What does Democracy mean to you?
Is it the right to vote? The freedom to speak up whenever you see injustice? Is it your right to your own body? The ability to travel freely or to call your loved ones all over the EU?
Democracy is not a “one size fits all” concept. Democracy is tailored so that everyone, no matter where we come from or where we call home, feels represented, understood and listened to.
On October 11, in Vienna, we’ve kicked off our Democracy Month. Send us your comments and thoughts about this topic and you could be one of our next 4 TOGETHER Ambassadors at our #EuropeTogether event in Copenhagen, on November 22nd!
We can change Europe. Together!
As a Hungarian citizen and young social democrat activist I can say without any doubts, that the situation in Hungary nor the way the EU is handling int recently is good. I think I tell nothing new if I say, that the damage of the democratic state, the liberal rights or the independence of press is below critical level. It isn’t an exaggeration at all to say, that nowadays we live in an illiberal anti democratic country with a corrupt and power thirsty government, lead by a populist leader.In the beginning of this post I feel it important to state, that we cannot identify the mindset of the Hungarian government with the mindset of the people of Hungary. They don’t approve the antidemocratic actions of the government. And this is the point when you could ask…”the why do you vote for them?” It is a fact that the party of Viktor Orbán (Fidesz) is in power for 8 years by now despite the fact, that three elections were held since then…The problem is, which is both the source of the weak performances and growth of the opposition parties and the people believing the lies of the government, that there are no more than a handful of independent media products in Hungary. Since most of the printed and broadcasted media products are owned by either the goverment or oligarchs close to the governing parties, most of the people among lower social classes can’t reach any source of independent media, they can only inform themselves from the government’s propaganda, which produces nothing but fake news. This way the government can manipulate dozens of people, and make it nearly impossible for the opposition to appear in any kind of media. Therefore, one of the few things the EU, or any aspiring state could do in favor of the Hungarian democracy and people, moreover for the whole EU is, to finance the remaining independent sources of media in Hungary to even the odds regarding the distribution of fake news and real news. This way the EU (or specifically any country which desires) could gain more influence in Hungary and would weaken the position of the government and also help the struggling opposition a great deal. Which takes me to the next point… The opposition in Hungary is fragmented and divided. (For now let’s just focus on the left wing parties) The major left wing party the so called Hungarian “Socialist” Party (MSZP) (Which is a member of S&D) is discredited and widely rejected because of it’s neoliberal governing and past scandals. The party lacks any kind of political innovation and is rejected by not only the majority of voters, but also by the left wing supporters. On the other hand the smaller left wing parties, which have trustworthy politicians and true left wing programs can’t break in to first line politics because of the lack of money and appearance in mainstream media. That is why, from my point of view the S&D Group should focus more on managing their members, helping them and in the times of need encourage them to learn from other members. In my opinion our parties would profit really much from sharing experiences with practices with successful fellow members of the S&D Group such as the Swedish Social Democratic Party or the Portugal Socialist Party. As I mentioned exchanging experiences and learning new practices would be really useful we can’t forget to mention that the S&D Group (or again any country which seeks to gain influence, or interested in having a west minded democratic Hungary) could also finance the innovative and promising but yet weak left wing parties of Hungary. Whereas forming opinion and criticizing the processes in Hungary is necessary, forming a unit and acting together as I proposed above would help to solve our common problem more easily, thus helping both our common cause in Europe as well as freeing Hungary from it’s current wannabe dictator.
Democracy is an ongoing process which can shift a facade or illiberal democracy, etc. to a real democracy and even to a liberal democracy. Democracy is a fair and free opportunity system. Anyone can transform to democracy. Democracy is a given in certain regions, while in others, it must be fought for and even earned. Democracy is the better way of life that when installed within a country contributes to fighting poverty, disease, the lack of education automatically. Democracy is not just having laws, but also knowing they will be there and they will work and they should be respected. Democracy is not just about casting a vote, it’s about choosing your future.
The threat of new autoritarian goverments is real. We saw it with the elections in Brazil. Brazil chose to become a liberal (economy) and conservative (ideology) state. It happens because by the time the left was in the goverment there were corruption scandals that blinded all the social achievements made by the left for the people. I was born in Brazil. I see that the major concern of the people is about security and corruption, and the alt-right seizes this opportunity to impose privatizations ,less rights for workers using the conservatorism as a cover of verticality. They use the technique of the nazis , blame the left for all the bad that the world has. So how we can save our people of these mistakes? The only way is trough credibility. We need to remember history everyday. We need to show all the achievements that the left has made and still does for people’s lives and democracy. We need to show that the left of today is not the communism of the past. And we need young influencers to do this job. People are not very open to mainstream opinion makers anymore, they want the menssage from people they can relate with. This is why new movements grow so fast, because they are made with simple people. We need to start a battle using knowledge, history, our achievements and our proposals. And the new proposals must show why solidarity is good for economy, freedoom and happiness for all. And we can never forget about working people! Those people, the working class, are the most important at the moment. If we forget, then they will forget our legacy of fight for a better world .
Living in a democratic regime give us the opportunity of expressing ourselves without fearing persecution for doing it. Democracies should also have separation of powers, respect human rights and promote the active civic and political participation of all its citizens. In my country (Portugal), the memory of the Estado Novo dictatorship that lasted from 1933 until 1974 and the political arrests, poverty and war in Africa, that it brought still lives in many people’s minds. When in 1986, Portugal entered in European union the country entered a new era of development and progress and that is why here, democratic institutions are widely respected just like the European Union itself. Nowadays, democracy is consolidated in Portugal and the country is recovering well from the crisis and a hard Austerity program supported by the former right-wing government, however unfortunately that is not the case in other parts of Europe in which democracy is under threat, with anti-democratic and far-right forces rising up not just in Poland and Hungary, were they hold the government, but also in Germany, Austria, Italy or France. These forces are a threat to progress and European values because they don’t respect the rights of minorities and political opponents promoting a divided society in which people start distrusting or even hating each other for differences like gender, race or religion. This strategy may be pure demagogy but it is effective because their anti-establishment and anti-EU speech is shifting many working class people from left wing parties (socialists or social democrats) towards those right-wing populists or even far-right parties. That is why it is of paramount importance for S&D parties to regain the support of the working class in those countries because they are the key to keep the far-right out of the power and to ultimately save democracy in the EU.
Information is essential for an active democracy, citizens must be informed about the past, the present and the future Rousseau who, in the Social Contract (1762) had launched the famous accusation against the English representative regime (but valid in general): The British believe they are free. In reality, they are only once every four years when they elect their representatives in Parliament. For the rest, they are slaves of those who have elected. While some people are frustrated and staying at home on election day trust me other people vote. But here’s the problem, democracy continues with or without you. They’re are voting in every election, from city council to parliament, because the people who are voting know the impact to that the leaders that they pick can have on every single part of our lives. When you don’t vote, you letting other people make some really key decision about the life you’re going to live the place you’re going to live how it’s going and what that will decide for you. You’re just saying that you do it! And you may not like what they decide. You may not like living with the consequences of others’ choices. But that’s what happened when you’re home and do not go to vote. You are essential to put your future in the hands of others. And the truth is, some people hope you’ll do it. Voting is not difficult, it doesn’t take long, it’s just a few minutes, it’s so easy, the only way to make a change in this country is to go out and vote for the change you’re looking for. Vote, no matter who you vote for. Voting means participation and being involved in this. Your vote can make the difference, it will do absolutely. Remember that the election can be decided by 10 votes 20 votes, sometimes it is only a small margin. And people believe that they need millions and millions of votes. No. It is not for the leader you choose, the power of our democracy is in us. The person you are looking for is standing in your shoes, you are the person who can save you from this. We are our heroes, we are our leaders who do not change. And it does not matter that those who want to manage our vote are above us!
Democracy is not only a political Regime. The very reason why illiberal democracy doesn’t exist is that democracy takes the entire society with itself. It allows every individual to feel free and to be free. This is why we should be talking about democratic society. The promise of the democratic society is to make perpetual and peaceful revolution possible. The change of its entirety by itself. Social-democracy is not two words without a link between them. It underlines that democracy is both an end and a mean. It is an end because we have always fought for the emancipation of every single human being. Because the citizen is at the center of our political ideal. But it is also a mean because we know that democracy is the only way to achieve constant transformation and adaptation to today’s world. It gives the society the chance to take the best ideas, whoever they come from. Democracy is a treasure, not a burden.
Democracy means to me that everybody is involved and has a chance to take part in making decisions, on certain levels of the society. People should not be frozen out of taking part in making decisions, modern democracy cannot be elitist to let decisions be only made by privileged circles. Masses have to be involved, we have to reduce the distance between masses and decision makers at the highest levels. Democracy has to be formed to be as direct as it is possible, decision makers have to keep a constant contact with ordinary people, the voice of the people. This is how everyday problems can be solved, when everyday problems can be communicated via a constant channel between politics and the masses. This is how the information of the existence of problems can be delivered to decision makers efficiently and problems can be solved as soon as possible. Most of the voters care about the everyday problems. This is why left-wing has to make local levels of the democracy stronger. Supporting trade unions and civil organizations is inevitable. By supporting trade unions, we can step up for the rights and the interests of the employees and can accomplish social achievements. Going local and dealing with the everyday problems of the people, involving people to politics and letting them raising their voice will help us to solve problems, to make democracy stronger and to make people believe in democracy by providing the opportunity for them to be involved. I firmly believe that making democracy more direct and social will make people trust and appreciate the democratic values much more, since they experience that they can take part in it and they can add their voice. This is the alternative of the far-right politics that is only about identity politics without really caring about the everyday problems of the people. Supporting trade unions and civil organizations is thriving. For instance, unions are keeping on fighting out their demands in the United States lately, from teachers’ unions across the country to Disneyland workers, NYC airport workers, hotel workers in Chicago etc. Bernie Sanders gives a huge boost to this tendency, encouraging people to form unions, helping and stepping up for them, making more and more people believe in social democracy, making progressive tendencies unstoppable as an alternative of the politics of Trump. This is the way in my opinion, representing the interests of the employees, the solution of the everyday problems of the people, going local, initiating communication and channels between politics and people, being active on local levels, in local governments, supporting trade unions and civil organizations. I believe that this is the alternative of far-right based on only hate and identity politics.
With the onset of the economic crisis since 2008, a new term, the working poor, has emerged at European level. This new “class” features a portion of the population that, although working, is paid below the relative poverty line. The working poor is closer to the European poverty indicator, the relative poverty which is assessed at an income below 60% of the national average national. One of the main reasons for the growth of this phenomenon was the sharp increase in unemployment, the rise in part-time working and austerity measures as a repercussion of the economic recession. The working poor issue requires more attention not only for the amelioration of living standards but also for the fight against social exclusion which is one of the biggest threats posed by poverty. The problem of working poor in the European Union is crucial with the countries of the Balkans and South Europe showing the biggest percentage:For this reason EU should devise effective measures and tailor-made policies to erase the issue of working poor in its member states and meet their needs. EU should undertake policies and initiatives to tackle the phenomenon of working poor Within this context, EU has set the target, through the Europe 2020 Strategy, of reducing the numbers of poor people by 20m, paying particular attention to employment, education and training. Both the European Social Fund and the European Strategic Investment Fund seek to create new jobs and reintegrate young people into either education or training programs. However, in order to improve the standard of living of that section of the population that while working is on the poverty line and cannot fulfill its basic daily needs and activities, these tailor-made measures and initiatives could include some of the following: Digital skills are crucial for employees Since one of the variables affecting working poor is education, more emphasis should be given to improving the educational attainment of the working poor. Education plays a fundamental role in the fight against social exclusion. For this reason, access to lifelong learning and vocational education programs according to the needs of the labour market, with emphasis on digital skills, will enhance the skills of employees to adapt to more and different working environments. It should be mentioned that estimates show that around 40% of people in the EU workforce do not have adequate digital skills; 14% have no digital skills at all. Given that the digital economy will dominate in the upcoming years, those skills are crucial for the employees. European Social Rights Pillar Furthermore, strengthening the welfare state with the guarantee of a living wage, access to healthcare, better working conditions, social benefits and the protection of part-time, temporary, precarious and undeclared workers should be a priority. The EU, through the European Social Rights Pillar, aims to build a fairer and more socially inclusive EU. The three main categories are: equal opportunities and access to employment, fair working conditions and social protection and inclusion. Under this framework, the fight against the phenomenon of working poor should be driven institutionally. Sustainable Development Goal 8 The EU should also act in accordance with the Sustainable Development Goal 8: “Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”. Within this framework, the EU should boost investments in areas that could assist growth, depending on the specific needs of each individual country but based on the above-mentioned employment criteria. Single-earning households Another great issue is single parents or families with children and one employee in the household that are at risk of poverty. In these cases a proper work-life balance plan is needed (including childcare services) to facilitate access to work for these parents. In some cases, the lack of childcare services reduces the job-seeking opportunities or the full working day of single parents, and increasing the risk of poverty for them. Consequently, it may be inferred that job creation is not the only pathway to tackle and reduce the poverty or unemployment rate as the sheer scale of the working poor indicates that a series of measures and policies are still needed to ensure quality, stable and decent work. In order to reduce social exclusion and improve the standard of living of working poor, urgent measures and tailor-made policies should be taken by EU both at institutional and individual level.
For me, democracy is our greatest common value. The ability of expressing our opinion on any topic regardless our race, gender, social class or political affiliation. Democracy along with liberal rights are one of the greatest values of our 21st century society and this is the reason why democracy is something we have to fight for. Something which worth to fight for. Nowadays when we witness the rise of more and more populist anti-democratic leaders around the globe such as Donald Trump or Viktor Orbán, especially now we have to stick to our common values, and defend them no matter the cost. The future of our society lies in this fight, the future of a democratic, equal and prospering society. The future of our children, which we wish to hold the very same values for which we fought for centuries in Europe. Although it was hard to achieve what we have now (equality, freedom of speech, human rights, democratic system), it seems even harder to preserve it. Many would say it is impossible, but only if we want to do it all alone, each country by itself. We have to recognize that democracy is the most precious common value of ours, which we have to stand up for together. Our strength lies in unity, therefore we have to act together, because together we can do it!