Message from Ms. Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, on the Occasion of the International Day of Democracy
15 September 2019
On this International Day of Democracy, we are celebrating more than a simple principle of political organization: we are celebrating a particular vision of humankind. Democracy is an ideal whose foundations are “the dignity, equality and mutual respect” of people – the foundations of the Constitution of UNESCO.
Because democracy is a promise to humanity, its humanist values are also universalist values. Although a given instance of democratic government can be circumscribed by territorial borders, the promise held by freedom and equality knows no borders, lighting a spark in the hearts of people everywhere.
Democracy is thus not an isolated circumstance but, rather, an ongoing process which requires the daily participation of each and every member of the political community.
The theme of this year’s edition of the International Day of Democracy is participation. It is a theme which reminds us that participation in democracy stands for more than voter turnout on election day. The State, civil society, the individual: all must participate daily for democracy to work. Democracy requires a spirit of conciliation and cooperation because only through dialogue and open-mindedness can it flourish.
There exists therefore a democratic ethos whose soundness and stability are dependent on two fundamental conditions. The first condition is education because, as Tocqueville said, “amongst democratic nations, each generation is a new people”. The democratic ethos is learned. In that connection, through its global citizenship education programme, UNESCO plays a major role in enabling students of all ages to become promoters and supporters of democratic values, human rights and freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is inextricably linked to literacy, which confers the power to communicate one’s ideas. UNESCO’s literacy programmes are thus another way in which the Organization fosters democratic culture.
The second condition is the steadfast recognition of democracy’s social dimension. Lasting democracy goes hand in hand with progress because, as Tzvetan Todorov put it, “any democracy implies the idea of a possible improvement of the social order”. This social imperative is at the very core of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in which UNESCO plays a key role.
The 2019 International Day of Democracy is an opportunity to take stock of the strides made in achieving democratic ideals and fundamental freedoms throughout the world. May the insights yielded inspire a reaffirming of the global community’s commitment to democratic values.
Democracy belongs to everyone. To ensure that it progresses and flourishes, we must therefore ensure that everyone participates in it.