by Margot Wallström, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden
One of the great achievements of the 20th century was the spread of democracy and economic development on a global scale. Democracy has proven to be the best form of governance. It delivers economic and social gains as well as peace and stability. It enables voices to be heard, encourages participation and allows for conflicts in society to be solved through peaceful means. Democratic societies stand stronger in an ever-changing world.
Yet democracy requires continuous attention and engagement. The freedom and prosperity of our societies must be defended and reclaimed every day. Because today, for the first time since the 1970’s, more people live in countries with authoritarian tendencies, than in countries making democratic progress. The world is – again – becoming less free, including in Europe. Journalists find it harder to carry out their work. Civil society and human rights activists are threatened and persecuted. Agitation and hate are poisoning debates. When human rights and freedoms are curtailed, societies suffer and citizens’ rights and choices are restricted. Public confidence in society and politics is affected.
The good news is that nothing is predetermined. Together we can reverse the trend. Therefore, Sweden has launched a Drive for Democracy: We will increase our support for democracy around the world, to promote the respect for human rights and rule of law, to help journalists, to fight corruption, and to advance equal rights and opportunities. There can be no real democracy if half of the population is left out. An important part of strengthening democracy is to create equality between women and men. This makes life better for everyone: societies where women have the same opportunities and obligations as men are more prosperous, more healthy and more innovative.
Sweden will continue to support reforms that strengthen democracy in the Western Balkans. The EU-integration process sets out clear priorities to this end. Stronger determination on the part of governments in the region will be needed. The implementation of the 2030 Agenda is the global road map for sustainable development and an important tool to achieve sustainable democratic societies.
The challenges to democracy vary between countries, but we can all take important steps forward by standing up for democracy in our own country. We hope that Serbia and others will join us in these efforts. Our countries have a special relation. Some 130 000 Swedes have their roots in Serbia and even more Serbs have family and friends in Sweden. This adds to our already strong ties.
Sweden is a long-term supporter of sustainable development and EU integration in Serbia. We cooperate in a wide range of areas such as police and environmental reform as well as combatting trafficking in small arms. At the local level we work with city administrations to help prepare them for the day Serbia becomes a member of the European Union. We support civil society in its work for equality and transparency and against corruption. One example of successful cooperation is our support to CRTA, an organisation that works with transparency and electoral monitoring, for which they were awarded the 2018 OSCE “Democracy Defender Award”.
But even more can be done, not least to find ways to bring hope and opportunities to young people. They constitute the future of Serbia but are in many cases leaving the country. Promoting social equality and strengthening cohesion would enable young people to contribute to and take part in democracy.
I sometimes think of a story about a grandfather, telling his grandchild about how humans experience a battle between two wolves inside them. One is evil, the other is good. Which wolf wins? asks the child. The one you feed, says the grandfather.
This goes for the world as well. We have to feed the good forces. Protecting democracy means promoting peace, prosperity and social equality. I hope that you, not least the young generation, want to participate in this endeavour.