This month marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the barrier that divided democratic Western Europe from the Communist East. Speaking in Berlin, Germany, U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green urged young democracy activists to remember that the victory of democracy was not easy nor was it inevitable. It required struggle and courage.
In the late 1990s, the prospects for democracy in Slovakia were dim, to say the least, said Administrator Green. But young activists made the difference:
“Then Prime Minister Mečiar was engaged in a campaign to shut down [non-governmental organizations], crush the political opposition, physically abuse journalists, tie the country closer to Russia, and to divert state resources to his friends and family. . . .And yet in 1998. . .a grass roots coalition of opposition parties and NGOs powered by young people. . .they unleashed a wave of popular support that carried that coalition to power and put the country back on the path towards democracy and reform and Western integration.”
But democratic reform movements don’t belong solely to the people of Europe, stressed Administrator Green. The desire for liberty and democracy is universal as demonstrated by the people of The Gambia. In 2016, under the leadership of Isatou Touray, who is now Gambia's Vice President, the nation rose up against the brutal dictatorship Yahya Jammeh. Dr. Touray helped build a grassroots network across her country calling for liberty and democracy. Jammeh made it clear he would not tolerate dissent, especially not from a woman. Her leadership carried the opposition to victory. When Jammeh refused to step down, Dr. Touray spoke up publicly and demanded that the people's will be respected, which ultimately it was.
The struggle for democracy will never be easy, but it is worth the price. As American President Teddy Roosevelt once said, "Far and away, the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing."