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France Won’t Join Democracy Group

June 27, 2000

WARSAW, Poland (AP) _ Upsetting the celebratory mood at a global democracy conference, France excluded itself from a newly formed ``community of democracies″ Tuesday after skewering other Western powers for evangelizing.

France stunned the other 107 participants by refusing to join them in endorsing a declaration setting universal standards by which mature and developing countries alike can measure their progress _ an effort to consolidate the dramatic gains democracy made in the 20th century.

The dispute was largely philosophical and centered on French criticism that the conference was a prod to get non-democratic nations to adopt democracy _ a policy French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine on Monday said usually backfires. He cited ineffective sanctions against Yugoslavia and Iraq.

``The bottom line is that in Western countries the thinking is that democracy is like religion and that all you have to do is convert people,″ Vedrine told reporters in Warsaw on Monday.

Despite France’s decision not to join the club, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said the conference had succeeded in its goal of creating a ``community of democracies″ that breached cultural, historical and linguistic differences.

``We are a community, because we each believe that democracy is a fundamental and universal human right, because we want our own citizens to enjoy this right, and because we are committed to helping others strengthen and sustain it,″ Albright said.

The United States and Poland, which conceived the conference, want the declaration to have the same force as the 1975 Helsinki Accords setting international human rights standards.

Other nations here dismissed the importance of the French move _ saying it didn’t weaken the document, but merely excludes France from what they said was a global effort to help fragile, new democracies and strengthen old ones.

``The move confirms the most powerful force of democracy, that everyone can have his own opinion,″ said Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Pawel Dobrowolski.

France said it didn’t back the document because it amounts ``to a diplomatic pledge for the democratic states to act as a group.″ In particular, France objected to general agreement at the conference to convene a caucus of democratic states, possibly at the next meeting of the U.N. General Assembly in the fall.

Such a caucus creates a new bloc, in effect replicating the Cold War divisions by excluding nations who have not yet achieved democracy, said the French ambassador to Poland, Benoit d’Aboville.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan insisted the world is steadily moving toward a consolidation of democracies _ and that it ``is not too broad a dream″ to think that one day all U.N. members would be democratic states.

``Indeed, the theme of this conference represents my own most profound aspiration for the United Nations as a whole,″ Annan told the conference in the chambers of the Polish parliament, or Sejm.

``When the United Nations can truly call itself a community of democracies, the charter’s noble ideals of protecting human rights and promoting ‘social progress in larger freedoms’ will have been brought much closer.″

The French refusal to go along with the declaration was a surprise, since the declaration had been circulated for comment among participants for several weeks.

Vedrine’s remarks Monday appeared pointed at U.S. policy, which strongly supports sanctions against Yugoslavia and Iraq.

Albright emphasized in her closing remarks, however, that no one wants to force democracy on anyone.

``We did not come to Warsaw to impose democracy _ for that is a contradiction in terms. Dictators impose; democracy is chosen,″ Albright said. ``Nor is democracy a religion but it is a faith that has lifted the lives of people in every corner of the globe.″

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