Monday, May 09, 2005

Be active but only when we tell you to

I have started thinking about democratisation processes more and more during the last few years. I guess it started in student organisations where voting rates are low and the number of active people seems to fall as well.

I have been preaching about democracy in ESIB - The National Unions of Students in Europe for a while. My message is rather clear: democracy and efficiency may be in conflict. And my message nr. 2 has been one that many people do not agree with: we need to spend less time on efficiency and more time on democracy. We need to slow down and build ownership.

I read last week a new memo from Demos called Manufacturing Dissent. The core of the paper is the role of media in protests. Interesting piece of thinking. I do agree with Kirsty Milne that the government is too slow in reacting and that is why people seek for other ways of activism. People want feedback. It reminds me of experiments in Finland where ministers have had chat sessions with "the people". The problem has always been that the ministers do not answer the questions and their chatting speed is way too slow.

What slightly irritates me in the democracy debate (partly also in Milne´s essay) is that activism is interpreted as a sign of failure of the state. It should not be so. It should be the goal that people take part in agenda-setting. But for this to work the mindsets of politicians should change. People need feedback. I remember a situation from Finland when appr. 15 000 students demonstrated in front of the Parliament against restrictions on the possible length of studies. The Prime Minister was told that it was too risky to come out and talk so he met the Chair of the National Union of Students inside the parliament. The Minister of Education and Culture did not attend. You can´t expect people to stay active if you only talk to the elites. I am always appalled when politicians say that people have the possibility to influence in agenda through elections every four years. Does this mean that they should stay at home for the rest of the time?

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