowment for Democracy. In addition to presiding over the Endowment’s grants program in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union and Latin America, he oversaw the creation of the quarterly Journal of Democracy, the International Forum for Democratic Studies, the Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellows Program, and the Center for International Media Assistance. He also took the lead in launching the World Movement for Democracy in New Delhi in 1999.

Kenneth Wollack is the chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Endowment for Democracy. Wollack is co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates, a member of the advisory committee for the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the George W. Bush Institute’s Advisory Council on Human Freedom. He is also a Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. For more than 25 years, he served as president of the National Democratic Institute.

Damon Wilson is the president and chief executive officer of the National Endowment for Democracy. Prior to joining NED, Mr. Wilson was the executive vice president of the Atlantic Council, worked at the National Security Council (NSC) as the director for Central, Eastern, and Northern European Affairs from 2004 to 2006, special assistant to the president and senior director for European affairs at the NSC from 2007 to 2009, and as the executive secretary and chief of staff at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Anne Applebaum is a staff writer for the Atlantic and a Senior Fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and the Agora Institute. Formerly a member of the Washington Post editorial board, she has also worked as the Foreign and Deputy Editor of the Spectator magazine , as the Political Editor of the Evening Standard, and as a columnist at several British newspapers, including the Daily and Sunday Telegraphs. From 1988-1991 she covered the collapse of communism as the Warsaw correspondent of the Economist magazine. Applebaum serves on the NED Board of of Directors.

Francis Fukuyama is Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Mosbacher Director of FSI’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law, and Director of the Masters in International Policy. He has served twice in the US State Department and taught previously at George Mason and Johns Hopkins SAIS. He is the author of nine books, most recently Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment.

Ambassador Reuben Brigety is the Vice Chancellor and President of the University of the South, Sewanee. He is also an adjunct senior fellow for African peace and security issues at the Council on Foreign Relations. Previously, he was dean of the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. From 2013-15. Amb. Brigety served as the U. S. Ambassador to the African Union and Permanent Representative of the United States to the UN Economic Commission for Africa. Prior to these appointments, he served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of African Affairs with responsibility for southern Africa and regional security affairs. Brigety serves on the NED Board of of Directors.

Michele Dunne is a Director of Carnegie’s Middle East Program, where her research focuses on political and economic change in Arab countries, particularly Egypt, as well as U.S. policy in the Middle East. She was the founding director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council from 2011 to 2013 and was a senior associate and editor of the Arab Reform Bulletin at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace from 2006 to 2011. Dunne serves on the NED Board of Directors.

Larry Diamond is the founding coeditor of the Journal of Democracy and the co-chair of the Research Council of the International Forum for Democratic Studies of the National Endowment for Democracy. At Stanford University, Diamond is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, where he directed the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law from 2009–2015. He is also professor by courtesy of political science and sociology at Stanford, where he teaches courses on comparative democratic development and post-conflict democracy building.

Igor Blaževič is a prominent European human rights campaigner and democracy activist of Bosnian origin living in the Czech Republic. Igor is the founder and long-time director of the One World, the Europe’s biggest human rights documentary film festival. Since 1992, Igor was involved in the activities of the People in Need. Between 2011 and 2016 Igor worked in Myanmar running courses on comparative experiences of successful and failed transitions to democracy to broad variety of civic and political activists from Myanmar. Currently, Igor is with the Prague Civil Society Centre focusing on the programs supporting civil society in countries of East Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia. For his activities in favor of human rights he received the Alice Garrigue Masaryk Award, František Kriegel Price and Prix Irene.

Zainab Bangura currently serves as the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Nairobi. From 2012 to 2017, she served as the United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict with the rank of Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations. She was also the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation in Sierra Leone from 2007 until 2010. A relentless advocate for conflict resolution and reconciliation, and a human rights champion in her native Sierra Leone, Ms. Bangura formerly served as the Executive Director of National Accountability Groups as well as Coordinator and Co-founder of the Campaign for Good Governance – both NED grantees. She has been a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at NED and served as Chairperson of the World Movement for Democracy’s Steering Committee.

Nathan Law is a young Hong Kong activist, currently in exile and based in London. During the Umbrella Movement in 2014, Nathan was one of the five representatives who took part in the dialogue with the government, debating political reform. Upholding non-violent civic actions, Nathan, Joshua Wong and other student leaders founded Demosistō in 2016 and ran for the Legislative Council election. Nathan was elected with 50,818 votes in the Hong Kong Island constituency and became the youngest Legislative Councilor in history. Yet his seat was overturned in July 2017 following Beijing’s constitutional reinterpretation, despite international criticism. Nathan was later jailed for his participation in the Umbrella Movement. The persecution sparked global concern over Beijing’s crackdown on human rights and democratic movement in Hong Kong.In 2018, Nathan and his fellow student activists Joshua Wong and Alex Chow were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by US congressmen and British parliament members.

Rosa María Payá Acevedo is a Cuban democracy activist and human rights defender. In 2015, she founded the citizen initiative Cuba Decide, a movement in favor of changing the political and economic systems in Cuba towards democracy, through a plebiscite. She is the daughter of the late Oswaldo Payá, the recipient of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize and two-time nominee of the Nobel Peace Prize, who was killed by the regime in 2012. Rosa María is a graduate of Physics at the University of Havana and of the Global Competitive Leadership program at Georgetown University. She has been a lecturer and guest of honor at various universities throughout the United States and Latin America, as well as at the UN, the Concordia Summit of the Americas, the Freedom Forum, the US Congress, and multiple parliaments in Europe and the Americas.