Announcement — 11 February 2013

Democracy, Development, Modernization: Insights from Three Worlds

Tartu, 4 March 2013

(Conference programme .pdf)

The Institute of Government and Politics together with the Centre for EU-Russia Studies at the University of Tartu invites you to the conference “Democracy, Development, Modernization: Insights from Three Worlds.” The conference is meant as a follow-up to a recently concluded research project that was funded by the Estonian Research Council  and  focused on the alternative understandings of democracy existing in non-Western countries, as well as on the contestation of the democratic values within the Western core. One result of this project is the book Decentring the West: The Idea of Democracy and the Struggle for Hegemony (Ashgate, March 2013), covering key theoretical issues as well as a number of country cases (Bolivia, Brazil, China, Denmark, Estonia, Russia, Sweden, Turkey, Venezuela).

The conference will cover a broader agenda, but will still focus on the crucial question on how the universal values, such as democracy, justice, equality, human rights and development, are seen throughout the world and how they are implemented in the local political practice. The current moment in global politics is paradoxical in the sense that nearly everyone agrees on the universality of democratic values, but democracy remains one of the most contested themes. Compared to the Western debate, in Latin America democracy is defined with much more emphasis on justice and equality, which inter alia leads to a more salient social agenda and a focus on the indigenous legacy. Chinese official discourse shares the Latin American view of the importance of development and the need to take into account the local cultural context. Contrary to the Latin American leftists, however, the Chinese leaders emphasize the need to develop gradually and to allow for democracy only in as much as it does not endanger stability. This, in turn, is a common feature between China and Russia, although the latter might be a clearer case of an ideological game where the notion of democracy is being emptied of any positive content and used exclusively in order to legitimize the current regime.

In the meantime, the West is getting increasingly perplexed about the results of “democracy promotion” in countries like Libya or Iraq. This is combined with a deep crisis of democratic institutions in both the EU and the US, with polarized populist politics occupying the central stage, while many pressing issues are ignored or presented as technical and politically self-evident. Immigration becomes a hot issue everywhere, which forces nearly all nations to reconsider the basic foundations of social solidarity and citizenship. Financial austerity, on the other hand, figures as the only solution to the financial crisis, even though the people might be willing to consider alternative scenarios. It is far from obvious that the established channels of political communication and representation, such as political parties and the media, remain adequate in this new setting.

Presentations at the conference will thus reflect on the interplay of the universal and the particular in the debate about democracy, as well as on how various locally specific combinations of universal values can open up ways to a redefinition of what democracy means in contemporary world. The conference will take place at Domus Dorpatensis (Ülikooli 7) starting at 9:30 am on Monday, 4 March (programme).

If you would like to attend the conference, please register no later than 25 February 2013 by using the UT registration device. Pre-registration is essential to make sure we can provide enough seating space and refreshments during the coffee-breaks.

For further questions please contact Ryhor Nizhnikau (ryhor[at]

The conference is supported by the Estonian Research Council and the Centre for EU-Russia Studies (CEURUS), and organised in cooperation with the European University at St. Petersburg.