The World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg, organized by the Council of Europe, now forms part of the landscape of great international debates. The fourth edition took place on 18 to 20 November 2015, with the theme of “Freedom vs. Control – For a Democratic Response” — set at the start of the year, but which became more and more pressing as the event approached.
The debates began with paying homage to all the victims of extremist violence worldwide. The format, thus well established, had alternating plenary sessions and workshops presenting chosen initiatives – the “labs”, articulating on the “challenges” which go into depth on a given issue. They were, for this edition,
- Challenge 1: Ensuring security and bringing surveillance under control
- Challenge 2: Liberating society from fear and nurturing the desire for freedom
- Challenge 3: Freedom of information in the “age of terror”
The various debates and workshops were recorded and are available on Council of Europe's website, as videos (Plenary sessions) and podcasts (Labs). My specific commentary is about Lab 18, “Civic Action for Media Freedom”, with M. Chamsy SARKIS, co-founder of SMART (Syrian Media Action Revolution Team), who operates a media pool in Syria under unimaginable conditions; and Ms. Ioulia BEREZOVSKAYA, President of the independent Russian news site Grani.ru. The impressive SMART initiative first started with the beginnings of the Syrian revolution, engaging 2.000 volunteering citizen journalists to send images abroad, in partnership with AJDirect. The project evolved into a network to maintain newspaper delivery and radio broadcasting in spite of the horrendous war situation. They now see themselves as on the front line in a war for democracy, a mission that looks beyond the media, and encompasses the youth, the women, the farmers, via education and culture.
Here is a small personal portfolio (all the photos are by the author).
The opening session was punctuated by Harlem Désir's speech, the French secretary of state for European affairs, and Michaëlle Jean, the secretary general of the International Organisation of the Francophonie, who gave rousing advocacy in support of resistance, the mobilisation of vital forces and inclusiveness.
The panel for the second plenary session brought us the Yemeni Tawakkol Karman, Nobel Peace Prize 2011 – already present in the first forum, and the Ayatollah Ahmad IRAVINI, who teaches in Washington D.C.:
The assembly of the Council of Europe, in plenary session:
The Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakkol Karman emphasized the link between terrorism and tyranny, and noted that there was not any terrorism during the Arab Spring:
The artistic part of the Forum included a performance by graffiti artists:
A meeting room for a Lab:
Three contributors from Global Voices attended the Forum:
Performance by youths for freedom of expression, during the closing of the Forum:
Think about signing up for the 2016 Forum on your tablets!