This year has been a remarkable one in the history of democracy. Millions of people participated in the dramatic events in the Middle East, North Africa and beyond, and yet more followed with intense interest. Their engagement confirmed that democracy is a universal model yearned for by all peoples and alien to no culture.
This year also served as a reminder that democracy cannot be exported or imposed from abroad; it must be generated by the will of the people and nurtured by a strong and active civil society. The world saw the truth of the saying that countries do not become fit for democracy; they become fit through democracy. Young people, above all, brought home this message. They championed the democratic ideal and now face the challenge of turning it into a working reality.
The same truths are borne out by another milestone this year -- the 20th anniversary of the massive transformation in Eastern Europe. Many of the region's countries are still in the early stages of their democratic passage. They know the painstaking work involved in building the rule of law, fostering transparency and accountability, and overhauling political and economic systems. They know the setbacks that can disappoint expectations, and the passion needed to keep moving forward. Their experiences provide important lessons.
The United Nations is there to support these efforts. The UN does more than any other single organization to strengthen democratic institutions and practices around the world. Experience has taught us, time and again, that democracy is essential to achieving our fundamental goals of peace, human rights and development. We know that all these must be underpinned by the will of the people -- by a strong and active civil society.
This is why the mission of the UN Democracy Fund is so important. It supports projects that strengthen the voice of civil society, promote human rights and encourage the participation of all groups in democratic processes and transitions. It is the only UN entity that has the word “democracy” in its name. And it is the only UN body with the primary purpose of supporting democracy through empowering civil society.
In this way, UNDEF gives life to an essential principle: That the UN does not seek to export or promote any particular national or regional model of democracy. It works on the understanding that the democratic ideal is rooted in philosophies and traditions from all parts of the world; that effective democratic governance enhances the quality of life for men and women everywhere; and that human development is more likely to take hold if people are given a real say in their own governance, and a chance to share in the fruits of progress.
The photographs, artifacts and publications in this exhibition all come from initiatives funded by UNDEF. What you see here is just a small share of those projects -- and just a fraction of the work done every day by the courageous men, women and young people around the world who strive to uphold their rights and make the voice of their communities heard. On this International Day of Democracy, let us commit to doing all we can to support them. This exhibition is dedicated to their lifelong journey in democracy.