Slovakia: Democracy from Below, Not from on High

Recent anti-Roma speech throughout Europe, including in Slovakia, negatively impacts Roma children like these, photographed by Nadezhda Mouzykina in a segregated Slovak settlement. 

Editor's Note: Stanislav Daniel, NDI Roma Political Participation Program Alumnus and Coordinator of Romani Early Years Network, contributed to this piece.

Slovakia’ ruling SMER party convened its annual congress in December. Although a social democratic party now in power for a number of years, the congress had the unfortunate political trappings of a populist, right-wing gathering. Instead of pronouncing on poverty and inequality and other issues important to all citizens, the party chose instead to scapegoat Slovakia’s most vulnerable constituency—the Roma—as public support for a far-right political alternative grows.

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One Step at a Time in Haiti

Morning bursts over Port-au-Prince.

Haiti is a country of natural beauty and vast potential, but something is always getting in the way of its progress. As the first independent nation in Latin America, and one of the oldest democracies, Haiti has a proud tradition on which to build. However, in the wake of the world’s only successful slave revolt and its declaration of independence in 1803, nations refused to recognize Haiti’s independence for decades, fearful of encouraging revolt among their own slave populations.

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Youth are driving change in Latin America

Latin Americans discussing youth political participation

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Twelve young Latin American political leaders and activists recently gathered in Guatemala for an NDI-led workshop on youth political participation. Conversations ranged from what motivates youth to get involved in politics, to how sociocultural norms about youth affect their work, and what tactics youth have used to elevate their political voices in their home countries of El Salvador, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Mexico. Amidst widespread myths about youth political apathy, these diverse young activists represent a generation that is motivated to build more inclusive, democratic societies.

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Best DemWorks Posts of 2016

In the past year, the DemWorks blog has become an established platform for sharing ideas on democratic development around the world. Since the DemWorks blog launched in February 2015, we have published over 159 posts and reached 108,000 users in 198 countries around the world. Here’s the list of the most-read blog posts and series from 2016.

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Women Have the Power to Lead Differently

Susana Villarán (right) speaks with Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris, at the United Cities and Local Governments World Summit, in Bogota (October 2016).

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"The world is not built or transformed without half of humanity, and because it is so difficult for us as women to achieve power and at the highest level in our cities, our commitment is to transform them," said Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris, at the United Cities and Local Government World Summit. Our delegation -- composed of women mayors and social leaders convened by the National Democratic Institute -- had the objective to radically deepen the gender perspective and the policies in favor of the rights of women living in cities embodied in the 175 articles of the New Urban Agenda (NUA) approved in Quito by the member states of the United Nations.

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Political Parties in Kosovo Should Be the Cornerstone of Democracy, Not a Gimmick.

Cross-party training events like this one, part of the Women Political Empowerment Training conducted by NDI, would have a bigger impact if political parties in Kosovo became more inclusive and created a space for women and youth.

In a small country like Kosovo, in order to “get things done,” you need to be affiliated with a political party, understand how to navigate the political system and lobby hard for your cause. None of these requirements would be an issue if ideologies and policies were at the heart of discussion and negotiations. Instead, party affiliation in Kosovo is based on business relationships - not policy - and this political culture undermines internal party democracy.

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The distributed denial of democracy

Social media and the Internet have had a drastic effect on the surprise results of yesterday’s election in the United States, driving the spread of information—and misinformation—at times bringing voters together and, perhaps more often, pushing them apart. As the spotlight shifts off of the U.S. in the aftermath of November 8, it’s important to recognize that this is not a uniquely American trend. More than half of Internet users now report using social media as a primary source of news, according to a study across 26 countries, and more than one quarter call it their main news source. In developing countries where reliable news sources are more limited, those numbers may be even higher. As reliance on social media and the Internet for news and information rises exponentially, political discourse is also rapidly moving online. A free and open Internet, where citizens can engage in fair dialogue and access accurate information, is thus critical to modern democracy and human rights.

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Why Cyber-Attacks Are Anything But a Taste of Our Own Medicine

Headlines are warning us about Russian “mischief” in the U.S. elections. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence have said they are confident that the Russian government is behind hacks into US email accounts and that cyber-probes of some state election systems may also be traced to Russia. A group of prominent national security and defense experts has predicted that Russian hackers will use the stolen emails to build credibility, then leak fake documents in order to manipulate voters’ opinions and, possibly, choices at the ballot box. These cyber-espionage and disinformation campaigns sound like the stuff of spy novels, except they’re real. What’s going on?

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Guatemala’s Progress Toward Reform Still Faces Many Challenges

Plenary session of the Congress of the Republic of Guatemala

In late October, I joined a staff delegation of the House Democracy Partnership (HDP) in its assessment mission to explore a potential partnership between the U.S. Congress and the Congress of Guatemala, a unicameral body made up of 158 deputies elected for four-year terms. Having spent a good deal of time working to end the Central American wars in the 1980s as a congressional staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives, it was my first trip to the region in nearly three decades. I returned to the U.S. hopeful and cautiously optimistic that Guatemala may be turning a corner in its democratic development while still working to overcome the legacy of the brutal civil war that resulted in hundreds of thousands of victims from 1960-1996.

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Let’s Speak the Same Language on Democracy and Peace

Citizens ask questions of candidates during NDI-supported senate debates in Liberia during the 2005 elections. Credit: Jim Della-Giacoma

Can there be peace without the United Nations? Maybe. Resilient democracies might also exist without direct intervention from international organizations. But given that NDI’s Resilient Democracy blog series was launched on the UN International Day of Peace, it would be useful to consider the role of international organizations and the evolving ideas they are promoting about sustaining peace and peaceful societies. Connecting to the UN’s macro thinking could strengthen NDI’s micro-level work.

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