September 28, 2022

President Zelenskyy speaks to the Athens Forum for Democracy: Democracies must unite to save democracy

Dear Mrs. President!

Dear forum participants!

Everyone who values the democratic system and wants to preserve it for future generations!

There are many discussions about democracy in the world now. About what threatens democracy. About how democracy can be protected. And about what needs to be done so that democracy still prevails in the global confrontation.

People feel that right now something is happening that could become decisive in the centuries-old confrontation between democracy and tyranny.

And it is precisely in this address, precisely to the Athens Democracy Forum, that I want to say that I am sure: we will be able to guarantee the future of democracy, we will be able to protect it.

We will, because we know what gives democracy strength, what serves as its heart, ensuring the supply of freedom, like blood, to every part of a democratic society – to every person. This is unity. Unity is the most important thing.

Democracy is the rule of law, it is respect, it is procedures, it is the equality of the free and freedom for all. But all this works only under the condition of unity, only then is all this saturated with real freedom, all this is solid.

Unity makes democracy alive.

When societies are completely atomized, when there are no stable ties between peoples, when someone may not come to the aid of another in a democratic community, democracy gets weaker, lags behind, falls apart.

We have seen this more than once in history.

We have seen how a small but energetic and maximally united tyrannical minority or party is able to subjugate the social majority, if the majority of people are scattered and do not trust each other.

We have seen how some democracies decided not to intervene when other democracies were threatened, but later everyone had to defend themselves, not just those who were threatened at the beginning.

We have seen that people can become disillusioned with democracy if they feel unequal and humiliated, if people lose emotional connection with their representatives in power. The consequence of this can be fascination with someone autocratic. And then?… Often a tyrant begins to destroy his own society just to retain his personal power. This is exactly what happened in Russia over the past 30 years.

So unity is the universal answer.

Unity in society – for people to feel a connection with each other, for people to have something in common and for this commonality to develop, giving more freedom, more comfort, more well-being.

Unity between societies, between states. All democracies should act in a united fashion, be a real community, and help each other when necessary. This is not only a matter of relations between the leaders of the states. This is not a question of who is or is not historically related to whom. This is a question of struggle for a democratic system. 

When we are truly together, no one will be an insurmountable threat to us.

We see this now in the war that Russia has waged against our people and against our common democratic system. The greater unity we have, the more tangible Russian defeats are.

And the third element – this is very important for every democratic country – unity between those in whose hands the power is and those who entrusted this power.

Democracy does not live in the government offices or even in the parliament hall. Democracy lives between people. And that is why it is so important that there are no isolated groups in societies – be it the ruling group, or any other privileged groups, or any unintegrated minorities.

After the full-scale invasion of Russia into Ukraine, we managed to achieve the greatest unity of Europe and the democratic community of the whole world in decades. But the greatest does not mean the maximum.

We have a lot to do to further strengthen our unity. And every such step to strengthen is a step to protect democracy. Not just somewhere, not just in some country, but in general – for all of us and for our children.

For all free nations. Forever free.

I thank you for your attention! Thank you, Greece, for your significant support!

And it is with great honor that I accept the award of the city of Athens for the Ukrainian people, for our people, for their contribution to the protection of democratic values.

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