Documents on Democracy

Issue Date April 2019
Volume 30
Issue 2
Page Numbers 182-187
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On 8 May 2018, Nikol Pashinian was elected prime minister of Armenia following a month of peaceful antigovernment protests leading to the resignation of Serzh Sarkisian, who had been in power since 2008. On 1 March 2019, Pashinian spoke at a memorial event for the people killed during protests following the 2008 election of Sarkisian. (For more information on the peaceful revolution in Armenia, see the article by Miriam Lanskoy and Elspeth Suthers on pp. 85–99 above.) Pashinian’s remarks are excerpted below. (For a full version of this text, see

This day eleven years ago, on March 1, 2008, blood was shed in the center of Yerevan, capital of Armenia.

The then authorities used illegal force against peaceful demonstrators as a result of which 8 Armenian citizens were killed and two others died later from the injuries received on that day. …

Eleven years after these events, it is extremely important for us to give a political assessment to what happened. And now I consider it necessary to state that the actions of the ruling elite in 2008 were not at all aimed against a target force, a group or an individual: the main and perhaps the only target of such violence and illegalities was the citizens of the Republic of Armenia, our rights, dignity and freedom. …

March 1, 2008 was not a phenomenon that emerged overnight; it was the massive eruption and culmination of long-standing crackdowns, fraud, political killings, persecutions, and arbitrary actions that had oppressed Armenia and its people for many years. Those impermissible phenomena emerged soon after the declaration of independence of the Third Republic, when it seemed that democracy was irreversible in our country.

These ill-omened memories may arouse concerns and fears that after the non-violent velvet popular revolution of 2018, after the triumph of democracy, Armenia could fall into another cycle of turbulence. [End Page 182]

Today, on March 1, 2019, I want to make it clear that the return to the past is impossible in our country. Armenia will not return to corruption, political persecutions, political violence and abuse. …

Our mission is to make Armenia a country of law and justice, truth and values, and we will not deviate from that mission in any way.

This does not mean that there are not cases of illegalities, violations of human rights, and even cases of bribery and violence in today’s Armenia. Unfortunately, such instances still exist in our country. But every Armenian citizen should be confident that the government, the Prime Minister, is not the sponsor and the coordinator of illegalities, but their opponent instead. We will definitely succeed in the fight against lawlessness, rights violations, abuses; we will expose the crimes committed by the ruling elite, because the people and the government are united, and our unity is invincible and unshakable. …

Therefore, long live freedom, long live the Republic of Armenia, long live the Republic of Artsakh, long live our children and us, as we are living and will live in a free and happy Armenia!

Dear compatriots, spring is in the air today, and you have brought this spring to Armenia.


Thirty scholars, writers, and intellectuals signed a letter composed by philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy and novelists Milan Kundera, Salman Rushdie, Elfriede Jelinek, and Orhan Pamuk entitled “Fight for Europe—or the Wreckers Will Destroy It.” Among the other signatories were Nobel laureates Svetlana Alexievich and Mario Vargas Llosa, historian Anne Applebaum, and writer Adam Michnik. The full text follows:

The idea of Europe is in peril.

From all sides there are criticisms, insults and desertions from the cause.

“Enough of ‘building Europe’!” is the cry. Let’s reconnect instead with our “national soul”! Let’s rediscover our “lost identity”! This is the agenda shared by the populist forces washing over the continent. Never mind that abstractions such as “soul” and “identity” often exist only in the imagination of demagogues.

Europe is being attacked by false prophets who are drunk on resentment, and delirious at their opportunity to seize the limelight. It has been abandoned by the two great allies who in the previous century twice saved it from suicide; one across the Channel and the other across the Atlantic. The continent is vulnerable to the increasingly brazen meddling by the occupant of the Kremlin. Europe as an idea is falling apart before our eyes. [End Page 183]

This is the noxious climate in which Europe’s parliamentary elections will take place in May. Unless something changes; unless something comes along to turn back the rising, swelling, insistent tide; unless a new spirit of resistance emerges, these elections promise to be the most calamitous that we have known. They will give a victory to the wreckers. For those who still believe in the legacy of Erasmus, Dante, Goethe, and Comenius there will be only ignominious defeat. A politics of disdain for intelligence and culture will have triumphed. There will be explosions of xenophobia and antisemitism. Disaster will have befallen us.

We, the undersigned, are among those who refuse to resign themselves to this looming catastrophe.

We count ourselves among the European patriots (a group more numerous than is commonly thought, but that is often too quiet and too resigned), who understand what is at stake here. Three-quarters of a century after the defeat of fascism and thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall there is a new battle for civilization.

Our faith is in the great idea that we inherited, which we believe to have been the one force powerful enough to lift Europe’s peoples above themselves and their warring past. We believe it remains the one force today virtuous enough to ward off the new signs of totalitarianism that drag in their wake the old miseries of the dark ages. What is at stake forbids us from giving up.

Hence this invitation to join in a new surge.

Hence this appeal to action on the eve of an election that we refuse to abandon to the gravediggers of the European idea. Hence this exhortation to carry once more the torch of a Europe that, despite its mistakes, its lapses, and its occasional acts of cowardice, remains a beacon for every free man and woman on the planet.

Our generation got it wrong. Like Garibaldi’s followers in the nineteenth century, who repeated, like a mantra, “Italia se farà da sè” (Italy will make herself by herself), we believed that the continent would come together on its own, without our needing to fight for it, or to work for it. This, we told ourselves, was “the direction of history.”

We must make a clean break with that old conviction. We don’t have a choice. We must now fight for the idea of Europe or see it perish beneath the waves of populism.

In response to the nationalist and identitarian onslaught, we must rediscover the spirit of activism or accept that resentment and hatred will surround and submerge us. Urgently, we need to sound the alarm against these arsonists of soul and spirit who, from Paris to Rome, with stops along the way in Barcelona, Budapest, Dresden, Vienna, and Warsaw, want to make a bonfire of our freedoms.

In this strange defeat of “Europe” that looms on the horizon; this new crisis of the European conscience that promises to tear down everything that made our societies great, honourable, and prosperous, there is a[End Page 184] challenge greater than any since the 1930s: a challenge to liberal democracy and its values.


On February 14, the National Endowment for Democracy, the Solidarity Center, and the Free Russia Foundation held a memorial symposium on Capitol Hill in honor of Lyudmila Alexeyeva, who died on 8 December 2018 at the age of 91. Known as the matriarch of Russia’s human-rights movement, Alexeyeva was one of the founders in 1976 of the Moscow Helsinki Group (MHG), the first major independent human-rights organization in the Soviet Union. Senator Ben Cardin and Representative Tom Malinowski made opening remarks. A panel chaired by NED’s Miriam Lanskoy included Daniel Fried, John Tefft, Catherine Cosman, and Russian activists Sergei Davidis and Leonid Gozman. The symposium program included tributes to Alexeyeva, which are excerpted below:

Nadia Diuk, former NED vice-president for programs: We must do something because I fear that her true legacy will be overlooked and underestimated. She did not always side with the most radical and outspoken of the Russian dissidents, but without her, that diverse and motley gathering may never have become the powerful force Moscow Helsinki Group. She was the organizer, note taker, chronicler of events that gave the MHG its body. …

She was a strong moral voice that was always tempered with realism. Putin listened to her, but not everyone agreed with her approach. Nonetheless, she continued to work to fulfill her vision of a better Russia, inspiring hundreds of people along the way, right up to the end. May she rest in peace.

Leonid Gozman, president of Russia’s Union of Right Forces: There were so many people whom she managed to free from jail, to rescue from torture, or to protect from unjust courts. But there were still more people whom she refused to allow to surrender to cowardice, to commit some low act, or to close their eyes to evil—for they knew she would never again offer them her hand. …

Not everyone is so lucky to have such a person in their lives. And when such a person does appear, they usually lift up only a few—their loved ones, their closest friends, their disciples. But Lyudmila Mikhailovna was such a person for so many, even for those who never had the fortune to know her personally. Well, and even more so for those who did know her! It wasn’t necessarily that you thought about her when making your decision: Will I go, or stay home? Will I speak out, or stay silent? Rather, it was that her invisible presence was always [End Page 185] with you, and thus you simply got up, and you went, and you spoke out, even when you didn’t always understand exactly why you had done so.

(Excerpted from a tribute in Novaya Gazeta, 9 December, 2018)

Alfred Friendly, Jr., former Newsweek Moscow bureau chief and former deputy staff director of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE): In 1975, the year the Helsinki accords were signed, Lyuda’s main occupation involved gathering, editing and circulating news of the Soviet regime’s abuses of human rights. Seven years earlier she had helped create the Chronicle of Current Events, an underground journal that compiled straightforward reports of repression including arrests, trials, home searches, interrogations and expulsions from jobs, schools, and professional societies. … Lyuda became not only a reporter, editor, publisher and circulation manager, but also one of those who discreetly raised money from sympathizers at work to help prisoners and their families. Disbursing those funds, she was ingenious enough to slip ruble notes into packets of tea in the food parcels that the incarcerated were permitted at times to receive. …

For me, Lyuda and those who shared her passion for a just, open society stood solidly in the tradition of the nineteenth-century Russian intelligentsia, men and women Isaiah Berlin characterized as a “kind of self-conscious army, carrying a banner for all to see—of reason and science, of liberty, of a better life.”

Lyuda’s own description of herself and her companions was less grandiose. At a CSCE Commission hearing on 3 June 1977, Rep. Millicent Fenwick asked her, “Where do you get the courage to act in defiance of such a regime? … Where does such courage come from?”

Lyuda’s answer was that to Westerners “being a dissident looks different … more daunting than it does” to us. “There are many people who want to remain self-respecting,” she said, “and if you want to maintain self-respect, these are the things you do. From inside it does not appear quite so courageous … I believe any self-respecting citizen or person from here who found herself in those conditions and wanted to remain self-respecting would act exactly in the same way.”


At the Ninth Global Assembly of the World Movement for Democracy in May 2018, a group of parliamentarians from around the world convened to discuss their role in promoting democracy and human rights. On December 10, this group released a “Parliamentary Call for Global Democratic Renewal,” signed by 51 parliamentarians from Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe. Excerpts from the letter appear below. (For a full version of this text, see 

We, the undersigned parliamentarians, call upon our peers to take [End Page 186] urgent action to defend democratic norms and values around the world. Increasingly, aggressive authoritarian regimes are tightening repression at home, while also seeking to expand their power abroad. In addition to using more traditional hard power mechanisms, authoritarian regimes are using a growing arsenal of “sharp power” tools, such as disinformation and computational propaganda, politically motivated investment strategies, and the use of corrupt practices to advance political influence. Increased authoritarian aggression must not go unchallenged. …

To address global threats to democracy, the undersigned current and former members of parliament call upon their global peers to urgently take the following actions:

Counter authoritarian aggression and disinformation. Authoritarian aggression and hybrid warfare designed to undermine democracies, if allowed to go unchallenged, simply invites escalation. We call upon our peers to take protective and preventive actions to counter hostile information operations, cyber attacks, and the weaponization of social media, while protecting freedom of expression. …

Stand up for human rights and fight corruption and kleptocracy. Abuses of human rights and the erosion of ethical standards in democratic governments play into a false authoritarian narrative that all political systems are equally corrupt. We call upon our peers to hold accountable government officials, in their countries and abroad, who commit human rights violations or acts of corruption, or who benefit from money laundering and tax evasion. We also encourage our peers to demand an end to attacks on parliamentarians and civic activists who are targeted for their efforts to uphold human rights and ethical standards in their countries. …

Insist on accountable government. We call upon our peers to encourage and support the strengthening of public institutions in order to promote government transparency and accountability. We also encourage our peers to use their legislative, budgetary, and oversight powers to ensure a foreign policy that differentiates between states and political leaders who abide by international democratic and human rights norms, and those who routinely violate these norms. …

Democratic solidarity is essential in countering authoritarian aggression and promoting the growth of democratic values around the world. Together, through a unified effort, democratic renewal can be achieved. [End Page 187]