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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

The Community of Democracies Support for Eastern European Democracies in Transition

Tomicah S. Tillemann
Senior Advisor for Civil Society and Emerging Democracies 

Washington, DC
May 22, 2014


1:00 P.M. EDT


MODERATOR: So, a reminder this is an on-the-record briefing with Dr. Tomicah Tillemann, who is the Senior Advisor to the Secretary for Civil Society and Emerging Democracies. I see all of you have a bio so I won’t run through that in the interest of saving time, and I will just to turn to Dr. Tillemann for some opening remarks.

DR. TILLEMANN: Thank you very much for that kind introduction. It’s a pleasure to be here with all of you and a pleasure to have this opportunity to speak a little bit about the Community of Democracies and the work that we are doing around the world to strengthen civil society and support countries that are in the midst of democratic transitions.

I’ll provide just a little bit of background at the outset on the Community and its work. The Community of Democracies was founded in 2000 by then-Secretary of State Madeline Albright and Bronislaw Geremek, the foreign – former foreign minister of Poland. And it began as a forum for democracies to get together and in the last few years has really been transformed into a platform for democracies to get things done.

Today, the Community of Democracies is taking a leading role in providing support to civil society organizations and countries around the world, it’s working to strengthen democratic transitions, and we’re seeing the organization expand both in terms of its membership and its outreach to every region of the globe. We often sometimes say that at the end of the day, a democracy is an operating system. And if you think of democracy as an operating system, then you need a users group, and the Community of Democracies is serving as that users group.

It’s working to help countries install the operating systems – so countries that are in the midst of democratic transitions – and helping provide them with the perspective and the information they need to make good decisions over the course of those transitions. And it’s also working to improve the user interface, which is to say the interface between citizens and the state, and working to ensure that the aspirations and ambitions of individuals within democracies can be translated into action and outcomes on the part of governments.

The Community has taken a variety of different approaches to this work. It’s had task forces that have played a critical role, building institutional capacity in countries like Moldova and Tunisia, and it has also worked with individuals as well. Once of the most exciting examples that we’ve seen of this work comes in the form of something we call the LEND Network, which stands for Leaders Engaged in New Democracies Network. And LEND grew out of a series of conversations that we had originally had with Secretary Clinton, who recognized that in many cases, the leaders in countries undergoing democratic transitions were experts in specific areas – they might be academics, in some instances they were former political prisoners who were being pulled out of jail – but it was very, very unusual to have a leader who had experience reforming a government ministry or redrafting a constitution. And of course, those are the types of tasks that you immediately encounter upon assuming leadership in a new democracy.

And so we started reaching out to about 25 countries that had come through successful democratic transitions, and working with them to identify key leaders within their societies that had helped guide the most effective and successful aspects of their transitions. We found individuals like the former chief justice of South Africa’s Supreme Court, who rewrote that country’s constitution, or the former head of the Chilean army who led the transition to civilian rule. About 35 former presidents and prime ministers joined this effort through the Club de Madrid.

And then, together with Google and OpenText and a variety of other partners in the technology community, the community built a platform that allows for real-time voice, video, and text communication with translation, and then started linking up these leaders who had been through successful transitions in the past with key leaders in countries that were in the midst of transitions today.

And the result of this has been that, for example, in Tunisia, as leaders were rewriting their constitution there, when they developed text that they thought was pretty good, they were able to share that language with experts all over the world who had experience in the topic under discussion – get an immediate translation and then get feedback in real time about what had and hadn’t worked in the course of prior democratic transitions. And the result of this, of course, was that the Tunisians had access to world-class information and were able to develop a really world-class constitution.

We’re also seeing the Community take a very active role in responding to the crisis in Ukraine. And the Community has already deployed two assessment missions and is preparing further plans in order to support the development of strong institutions and the rule of law in Ukraine going forward.

We could talk about a variety of other areas where the Community is active. It has working groups that are focused on challenges such as defending civil society in countries where civil society is under pressure. We’ve seen the Community assume a critical role in responding to legislation that is considered in parliaments around the world, that would restrict the space in which civil society organizations can operate, and it is helping to coordinate the diplomatic response from countries around the world when these situations arise. And it’s also providing a platform for innovation both in civil society and in the private sector to come together with governments so that we can find out the tools that are being developed in other areas that can be deployed to strengthen democracy and support accountability around the world.

So with that as a preface, I look forward to your questions. We can also speak about the U.S.-Poland Democracy Dialogue which will be taking place tomorrow, and is an example of how we are working with partners in the Community of Democracies to align our efforts on democracy support, and I think another great case study in how partners around the world are coming together to strengthen institutions, democratic accountability, and the rule of law in many regions.

MODERATOR: Great. So we’ll move on to questions. Please do remember to tell us your name and identify your outlet when you ask a question. Who’d like to go first?

QUESTION: Can I start?


QUESTION: I’m Ana Coman from the Romanian Public Radio. Can you tell us a little bit more about the work that is being done in Ukraine right now?

DR. TILLEMANN: In Ukraine, the Community has deployed two far-reaching assessment missions to determine the type of programming that it can provide going forward to be of assistance to the Ukrainian people. There are a wide variety of possibilities under consideration. I had mentioned the LEND Network, which is something that the United States and Estonia have partnered to develop and have deployed in a number of countries around the world. That is certainly under consideration. The Community also has a variety of working groups and task forces on issues such as the freedom of expression and elections, and might be able to provide support in Ukraine going forward. And all of those options will come up for discussion at a meeting of the Community’s Governing Council next month in Warsaw.

QUESTION: Did it offer some kind of support for these elections that are supposed to take place on the 25th?

DR. TILLEMANN: The Community currently does not engage in election monitoring, and there are a number of excellent election-monitoring efforts and capacity-building efforts that are underway. And the last report that I saw indicated that there were over 1,000 election monitors that were going to be participating in the election in Ukraine.

The Community does take a key role in post-election follow-up, and specifically when there are recommendations by international monitors for how nations and governments can improve their electoral processes. The Community’s new election group – working group, which was recently launched by Mexico and the Philippines, can coordinate with governments to ensure that there is follow-up and response to those recommendations.

QUESTION: Hi. I’m Yoko Inoue from the Yomiuri Shimbun of Japan. I’d like to ask a question about Poland. In two weeks, I think is it, President Obama is going to Poland and is – I think it’s one part of the effort to assure U.S. assistance to the neighbors of – Russian neighbor countries that feel probably a little bit of threat. And there is a discussion also that Poland can be one of the model country that can achieve democracy – I mean, model for Ukraine. But what is the thought about that and this relation – Poland and these Ukraine issues?

DR. TILLEMANN: Well, I’m sure, as all of you have seen, the White House has announced President Obama’s upcoming visit to Poland. Poland is a key partner for the United States when it comes to supporting democracy worldwide, and especially in the eastern neighborhood and countries like Ukraine. The United States and Poland now for the last four years have had a regular bilateral dialogue focused exclusively on democracy support around the world. Poland is the only country – and the United States – that has a dedicated bilateral dialogue with the United States on democracy issues, which is, I think, and indication of the seriousness that both of our governments attach to cooperation in these areas.

Poland has also played a key role historically in working with the United States on multilateral democracy initiatives, such as the Community of Democracies, and was one of the co-founders of that organization. Going forward, we see a critical need to work with Poland and other countries in the region to provide knowhow and expertise and information to Ukraine’s leaders as they work to strengthen democratic institutions and reaffirm the rule of law in that country.

I think they also provide an extraordinary example in Poland of resilience. And we saw several years ago in the aftermath of the tragic plane crash that killed many of that country’s senior political leaders how strong democratic institutions can and should function. And the seamless transfer of power that occurred in the aftermath of that tragedy is a great example to countries in the region and around the world of how strong institutions and democratic accountability can ensure resilience in the face of crisis. So I’m sure that many countries in the region will continue looking to Poland as an example of how to build strong democratic institutions, and we look forward to partnering with our Polish colleagues in our efforts around the world toward those ends.

QUESTION: My name is Andre – again, Andrei Sitov from TASS. I’m mostly interested in issues of – and first – this is the first time I have come across this new group, and I’m not familiar with it.

DR. TILLEMANN: It’s not that new. Fourteen years now.

QUESTION: Right, but that’s what makes it interesting. Normally – especially with my interest – with the focus of my interest, I would assume that I would have come across such a group before that, and I haven’t. And it’s obviously my omission, but is it – also is out of your being more active now, more like playing a bigger role, whatever.

But the question that I had was really talking about the group itself – how it’s organized, how it’s funded, how you – if you work with the media, for instance, which is also an interest of mine. I just finished a big piece about that. If you work with media, then how do you try to coordinate the efforts and to have all the media be on message? Stuff like that, technical stuff.

DR. TILLEMANN: Very interesting questions. So in the first case, the Community of Democracies has been around for a while, but in the past four years, the organization has really been transformed. As I mentioned, it’s gone from being a platform where democracies would come to – or a forum where democracies would come together into a platform for democracies to get things done, and it has taken on a much wider range of responsibilities and activities than it had previously.

I still think it’s fair to say that the Community of Democracies is one of the best-kept secrets in diplomacy, and not enough people know about its work, not enough people know about its contributions. So that’s part of why we’re here today is to ensure that at least you all can become better acquainted with its efforts.

Beyond that, I think that the Community has a deep commitment to civil society. Civil society is hardwired into the organization. And as it relates to your question about journalism, the Community recently launched a new working group on the freedom of expression that is helping to coordinate diplomatic activity around those issues in international fora.

The Community itself is comprised of a Governing Council that has 25 member countries. Those countries come from every region. It has a secretariat established in Warsaw, Poland. The secretariat is led by a secretary general, Ambassador Maria Leissner of Sweden. The presidency of the Community rotates. It is currently held by El Salvador. Previously, it was held by Mongolia. And it is a forum that brings together, again, government and civil society and representatives of the private sector to work together in strengthening democracy and civil society around the world.

QUESTION: What is your budget?

DR. TILLEMANN: The Community’s budget is relatively modest, and it is funded by its member governments. The United States provides a very small portion of that budget. Over 70 percent of the total budget is provided by other donors. And a number of partners in civil society and the philanthropic community also take an active interest in the Community’s programming.

QUESTION: So we’re talking about a ballpark figure of millions or --

DR. TILLEMANN: I don’t have the exact figure, but we can try to hunt that down, or I’m sure the Community’s secretariat can provide that.

QUESTION: So 70 is provided by other countries, so 30 is provided by United States?


QUESTION: And another big area of interest, I mean, obviously is the current state of dialogue with Russia on democracy issues. Even – well, not exactly before I said – but before this whole mess started now in Ukraine. And during the mess, we tried to maintain contact, and one of the projects we had was this journalist exchange between our countries, which I feel is in everybody’s interest. The U.S. Government stopped it as part of all the other freezes that have been put on different areas of cooperation.

I guess my question to you is: Do you feel that, under current circumstances, the dialogue is even needed? Is it more needed, is it less needed? What’s your opinion on that?

DR. TILLEMANN: Well, to take a step back and look at the broader relationship, Russia is a country of extraordinary potential. If you look at the quality of the human capital, if you look at the tremendous technological achievements, if you look at the natural resources of the nation, it’s a really remarkable country. And we have been, I think, disappointed in recent years that it has been increasingly difficult to work with, especially Russian civil society. The preeminent example, unfortunately, of this phenomenon was the closure of USAID’s offices in Russia that had previously provided the framework for much of our bilateral engagement with Russian civil society.

Again, we remain deeply committed to working with civil society in Russia, to strengthening civil society in Russia. We believe that in every nation around the world, success comes when countries are supported by three pillars: strong, accountable, democratic governmental institutions; a vibrant private sector; and a free and open civil society. And we certainly hope that there will be opportunities in the future to expand our engagement with Russian civil society, including the media sector. Again, in recent years, that’s become increasingly challenging.

QUESTION: So basically, I take your answer to mean that there is a need – you do see a need for continue with dialogue. But again, I need to stress that the dialogue that we used to have, limited as it was – but even in this field of our professional field of journalism, it was cut off by the American side, see.

DR. TILLEMANN: Engagement with civil society is a cornerstone of our diplomacy in virtually every country in the world.

QUESTION: Okay. Remember, we’ll come to you, then – when we want to re-launch the dialogue, we’ll come to you and say, “Let’s re-launch the dialogue.” About Russia, Russia is not a member of the council, right?

DR. TILLEMANN: Russia is not a member of the Governing Council.

QUESTION: How do countries join? They express an interest in joining or they – you extend an invitation to them, or how does it work?

DR. TILLEMANN: When a country is interested in joining the Governing Council of the Community of Democracies, they make a formal application to the secretariat and the presidency and express their interest. That application is then referred to our colleagues in civil society around the world. And they review the application and come back to the Governing Council with a recommendation on whether a country’s commitment to democratic principles and values is consistent with membership in the Governing Council of the Community of Democracies.

QUESTION: I’m not sure I understand. So if I am a country of – I don't know – Tassistan (ph) – I’m from TASS and I want to join your council. So I apply, then you ask my civil society in my Tassistan (ph) if I qualify to be a member with you. I’m the government, right?

DR. TILLEMANN: We ask civil society all over the world and – civil society all over the world.

QUESTION: Oh, all over the world. So if – but if I am Tassistan (ph) and I have a competitor, Riastan (ph), who say, “No, this guy’s – (laughter) – you shouldn’t accept them, they’re bad,” and of course they are saying that just because they’re business competitors, does it count? Do you sort of take the – and then – in a way – and I promise this is – I’ll stop with this. I don’t want to hold up the conversation.

DR. TILLEMANN: They’re good questions.

QUESTION: But in a way, if you do it the way you describe, it becomes the echo chamber. You talk to the guys who – I know I am a democrat; I know Igor is a democrat. We will love each other, we are good friends, we talk to each other all the time, and we know that this guy, Peter, here, is not a friend of ours. (Laughter.) So he’s not a democrat. We will never recognize him. You see what I’m asking about, right?

DR. TILLEMANN: There are three key criteria for membership in the Governing Council that come into consideration in these cases. The first is: Does a country consistently live up to the principles of democracy in its domestic activities?

QUESTION: Who’s the judge?

DR. TILLEMANN: The document that is the founding document of the Community of Democracies is called the Warsaw Declaration. And the Warsaw Declaration lays out a series of principles. And again, civil society within countries around the world is well equipped to determine whether a government is living up to those principles in creating a good domestic space for citizens to realize their potential to have freedom of speech, to have fundamental human rights.

The second criteria is whether a country is committed to advancing democracy and human rights as part of its foreign policy, and are they working to pursue those goals not only within the confines of their own boundaries, but in their activities abroad, and are they committed to strengthening civil society and strengthening constructive accountability for governments worldwide.

And then the third criteria is: Is a country prepared to contribute to the work of Community of Democracies? Because again, this is much more than a discussion forum. The Community ultimately is focused on achieving concrete results and strengthening civil society and supporting countries that are in the midst of democratic transitions. There are a variety of different ways that governments can support those efforts. So a country like Japan that did join the Governing Council recently made clear commitments in a variety of areas that it would remain committed to democratic values in its domestic activities, that it would work to support democracy and human rights in its foreign policy, and that it would contribute to the work of the Community.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Igor Dunaevskiy from Russian newspaper. So a decision – as I understand, the Community works not only in the countries that are members, but worldwide, yeah?


QUESTION: Okay. Ukraine is a member?

DR. TILLEMANN: Ukraine has not been a member of the Governing Council of the Community of Democracies. Ukraine has participated in many past ministerial meetings of the Community, but it’s not a member of the Governing Council.

QUESTION: So you are, for example, working in Ukraine – some projects in Ukraine. How is it made when you are working in countries that aren’t members? Is there an invitation from that country from civil society, or how is it accepted by the country where you work?

DR. TILLEMANN: I’ll give you the example of Moldova, where we have now a long track record of cooperation between the Community and the government there. Initially, the Government of Moldova made a request to the Community of Democracies to cooperate together in five key areas where the government felt they could benefit from additional engagement with civil society. The government then invited the Community to come in and consult with – sorry, they could benefit from engagement with the international community.

The government then invited the Community to come in and engage with Moldovan civil society and identify other areas that were of specific interest to Moldovan civil society. In this case, the priorities of government and the priorities of civil society lined up very nicely. Over the next two years, different countries within the Community of Democracies identified specific priority areas where they would take a leadership role. In some instances, this related to e-governance. In some instances, it related to strengthening the justice sector. In some instances, it related to strengthening local government institutions. And these governments within the Community of Democracies would try to provide knowhow or resources or projects that could help Moldova’s institutions realize their capacity in each of these areas.

We were very fortunate in February of this year to have a graduation ceremony in Geneva at the last meeting of the Governing Council of the Community of Democracies, where the deputy foreign minister of Moldova came and outlined the progress that their country had been able to make by virtue of its collaboration with the Community and its partnership with the Community. And we also announced on that occasion a new commitment to develop a roadmap for Moldova to join the Governing Council of the Community of Democracies and continue participating in the Community’s activities and strengthening its institutions to such a point when it will be able to have full membership in the Community going forward.

QUESTION: Is there any timing?

DR. TILLEMANN: No, the timing is still being developed.

QUESTION: So it was like an offer made to Moldova to join the --

DR. TILLEMANN: It was a joint agreement on the part of their government and all of the partners who had worked together on these projects that they would begin a dialogue with the Secretary General of the Community of Democracies on membership in the Governing Council. And we look forward to the progress and success of that dialogue going forward.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. And second question, you mentioned that a role to play in Ukraine is basically like in post-election period. So when the – if the elections are held and there is a new president, if there is a role of Community to play in the process of this OSCE roundtables and, like, constitutional reform in Ukraine?

DR. TILLEMANN: The Community – I think it’s important to recognize that there has never been and probably never will be an owner’s manual for a new democracy. But the Community of Democracies can provide the equivalent of tech support. And when leaders in new democracies need perspective, when they need information, when they are looking for an understanding of how successful democratic transitions have been carried out in the past, the Community has the networks and the resources that can help channel that knowledge to the right individuals and countries that are undergoing democratic transitions.

We’ve seen that occur in the context of constitutional reform processes. We’ve seen it occur in the context of work to reform justice sectors and develop relationships between civil society and the state. We certainly hope that the Community will be able to leverage many of those capabilities going forward in Ukraine.

QUESTION: Okay. And just a technical question. If this project and the activities of Community are funded through the Community – through USAID or State Department or this is separate financial?

DR. TILLEMANN: Again, many of the projects within the Community are funded jointly. There are a variety of mechanisms and tools that are used to finance these projects. In some instances, contributions will come from development agencies. In some instances, contributions will come from foreign ministries. And in some cases, civil society organizations and philanthropic organizations will contribute their own funding to support the activities of the Community.

MODERATOR: Does anyone have any --

QUESTION: You’ve spoken before about the U.S. cooperation with Poland. Can you speak also about cooperation with Romania? The Vice President Joe Biden just ended his visit in Romania too. And there is talk of Romania becoming like another in the region too. So what will be your view on it?

DR. TILLEMANN: Ukrainia (ph) plays a very important role and has been extremely active within the Community of Democracies.

QUESTION: Romania.

DR. TILLEMANN: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Romania. You said Ukraine.

DR. TILLEMANN: I’m sorry. Romania plays a very important role and has been very active within the Community of Democracies. Romania is a strong member of the Governing Council and has expressed an interest in assuming leadership roles throughout the Community. Romania has also previously co-chaired with South Korea a working group within the Community on regional cooperation that’s been very helpful in developing models for regional organizations around the world to incorporate democracy and civil society into their activities and their programming.

I believe that the Vice President, my former boss, Joe Biden delivered a very powerful message when he was in Bucharest. And he spoke to many of the key issues that the Community is involved in – the need for strong accountable institutions, the need to combat corruption, the need to strengthen civil society. And he spoke very eloquently about critical role that civil society plays in ensuring vibrant civic life and progress within our countries.

One of the things that’s important to recognize – and we’ve seen this in the course of Romania’s political transition over the last 30 years and in other parts of the world – is that we know now from experience that no individual party, no single individual, and no one entity, including government, will ever be able to solve all of the challenges facing our societies. The 21st century simply is too complex. And in order to allow for innovation, in order to find solutions, you need a vibrant civil society within nations, where citizens can come together and take common action on – to advance the common good.

We’ve seen some great Romanian civil society organizations that exemplify this phenomenon. And I certainly look forward to closer collaboration with Romania in years ahead on how to take the lessons of Romania’s transition and the lessons of Romanian civil society and see what we can do together to apply that knowledge and that know-how in regions around the world.

QUESTION: What specifically is on the agenda for tomorrow’s dialogue with Poland? And what exactly do you want to achieve there if --

DR. TILLEMANN: It’s a very good question. Tomorrow’s agenda will – in keeping with our past democracy dialogues – be very far-reaching. It will have a special focus on the eastern neighborhood and countries within that neighborhood that are in the midst of democratic transitions. Ukraine will certainly be at the top of that list. We’ll also discuss a wide range of democracy partnerships that we have initiated with Poland in countries around the world.

The United States and Poland have previously co-chaired a Community of Democracies task force that was providing democracy assistance in Moldova. We will review those efforts and look at areas where they can be expanded. We’ll look at a number of co-financing projects where the United States and Poland will intermingle our resource to support democracy and civil society activities around the world. We’ll look at providing opportunities for Polish development officials to participate in knowledge-sharing programs and exchanges with the U.S. Agency for International Development and the possible development of memorandums of understanding and other instruments for cooperation between USAID and the Polish Government. So we’ll have a very far-reaching agenda, and I think a number of very concrete deliverables should emerge, if we all do our jobs correctly tomorrow.

QUESTION: My next question is you mentioned the Eastern Partnership program. So there is some countries – ex-Soviet countries that – they were supposed to a part of this program, like Belarus, some Caucuses countries. So do you work right now with these countries? What are the countries of ex-Soviet Union are working right now?

DR. TILLEMANN: Well, the Community of Democracies and – by you, do you mean the Community of Democracies or the United States?

QUESTION: Community.

DR. TILLEMANN: Community of Democracies has been active in different capacities and in a variety of different countries. And in some cases, like Moldova, that cooperation has been very formalized and very concentrated. In other instances, such as Georgia, it’s been a little bit looser.

The Community has very close relationships with Estonia. Estonia, as I mentioned, is going to co-chair the LEND Network, the Leaders Engaged in New Democracies. Lithuania was a past president of the Community of Democracies and played a pivotal role in leading the transformation of the Community of Democracies into the platform that it is today. So many countries in the eastern neighborhood have been active, not only as recipients of expertise and participants in peer-to-peer exchanges through the Community, but also as leaders within the organization as well.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Tomorrow’s dialogue, is that open event? How can we see the result of the discussion?

DR. TILLEMANN: The dialogue itself will not be open to the media. There will be very active participation by civil society at a number of different points throughout our program. There will, I believe, be a media readout that’s provided. And there will also be a statement that’s issued in the aftermath of the dialogue with additional information. But we can get you some details on that, if it would be helpful.

QUESTION: Do you have a website or tweet or – the Community?

DR. TILLEMANN: It has all of those things. There’s a very active website and an active social media presence on Twitter and Facebook. And Secretary General Leissner tweets regularly.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MODERATOR: As does Dr. Tillemann, so --

DR. TILLEMANN: Follow away.

MODERATOR: Please follow him, yes.

QUESTION: And who’s coming over from Poland to lead the Polish delegation?

DR. TILLEMANN: It’ll be the deputy foreign minister of Poland, Moscicka-Dendys.

QUESTION: So then that’s basically the level of participation, no – like the working level. I understand that the leaders meet – will leaders meet from time to time?

DR. TILLEMANN: The Community of Democracies holds a ministerial meeting once every two years. At our last ministerial, a number of presidents also participated. So while it is technically a ministerial, we have high-level engagement as well. The Community’s Governing Council meets quarterly, usually once on the margins of the opening of the UN General Assembly, a winter meeting in either Warsaw or Washington, and then a meeting in the host country that holds the presidency, and a meeting on the opening of the margins of the UN General Assembly – or sorry, the UN Human Rights Council.

MODERATOR: Great. Well, if that’s all the questions we have, it’ll wrap up now. Thanks to all of you for joining us this afternoon, and thank you, Dr. Tillemann for coming and spending your time with the Foreign Press Center.

DR. TILLEMANN: My pleasure. Thank you.

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