Speech by Roza Otunbayeva, ex-president of the Kyrgyz Republic, at the Global Summit of WomenJune 1, 2012, 06:00
Dear Mrs. Natividad,
Thank you very much for your very warm welcome and introduction.
It is a great honour to be here tonight and join this Summit of outstanding leaders from around the world. It’s been wonderfully rewarding experience of meeting so many of you. So many inspiring stories. Such a powerful network! Immense potential for synergy and cooperation!
I want to thank Mrs. Irene Natividad for the most superb work of organizing and bringing us all together in this fantastic setting and atmosphere of sisterhood and open-mindedness! Thank you, thank you very much!
Ladies and gentlemen,
I humbly accept this year’s Global Women’s Leadership Award on behalf of the brave people of Kyrgyzstan: men and women, young and old, of various ethnicities and political believes, – united in their resolution to put an end to injustice, establish the rule of law, win respect for human rights and build a society of equal opportunity.
In the last two years many more countries followed Kyrgyzstan on the road of democratic development. This journey has a start but no clear destination – it is the process that matters. On this road we debate every day on the right course for the nation. We argue. We want to persuade each other. We seek compromise. We agree to disagree, and then disagree more. It is a very messy and noisy process and is impossible to manage and control. This is very tiring. Extremely exhausting. Sometimes not pretty. Certainly not as pretty and stable as some of our neighbors where all matters of national government are decided behind closed doors at a family dinner table. But this process is what makes us human. Celebrate our freedom. Freedom to prosper. Freedom to fail. Freedom to learn and undo your own mistakes. Freedom to try again.
Every country is incredibly unique with its own exceptional culture, economical factors and other circumstances. No single country or a group of countries have the monopoly on the best model of government. No state is entitled to lecture other countries on best ways to build their life. Each of our nations must travel our own ways, one step at a time, determined by our own history, national interests and priorities. We have to travel this road on our own because we cannot copy, import, buy or simply adopt someone else’s form of government.
There is no universal model of state governance – however, more then sixty years ago the world has agreed that there was a set of equal and inalienable rights and freedoms that were indeed universal and belonged to all members of the human family.
Humanity is very diverse and divided, as it should be, on political, religious, economic and life style choices – what should unite us all is the respect to each and every word of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
It is clear, that in the twenty first century, we can all, at last, agree – there is no place for abusive one man or one family dictatorships who steal the future from their nations and deny their citizens basic rights.
Our thoughts today are with the people of Syria who are brutalized by the family regime that hasn’t had enough even after more then 40 years of unlimited power. We call on the Assad’s to go and let the Syrian people seek a better life on its own.
Ladies and gentlemen,
There is no better place and time to reflect on the state of democracy then here in Athens today. More then 2,500 years ago this city-state started the great experiment of the rule by the people.
The ‘Demos’ – the people did not provide then for equality of women or their inclusion into ‘Kratos’. Athens itself could have been named after the great goddess of war, but women, no matter how rich or powerful, did not have any voice in running the city.
Economy of the ancient Athenian democracy was built on exploitation of slaves and depended on permanent military campaigns. But it was those few centuries of experiment with the limits of human spirit, our ability to compromise and together look out for the best interest of the public, that continued to inspire countless generations of thinkers for the subsequent two thousand years.
Democracy wasn’t a perfect system then, neither it is perfect today. Sir Winston Churchill famously formulated: ‘Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried before’.
Just a few latest illustrations how democracy can be far from perfect: In a country with ancient history – a group of populists promote electoral program, which, as many experts believe, proposes very irresponsible and wrong answers to national problems. The Demos, deeply angry with the status quo and the political parties of the past, embraces that platform. Of course, just a few years ago, it was the old political parties, who got irresponsible and near sighted with the wish to continuously please the public and seek votes, that without thinking about tomorrow – it was them who put the country in deep crisis in the first place.
We see the same pattern everywhere today – party politics, when your position on matters of national importance depends on whether you are in government or opposition. Impracticality to seek compromise. The reward by the electorate of the most irresponsible and radical positions.
Another example comes from the Athenian democracy of modern times - the United States of America – where political campaigning in this year’s presidential elections alone is expected to cost astonishing three billion dollars.
How can it be that unaccountable to anyone but the few dozen ultra-rich individuals, so called political action committees, alone will spend more then one billion dollars trying to influence the vote?
On the other extreme – with the spread of information technologies - we are now living the dream of direct democracy – every individual in our countries can instantly give his or her opinion online, ask a question, start or end a political campaign.
Thanks to the social media, the Internet has become the Agora – the public square of the modern times, where deliberations on public matters are taking place round the clock.
Let us be frank. Don’t we see that with so many people join the public debate – we see the quality of this debate change for the worse? There are so many who are ill informed or ignorant and therefore easily become victims of the conspiracy theories and cynical operators who poison and destroy the civility of the public discourse. Isn’t it the case that in many areas the debate on the issues of the national importance now never rises above the lowest denominator?
An educated policy opinion by a respected government official or a civil leader gets ridiculed by demagogues. The self appointed leaders of this mob in their efforts to please the crowd do not restrain themselves from most chauvinistic positions. The mob forces its will upon the state by intimidating the legitimate rulers. Thus democracy very often degenerates into mob rule or ochlocracy.
Ladies and gentlemen,
How do we defend democracy from being captured by either a few very rich or many loud but ignorant? How can we promote the best for the general public, at the same time respect the rights of minorities? How do we as a collective make best possible decisions together?
I think I am in the room full of people who know the answer. Every human group, be it a neighborhood community, a student organization, a business corporation or a country – needs enlightened and strong leaders. Leaders like you!
Never before has the need for leadership in the world been as acute and intense as it is today.
I call upon you to make your voice heard, educate and persuade people around you, generate new ideas and show way to the future.
We, women, have made great progress in the last one hundred years. We are now entrepreneurs, heads of states, doctors and astronauts. Gone are the days when just being a strong woman opened for your doors. Today we compete against men and many strong willed women like ourselves. We do not expect, nor do we want to get any special treatment. However, we have not fully realized our potential. The hidden resource of women energy and creativity is yet to be tapped in countries rich and poor.
We see the world transforming. Every day newspapers are full of loud headlines. We see new powers that are fast rising. Many older ones seem as if set for permanent decline. But history is not predetermined. We can make a difference.
If anybody can change the course of history – it is us!