6 February 2019
The fundamental question is: how to make democracy resilient ?
We live in times when the substance of democracy is being… questioned. In some places, democracy is being transformed into a plebiscitarian authoritarianism, where democracy is reduced to a ballot box, and where the state seeks to control the society by curbing civil liberties – by subjugating the judiciary, taking control over the media, limiting space for independent civil society.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: RESILIENT DEMOCRACY ?
Some safeguards for keeping the democracy and democratic patterns – are needed:
– institutional: related to the rule of law, separation of powers principle, full respect of the Treaty values,
– practical: which means the citizens’ knowledge how to be citizens and what does it really mean the citizenship – at the national and European level with regard to proper identities,
– cultural and mental: it is related in the broad sense to the phenomenon of the literacy! The media and information literacy is crucial. The digital literacy is necessary – to help users navigate the digital environment. The science literacy is needed. The education is essential and the critical thinking is basic. The citizenship literacy is one of the most important issue.
HOW DEMOCRACIES LOOK LIKE ?
What can we see, when we looking at the Democracy Indexes:
• Democracy faced its most serious crisis in decades – in 2017 and 2018 as its basic tenets including guarantees of free and fair elections, the rights of minorities, freedom of the press, and the rule of law – came under attack around the world
• Seventy-one countries suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties, with only 35 registering gains. This marked the 12th consecutive year of decline in global freedom,
• A decade has passed since Larry Diamond, a political scientist at Stanford University, put forward the idea of a global “democratic recession”. Some indexes show, that this unwelcome trend remains firmly in place. Less than 5% of the world’s population currently lives in a “full democracy”.
We need to wake up !!!
WHAT ABOUT THE CONTEXT ?
We are living in the specific time. It is the POST-TRUTH ERA growing in many countries, among and across many cultures and political environments. We are confronted with the eco-system of the post-truth dangers as well as with POPULISM and ILLIBERAL DEMOCRACY.
There is a big impact of populism – on our lives, the democracies, the models of shaping the public opinions. The liberal democracy as an area of common solving problems, respect to the minorities and all partners, the evidence based policies – is threatened.
Fake news are the symptoms of the post-truth reality. The eco-system of fake news is connected with hate speech dominance in the public discourses. We can observe the double usage of hate speeches in the public discourses.
On one hand they are not such hateful. The agents of these discourses present themselves as great servants of the State and they create the references to the common views presented by the majority of the society. And they do it – in a fully populistic way, but at the same time with strong conviction justified by victorious elections.
But on the other – it is clear that these discourses provide for the real hatred, exclusion of various groups. Based on the negative stereotypes, not based on understanding of the diversity and empathy. In this case the identity is building as: against diversity! Emotions are crucial !
It is a very strong combination of building some threats in the public area and putting guarantees that the powerful authority will be able to implement and protect people. This is the manipulative message!
It undermines the very needed open society pattern. The post-truth societies are very often closed and extremely polarised. Everything is DIVIDED and POLARISED.
One part of the society is standing vis a vis another and they are fighting. Let us be clear: THIS IS A WAR ! Words and expressions are WEAPONISED …
It is so called the negative game changer for the DEMOCRACY IN ITS NATURE: openness, dialogue, exchange of views, evidence based policies allowing to solve the problems, full respect to the diversity, critical thinking.
The misinformation creates the disinformation, the disinformation creates misunderstandings. Misunderstandings correlated with the post-truth factors undermine the trust. Or built the specific type of trust as a background of the quasi-religious communities standing vis a vis the real, open civil society!
And in the worst case scenario – there are no clear, credible reference points for shaping the public opinion in the neutral way.
CHALLENGES FACED BY CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANISATIONS
There are many examples of discriminatory limitations established by public authorities in some countries with regard to the Civil Society Organisations and focused on stopping the financial support for those, which are: working with refugees, active at the area of LGBTI rights, defending the independent lawyers, protesting against public media propaganda, calling for lessons at schools on hate-speech phenomenon. There are many examples of attempts to exclude some NGOs from access not only to the public money, but also exclude them from key rights – such as freedom of assembly, participation in the public consultancies etc.
In the FRA Report from 2017 some key recommendations were presented, focused on:
– encouraging and ensuring proper funding the CSO working on the protection and promotion of the EU’s foundational values of fundamental rights, democracy and the rule of law, including for small grassroots organisations,
– improving not only the accessibility of financial sources, but making the ways of applications and accountability – much more simplified,
– supporting the European network of the exchange of the experiences of CSO,
– ensuring the full support of public institutions for the CSO: in financial terms, in regulatory framework, in dialogue on many solutions – creating non-discriminatory and impartial relations between authorities and civic society.
CIVIL SOCIETY AS THE BACKBONE OF EUROPEAN VALUES
In these confusing times, we must not forget what constitutes the essence of democracy, its lifeblood.
It is the participation of citizens in decisions and law-making, their contribution to policy-implementation. The participatory democracy model is the opportunity for Europe.
Only the citizens, organised as civil society, can ensure that our democracy is vibrant and resilient. It is the civil society who teaches how to participate in a democratic society. They show: how to conduct dialogue between differing, even conflicting views. They build trust between individuals and social and political groups. They release the energy necessary to defend civil rights, to protect minorities and to ensure that no one feels discriminated. It is the civil society organisations (CSOs), who teach us a real lesson on: how democracy should function. Thanks to them we become conscious citizens, aware of our rights and our value. This is a foundation of democracy.
But the civil society needs funds to pursue its goals – independently.
This is why, at the European Parliament, we have been working for over a year to set up a new funding mechanism for CSOs who promote and protect European values, such as democracy, rule of law, fundamental rights, and social dialogue. We have adopted a resolution in April 2018 calling for increased funds for organisations operating on local and national levels. Subsequently, we have attempted to transform the Rights and Values Programme, proposed by the European Commission in May to serve precisely these purposes.
We suggested that a new strand of the Programme be set up: a Union Values strand, which would support CSOs with additional 850 million EUR in the post-2020 multi-annual EU budget.
It also calls for easing access to funding for grassroots initiatives, for which the bureaucratic burden related to EU grants was too heavy and cumbersome. And of course – there is the way of the direct financing of the CSO activities by the EU institutions, from the EU level.
We are in favour of setting up programme contact points in each EU Member State. It is important that they provide impartial and competent guidance and orientation to grantees.
It should be obvious, that programme must not be seen as an instrument of promoting any one ideology: liberal, conservative or any other.
It is about promoting democratic dialogue between all citizens who may hold very different world-views.
It is about supporting the broad set of our common European values to which we all have committed long time ago – human dignity, equality, democracy and rule of law. These values are inclusive in nature. Together they set the stage for everyone of us – regardless of political affiliation and ideological preferences – to meet in mutual respect.
I strongly believe that if these solutions are taken on board by the EU Council (the trilogue has just started!), democracy in Europe will be substantially strengthened, and the grand European project will receive a needed boost!
THE GREAT IMPORTANCE OF DEFENDING THE DEMOCRACY BY BOOSTING THE CIVIC SOCIETY !
We have to avoid the historical repetition. We need to avoid the attitude described by Erich Fromm many years ago, in reference to the beginning of fascism: the escape from freedom!
Now, Timothy Snyder considers the modern problems with freedom in the book: “The road to unfreedom”.
The present interpretation of this phenomenon can lead us to some kind of the FAUSTIAN DEAL.
It simply means that there is the possibility of the, so called – “guided democracy” with “no liberty”.
But it is the offer addressed to us by powerful authorities, by political leaders as “strongmen”, by emotional, often hidden messages.
So, we can choose, we can make a “trade off” and replace the “liberty” – with “security”, with “safety”, with “stability”…..
Which values and attitudes we are choosing, under what kind of conditions ?