NED invited democracy activists and leaders to share their thoughts and reflections on the 35th anniversary of President Reagan’s Westminster Address. Follow NED on Twitter and Facebook to see more, and share your own reflections using the hashtag #Westminster35
Michael Danby, Australian House of Representatives
Totalitarianism still ruled much of the world. While many dithered, Reagan knew Communism’s fragility: its moral decay.
I always found it politically endearing that Ronald Reagan began his career in politics as a union official in the Screen Actors Guild. Being a social democrat, I didn’t agree with President Reagan on everything. But looking back, it’s hard to not agree with him on everything that matters.
Everything happens for a reason. And Reagan happened at just the right time. He – as much as anyone – pushed Communism and much of the threat of mutually assured destruction off a cliff where it crashed into a ravine of ruin replete with the remains of so many other extinguished evil empires and idiotic totalitarian ideas, now lying in the dust.
Freedom never had a more impassioned, polished, powerful pitch-man than President Ronald Reagan.
I’ve often wondered about the shyness of some of us in the West about standing for these ideals that have done so much to ease the plight of man and the hardships of our imperfect world.
We should all keep wondering and challenging ourselves on this persistent shyness as the democracies face evil in its enduring forms in the modern world: Deas (IS), that vicious, violent extremism which hijacks the name of Islam, the North Korean regime, the subjugation and enslavement of women in too many nations, and the soft-fascism of the world’s strong-man leaders who have play-elections, tamed media, corrupted courts and vast Swiss bank accounts.
Let us remember President Reagan’s Westminster cri de coer for democracy.
As Dr King said: Let freedom reign.
And Let us be shy no longer.
Michael Danby has been a member of the Australian House of Representatives since October 1998, representing the Division of Melbourne Ports, Victoria. He also serves on the Steering Committee of the World Movement for Democracy.
In 1946, with the world in tatters and Josef Stalin closing his fist, the United States created the structures that fought the Cold War. In 1982, Ronald Reagan delivered his historic speech at Westminster and launched the mission that would bring that war to a victorious close less than ten years later. Thirty-five years ago, when Reagan spoke in London, democracy faced an existential competitor: the totalitarian Communism of the Soviet Union. And yet, the American president spoke boldly not about defending his country or its allies, but of standing up for the rights and lives of the citizens of that very enemy, and for the citizens of oppressed nations everywhere. It was a message that was felt very keenly by all of us behind the Iron Curtain. It gave us hope.
Today, the free world once again faces many enemies, and billions of people still live under dictatorship. But unlike in 1982, democracies now hold overwhelming economic and military advantages, not only the moral high ground. Our only existential threat is our own complacency. Once again, a rallying cry is required. We could do no better than to look to President Reagan’s words that day in London: “Let us ask ourselves: What kind of people do we think we are? And let us answer: free people, worthy of freedom, and determined not only to remain so but to help others gain their freedom as well.”
Garry Kasparov is the Chairman of the Human Rights Foundation
Congressman Peter Roskam
This year marks the 35th anniversary of President Ronald Reagan’s historic and transformative Westminster Address. On this day, President Reagan laid the foundation of America’s commitment and determination to advance the cause of freedom and democracy for all nations of the world.
Around the globe, democracy is under assault. Authoritarianism is on the rise and there has never been a more pressing time to heed President Reagan’s call to “foster the infrastructure of democracy” and develop institutions which allow people to live out their God-given right of self-determination.
As we mark thirty-five years after this historic address, it remains imperative that the United States continues President Reagan’s legacy in seeking to ensure every human being has the right to choose their destiny.
Congressman Peter Roskam is currently in his sixth term representing the 6th District of Illinois.
One only has to read, or reread, President Ronald Reagan’s speech before the British parliament to appreciate how relevant his words are 35 years later – words that underscore the universal appeal of democracy and the need for the community of democracies to join together in support of those aspirations. That speech began a process that led to the creation by the Congress of the National Endowment for Democracy and the four affiliated institutes, including the National Democratic Institute (NDI).
This bi-partisan effort has given concrete expression to America’s interests and values. The notion that there should be a dichotomy between our moral preferences and our strategic interests is a false one. Our ultimate foreign policy goal is a world that is secure, stable, humane and safe – where the risk of war is minimal. Yet, the reality is that hotspots most likely to erupt in violence are found, for the most part, in areas of the world that are nondemocratic. At a time when authoritarian governments are becoming more aggressive and sophisticated, and when new democracies are struggling to meet the expectations of their citizens, the vision and ideas embodied in President Reagan’s Westminster Address should continue to be a clarion call to action on behalf of those advancing the cause of democracy.
Kenneth Wollack is President of the National Democratic Institute
Times have changed since President Reagan’s 1982 Westminster Address, but the principles underlying it are as crucial today as they were 35 years ago.
Reagan’s passionate plea for democracy and its values were primarily aimed at the Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries then under communist rule. Communism and Soviet-type totalitarianism have eventually disappeared from the region in a sweeping earthquake initiated by Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika: but the almost messianic visions shared at the time almost universally have not been fulfilled as hoped.
After tumultuous years of democratic experimentation, accompanied by sometimes uncritical radical moves towards full-fledged market capitalism, Russia has slid back into a form of authoritarianism reminiscent of traditional czarism. At the same time, Ukraine is oscillating between the twin scourges of authoritarianism and anarchy. And even in the Visegrad countries, which succeeded in an orderly transition to multi-party democracy, Hungary and Poland today experience neo-authoritarian and nationalistic tendencies harking back to historical patterns which many have thought would never return.
All this underlies the importance of President Reagan’s message, which rightly maintained that in order to develop and sustain a consolidated democratic system, there is a constant need for a vibrant civil society, bolstered by “a free press, trade unions, political parties, universities, which allow people to choose their own culture and reconcile their own differences through peaceful means”. We now know that merely holding elections, without these infra-structures of civil society, anchored in solid institutions and the rule of law, democracies may not be sustainable. Hence the effort to strengthen and further develop these institutions is crucial to avert the rise of populism and the return of authoritarianism.
The same lesson can be learned from the disappointments of the great hopes kindled by the Arab spring, when massive public demonstration toppled authoritarian leaders and regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya, and seriously challenged dictatorship in Syria: nothing like this has ever happened in any Arab country before. But the hopes associated with the courageous young demonstrators on Tahir Square in Cairo were dashed and what emerged instead were first fundamentalist Islam and later a military coup. Once again, the weakness of civil society in Egypt, and in other Middle Eastern countries, have undermined the hopes for a peaceful transition to democracy. Other developments, as in Turkey, suggest similar challenges.
In celebrating Reagan’s call for democracy we should recall that democratic transitions cannot be limited merely to holding elections. As the 20th century has proved, the rise of democracy in Western Europe was itself not an easy one, and it had to confront many obstacles. Similarly, in continuing to hope and strive for democracy – in Eastern Europe, in the Middle East and everywhere else – the necessity of helping to consolidate the wide network of voluntary associations, which are the bedrock of democracy, should never be overlooked, and President Reagan’s 1982 call should continue as a beacon of hope and a challenge for the future to all of us.
Shlomo Avineri is professor of political science at the Hebrew University and member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. He served as Director-General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Marilyn Carlson Nelson
Thirty-five years ago the world heard then President Reagan’s enduring message that freedom is the inalienable and universal right of all human beings. Since 1982, we have learned that freedoms are not to be taken for granted. We do not inherit them, rather they must be earned by every generation.
The National Endowment for Democracy has worked tirelessly since its founding to enable and empower heroic individuals around the world who are selflessly ‘earning’ societal freedoms at great personal peril. By creating the independent National Endowment for Democracy, President Reagan has had a lasting impact on democracy promotion around the world. By annually funding the NED, and acknowledging the important grant making role of its staff and expert board, the US Congress is perpetuating the conviction that our own freedom is best earned by acknowledging and supporting the inalienable rights of all.
Marilyn Carlson Nelson is Co-Chair Carlson Holdings, LLC, and Secretary of the Board of Directors of National Endowment for Democracy.
Ambassador William J. Burns
At Westminster, Ronald Reagan reminded us that “If history teaches anything it teaches self-delusion in the face of unpleasant facts is folly.”
There are plenty of unpleasant facts about today’s world – from the return of great power rivalry to rising seas and the political, economic, and social upheaval caused by the Great Recession and the centrifugal forces of globalization and technological innovation.
Unfortunately, there is also no shortage of self-delusion and folly. At a moment when international order is under such severe strain, the values and purpose at the core of the American idea – political and economic openness and respect for human dignity – matter more than ever. But there is a real risk that today’s nasty brew of mercantilism, unilateralism, and unreconstructed nationalism will dilute our democracy, deface the power of our example, and diminish our capacity for global leadership.
Stepping back from the ideas that made and continue to make America great, pulling away from the partnerships, alliances, and institutions that gave these ideas life and meaning, and giving up the initiative that has brought freedom and prosperity to so many in so many parts of the world, will be the height of folly – and a serious self-inflicted wound.
– Ambassador William J. Burns is the President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of State.