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Secrets of Transformation

Good management is essential for democracy

Separation of powers, corruption and economic growth are all seemingly abstract concepts. But these factors shape everyday life for billions of people, and they're crucial to the success of the democratic model.

Democracy is non-negotiable at its core: It means all citizens are equal before the law and able to help shape social policy. Wherever such guarantees are not in place, democracy cannot emerge.

Democratic change is complicated and fragile. It takes a great deal of work to democratize a political system, requiring scrupulous oversight from those in politics, business and civil society. This year's Bertelsmann Stiftung's Transformation Index (BTI) reached an important conclusion on that point: The last two years have not resulted in an emerging trend toward more democracy around the world.

Deposed dictators

That finding comes despite the wave of grassroots movements that emerged from 2011 to 2013, at a scale not seen since the breakdown of the Soviet Union in 1989-1990.

It began in December 2010, with demonstrations against Tunisia's dictatorship. The impulse to protest quickly spread to the country's neighbors in the Arab world. Soon, dictators were being driven from their palaces around the region: Ben Ali in Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Moammar Gadhafi in Libya and Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen.

Russia's pro-democracy movement used white ribbons to make a statement and fought back against manipulation at the polls. And in recent weeks, Ukraine saw tens of thousands take to the streets to protest their country's leaders forging closer ties to what they see as Russia's authoritarian government.

Tug of war

However, Russia, Ukraine, Tunisia and Egypt are also countries that show how easily the democratic process can be thrown off course. Tunisians have long wrangled with the form of their constitution, split by divisions between secularists and Islamists. In Egypt, the clocks have been rolled back. The military has once again assumed control, just as it did during Hosni Mubarak's reign. Ukrainian society remains deeply divided between European values and a political turn toward Russia.

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Trailer: Secrets of Transformation

Democracy has been unable to take hold in any of these countries, even though some advances have emerged in terms of social participation and freedom of expression. At the same time, though, poverty has increased, while life has become more expensive and less safe. In these places, democracy remains an unfulfilled promise, having failed to produce what people had hoped for: better opportunities and more social justice.

The democratic model has not yet paid off for many people, and that entails risks.

A key obstacle

The BTI examines whether a social market economy is emerging and considers the question: How carefully and thoroughly is democratic change being managed? When the demand for more democracy is abused by the elites as an instrument to preserve or gain power, change has proven especially difficult or even impossible.

In Egypt, people talk about a "deep state" in this context. They're referring to the military, seen as the true source of power for decades with networks that run through business and politics - an agent hindering democratic change in order to preserve its own interests.

Patience is required

The index demonstrates that democratic inspiration isn't enough; it takes perseverance. Stable institutions based on the rule of law are also important. Above all else, it demonstrates that the democratic model requires a clear majority. Societies can undergo many transformations without becoming real democracies, and there is often a great deal of political instability and processes of redistribution along the way.

Ute Schaeffer

Follow Ute Schaeffer on Twitter @uteschaeffer

Deutsche Welle has been tasked with promoting democracy for more than 60 years. As a journalistic outlet based in Central Europe, we support Europe's basic values, democracy and human rights. With our programming in 30 languages, we offer a forum to those pushing for democratic change, uncovering the difficulties they encounter and highlighting successes.

Personal stories

This year's Bertelsmann Transformation Index gives us a good reason to consider the factors for success when it comes to democratic development. Could there even be a recipe for success?

DW reporters have analyzed developments in the indices from 2006 to 2014, drawn on their own research and reached surprising results. Exciting personal stories and features have emerged. Take a look behind the headlines with us - it's worth it.

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