Biden is sending invitations to the Summit for Democracy to select world leaders this week. Andrzej Duda will also receive one — and he will use it.
President Joe Biden has himself made the list of the countries invited to the Summit for Democracy.
The decision as to who should be on the list of the chosen ones was preceded by a lengthy debate in the White House. In the end, the Biden administration decided to include in the virtual meeting, which is set to take place on Dec. 9 and 10, countries that might not be perfect democracies, but where feeling appreciated by the U.S. administration will perhaps encourage them to strive to make up for what is lacking. Especially since, as diplomatic sourced told Rzeczpospolita, the U.S. itself is “not ideal” and “has a lot of work to do.”
This allowed Poland to fit on the guest list. But earlier, Washington sent our country a list of confidential questions on following the rules of democracy. One of them was on minority rights, especially the rights of the LGBT community. Another question discussed freedom of the press. Americans, however, refrained from raising the issue of the independence of the judicial system. They decided this was the EU’s job.
“Some people among the Polish authorities thought such questions were insulting. They put Poland in a position of a student taking an exam before an American teacher. Eventually, accepting the invitation and using it to tighten relations with the Biden administration prevailed. Authorities believed that numbering Poland among democracies by the U.S. will be helpful in the dispute on the rule of law that Poland is having with the Brussels,” government sources told Rzeczpospolita.
Within two weeks, the State Department envoy is set to come to Warsaw to decide on the details of Andrzej Duda’s participation in the summit. It is possible that the president will record an address to other world leaders on this occasion.
An additional difficulty for Poland in accepting the invitation is the fact that Hungary is the only country in the EU that won’t be able to participate in the summit. Budapest might see this as Warsaw undermining solidarity between the two countries on the international forum.
During talks with Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin confirmed that the plan to strengthen the American military presence in Poland, which was signed last year, will be upheld.
The fact that there was no invitation will have no influence on the Hungarian parliamentary election next spring. We have grown used to the fact that Viktor Orbán’s policies have led to such an assessment.
Reporters Without Borders believe that there is no freedom of speech in Hungary, according to Washington-based Freedom House. Hungary is the only EU country that is not a “full democracy,” Marton Gergely, publisher of the last independent weekly HVG in the country, told Rzeczpospolita.*
“Orbán, as a matter of fact, has learned his lessons and, as a result, supported Donald Trump without any reservations. Budapest will host a summit for the U.S. Republicans, which the former president will most likely attend,” he adds.
In the Freedom House ranking, Poland scores 82 points out of 100, only one point less than the U.S. Hence, it is considered a “full democracy.” Hungary has 69 points, which places it in the “partial democracies” category. “Poland is walking on the brink of the abyss into which Hungary has already fallen,” U.S. diplomatic forces warn Rzeczpospolita.
Ukraine, however, has been invited to the summit despite scoring only 60 points. “The decisive factor was the direction in which the two countries are heading. Ukrainians are still building the foundations of their statehood, shedding their Soviet heritage, and are on the front line of the fight against Russian rule. Hungary, on the contrary, has gone from a model of democracy for Central Europe to authoritarian rule,” sources tell Rzeczpospolita.
The White House also considered an international context. The bar has been lower in Latin America, Asia or Africa than in Europe. As Foreign Policy magazine has revealed, thanks to this, Mexico (61 points) has received an invitation, despite the fact that left-wing populist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador systematically limits freedoms.
The Philippines (56 points) has also secured a place as the summit, despite the dictatorial inclinations of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Americans also numbered Kenya, Ghana, Zambia and Indonesia among democracies. The list doesn’t include — and no wonder — China, Russia or Belarus. Nor Turkey, despite its being a member of NATO, which in theory unites only democratic countries: Freedom House gives Ankara a measly 32 points.
Altogether, the summit will be attended by over 100 leaders. Critics of this generous selection point out that the Bill Clinton administration fell into a similar pitfall. On June 27, 2000, it held a conference in Warsaw devoted to the future of democracy. It was attended by 106 countries, including a newly elected — in what was believed at the time to be a democratic election — Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. This didn’t stop him from building a brutal dictatorship. President of Peru Alberto Fujimori also flew to Warsaw; eight years later, he dissolved the Peruvian parliament.
The full list of invited countries still remains unknown. There are still a few questions, like whether the conference will be attended by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. The biggest country in Latin America (74 points) scores much better than Hungary with Freedom House experts. But Bolsonaro himself regularly praises the country’s former military dictatorship, which ended after 21 years in 1985.
According to Biden, the Summit for Democracy should be the beginning of the process of perfecting freedom; after a year, each of the participants is supposed to show what they have done in this direction. It’s about juxtaposing the advantages of the democratic system against Chinese or Russian authoritarianism.
This starts to have an impact: China, furious that Biden invited Taiwan, has begun to prove that, despite the fact that the Communist Party of China has been ruling the country with an iron fist for 72 years, the People’s Republic remains a democracy according to Beijing because the regime takes into account the “will of the people.” After all, being left out of the circle of democracy is not handy to anyone.
*Editor’s Note: HVG is a weekly Hungarian publication that covers politics.