Twenty-five years ago, in a speech to the British Parliament, President Ronald Reagan called on Americans “to foster the infrastructure of democracy — the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities — which allows a people to choose their own way, their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means.”
This historic June 8, 1982, speech led the U.S. Congress to establish the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in 1983, followed by the creation of the International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the Center for International Private Enterprise, and the American Center for International Labor Solidarity.
When IRI began the work that President Reagan envisioned, 52 of the world’s 166 countries were free according to Freedom House. Twenty-five years later, the world has 193 countries of which 90 are free. IRI began the work of “fostering the infrastructure of democracy” in five countries. At that time, advancing democracy was seen as a good and noble endeavor; today, it is seen as much more. After the events of 9/11, it was realized that the spread of democracy is a strategic imperative. Today, IRI is active in more than 65 countries and since 1984 IRI has supported democracy in more than 100 countries.
Quoting the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, President Reagan inspired a nation to “be staunch in our conviction that freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings.”
President Reagan’s vision lives on in the work of the staff and volunteers of IRI. His call to “move toward a world in which all people are at last free to determine their own destiny,” is one that still engages “the faith and fortitude” of a generation.
On June 20, IRI will host a panel discussion celebrating President Reagan’s speech at Westminster. Panelists will include IRI Board Member, Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr. who was Co-Chairman the Democracy Program study, whose principle recommendations helped craft the NED initiative; Mark Palmer, who is credited with conceiving some of the core ideas behind President Reagan’s 1982 speech at Westminster; and Michael Samuels who helped shape the ideas that went into the Democracy Program study. IRI Board Member Richard Williamson will serve as the moderator.
If you are interested in attending the panel please e-mail Cole Buerger at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read President Reagan’s Speech
Watch a Video of the Speech
(Video courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library)