The Seminar on ‘Democracy(ies) in flux’ organised by Symbiosis-School of Political Studies in Greece, affiliated to the Council of Europe Network of Schools , took place online during the months of April-May 2022 via the Symbiosis’ Education Platform.
It was organised in the backdrop of the pandemic and war, and threats to civil society becoming even more apparent. The Civicus 2021 report identifies some strategies governments utilized to “assert top-down, command-and-control approaches that seemed to show little trust in the wisdom of people and communities. The first instinct of many presidents and prime ministers was to act as though the pandemic was a threat to their power, rolling out well-rehearsed routines of repression. States took on broad emergency powers, and at least some clearly used the pandemic as a pretext to introduce rights restrictions that will last long after the crisis has passed. At a time when scrutiny was more difficult, the suspicion was that some political leaders were opportunistically consolidating their power, rushing through repressive measures they had long wanted to unleash.”
In the longer run, during the first decades of the twenty-first century, the threat to democratic societies the world over has increasingly come from within, of increasing authoritarianism in governance, erosion of institutions, rising polarisation and fraught popular elections. But is democracy really what is at stake and in crisis nowadays, or is it a whole set of political-ideological values that are termed “liberal”? Can we argue that democracy is not a value system but an empty form of a political organisation, a syntax that can be furnished with different semantics, including that of the illiberal world view as Viktor Orban has proposed years ago? Amid an array of national and cultural differences shaped by history and contemporary conditions, investigating democracy’s failures, understanding its partial achievements, and renewing its many and varied cultures, is much needed.
There is an urgent need for both sustained dialogue among proponents of diverse interpretive positions and their recommendations, for policy as well as mobilisation. Such an engagement can be strengthened by facilitating a robust dialogue among policy makers, activists, and scholars to reflect on democratic experiences and experiments the world over and explore whether this crisis of democracy represents a historically unique challenge or whether parallels to political crises in the past can be discerned. Why have democratic institutions lost their legitimacy along with their capacity to mitigate inequalities by righting the wrongs of economic, racial and gender injustice, and/or social injustices and climate change? How can the disenfranchisement and disillusionment especially of impoverished and marginalized sections of the population be transformed into democratic participation? In the midst of crises, of war and multilateralism shred to pieces, can we also see tendencies that point to alternative views of democracy?
The COVID-19 pandemic crisis is continuously demonstrating the extent to which science and innovation policy needs to be at the core of exchanges between citizens and government through a participatory political process. This also includes the need to use digital means to engage citizens as societies are urged to move online and the need to engage citizens in the rapid digitalisation of governments as a reaction to the COVID-19 crisis. More digital and organised participatory and deliberative processes are also being tested and implemented in many local, national and even European and global contexts. The interface between these movements and processes and the representative institutions of liberal democracies has often been chaotic or conflictual. Major challenges to civic participation include engaging the disenfranchised, structurally marginalised, or less spontaneously engaged parts of society, and channelling protest into non-conflictual, constructive engagement.
Furthermore, the second decade of this millennium is described as the decade of protests across the globe. In contrast, social movement and activism, in recent years, have also gone through tough times in the wake of new-authoritarian visible/hidden controls over media and public protests, phone hacking, indefinite imprisonment – protest policing has become highly selective and often deals with protests very violently. However, activism has not been dropped rather activists are becoming innovative, coordinated in reformulating their activism space. Contrary to various intentional efforts to block them, protests have emerged in various places because of dissatisfaction and inequalities connected to pandemic policies.
The last decades have witnessed significant changes in the electoral behaviour of citizens. Turnout has been steadily declining in most countries while European research and statistical data show that there is more electoral volatility, together with an increase in radicalisation of voter attitudes and greater polarisation. From 1994 to 2017 (according to Eurobarometer data) trust in parliaments, political parties and governments declined significantly. While many of the identities and certainties of the past are eroding, new cleavages have marked the political landscape of representative democracies. This apparent state of flux brings multiple challenges for the future of democracies.
The Seminar ‘Democracy(ies) in flux’ was implemented in Greek and it was organized in three Courses, conducted by three excellent university professors. Each Course consisted of three Modules, which were accompanied by study material and followed by three Live Online Discussions.
Course 1: Political discourse analysis: The example of populism
Speaker: Yannis Stavrakakis, Professor, Department of Political Science, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (AUTh).
1.1 Discourse Analysis: Methodological Introduction
1.2 Populist Discourse and Democracy: diachrony and synchrony
1.3 Definition and typology of modern populism
Course 2: People of democracy
Speaker: Ifigenia Kamtsidou, Associate Professor of Constitutional Law, Faculty of Law School, AUTh
2.1 People or nation? The search for the sovereign in postmodern democracy
2.2 The distressed people: citizenship and participation of foreigners in local elections
2.3 The nomadic people: the vote of out-of-state voters
Course 3: Liberal democracy at a crossroad
Speaker: Andreas Takis, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law School, AUTh
3.1 Liberalism and its perception of democracy
3.2 The democratic perception of rights
3.3 Comparisons: the state of exception test
Programme of the Live Online Discussions
23.05.2022: People of democracy – Speaker: Ifigenia Kamtsidou
24.05.2022: Political discourse analysis: The example of populism – Speaker: Yannis Stavrakakis
25.05.2022: Liberal democracy at a crossroad – Speaker: Andreas Takis