In a recent trip to Poland, Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi told former Solidarity leader Lech Walesa that Poland’s path has inspired her to dream of the same for her country. She told reporters in Warsaw, “We in Burma are just at the beginning of this road that you took many, many years earlier, a couple of decades earlier, but we believe, as you did then, that we should succeed . . . It is very encouraging for me to be among people who understand exactly the kind of struggle that we would still have to go through before we can say that we are a democratic society.”
This meeting of Nobel Peace Prize laureates, important on its own, strikes me as extraordinary. Burma and Poland could not be more different culturally and historically, yet both Suu Kyi and Walesa work toward the same goal. The Iron Curtain dropped several decades ago, while Burma continues to this day to inch toward freedom. There must be something universal in the struggle for Suu Kyi to see her country and her goals mirrored in Poland and Walesa’s.
At CIPE, we talk a lot about a concept called “Democracy that Delivers,” meaning that governments should be held accountable by their citizens both during and in between elections. The success of a democracy depends on the involvement of the people under its rule. Good governments are open, responsive, and accountable to their citizens.
But, I wonder if the Burma/Poland example raises a larger question: Are democracies also accountable to those countries that continue to struggle toward freedom? Do they have a responsibility not only to their own citizens but to the citizens of the world? Should they work to uphold the tenets of transparency, accountability, and fairness because, in part, they might be the role models for a future generation? As we honor International Day of Democracy, it’s worth asking.
Julia Kindle is Publications Manager at CIPE.