Countries Vow to Strengthen Democracy

WARSAW, Poland -- Representatives of more than 100 countries meeting in the Polish capital, Warsaw, ended a first-of-its-kind democracy conference Tuesday by pledging to work together to promote democratic government throughout the world.

In the Warsaw Declaration, which concluded the two-day conference, the 106 signatories pledged to uphold basic democratic principles, vowed to strengthen cooperation among themselves and hinted in diplomatically vague language at greater efforts to spread democracy to countries where it does not exist.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was more direct in a speech Tuesday, describing the fledgling organization as "a new coalition of democracies, dedicated to expanding the frontiers of freedom and to ensuring that, wherever democracy has taken root, it will not be reversed."

The Warsaw Declaration should serve as "a warning for governments that do not practice democracy and are absent from our meeting here" and also inspire hope "for all those who want freedom and democracy," said Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek.

Of the 107 fully or partially democratic countries attending the conference, which was held in the parliament building, only France refused to endorse the final declaration. Its delegation issued a statement that its government did not want to commit itself to activities carried out by the democracies as a formal group.

That was an apparent reference to a passage in the declaration pledging signatories to work together in the United Nations and other international organizations by "forming coalitions and caucuses to support ? activities aimed at the promotion of democratic governance."

The new grouping, which met under the title "Toward a Community of Democracies," plans to hold a conference every two years, with the next one in Seoul, South Korea. Russia attended this week's meeting, while China was not present.

In France's view, "the Western countries think a little too much that democracy is a religion and the only thing you have to do is convert," said French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine on Monday, as it became clear that his government preferred less activist goals than the conference's organizers, which included the United States and Poland.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in a speech Tuesday that did not mention Vedrine by name but clearly responded to his remarks, said: "We did not come to Warsaw to impose democracy. Dictators impose, democracy is chosen. Nor is democracy a religion, but it is a faith that has lifted the lives of people in every corner of the globe."

The conference offered its strongest and most specific moral support to the struggle for democracy in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. A Monday session featured a video address by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of that nation's democracy movement.

"Democratic institutions are essential for peace and unity within the country, as well as peace and harmony within the region and within the world," she said.