As part of TEJO’s and Council of Europe’s work plan “Global Citizenship 2030 – Redefining the role of youth in a post-pandemic society”, during the first phase of the project, a seminar with a focus on democracy was organized in April 2022 in Italy. For 4, 5 days, young people learned about democracy, exchanged ideas and opinions, and discussed the topic of democracy in the post-pandemic reality. Additionally, they created a declaration with the role of young people in post-pandemic democracy:
- … must allow for more space for civic activity. It is not enough just to have voting.
- … has no definite form, there is no perfect form. There are democratic system.
- … is not limited to one definition. Despite this, not all systems are entitled to define themselves as democracy.
- … has common characteristics.
- … must respect freedom of opinion. The people must be able to express themselves freely even against the democratic system or the government of the time.
- … must provide access to the democratic processes.
- … must provide a fairer and more equitable distribution of resources among citizens in addition to civil rights. A significat imbalance is in itself anti-democratic. If citizens lack the basic resources, they cannot freely participate in decision-making processes
- … must make sure that there is space for media diversity and diverse types of education. Without space to think critically, and to find various sources and opinions, it is not possible to have a democracy.
- … must respect freedom of expression. This is related to the respect for language rights, because access to native languages helps the construction of democracy.
- … must be aware of the paradox of tolerance. To protect tolerance, democracy must provide the space for opinions, but act against the opinions that threaten the space for tolerance. In other words, opinions that aim to destroy tolerance must not have the freedom to destroy the democratic space.
- … must respect the diversity of opinions, but act against misinformation. Tolerance of differing opinions does not mean allowing outright lies and manipulation.
- … must provide education and ensure the existence of spaces for debate.
- … must show solidarity with the injustice outside their country, acknowledge their duty to protect people in undemocratic countries.
- … must guarantee fair representation and prioritize agreements.
- … must respect the sovereignty and independence of other countries.
- … must avoid imperialistic behaviours that aim to intervene in the decisions of other democratic countries.
- … must be horizontal. Some people’s opinions should not be considered more valid than others’ just because of their characteristics that are not related to their competences. Competences should be taken into account, but a hierarchy should not be established according to social, gender, religious, racial… characteristics.
- … must provide active political education for citizens about the voting system. Voting education also means civil rights education. This kind of education should be received from a young age, with care to avoid influence by the people who teach the system, along with instigating a thoughtful and critical approach to democracy.
The multilateralism of democracy
→ Democracy is not only about politics, but it also involves various elements of human society: education and movement of information, economy, law, and reciprocal relations between citizens, among other things. A democratic society is not limited to the organization of bodies and the state, such as separation of powers, electoral system of representatives. There are several conditions to consider a society as fully democratic.
- Essential conditions for a democratic society regarding the states:
- Regarding the state, respect for human rights and the rule of law are the most fundamental conditions.
- Representatives should represent the citizenry proportionally, whether in terms of political ideology, gender, age, social class, region, ethnic group/minority…
- Some tools of direct democracy must ensure that the state bodies are under some form of governance by the people: to create ways for citizens to propose laws and policies without involving politicians.
- Sovereignty and independent foreign policy.
- Universal suffrage.
- Other non-state essential conditions for considering a society to be democratic:
- Education: the education system should not only train workers, but also citizens educated for critical thinking, peaceful debate
- Free expression: a healthy space for public expression
- Mass media: there should be several, politically diverse outlets, who should not be largely owned by few actors or the state; it should limit dissemination of false information
- A safe space for expression: one should not be threatened for their opinions – whether by the law, the state or private groups
- Restrictions for expression: Be careful not to tolerate intolerant people (e.g. Nazis). Avoid attacks on the fundamental liberties/rights; or in crisis periods that affect democracy (e.g. COVID-19).
- Economic and social equality and stability: everyone should have access to decent living conditions through limited working hours, so that they have the opportunity & time to get involved in political life. The wealth of individuals should not drastically affect their political power (eg. Ability to influence voting).
- The horizontality is a very important issue regarding democracy, because if we consider the idea of Aristotle, who said: “Democracy arose from the thinking that, given that everyone is equal in any respect, everyone was considered to be absolutely equal to each other”, we can understand that the idea that some people have more power or value than others does not conform to that ideal.
- as a society, we must debate and put forward democratic models that tend to this, such as direct democracy, etc.
Direct democracy and online voting
- Direct democracy allows more topics to be debated within society. The further complexity and the multiplicity of civic debates is an important tool for more effective decision-making participation.
- The citizens should be able to express themselves more directly and actually care about international, national and local issues. Necessarily, constitution reforms should happen to enable this.
- The exercise of democracy should not exist solely to elect decision makers, but to more directly express opinions on public policy matters.
- Consequently, the possibility of online voting is a very interesting possibility to implement it. Without a doubt, developing reliable and incorruptible technical tools is the most important task if you want to use online voting.
- If done right, it would be a powerful tool in speeding up and making the democratic process more straightforward.
- An interesting side of online democracy is that it can be applied internationally, for example regarding European problems and referendums.
- Modern internet has sanctified public speech, and is a space of equality, participation and transparency. In fact, these values are the key to an effective and healthy democracy that is resilient to various crises.
Democratic systems mean actively participating, not just during voting. In most democratic systems, you only contribute almost exclusively during elections, and that is indeed an interesting aspect, but to achieve the best level of democracy, referendums should be held more often or we should explore other ways to express the will of the people.
Different democratic systems:
Democracy is not a hundred per cent a clear system, it is probably an ideal of a system. There is no fixed recipe to follow, and that is a source of advantages but also of problems, and all democratic countries have their own system that adapts to their own way of thinking. English or Americans have their own election system – related to Anglo-Saxon law – which is different from a presidential republic ruling France. So, all those countries are democratic, but do not have the same system. People could see some injustices in all these different systems, for example in France we observed that this system causes discomfort and difference of opinions. Also, democratic systems should respect basic democratic rights. Russia has its own election and governance system, but we could not consider it another type of democracy, because there are serious threats to civil and democratic rights.
Online voting is a valuable tool to facilitate democracy, especially after COVID-19 and the digital transition. Its inclusion must go hand in hand with the strengthening of cyber security infrastructures to guarantee the security and stability of the process. Additionally, voting should remain accessible to all, regardless of technological skill and access.
The state must ensure access to people’s human rights, such as health insurance, universal education, housing, etc.