Personal Democracy Forum CEE 2017: Rebooting Democracy

Is democracy as of today worth saving? Or is it just a buzzword we are all used to?

Traditionally, democratic movements have had the ambition to build bridges between governments and citizens who elected them. To make sure minorities are listened to and protected by the majority. To build mutual trust in the name of the common good.

The net of democratic relations has changed. The contemporary model of democracy has shifted from being citizen-oriented towards serving the comfort of “managers” of the state. With the growing understanding for openness, people have more means to control their governments but does it really make the latter more responsive to citizens’ needs?

In the recent years, a lot has been achieved in the field of data opening, transparency and civic engagement. The open data movement around the world is in full swing providing a lot of space for the multi-leveled debate. Much effort has been made to build a strong community fighting for good governance, accountability of public institutions and improvement of decision-making processes on the global level.

We have witnessed many successful initiatives of citizens gathering for important causes, and how the internet, new media and mobile phones changed the balance of power. The hope of new means of communication empowering communities to advocate for their rights is still on the rise, even in spite of lack of access to information and low media literacy.

However, what would be the next step once the data are opened and made available to citizens? How to enable citizens to use open data as a tool of building democracy? How to propel the democratic movement with real civic participation?

Video summary of Personal Democracy Forum PL CEE 2016

Undoubtedly, we are standing in the face of a deep crisis of liberal democracy we have known. We observe increasing mistrust towards the authorities and the media and no feeling of efficacy on the level of citizens’ participation in decision making. Direct democracy methods such as referenda have shown that using them is burdened with almost the same level of risk and positive outcomes. It doesn’t make them trustworthy tools either. We also encounter post-truth and misinformation, while facts seem not so much welcome by the large part of the society.

Despite the highly developed democratic standards promoted and implemented by the European Union; despite advanced technological novelties and handy tools giving us almost unlimited access to information and helping us manage it efficiently, there is a clearly visible move towards non-liberal democracy not only in Central and Eastern Europe but also in UK or France, not mentioning the recent presidential elections in the US.

The question is: who takes responsibility for the status quo? Could or should we perceive the current situation of a crisis as an opportunity? Is it the right moment to start a new struggle against inequalities, a new fight for freedom of speech and information, media neutrality and literacy — all being a touchstone of democratic values we know and appreciate? Technologies and the media should play a significant role in supporting pluralism and liberties instead of serving authoritarian regimes and undemocratic causes.

Will rebooting democracy bring the desired change? And by the change we by no means want to go back to the liberal democracy we have known. We have seen lot of errors that partially led to the current situation. Choosing the lesser evil seems to be the easiest way out but it will not solve problems such as divisions within societies, the limited rule of law and alienation of the elites.

At this year’s PDF, we will focus on diagnosing the democratic system — what went wrong? Did the system fail us or did we fail? What are the next steps? We see the need to focus around the following areas:

1.It seems that we define democracy in contradictory ways. Although we keep using similar words to describe it. Perhaps they do not mean anything anymore?
2. From enthusiasm through grassroots work to powerlessness. How can we learn from experiences of those introducing the change?
3. When states are ineffective, citizens take matters into their own hands. What sort of challenges do we have to face in contemporary politics?
4. Hopelessness and insecurity are becoming the most popular companions of CSOs. What environment should be created to expel those words from our vocabulary?

Will we get all the answers? Probably not. Will we come up with the vision? More likely. Join us to work on this together.

Personal Democracy Forum CEE 2017 will take place in the European Solidarity Centre in Gdańsk on April 6–7, 2017.

Text by: Marta Skotnicka and Krzysztof Izdebski

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