Democracy – the big and the small

Photo by Humphrey Muleba on Unsplash

Democracy – the big and the small

Tuesday, 20. October 2020


30 years ago, on 3 October, the German Democratic Republic was dissolved into the Federal Republic of Germany. This was a landmark in putting to rest the Cold War in Western Europe and is now celebrated as German Unity Day. Yet, there is always more to the story than just a single date in time.

This year, 3 October was concerned with the largest democracy in the world: India. An important marker for us non-Indians is that just four days before 3 October, Amnesty International was obliged to halt its work of defending victims due to reprisals from the Indian Government.

So, on German Unity Day a global online conference with the name Reclaiming India was held. The organizers say they are ‘…committed to India’s foundational values and preserving a Democratic, Plural, and Progressive India. We see India as a forward-looking nation where each and every member of the community has an equal opportunity to grow and succeed, irrespective of their religion, ethnicity, caste, gender, sexual orientation, social and economic class.’ 

I’m struck by this statement, looking at the final two lines starting with ‘…every member of the community…’ Wow. To me this is not only an expression and example of ethical leadership, but a reminder of the qualities of the founding fathers of the Indian Republic. It is also a statement in terms of sustainable living and points to overcoming divisions in society, or what we know as ‘trustbuilding’.

The conference Reclaiming India brought together Indians at home and abroad virtually, who care about the Rule of Law, independent judiciary, and the respect of minorities. 

As a repeat visitor to the world’s largest democracy I was struck by this event that brought witness of victims being turned into the accused; of established rights being side-lined by authorities. I was even more struck by the mindful, caring, and determined people who joined together online from the most diverse backgrounds to share responsibility for change, and to ‘reclaim’ India from this point forward. Yet, I noted with interest that one phrase, or concern, kept coming up from many speakers: the need for dialogue.

From the big to the small: Out on the street for the Responsible Business Initiative in Switzerland. Photo: C. Spreng

I come from one of the smaller countries who are a democracy - Switzerland. It also has some progress to make to narrow the gap between good principles and lesser realities. So, on that same morning of 3 October I was one of a small group our on a street in my town, but one of 400 groups across the country who were busy drawing the population’s attention to an important vote on the Responsible Business Initiative due next month. It calls for legislation to make transnational companies registered in Switzerland responsible for all their operations in terms of internationally recognized human rights and sustainability standards. Among the prominent citizens launching this initiative was Dr. Cornelio Sommaruga, former International Committee of the Red Cross President who later served as founding President of IofC International.

In simple terms, we know that road safety matters for us all, if not then we are liable for damages caused. Corporations have understood that the liability principle is for them too. But some still would like to avoid this issue and they are spending a lot of money on public relations budgets to try to confuse the voters. A coalition of over 100 associations and NGOs is out there to bring attention to the facts and the available solution. 

These are two seemingly random snapshots of this past 3 October, but they’re not so random when you consider that big or small, there are struggles affecting populations across the globe. These struggles affect many lives, and they need our attention and concerted action in order for everyone to have a better tomorrow.


Christoph Spreng

Christoph represents IofC International at the Council of Europe. He is Vice-President of Conference of INGO’s and the coordinator of the INGO Dialogue Toolkit Hub (find more information here: In June 2017 he was appointed INGO Special Advisor for Human Rights and Business.  

NOTE: Individuals of many cultures, nationalities, religions, and beliefs are actively involved with Initiatives of Change. These commentaries represent the views of the writer and not necessarily those of Initiatives of Change as a whole.