Democracy’s annual meeting


One of the few positive things to happen in Greece in the years of the crisis was the establishment of the annual New York Times’ forum on democracy in Athens.

The meeting, in which Kathimerini was a partner from the start, was first held five years ago as a conference on “Democracy under Pressure” and developed into the annual Athens Democracy Forum, which is spread out over several days, in cooperation with the United Nations Democracy Fund and the City of Athens.

At the start, it was clear that in Greece the economic crisis was creating problems which undermined both the spirit of democracy and the legitimacy of the political system, prompting the idea of a discussion at an international level. Since then, these problems have come to plague not only our own “special case” but are sweeping through larger countries with more mature democratic systems – most notably the United Kingdom and the United States.

Today it is commonplace that liberal democracy as we know it in the West faces multiple challenges from globalization, growing inequality and mass immigration. On the one hand, a lack of trust in political leaders and parties who cannot deliver easy solutions undermined the democratic system in the eyes of many who now seek radical solutions, who don’t trust mainstream media, who are easy prey for demagogues. On the other, different models of governance are appearing, most notably the Chinese combination of communism and capitalism, presenting a rival for liberal democracy and free markets.

As former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd noted in a panel discussion Thursday, soon China will be the world’s largest economy and it won’t be democratic, Western or English-speaking. This will have a huge impact on global economic and political governance.

The annual forum has become a barometer of the state of democracy around the world. This is its essence, beyond the speakers, the prizes and the ceremonies at the Presidential Mansion, the Odeon of Herod Atticus, the Stoa of Attalos, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, Costa Navarino, the Zappeion, Athens City Hall and many other landmarks that showcase the best of Greece.

Over time, the forum is developing into a place for debate and search for solutions, as this year’s theme, “Solutions for a Changing World” makes clear.

The forum’s most important contribution is that it exists. And it is becoming ever more necessary.