Some 120 participants from 26 nations appeared deeply impressed by the 52nd IAPC World Conference, which took place on a Danube river cruise from Passau to Vienna from 8 to 12 November 2019. Under the general question of the conference: “Democracy under pressure?”, around fifty speakers gave presentations and discussed the worldwide development of democracy in addition to revealing the latest trends in political campaigning.
An outstanding start with Max Zirngast
The conference began with the Austrian journalist Max Zirngast, who had been indicted in Turkey in 2018 for membership of a terrorist organization and spent over three months in a high-security prison before being acquitted in September 2019. He not only outlined developments in Turkey, but also presented a global review that confirms legitimate concerns about the state of democracy around the world. The lead-in was presented by former IAPC President Volker Riegger. Furthermore, the “Democracy in Danger” session also featured numerous examples from countries around the world where the quality of democracy has been compromised. In this regard, a discussion on the situation in Latin America, Russia and Scandinavia was hosted by Faye Diamond / USA and featured Mauricio De Vengoechea / Colombia, Ekaterina Egorova / Russia as well as Torbjörn Sjöström / Sweden.
The Rise of Women and the Challenge We Face
The first morning of the 52nd World Conference ended with a stimulating round table discussion on the role and challenges of women in society. Hosted by Mina Jordeby / Sweden, the discussion featured Regula Bühlmann / Switzerland, Ondine Fortune / USA, Milica Katic / Serbia and Justine Gaspar / Malta.
Visit to the Mauthausen Memorial
The afternoon of the first day of the conference was marked by a commemoration of the horrors of the Second World War. The guided tour through the former Mauthausen concentration camp near Linz and, in particular, the observation of a minute’s silence at the roll call ground with readings by Faye Diamond and Marcel Wieder was an extremely sobering experience for many of the participants. The event concluded with a presentation by former Austrian President Dr Heinz Fischer on “Democracy under pressure – learning from the past”, who was introduced by Sepp Hartinger / Austria. In his address, Dr Fischer shed detailed light on the background to this history and pointed to the lessons to be learned from it.
Europe as the lead-in to the second day
The second day of the conference began with a session on Europe and the EU in which the former Prime Minister of Slovenia and long-time MEP Alojz Peterle as well as Andreas Pfeifer, head of the foreign policy editorial department of the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation ORF and Gerda Füricht-Fiegl from Danube University Krems examined various problems and outlined ways and solutions. The session was hosted by Susanne Hartinger / Austria.
New trends in political communication
A further thematic focus consisted of presentations on the latest trends from all over the world. Participants followed the presentations with great interest. Hosted by Program Chair Melissa Cressey / USA, exciting news from a wide variety of campaigning disciplines was presented by Feyi Akindoyeni from Australia as well as Adam Hyland, Aubrey Montgomery, Josh Nanberg and Brent Buchanan from the USA.
Austria session at Danube University
One of the key issues discussed at Danube University in the afternoon was the state of Austrian politics. Hosted by Christoph Hofinger, this segment featured contributions by Katrin Praprotnik, Tamara Ehs and Judith Kohlenberger. An inspiring wine tasting at Nikolaihof, the world’s oldest winery, and an exclusive nighttime visit to the Krems art gallery completed the day’s schedule before the conference cruiser set off for Vienna.
US politics and elections around the world
The third day of the conference began with a guest presentation by Jim Gilmore, the American Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). He emphasized the organization's importance to the world before dedicating himself to his theme: “Has President Trump changed democracy?” The session was hosted by Tom Edmonds / USA. Following this, assessments regarding the 2020 US presidential election were outlined by Doc Sweitzer for the US Democrats and Matt Klink for the US Republicans in a segment hosted by Dave Catanese before Kehinde Bamigbetan / Nigeria, Marilu Brajer / Argentina, Marcel Wieder / Canada, Necati Özkan / Turkey and Jan Juul Christensen / Denmark presented election campaigns from across the world in a session chaired by Crystal Martin / USA.
Award of the IAPC Democracy Medal as a grand finale
The official part of the 52nd World Conference concluded with the award of the IAPC Democracy Medal to Ekrem Imamoglu, the new mayor of Istanbul. The award was received on his behalf by Emrah Sahan, project coordinator of the Istanbul election campaign, in particular for conducting an election campaign without aggression and for his efforts as a peacemaker after the first elections had been annulled in Istanbul.
Visit to UNO-City Vienna
Another highlight of the accompanying program was a guided tour of UNO-City Vienna and a presentation given by Martin Nesirky, Director of UNIS Vienna.
The lifetime achievement award went to Sepp Hartinger
During the final gala dinner on board, Sepp Hartinger, Austria, a member of the IAPC since 1982 and its President from 1999-2001, was awarded the “Joe Napolitan & Michel Bongrand Founder Award for Lifetime Achievement” for the services he has rendered to the Association. Following on from Bo Krogvig / Sweden and Jon Gaul / Australia, he is the third member of the IAPC to receive this honor.
New Board of Directors
In addition, a comprehensive structural reform, prepared by President Mehmet Ural, was adopted at the IAPC General Assembly. This provides for a drastic reduction in the number of board members and a fixed allocation of responsibilities for each individual board member. The new 13-member Board of Directors was elected at the Annual General Meeting and shall commence its duties on 1 January 2020. It is composed as follows:
President: Mauricio De Vengoechea, Colombia
Treasurer: Melissa Cressey, USA
Secretary General: Matt Klink, USA
Vice President, Membership: Marilu Brajer, Argentina
Vice President, Conferences & Events: Crystal Martin, USA
Board Member, Conference & Events: Justino Pereira, Brazil
Board Member, Fundraising: Sal Russo, USA
Board Member, Communication: Kurtis Adigba, Nigeria
Board Member, Awards: Feyi Akindoyeni, Australia
All in all, the 52nd World Conference, which was staged for the first time on a river cruiser, offered unique impressions, both in regard to the speakers and the accompanying program. The discovery of such magnificent landscapes along the Danube shall also help the 52nd World Conference to long be remembered by all those who attended it. At this point we wish to express our special gratitude to all the participants and speakers, and in particular to Melissa Cressey as Program Chair, Sepp Hartinger as Conference Chair as well as to all our sponsors and the entire team of Hartinger Consulting for the implementation and organization of this event.
When The International Association of Political Consultants (IAPC) awarded the 2018 Democracy Medal, the world’s longest standing international democracy award, to three prominent Hong Kong democracy activist -Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow; young student leaders of the Umbrella Movement- we knew their struggle was important.
Today in Hong Kong millions of people are protesting to have their democratic rights protected. Sadly enough, Joshua Wong has been arrested by the Hong Kong police, along with over 900 other Hong Kong citizens protesting the pending extradition law, police brutality and lack of universal suffrage for free and fair elections in Hong Kong.
IAPC in the strongest terms condemns this political crackdown in defense of the rule of law, human rights and freedom of speech. IAPC invites the world to speak up for Hong Kong.
Global attention and protest may be the only protection such brave Hong Kong people have.
HONG KONG PROTESTS A TIMELY REMINDER THAT DEMOCRACY MATTERS
When the International Association of Political Consultants (IAPC) awarded the 2018 Democracy Medal to three prominent Hong Kong democracy activists – Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow, student leaders of the Umbrella Movement – we knew their struggle was important.
The same brave young people who are today helping to inspire others in Hong Kong to fight for their human rights, were recognised at the IAPC’s 51st World Conference in Sydney, Australia last year.
“Millions of people in Hong Kong are today protesting to have their democratic rights protected and are winning in an incredible display of people power.” Stated IAPC President, Mehmet Ural, “It’s important to recognise and celebrate the brave people who risk life and liberty to protect the democratic rights of many. Recognition and global attention may be the only protection such brave people have.”
In 2018 the IAPC’s international membership voted to award the world’s longest-standing international democracy award to Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow, young student leaders of Hong Kong’s civil disobedience Umbrella Movement, also known as Occupy Central.
“The 2018 IAPC Democracy Medal award recognised the courage and persistence of these student leaders to promote and sustain autonomy and democratic freedoms for Hong Kong in the face of increasing political control by the pro-Beijing authorities.
“As the global expansion of democracy has recently faltered against populist and authoritarian trends, their democratic mission offers a shining example for young citizens worldwide to emulate,” Mr Ural said.
Joshua Wong and his colleagues initiated the 79-day sit-in protest in Hong Kong from September 2014, the largest political demonstration in China since Tiananmen Square.
In August 2017, Joshua Wong (then 21), Nathan Law (24) and Alex Chow (27) were convicted and jailed for six to eight months for their roles in the early stages of the 2014 protests, barring them from running for political office for five years.
But in a stunning victory for the three young democracy leaders, Hong Kong’s highest court in February 2018 overturned the prison sentences of the trio. They had already served two months of their sentences when released on bail in November 2017.
Despite prison terms, political pressure and physical assaults, Joshua Wong and his colleagues remain defiant, continuing the peaceful efforts of the student leaders to achieve universal suffrage and protect the autonomy and freedoms guaranteed Hong Kong in the Sino-British joint declaration.
This declaration returned Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997 after 150 years as a British colony under the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ principle, allowing the former colony to maintain its unique political and economic system with rights of free speech, free press and free assembly guaranteed until 2047. But critics accuse Beijing of creeping interference in the city’s affairs and its government of toeing the Beijing line.
Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar: Today, Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar received her certificate and bronze medal for the International Association of Political Consultants’ (IAPC) Democracy Award which she won in 1995.
Dr. Suu Kyi was awarded the Democracy Medal in 1995 however, the organization was unable to present it to her because of her house arrest during that time. Today, former president Rick Ridder and IAPC member Joannie Braden presented the award certificate and bronze medal to Dr. Suu Kyi in a ceremony in the Myanmar capital.
Upon the presentation, Mr Ridder read the following:
Each year at its annual conference, the International Association of Political Consultants awards its Democracy Medal to an individual or organization who, in the judgment of its membership, has worked courageously to foster, promote and sustain the democratic process anywhere in the world.
A burnished rendering of the Acropolis is etched in relief on the face of the large bronze medal. The back side contains the engraved name of the recipient and the year it was given. Appropriately, the certificate which accompanies the Medal includes this universally recognized definition of democracy.
In 1995, the Democracy medal was awarded to Aung Son Suu Kyi by the members of the IAPC. But circumstances prevented the presentation the medal at that time. Today on behalf the members of the IAPC, former president Bo Krogvig of Sweden, and current president Nancy Todd of the USA, I am pleased to present the Democracy Medal of the IAPC to Aung Son Suu Kyi of Myanmar 22 years later.
Dr. Suu Kyi in thanking the members of the IAPC reiterated her commitment to furthering democracy and free and fair elections. “It is a long road” she explained.