We are standing up for democracy

Published 8 July 2019 in:

Photo: UN Photo

Democracy is worth protecting – every day. The freedom to choose, speak, think and love can never be taken for granted.

The same applies to people’s right to exercise influence, vote and be treated equally under the law.

Sweden will continue to do all it can to be a strong voice and actor for democratic development in the world. We are now stepping up our efforts to protect democracy.

Unfortunately, there is a trend of democratic backsliding in many parts of the world. This especially concerns freedom of expression, association, assembly and the rule of law. More people are living in countries with authoritarian tendencies than in countries making democratic progress.

This is cause for concern. We are convinced that democracy is the best foundation for a sustainable society. A democratic, inclusive and equal society gives everyone the best opportunities to achieve their full potential and to contribute to and participate in developing society.

One example of democratic decline is that it is more difficult for journalists, elected representatives and human rights defenders to do their jobs – they risk being harassed, persecuted and even killed. If fear, lies and hatred get the upper hand to the detriment of facts, we will end up with a more hostile society. Another serious example is when governments intervene in legal proceedings or try to influence election results.

The decline in democracy is greater in Europe than in any other region of the world. The wave of freedom that washed over Central Europe following 1989 has not only petered out; in some places it has even been pushed back. Today, the norms and principles of human rights, democracy and the rule of law on which the EU was built are being challenged and called into question – even by some EU Member States.

This is why, in its 2019 Statement of Foreign Policy, Sweden launched a drive for democracy. Sweden will stand up for democratic principles in all contexts, such as citizen participation, human rights, representative government, gender equality, separation of powers, the rule of law, free media, independent institutions, social equality and integration.

We want to do this in collaboration with other states, international bodies and civil society. We especially want to engage young people in the debate and in endeavours to strengthen and promote democratic societies.

Another key part of our drive for democracy is working to ensure that women enjoy the same rights, resources and representation as men.

In parallel to the drive for democracy, Sweden will continue to pursue a feminist foreign policy – wholeheartedly, throughout the world. We see that a growing number of countries are being inspired and are following our lead.

Fully functioning democracy is impossible without human rights, and Sweden has a crucial responsibility to promote these rights.

We will increase democracy assistance, and support the defenders and institutions of democracy. We need to give even better support to civil society and positive forces in countries where democracy is being pushed back.

One current example is Sweden’s support to the Union of Tanzania Press Club, which works on security and protection for journalists, as well as education and training for reporters.

“We’re scared. We’re scared of being imprisoned. The new media law has made it difficult to write and report. We’ve been forced into a corner, we can’t spread the stories that are true, that we’ve heard from our own sources. And a lot of reporters give up on careers that they would otherwise have wanted to continue with all their lives,” says Bahat Mustapher, chair of the Kilimanjaro Press Club.

“If you make the slightest mistake the medium is banned. Now we can only see the government’s TV channel, TBC. This is a big problem,” says Bahat Mustapher.

Sweden’s Minister for International Development Cooperation Peter Eriksson outlines Sweden’s actions to protect democracy:

“This is about providing support and sustenance wherever democracy can grow, and expressing criticism when it is eroded. Just like the climate, democracy is a defining issue of our time. There is no time to lose. We have to help each other ensure that democracy develops and that people’s trust and confidence in the democratic system grows stronger than populism and trust in authoritarian currents. This is why we are increasing our democracy assistance, not least in Eastern Europe.”

Sweden currently provides approximately SEK 210 million annually to Ukraine and approximately SEK 115–120 million each to Moldova, Georgia and Belarus in line with our development cooperation agreements. Now the Government wants to increase its total support to the countries in Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans and Turkey by SEK 250 million in 2019, of which SEK 150 million will be earmarked for an initiative for democracy.

Sweden’s global support to promote and strengthen democracy has also increased to SEK 1 billion.

Virtually all Sweden’s bilateral development cooperation strategies set objectives for democracy, which is very telling of Sweden’s broad approach to democracy support.

Peter Eriksson mentions a few examples of how the money will be used:

“Efforts to combat corruption and promote the rule of law must be strengthened and are fundamental in discussions about building confidence in democratic institutions. But this is ultimately also a matter of poverty reduction. A society characterised by corruption becomes inefficient and does not supply the necessary public services needed to enable positive development,” he says.

“Support to state institutions must be complemented by support for civil society organisations. Unfortunately, threats and violence against both women’s rights organisations and LGBTI organisations are widespread. Sweden always raises these important issues in talks with representatives of governments in our partner countries – to contribute to the development of a pluralistic civil society,” he adds.

To give just one example: since 2010, Sweden has been supporting GenderDoc-M, the only organisation in Moldova that works for LGBTI rights.

“LGBTI people are invisible here – people think that we don’t exist or that we’re sick. Anyone who dares to come out risks losing their job, friends and family, and being subjected to violence. This means that few people dare to be open about their sexual orientation,” says Andrei Colioglo, one of the people who have been helped by GenderDoc-M.

Peter Eriksson adds:

“Sweden’s support to independent and free media will also be further strengthened. Propaganda and disinformation risk undermining the political development of several countries in our vicinity. It is important that people have access to free and independent journalism.”

“We need to act effectively to expose and address disinformation in Sweden, the EU and our eastern neighbours. Our response must be to support independent and investigative journalism and thus contribute to a more pluralistic media landscape.”

Sweden is also working for democratic development in the area of trade. Democracy, human rights and free trade are important associated factors behind stable and positive economic development. Human rights and trade policy, including the rules of the World Trade Organisation, are based on the same values; rule of law, non-discrimination, individual freedom and welfare through peaceful cooperation. Civil and political rights are a key ingredient of good governance, essential to the proper conduct of trade relations. The opening of markets stimulates efficiency and spurs development, contributing at the same time to social and economic rights.

Sweden is a strong voice for these fundamental values, for free trade, democracy and human rights. We are pushing to include these values when international trade agreements are concluded. Sweden’s trade policy is a part of strengthening democracy in the world.

The Swedish Government is engaged in the Global Deal: an initiative that aims to encourage governments, businesses, unions and other organisations to make commitments to enhance social dialogue. Effective social dialogue can contribute to decent work, quality jobs, increased productivity and, by extension, to greater equality and inclusive growth.

Sometimes, critics of democracy can be heard using economic arguments. They might claim that authoritarian regimes are quicker at pushing through necessary reforms. But this is not true.

A group of researchers has studied the link between democracy and growth, and recently published its findings in the Journal of Political Economy. The researchers found that democracy significantly advances economic development too.

Over a 25-year period, the economies of countries that had adopted a democratic system grew 20 per cent more than they would have otherwise. The researchers explained this by the fact that democracies invest more in health and medical care and people’s wellbeing than authoritarian states do. Such broad, growth-promoting investments are often lacking in countries with authoritarian rule.


In brief: this is how Sweden will continue to pursue its drive for democracy

  1. Promote and strengthen civil society, including human rights defenders
  2. Strengthen free and independent media and democratic voices (such as cultural workers), including on the internet, to combat disinformation
  3. Support democratic processes and election authorities
  4. Promote the growth of effective and independent institutions that are free from corruption
  5. Strengthen political systems with competing political parties
  6. Help to strengthen respect for the rule of law
  7. Promote and protect the enjoyment of human rights by all
  8. Strengthen women’s political participation
  9. Promote young people’s democratic engagement
  10. Promote equality through social integration
  11. Promote free and fair trade
  12. Promote corporate social responsibility and combat corruption