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Leopoldo López gives a speech at the 2024 Baker Peace Conference in Galbreath Chapel at Ohio University in Athens, Feb. 22, 2024.

Baker Peace Conference to discuss ‘Democracy in Decline?’

The time has come again for Ohio University to host its annual Baker Peace Conference, which brings speakers from all over the world to speak to students. 

The focus of this year's conference is labeled “Democracy in Decline? The Politics of Pluralism, Participation, and Populism” with keynote speaker Leopoldo Lopez and panels of speakers from Europe, Africa and South America. 

Lopez originates from Venezuela and was imprisoned for seven years for leading nonviolent street protests. He escaped the autocratic regime and began working in Spain as the co-founder of the World Liberty Congress, which advocates for human rights and democracy in autocracies. 

“The issue of democracy is something that we are getting a lot out in our media,” Alec Holcombe, director of the Contemporary History Institute and chair of the Baker Peace Conference, said. “I think it's useful to have that perspective. It's saying this issue of democracy and how it manifests in other countries as well. What are the challenges that other countries are facing?”

Holcombe also mentioned how the issue of democracy is discussed a lot in the U.S., but a new perspective is important for understanding.

This year, the conference will feature high-profile panelists including Filipe Campante speaking about Brazil, Miles Taylor from Britain and Michael Walsh, who will be speaking about democracy in South Africa. 

The second set of panelists will include German-Canadian journalist Aaron G. Burnett, Marie Jourdain, who currently works for the French Ministry of Defense, Krisztina Koenen a Hungarian journalist and Zofia Kostrzewa, who works in the Warsaw office at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

The panels give students an opportunity to engage with experts from all around the world about democracy in their countries, the U.S. and the influence of international affairs on democracy. A key idea panelists will be speaking on is the health of democracy around the world and the perspectives of people from different countries and how they see democracy.

“One of the things that makes me happiest about these talks is that they bring interesting people from around the world to a part of the country that maybe doesn't often get visitors from backgrounds like these people,” he said. “I love the opportunity that it poses. You get to interact with people from far away, but I suppose I'm also happy for the people from around the world to get a chance to see this part of the country.”

Holcombe elaborated on his excitement for students to attend and learn something new. 

“I guess I have hoped that it would spark their curiosity about other places in the world and be interested in politics that are going on in other countries,” Holcombe said. 

The Baker Peace Conference has been around since 1988, in conjunction with the Contemporary History Institute, which hosts other events throughout the year including the Elizabeth Evans Baker speaker series. 

The conference is also sponsored by the Baker Peace Studies Program, which provides educational opportunities to learn about peace and democracy around the world.

“I thought it would be a really stimulating and fun experience,” Holcombe said. “It's an opportunity to get to know some interesting people from around the world, and also I enjoy the challenge of it.”

Previous conference topics have included communism, the Vietnam War and its legacy, the shaping of the Middle East and the effect other historical events have had on various countries. 

This year’s conference began Thursday at 7:30 p.m. with the keynote speaker at Galbreath Chapel and will continue with the two panels on Friday in Alden Library from 10 a.m. to noon and 3-5 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

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