09 December 2021
American President Joe Biden opened the first Summit for Democracy on Thursday. The gathering aims to bring together world leaders who, in his words, "strengthen our own democracies and push back on authoritarianism."
"This is an urgent matter," Biden said as he opened the two-day video meeting. "The data we're seeing is largely pointing in the wrong direction."
The president made note of a recent report from the International Institute of Democracy and Electoral Assistance. The report found that "more than half of all democracies have experienced a decline in at least one aspect of their democracy over the last 10 years, including the United States."
Michael Abramowitz is head of Freedom House, which produced yearly reports on the state of democracy around the world. He said American democracy has "been hurting in recent years." He added, "Right now, we're going through a phase in America where it's very difficult to get things done and to really prove that democracy can deliver."
Biden announced plans to spend up to $424 million to support independent media, fight corruption, defend fair elections and advance democracy. The money must be approved by the United States Congress.Other leaders speaking
World leaders took turns to speak about the state of democracy. Many of the video messages had been recorded at an earlier time.
"The democratic conversation is changing," said Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen. New technologies, she said, have centered more on reaching people than on freedom of speech.
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who took part in Thursday's meeting, said on Twitter, "Democracy is not a given, it must be fought for." Zelensky was to meet with Biden later in the day. Biden had warned Russia not to invade Ukraine a day earlier.
Poland's Andrzej Duda also spoke out against Russia and its support of Belarus in his comments to the gathering. Poland's support for democracy "has made us the target of the Kremlin propaganda," he said.
The U.S. State Department listed more than 100 countries that were invited to the gathering. The countries include liberal democracies, weaker democracies and those with authoritarian qualities.
Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan declined to attend the meeting. In a statement issued ahead of the gathering, the foreign ministry said, "We value our partnership with the U.S. which we wish to expand both bilaterally as well as in terms of regional and international cooperation."
Hungary attempted unsuccessfully to block European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen from speaking at the gathering. Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó called the meeting a "political" event. Hungary was among the countries not invited to the event. Other such nations included Turkey and Egypt.
I'm Jill Robbins.
Hai Do adapted this story for Learning English based on VOA and Associated Press news reports. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
Words in This Story
authoritarianism - n. a belief requiring people to obey authority at the cost of personal freedom
aspect - n. a part of something
deliver - v. to produce the promised or expected results
advance - v. to move forward
adversary - n. an enemy or opponent
decline - v. to say that you will not do something
bilaterally - adv. involving two countries
regional - n. a part of the world
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