Thank you, Foreign Minister Landsbergis, for your powerful call to action and for the invitation to address this Forum on the Future of Democracy.
Ministers and honored guests, earlier this year we marked the 30th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s failed attempt to crush the democratic aspirations of the Lithuanian people.
Fourteen people were killed on January 13, 1991, and hundreds were injured by Soviet soldiers and tanks as crowds of everyday people came out in support of freedom, independence, and an end to Soviet repression.
The Lithuanian people’s bravery during that moment of truth reminds us that democracy is worth fighting for and cannot be taken for granted.
These acts of peaceful resistance remain a legacy of hope for those who still struggle for freedom, including our friends across the border in Belarus facing a brutal regime which has retained many of the darkest Soviet practices.
Since the momentous events of 30 years ago, Lithuania and its Baltic neighbors have built remarkably successful and resilient democracies. But the picture has not been so bright in other parts of the world.
Respected organizations such as Freedom House have documented fifteen years of consecutive global decline in democracy, which presents huge obstacles to stability and prosperity worldwide.
As we began discussing at this Forum last night, we all face unprecedented challenges to democracy both at home and abroad.
Corruption, inequality, and the failure of many democratic governments to deliver for their citizens have fueled doubts about the democratic model and led to a rise of leaders who abandon democratic norms.
Authoritarian regimes advance false narratives of superiority while seeking to undermine our democratic institutions, bolster opponents of democracy within our systems, and discredit our values.
These trendlines are exacerbated by the misuse of emerging technologies to spread disinformation, censor and arbitrarily or unlawfully surveil, and erode public trust in democracy.
Meanwhile, the international community is facing an extraordinary set of crises that know no borders, including the pandemic, a significant economic downturn, racial inequality, record levels of forced displacement, and a deepening climate disruption.
Together must demonstrate that democracies are capable of rising to these challenges and delivering for our citizens.
We know that societies that respect and defend human rights; uphold the rule of law; and support inclusive, accountable governance for all their citizens are best equipped to produce durable solutions to even the most difficult problems.
But some in our societies see a gap between what we promise and what we deliver.
So, we find ourselves in a moment of democratic reckoning. Autocrats offer their citizens the false choice between their freedoms and their security and prosperity. The task before us, as democracies, is to deliver on the issues that matter most to our people while continually renewing and perfecting our respective democratic projects.
While there is no shortage of challenges to our democracies, we also have no doubt about the best way to tackle them. We must put these problems out into the open and work together to solve them. That has always been democracy’s greatest strength: the ability to improve upon itself and to work towards a more perfect union, as articulated in the U.S. Constitution.
With this in mind, President Biden has called for a global democratic renewal as we pursue a renewal of American engagement throughout the world.
We have placed democracy and human rights at the center of our foreign policy, for example by rejoining the UN Human Rights Council next year alongside our Lithuanian friends.
We also are deepening our collaboration with partners in the European Union, the G7, the OSCE, the OAS, and other multilateral fora to challenge the exporters of authoritarianism collectively.
U.S., European, and Canadian action this year to sanction grave human rights violators in Xinjiang, China and Belarus exemplify our shared resolve.
At the same time, we can’t be credible advocates for democracy and human rights abroad if we don’t live up to the same principles at home.
Like many countries, American democracy is confronting new fault lines, ranging from deepening political polarization and economic inequality, to the struggle for racial justice.
This is why President Biden has prioritized the renewal of democracy at home.
For example, on his first day in office, the President issued an executive order for a comprehensive federal government approach to advancing equity for all, including people of color and historically underserved or marginalized populations.
This is designed to bring equal opportunity – the bedrock of American democracy — for all.
Much work remains, so we approach this moment of truth with the humility of an imperfect democracy – but the confidence of one that is continually striving to improve, and one that looks to fellow democracies to join that quest.
This moment requires us to come together, learn together, stand together, and act together.
In this spirit, President Biden will host a Summit for Democracy on December 9 and 10, bringing together government partners, civil society, and the private sector to catalyze an affirmative agenda for democratic renewal.
Through the Summit, the United States aims to strengthen our democratic institutions, honestly confront 21st century challenges to democracy, and forge a common agenda to address threats to our shared values.
In order to achieve these goals, we are encouraging participants to make and fulfill concrete commitments in line with the Summit’s three pillars: (1) defending against authoritarianism; (2) fighting corruption; and (3) promoting respect for human rights – domestically and abroad.
The way forward is clear. We must strengthen the resilience of democratic institutions and processes to defend against resurgent authoritarian threats.
We must counter corruption by combatting illicit finance, holding kleptocrats accountable, advancing global norms, and staunchly defending anti-corruption activists and journalists.
And we must respect human rights to secure a more peaceful, prosperous, and stable future and ensure that all citizens can benefit from democratic systems.
The U.S. government is finalizing robust commitments to advance this agenda.
We hope to partner with other countries on global initiatives which bolster independent media, fight corruption, and ensure that technology works to strengthen democracy, among other initiatives.
At the same time, we are putting forth substantial domestic commitments, that address voter participation, equity, and the digital divide which we will announce at the Summit in a few weeks.
Simultaneously, U.S. embassies around the world, including our Ambassador here in Vilnius, are working with potential Summit participants to identify commitments of their own.
For example, participants can expand election security programs to combat electoral and malign interference.
They can increase the transparency of property ownership and curtail the ability of corrupt actors to hide their wealth in real estate and other vulnerable sectors.
They can support civil society and independent media or help create an operational environment in which those institutions can thrive.
Or they can take steps to eliminate discrimination against marginalized populations, re-commit themselves to upholding global norms, or appoint a national coordinator to combat anti-Semitism.
These are just a few examples of strong domestically oriented measures.
Now, while the Summit will be an important touchstone, the work of democratic renewal must take place year-round.
In the upcoming 2022 “Year of Action,” our words must be matched by meaningful results across all three pillars.
A year from now, at a second Summit, we will take stock of our progress, and hope to show that we have risen to the challenge of this uniquely complex moment.
We can only do this together, with partners across the full spectrum of democracies, as the Minister elaborated, from those in transition, to the newly emerging, to the well-established — as each brings its own experience, lessons, and wisdom to our collective effort.
In this context, our Lithuanian hosts bring an invaluable perspective. Lithuanians have prevailed in the transition from authoritarianism to democracy, built solid democratic institutions, and offered refuge for those battling autocratic regimes – all in our lifetime.
We must not only partner with governments, though, but also with civil society and the private sector, many representatives of which have joined this Forum. You all are crucial allies in this fight.
Non-governmental organizations, associations, unions, religious institutions, and other civic groups give voice to communities who must be heard in our democracies.
Furthermore, investigative journalists, anti-corruption activists, women and youth groups, and other civil society representatives also play the critical watchdog and advocacy roles that hold governments accountable.
So, we have both an interest and a moral imperative to protect civic space and empower civil society organizations. We seek to do so in the Summit in several ways:
First, we are encouraging all governments who may participate in the Summit to consult and collaborate with local and international civil society organizations as they develop their Summit commitments.
Second, we are encouraging governments who participate to commit to taking steps to broaden space for civic participation and bolster respect for civil society, both at home and abroad.
Third, we are developing opportunities for civil society representatives to participate in the Summit directly.
Finally, we are encouraging robust civil society engagement during the 2022 “Year of Action,” to contribute to the execution of new commitments and hold governments to account.
Alongside civil society contributions, the private sector can spur new investments and innovations that strengthen democracy across the world.
The rule of law and market transparency that comes with it serve citizens seeking accountability from their government and businesses looking to innovate and compete on a level playing field.
From large corporations to small startups, the private sector also has a central role to play in business ethics, integrity, and worker rights that underpin prosperity in our democracies.
At the same time, the misuse of digital technologies to suppress and repress democracy and human rights movements, advocates, and change agents is a critical challenge in the 21st century.
We look to leaders across the private sector to work in partnership with democracies to combat this misuse, ensure technology advances democratic progress and respects human rights, and protect against the evolving cyber threats which represent a rising danger to governments and civilians alike.
So, while we face many daunting challenges, we know that by recommitting ourselves to the cause of democratic renewal and broadening our coalition of partners, we can turn this moment of truth into a moment of opportunity.
In closing, I’d like once more to thank you, Mr. Foreign Minister, for convening this Forum. It is of vital importance to this unfinished yet glorious project we call democracy.
The United States is proud to stand with Lithuania, a model for what is possible, in advancing democratic values. We join you in a call to expand our collective efforts and harness the energies of our partners around the globe in a spirit of democratic renewal.
This is our chance to reaffirm the value of democracy. As President Biden has stated, “Democracy doesn’t happen by accident. We have to defend it, fight for it, strengthen it, renew it.”
We look forward to doing so, together.