In December 2022, the Aspen Ministers Forum convened in Prague, Czech Republic for their 26th session. The ministers and invited experts discussed Secretary Madeleine Albright’s final article in Foreign Affairs titled “The Coming Democratic Revival” where she posited that the world was on the brink of a worldwide resurgence in favor of democratic principles. Russia, Iran, and China have all been subject to protests over their government’s authoritarian policies and actions. With NATO growing in members, Western allies unifying in support of Ukraine, and US rejection of anti-democratic candidates, there is an argument that a democratic revival does seem to be emerging. The group came together to assess this idea and to find strategies to preserve these principles in their own countries. The group discussed this theme through topics of technology, media, the economy, and the involvement of multilateral institutions.
Several ministers warned that democracies must be more cognizant of their own domestic challenges, including through those who attempt to gain power at the ballot box but do not believe in democratic values or principles when they govern. Economic and political incentives must be enhanced for leaders not to pursue anti-democratic projects. This highlights a need for democracies to demonstrate their value, which was identified as a critical method to preserving democracy. It was largely agreed that democracy, human rights, and liberal values must be conjoined with economic well-being. If democratic states cannot deliver on basic services, people will “vote with their empty stomachs.” Citizens may accept any political system just to survive.
The group’s sessions concluded by noting that democracy’s revival is not preordained—it will require work and sustained action. First, the world must support Ukraine — militarily, diplomatically, and economically. On the broader theme of combating soft authoritarianism, the themes of the weekend included the need to defend the free press and independent media, combat corruption, regulate social media, emphasize women’s and minority rights, and support academic freedom. With much to build on after rich discussions in Prague, the Aspen Ministers Forum looks forward to continuing discussions and efforts to preserve and promote democratic values.