The New School for Democracy, which will attempt to reach into Chinese-speaking societies and overseas Chinese communities, officially opened on Saturday and welcomed everyone who hopes for democratic politics and is interested in learning about the culture of democracy.
To some extent, the founding of the New School for Democracy was influenced by the “Jasmine Revolution” that sprung out of nowhere at the start of this year in North Africa and the Middle East. This revolution, which began in Tunisia, shook the Islamic world and formerly stable authoritarian governments, with even former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi being forced to flee.
Perhaps even more interesting is the case of Singapore, which has consistently advocated “Asian Values” and adhered to what critics call “enlightened despotism” based on traditional ethical values.
The results of a general election there this year forced former Singaporean prime minister Lee Kuan Yew (李光耀) to hastily resign from his position as minister mentor, as a way of reducing some of the pressure on the governing People’s Action Party.
The Jasmine Revolution also sent authorities in Beijing into a state of panic, forcing them to resort to heavy-handed tactics to suppress news from being spread over the Internet about where protests were going to be held.
The global spread of the Jasmine Revolution has been a powerful indicator and symbol of the universal nature of freedom and democracy and the widespread acceptance these values have gained.
On seeing this, a few individuals who have long been concerned about democracy in China decided to establish the New School for Democracy, announcing its formation just before the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in June. The objective continues to be the dissemination of democratic ideals and the hope that these will take root in China.
We now understand that only by keeping the flame of democracy alive and working to spread the seeds of democracy can we hope to encourage more people to embrace the need for democracy in Chinese societies, while putting the universal values of freedom, democracy and human rights into practice.
Judging from the intensity of the presidential and legislative election campaigns in Taiwan, it is clear that democracy must also be backed up by a mature civil society lest it disintegrate into a war of words and mudslinging, which can make it impossible for democracy to win the trust of the public.
It is for this reason that academics, members of social movements and the media need to come up with answers to the questions that will inevitably arise when they take part in courses and recruit students for the New School for Democracy.
They should also work to improve the quality of Taiwanese democracy, strengthen nongovernmental monitoring of politicians and reflect on practical experiences, while devising ways to bridge the gap that currently exists between Chinese culture and democracy.
Such an approach should be helpful in the long-term operation of a democratic system.
Ku Chung-hwa is director of the New School for Democracy.
Translated by Drew Cameron
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