Victor Choueiri / Flickr – CC BY-NC 2.0, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

Transatlantic Dialogue I: How to Dismantle Democracy

A debate on the global decline of democratic quality kicked off the transatlantic dialogue series “Troubling Trends in Transformation”, co-hosted by the Bertelsmann Foundation North America (BFNA) and the Bertelsmann Stiftung.

Authoritarian modes of governing have steadily increased over the past 10 years. In order to secure their power and sustain systems of patronage and self-enrichment, a number of democratically elected governments are purposively undermining the oversight bodies designed to hold them accountable and oblige them to govern responsibly. Autocratic regimes are trying to tighten the thumbscrews further on opposition forces and the free media. Despite a few developments to the contrary, the Transformation Index (BTI) 2020 highlights the ongoing decline of democratic quality around the globe.

The presentation of BTI results focused on the resembling patterns of dismantling democracy in (highly) defective democracies such as Hungary, Moldova, the Philippines, Serbia or Zambia and regimes in which this process has been so pronounced that they are now categorized as autocracies in the BTI, such as Bangladesh, Guatemala, Honduras, Kenya, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Turkey or Uganda. It looked at the typical sequence to an authoritarian deconstruction of democratic institutions from within, from the purposeful undermining of oversight institutions, attacking the media and civil society to manipulating the electoral system.

Ambassador Nicholas Burns examined the resonance of these trends in the United States. The diplomat with a career of more than 35 years in the US State Department did not mince his words: “I am worried about our country. I am worried about the actions of a president with authoritarian attitudes, about the corrupt behaviour of the administration, about the firing of independent watchdogs and their replacement with loyal partisans, and I am worried about the constant attacks on independent media.” He called on  democracies around the world, to take a more decisive stance against authoritarian and populist leadership. The European Union, but also the NATO Alliance, should take concrete measures to penalize anti-democratic behaviour within their own ranks.


Ambassador Nicholas Burns
Roy and Barbara Goodman Family Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations, Harvard Kennedy School

Sabine Donner
Senior Expert, Transformation Index BTI, Bertelsmann Stiftung


Anthony Silberfeld
Director, Transatlantic Relations, Bertelsmann Foundation

About the dialogue series:

The dialogue series “Troubling Trends in Transformation”, co-hosted by the Bertelsmann Foundation North America (BFNA) and the Bertelsmann Stiftung, intends to dig deeper into the findings of a troubled decade, both regionally and thematically. In cooperation with like-minded institutions and well-connected think tanks around the world, we discuss the current and future challenges to political and economic transformation as well as governance perfomance. The results of the BTI serve to kick off a broader debate on how to strengthen democracy, market economy and good governance in a post-COVID world.



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