“I am in the Swedish Parliament, Kofi Annan is holding a speech, the Crown Princess is only about 3 meters away from me and I am officially invited!” While this may sound like my description of a look into the Mirror of Erised, this is exactly what happened to me only a week ago.
I and four other members of the Malmö Association of Foreign Affairs were kindly invited to the 20th Anniversary of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) in Stockholm, also attended by Mr Annan and Her Royal Highness. IDEA is an intergovernmental organisation focusing on supporting sustainable democracy around the globe. The organisation celebrated its 20th anniversary with a commemorative session and a panel discussion with the theme “Democracy: Achievements and Challenges in the Past 20 Years and Prospects for the Future”.
IDEA´s goal is the production and distribution of knowledge about electoral processes, constitution building, political participation and representation, and democracy. This is done by conducting own research on successful electoral processes and democracy formation, publishing books on the same topics and developing IT systems, for example a software monitoring and mapping possible conflicts before or during elections. IDEA also works with local actors on the ground using its extensive knowledge to advise countries in formulating their constitutions, holding elections in unstable regions and supporting and enabling dialogue between parties to encourage democracy formation. IDEA also encourages diversity in politics and the involvement of ethnic or religious minorities, as well as equal representation and participation of women and men in the formation and lived reality of democracy.
IDEA believes that there is no single way and concept of developing and living democracy, which is why IDEA tries to find the right approach for each society it, is working with. This not only guarantees more participation and involvement of larger citizen groups, but ultimately allows a deeper identification with democracy in the society and a more legitimate government through the incorporation of the opinions and ideas non-elite groups.
Additionally to groundwork on the local level, IDEA also organises seminars, conferences and capacity-building workshops with various political actors and leaders on a regional and global level, aiming to a further exchange of knowledge.
While IDEA´s headquarters are located in Stockholm, just a stone´s throw from the Swedish Parliament where its 20th anniversary was celebrated, it is active all over the world. IDEA has regional offices in all global regions and is active even outside of the realm of its 28 member states.
We learned all this during our visit to IDEA`s headquarters in Stockholm after attending the ceremony for the 20th anniversary of the organisation.
I am in my third year of studying International Relations and naturally in international politics there are a lot of fancy pants events and I got to go to some of them, be it Model United Nations or an award ceremony for the founder of Doctors without Borders organised by the human rights organization I interned for. However, I have never in my life attended anything as formal and impressive as IDEA´s 20th anniversary. Anyone who knows me know that I may not necessarily the best suited person for anything fancy, I am famous for spilling things on my clothes or ripping them or tripping over nothing (and that´s without wearing heels). So naturally, I wasn´t necessarily calm when I stumbled into the Swedish Parliament in my friend´s high heels and a dress from Primark. Everyone around me seemed very important (I later on learned that most of the attendees were Swedish politicians or ambassadors from all over the world so they definitely were) and very chic. But a few steps into the parliament, I was simply too excited about being able to attend such an impressing and interesting event to worry about my looks or how fitting I was for such an event.
I just indulged in the beautiful architecture and the great atmosphere and I was honestly feeling like an excited little child.
The speakers, who were invited by IDEA were offering extremely interesting insights into democracy formation and I could see and feel in person that a great speaker like Kofi Annan is able to grab everyone´s attention and evoke an incredibly special atmosphere with a few words only. Whether you are interested in politics or not, his speech about democracy would excite anyone. Him acknowledging that there is no one right to democracy and that democracy just like human-beings needs to continuously evolve further seems very logical, but was something I have never really questioned.
Additionally to having him hold a speech, IDEA also organised an interesting panel discussion with representatives from all over the world, including Margot Wallström, the Swedish Foreign Minister, and Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, former Secretary General of the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Hearing all of these different viewpoints from all over the globe, showed how differently democracy is approached depending on what region or even country we are targeting. One of the quotes that stuck with me the most was by Margot Wallström, saying that “democracy cannot be exported, it can only be supported”.
The whole event was very intriguing and captivating and I am really happy IDEA also let us visit its headquarters. I am really happy I got to take part in this experience and learn about IDEA, even if I had to take of my heels behind my desk halfway through, to stop my feet from killing me. If you are interested in IDEA’s work, you can browse its free online database of publications or order books through IDEA´s website.
By Céline Sonnenberg
Image credit: UF Malmö