The Role of Democracy Foundations: The Friedrich
Naumann Stiftung of Germany
Abstract of a paper presented at the Asia-Pacific
Democratic Cooperation Forum "Building a New Vision for Asia-Pacific
Democracy and Human Rights," Taipei, Taiwan, 26-27 August 2002
- The German “system” of political foundations affiliated to
political parties (therefore also “political party foundations”)
has long become an important point of reference in international
debates aimed at promoting democracy in countries emerging from
- The German political foundations may be called an answer of
the democratic Western German society to the dark past of National
Socialism: they were formed and publicly funded with the clearly
defined goal of infusing in the German citizenship the values
and principles of democracy. There exists a consensus that
democratic civic education constitutes a pillar of democracy.
A new challenge for the political foundations has been the collapse
of socialism in the Eastern part of Germany and ensuing re-unification.
In Germany political education (which is just another word for
democratic civic education) is considered a public task – and
also a life-long process. It is offered by a network of state
and state-assisted providers.
- Even if the state has played and continues to play a decisive
role in the sense that it makes available a large part of the
financial resources, two basic – and very fundamental – rules
apply. They are :
- non-involvement or non-interference of the state
“Political education does not serve to represent the doings of
governments and other state institutions. In contrast with the
indoctrination practised by dictatorial states, which try to impose
a uniform way of thinking on the people, political education in
a democracy is aimed at self-determination, awareness of the own-interests
and obligations, responsible conduct in state and society and
free choice.” (Report of the Federal Government on the Status
and Prospect of Political Education, Bonn 1991.)
The principle of pluralism, on the other hand, is the democratic
way to curb state omnipotence. Just as different political parties
struggle for votes and power in a democratic system, democratic
political education must always reflect the diversity of opinions,
of political options and models.
Germany’s political foundations – or Germany’s democracy foundations,
to use but another term – go to show that these fundamental principles
are not hollow words, but mirror political practice in that country
over the past five decades.
- Germany today has five political Foundations (or even six,
if you add the newly formed Rosa-Luxemburg-Foundation which is
allied with the socialist PDS, the successor-party of East Germany’s
ruling communists). Each of these foundations is close (or allied)
with one party represented in the federal parliament. Four of
the six foundations, that are all publicly funded, sympathize
with political parties that are in opposition.
- While in the years following World War II, the political Foundations
concentrated on “re-educating” the West German masses, in the
seventies they expanded their reach abroad, as Germany became
an affluent state. Increasingly, the political foundations developed
into an intermediary agency (or even an instrument) of the government’s
development assistance. Today, roughly fifty percent of our funds
are earmarked for activities outside the German borders. The Foundations
are publicly funded, and there exists a political consensus, that
development assistance to be effective should not be limited to
technical and financial help to the needy countries, but should
also entail programs aimed at promoting “good governance”. In
a wider sense, promoting democracy is an element of this objective.
- Like the other Foundations, the Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung
is guided by a set of clearly defined political principles.
A copy of these principles that guide all strategic considerations
regarding the Foundation’s activities in Germany and abroad is
attached to this paper. In a nutshell, the main aim of the
Foundation is the promotion of the principle of freedom, which
lies at the very heart of the liberal ideology.
- It is a special challenge to devise programs conducive
to the promotion of this objective in an international surrounding.
The Foundation has engaged in a continuous process of strategizing
as to find the most suitable methods of promoting our liberal
- The Friedrich-Naumann-Foundation in her international programs,
engages in three sorts of activities. The basic activity is the
traditional civic education, aimed a promoting in clearly defined
target groups liberal values and principles. In addition, the
Foundation promotes political dialogue, aimed at bringing together
liberal individuals and groups (mainly political parties) to jointly
devise (liberal) solutions to the many challenges our societies
are confronted with. Lastly, the Foundation engages in political
counselling: Experienced political experts help our political
partners in devising political solutions to specific political
- The liberal Foundation’s activities in East Asia may be divided
into country programs, administered by our offices in the different
countries of the region and regional programs. According to the
specific political (and social) conditions on the ground we engage
in programs promoting local autonomy, human rights education,
women rights, voter education, training of parliamentarians etc.
It is very much up to the country representatives to identify
the programs and the partners.
- One fundamental rule of all Foundation activities abroad is
the bonding with a local partner. For practical, but also for
very fundamental reasons of legitimacy of our political involvement
we always cooperate closely with a local partner.
- On a regional level in East Asia, the Foundation works in mainly
- promotion of the cooperation of liberal-democratic political
parties under the umbrella of the “Council of Asian Liberals
and Democrats” (CALD), headquartered in Manila, of which Taiwan’s
governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is a founding
- promotion of a regional human rights mechanism in ASEAN,
an effort led by a Regional Working Group, also headquartered
- support of a regional network of free-market-think tanks,
who – unlike the main stream of progressive activists – believe,
that free trade and free market are not the cause of many
problems in the so-called Third World, but the solution of
many challenges of the impoverished countries.
- In East Asia democracy promotion remains dominated by extra-regional,
mainly Western institutions. Considering the state of economic
prosperity and democratic consolidation in some countries (namely
South Korea and Taiwan). it is high time for a systematic Asian
contribution in this important field. Here, there are two
main tasks: first, consolidating democracy in their own respective
societies. According to recent surveys, the level of acceptance
of basic democratic values in both the Taiwanese and the South
Korean societies is far from satisfactory (see Chu, Yun-han,
Diamond, Larry and Shin, Doh-chul: Halting Progress in Korea and
Taiwan, in: Journal of Democracy, January 2001, pp. 122-136).
Secondly, reaching out to fellow Asian countries with the aim
of promoting democracy could then follow.
- From a Taiwanese angle, the China-problem is a very special
challenge, as any political activity (with financial support from
Taipei) will instantly be regarded as a PR-campaign aimed
at strengthening the role of Taiwan vis-a-vis the PRC. Thus,
for any cross-border activity emanating from Taiwan, to succeed,
it should be made clear that no such political (or diplomatic)
strings are attached.
- Learning from the German experience, Asia’s young democracies
interested in setting up their own democracy foundation(s), should
start at home and create viable national institutions of spreading
democratic values first. Thereby, they should consider the fundamental
principles of non-interference of the state and partisan pluralism.
Only in a second step, they should advance to international activities.
- The Friedrich-Naumann-Foundation would be most happy to share
her experience and expertise with any democratic organisation
from Asia aspiring to promote both at home and abroad the values
and the principles that bound us together.