Event Report: Press Café – Democracy in the 21st Century

“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” ― The now famous Winston s. Churchill quote from the 19th century reads.

As the EU faces today many crises, it is time to critically re-evaluate if the system we adopted works, for whom it does and if it is possible to make it work for everyone? In order to answer these questions, ISC Paris and the World Solidarity Forum Partners have hosted the first Press Café series: Democracy in the 21st Century at the Press Club Brussels. Participants were invited to join various thematic tables to discuss the contemporary challenges faced by democratic movements today.

FRAMEWORK

The Press Café is a part of the Networking series organised by the World Solidarity Forum, each proposing a main topic for discussion. Various aspects of the main topic will then be the focus of  smaller round-table sessions led by experts in the field and each participant will be invited to join a discussion circle of their interest. Rotation will take place every 20 minutes, enabling the participants to take part in more thematic tables.

 

 

DISCUSSION CIRCLES

Transparency – the key to a democratic EU? – Guilherme Seródio – DiEM25 Belgium

DiEM25 is a pan-European, cross-border movement of democrats, launched in 2015 by former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, under the premises that the European Union is disintegrating. Activists of diverse political traditions – Green, radical left, liberal – came together from Europe and abroad, in order to repair the EU. The EU needs to become a realm of shared prosperity, peace and solidarity for all Europeans.

Guilherme Seródio (DiEM25 Belgium) firstly offered an overview of DiEM’s format and goals. The discussion following the introduction centred around current failures of transparency at EU level and what is to be done and by whom in order to make transparency an attainable objective.

There is a lot of transparency already in practice but the European Commission is not great at reaching out to its citizens. Moreover, a lot of information fed into the EC is simply lost and, as an individual, there is no way to know when there is a consultation or how to participate effectively in it. Once the process has finished, citizens have no way to know the weight or consideration given to their inputs – and so, “consultations might equal a lack of transparency”, a semblance of democracy, an appearance of participation that is then disregarded in the process.

Questions of whether there is a genuine interest in involving the civil society in the EU decision-making process were also raised. Unfortunately, due to the lack of trust in representatives, this results in the need for a change in the civic psyche – the relation between the people and the governments is broken, and people are very detached from the EU as they believe they don’t have a say

Finally, but most importantly, education is the key to positive changes. Clear, participatory frameworks where the civil society can operate should be made available to all citizens if we want to go in the right direction.

Western Media Democracy – the case of reporting on Human Rights violations in Europe vs South Asia – Imran Chouhdary – Samaa TV

It’s been almost 70 years since the establishment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, yet the concept of universalism is highly debatable. While the developed countries are enjoying relatively high indexes in terms of the respect for human rights, the situation is not the same at the global level. Looking at the developing countries, and conflict zones in particular, we realise that not even the most basic rights are being valued.

Having this as an overarching topic, Imran Chouhdary – Journalist at Samaa TV, discussed the case of the Kashmir Conflict. Since the killing of Kashmiri freedom militant Burhan Wani, a curfew was imposed in Indian Administered Kashmir, not allowing people to go in or out of the region. Jammu and Kashmir Police and Indian paramilitary forces used pellet guns, tear gas shells, rubber bullets, as well as assault rifles, resulting in the deaths of more than 70 civilians, with over 7,000 civilians injured – and this goes relatively unreported.

Human rights should be universal and all conflict affected areas should be treated with the same respect if we want to achieve peace and functional societies around the world, yet currently this is not the case. What is more, in terms of media coverage of these issues we observe that not all parts of the world receive equal attention. It is because certain lives are valued more than the others? Especially in opposition to “white lives”? These have been some of the main questions discussed.

Is Democracy Up to the Challenge of Climate Change? – Antonina Radeva – Independent Consultant

Climate change is real and it is happening. Even if global leaders, authorities or simple citizens do not seem to agree on this issue, experts have given us the facts. All figures show an increase in global warming and many actors have already long started tackling this issue.

Antonina Radeva argued that climate change is one of the biggest threats the planet is facing and that it is time to compromise, coordinate, act and change! Given that other aspects of the world are prioritised (economy, politics, migration, health and security), climate change tends to be perceived in isolation. The effects are clear though: severe storms, damaging droughts, heat waves, falling agricultural yields, and increased flooding of coastal areas. They all have become regular events that have an impact everywhere. Are the democratic systems up to the challenge of climate change? Unfortunately, due to the lack of political will, economic and political pressure by the fossil fuel lobby, energy companies, anti-tax groups or climate change deniers, not even democracies seem to be fully up to the challenge.

Still, there are several positive examples taken by democratic systems regarding climate change. Democracies are much more likely than authoritarian regimes to give priority to environmental sustainability  over either energy security or affordable energy supplies. Voters whose lives and livelihoods are increasingly impacted by climate change are beginning to demand immediate action, effectively forcing politicians to take a long-run view. As a result, democratic governments become more likely to comply with global agreements that set specific targets.

 

 

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