Documents on Democracy

Issue Date April 1996
Volume 7
Issue 2
Page Numbers 183-85
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On 23 January 1996, longtime Russian human rights activist Sergei Kovalev resigned as chairman of the President’s Human Rights Commission, a post he had held since October 1993. The following are passages from his resignation letter to President Yeltsin:

In electing you, Russia saw before it not only a politician prepared to destroy the old system, but also a man sincerely striving to change himself, his views, his prejudices, the habits of power. . . . However, in recent years, while continuing to assure your listeners, in every public speech, of your immutable commitment to democratic ideals, you began . . . to change the course of the state policy you led. Now your administration is trying to steer the country in exactly the opposite direction to that proclaimed in August 1991. . . .

You began your democratic career as a feisty and vigorous fighter against official lies and party despotism and are ending it as the docile performer of the will of cynical power-lovers from your entourage. You pledged to build a state of the people and for the people but have constructed a bureaucratic pyramid on top of the people and against them. In the process, while having abandoned democratic values and principles, you have ceaselessly invoked democracy so that some naive person might still think even now that there are “democrats” in power in the Kremlin. Your policy has compromised this very term, and if democracy in Russia is to survive (and I believe it will), it will survive not because of but in spite of you. . . .

I considered it my duty to stay in your administration, albeit “on a voluntary basis,” so long as my status enabled me to resist even a little, even in individual instances, the antilegal and antihuman tendencies in state policy. Maybe these opportunities have not been fully exhausted even now. But I can no longer work with a president whom I do not regard as either a champion of democracy or a guarantor of the rights and liberties of my country’s citizens. [End Page 183]


On 7 February 1996, newly elected Haitian president René Préval, a close ally of his predecessor Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the candidate of Aristide’s Lavalas party, delivered his inaugural address in Port-au-Prince. Excerpts from his speech appear below:

Today, an elected president has handed the presidential sash to another elected president in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. Men and women of my country, do you realize that no Haitians before you had the privilege of experiencing such an event in our 183 years of history? . . .

Haitian people, you have just waged a historic battle. As in 1804, when our ancestors defeated the colonial Army to give us independence today, we have defeated the Haitian Army, which had been keeping the country hostage since 1804. We have thus taken another step today on the way to freedom. We have a brand-new chance to build our country. Let us all join hands together so this may be done. Democracy has been sown; democracy will be reaped. . . .

Haitians, at this time we are approaching five difficult but exalting years because of this double requirement: to consolidate political modernity and to build, jointly, economic modernity based on it. The choices will not be easy. I am saying it from the outset. The consolidation of democracy will require us . . . to reinforce and adapt the institutions to the democratic game, from the government to the Parliament, through the courts, political parties, and the press.


Faced with subversion charges at a secret trial in December 1995, prominent Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng defended his actions and his faith in democracy. Wei, who had already spent 16 years in prison, was sentenced to 14 more. Excerpts from his defense appear below:

There are many different interpretations of a democracy movement. According to the Chinese Communist Party’s official theory, democracy is a democratic dictatorship to be achieved through the violent seizure of power. That is why the Party wrongly believes that a democracy movement is a movement to use violence, for “power comes out of the barrel of a gun.” My understanding of a “democracy movement” is: Democracy is not a gift from one savior to the people, but is something that belongs to the people themselves, including workers and peasants. Therefore, it is necessary to initiate a large-scale and long-lasting campaign for the people to educate themselves and liberate themselves, to heighten the people’s awareness of their own rights gradually, and [End Page 184] strengthen their ability to defend them and to expand the scope of self-management. It is necessary to build an atmosphere of tolerance and mutual trust so that various problems and disputes can be voiced, dis- cussed, and solved through open and lawful means. Chinese people with different interests, of different persuasions, of different ethnic origins, and of different regions will then be able to maintain their own pos-itions and coexist peacefully with others through open and lawful pro- cedures. This is my understanding of a “democracy movement.” . . . A government can and should undergo changes. The proper procedures for such changes are laid down in the Constitution and the laws of the land. Only attempts to change a government through illegal means constitute a conspiracy to subvert the government. We resort to no illegal means in our democracy movement, nor do we harbor any designs to change the government through unlawful procedures. . . .


Dozens of leaders representing human rights groups, professional associations, independent trade unions, and political parties came together in fall 1995 to form the Cuban Council (Concilio Cubano), an umbrella organization aiming to promote a democratic transition in Cuba. Its plans to hold a meeting on 24 February 1996 were thwarted when the Cuban government set off a wave of arrests and detentions. The Council’s initial declaration is excerpted below:

The people of Cuba . . . have arrived at that crucible where only urgent and profound transformation can prepare us to maturely confront the dangers and challenges posed by the need for a civilized society…. It is from this sense of national urgency that the Cuban Council has emerged. . . . The Council’s immediate goal is precise: To create the appropriate framework for debate and the elaboration of common strategies. For this reason, the Cuban Council does not define itself as a merger of all participating groups but rather as a permanent forum where all popular organizations, while maintaining their separate identity, can jointly advance political proposals. The first result of this consensual process is the following . . . declaration. . . .

The determination to struggle for an absolutely peaceful and nonviolent transition to a democratic state of law—rejecting all hatred, violence, or revenge, and equally embracing all Cubans everywhere. By definition, Concilio Cubano excludes any and all forms of violence, especially terrorism. . . .

If the peaceful transformation which we advocate is to be in harmony with the principle that Cuba is home and motherland to all Cubans, it is indispensable that the conditions and guarantees be created whereby all citizens can freely participate without barriers of any kind.