Can you explain what the World Forum for Democracy is?
It is an amazing space which brings together experts, high-level speakers, people who are creating things in the field, coming up with new ideas and bringing young people together who also try to be active in their societies. They are in the same room to discuss all these ideas, merge them with other ideas and create something really concrete.
What I already witnessed is the new ideas that were born here within the partnerships and the new friendships. Each World Forum for Democracy ends up with a good connection and network of young people who are actual leaders. People are already discussing very important topics such as how to develop new content regarding the participation in political processes. This is a place where you can exchange these ideas and experience them on spot. I am happy that the Council of Europe is the facilitator of this magic that happens.
These ideas can transform into something concrete. If they don’t, that’s also not bad, because it helps the older generations and the younger ones to shape their ideas, make them clear, get new knowledge, see other practices. It is enough to put the right people in the right place so that they can go back to their communities with something new and they can implement them in their societies.
Why are you here today?
Today I had the opportunity to be the moderator of a Lab called “Is hybrid democracy more inclusive”. We had interesting presentations of examples of new platforms and tools of e-democracy.
Can you give examples?
One project is called “Polled town”. It’s about putting polls on each important topic for local communities. When local media are reporting on certain issues, there is always a poll where people can vote and voice their opinion. After being processed, all these opinions and results are given to the local governments or the mayor who are about to adopt specific decisions on a specific project.
As a youth representative, what was very interesting was the gap between the older participants and the younger ones. The older participants see e-democracy tools as something too new that might be affected by manipulation and fraud. Whereas young people think that it is a great tool for participation. So you don’t have to go to voting station and you can do it from your home.
The older generation said that they would rather know who is behind some statement or vote in the online system. On the other hand, we have a big portion of mistrust of young people in the traditional political system of the political parties. They don’t want to spend their weekend going out to vote. They would rather prefer to show their interest or position over the online system.
No one actually mentioned that, but in order to be active in some societies, in order to know your rights or duties towards your community, you should get some knowledge which I believe can be delivered through education for democratic citizenship. This is important especially in order to think about what kind of participation we need, what decisions we want to participate in or what, we as citizens, can put into some processes where we are allowed to participate. That part of the discussion was missing.
E-participation means that we all should have access to computers and internet and some basic knowledge of how to use them. I wouldn’t agree that our societies - at least at the Council of Europe’s level - are completely ready for it. In some regions, you don’t have the same opportunities and these preconditions do not exist. I would say that education for democratic citizenship should be recognised, reported and introduced into formal or non-formal education systems, institutions and so on. And then we can discuss these innovative ways of participation.
Can you say more about the political disengagement of young people?
There is in fact a growing rate of political disengagement of young people but in the classical political way: being a member of a political party or going out to vote in the elections or referendums or so on. Therefore I think this innovative-based participation and youth participation should be supported through the civil society, through advisory bodies, through e-democracy. They are opening spaces which may not be perfect but which represent a step ahead. I know that online votes can be manipulative, the social media are sometimes full of illusions, but this kind of tool can be very useful in the upcoming years and for the upcoming generations.
Which topic discussed during this forum was the most interesting for young people?
I wouldn’t stick to one specific topic. The main topic of this forum is populism which has been discussed from various points of view. It is actually at the heart of the discussion in each lab and I am looking forward for the lab conclusions in order to see what was the general opinion about the issue of rising populism across Europe and in the world. Classical politics is being changed and shaped in other ways and we should also rethink the way we participate in that politics. We see that populism and the nationalistic rhetorics are on the rise. We should rethink the way we should approach these negative trends and to see how we can contribute to the society.
What can the EYF do to help deal with this phenomenum?
At the European level, we can see a shrinking space for the civil society and civil liberties, especially in the eastern or south-eastern part of the continent. At this moment, we are not developing innovative tools. People are right now defending the basics of human rights because of this rise of populism and nationalism. The European Youth Foundation is doing a good job there because it is still focused on youth and supporting young people and youth organisations, regardless of general feeling and situations. It is evaluating what is going on in specific areas and if young people really do need to work on something which is real at that time, and supports them. For example, there are sometimes political issues but the European Youth Foundation is not giving up its support of youth organisations and civil society in the field.