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Korbel School to Host Denver Democracy Summit

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Alyssa Hurst

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Capitol Democracy Summit

The Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. The recent coup in Myanmar. Protest crackdowns in India and Russia.

Everywhere you turn, it seems democratic values are eroding. What’s more, this appears to be an emerging pattern — Freedom House reports that 2019 marked the 14th consecutive year that global democratic values declined.

“The last decade has seen more countries sliding away from democracy than moving toward it, reversing the overall trend toward liberalism that the world experienced with the wave of post-colonial independence after the second World War,” says Naazneen Barma, director of the Korbel School of International StudiesScrivner Institute of Public Policy. “I think that is a really troubling fact.”

On Feb. 25 and 26, the University of Denver’s Korbel School will continue its search for solutions to this pressing problem at its inaugural Denver Democracy Summit. Featuring a roster of academics, politicians, journalists, policymakers and organizers and hosted in partnership with Denmark-based nonprofit Alliance of Democracies Foundation, the event is the centerpiece of a robust collaboration aimed at addressing this growing threat.

“The recent events in not just the U.S., but around the world have shown us that autocrats thrive when the free world is divided,” says Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Alliance of Democracies Foundation founder and former Danish prime minister. “We all have the same challenge — so let’s work together to solve it.”

In a mix of pre-recorded, live and breakout sessions, the free, two-day virtual conference considers four themes: democratic erosion around the world; existential threats to democratic governance; the state of U.S. democracy and implications for the democratic world; and civic engagement.

The conference is expected to weave through a wide range of topics with some of the top speakers in this field. Among them are U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) and former U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), who will discuss the power of rising beyond partisanship. Meanwhile Colorado Rep. Jason Crow will join a panel addressing how we can protect democracy from disinformation. And audiences are sure to benefit from the perspectives of two former secretaries of state: Condoleezza Rice, a DU alumna who served during the George W. Bush administration, and Madeleine Albright, daughter of Josef Korbel and the first female secretary of state who served under President Bill Clinton.

In the interest of seeking real solutions, the pool of speakers is intentionally diverse, crossing not just the globe but also political and ideological spectrums, Barma says. “The goal was really to get as many ideas as possible to surface at this event, from across the reasonable political space.”

The conference and its counterpart, which takes place each year in Copenhagen, are, to date, the most visible manifestations of the partnership blooming between DU and the Alliance of Democracies Foundation. But Fritz Mayer, dean of the Korbel School, plans to advance the conversation through ongoing programming, civil discourse, research efforts and shared networks.

The goal, Mayer notes, is not simply to pontificate on the problem, but to begin to build a freer, more just future.

“I want people to walk away [from the summit] with a sense not only of the incredible importance of restoring democracy in this country and around the world,” Mayer says, “but also with a sense of hope that this can be done and some ideas that each of us, wherever it is we happen to sit, can do to shore up our democracy in this country and to help advance it around the world.”


The Denver Democracy Summit is presented free to the public, however registration is required. For more information and to register by Feb. 23, visit