Interview with the Cologne-based NGO ‘Democracy International’.May 10th, 2017
Your N.G.O. has presented important and dynamic action in both Germany and abroad! Let’s start with the basics. When and where was Democracy International founded and which are the basic principles that guide you? How many people work or volunteer for your Organization at the moment?
Democracy International was officially founded as an association in 2011. However, hitherto it has existed for 20 years as a loose network of democracy activists. Guiding principles are: Learning and exchange knowledge about direct democracy, helping and encouraging democracy activists and developing a transnational community of democracy activists.
Could you refer to some of your most important initiatives of the past and to some current or future ones?
One success story is the European Citizens’ Initiative: Back in 2002 and 2003 democracy activists from all across Europe lobbied for the inclusion of a tool of transnational participatory democracy in the EU Treaty that at the time was labelled “Constitution”. The ECI was actually realized and it became EU law. See Article 11.4 of the Treaty on European Union.
Another big campaign of Democracy International is the idea of an EU Convention: Politicians, citizens and civil society come together to discuss a new constitutional design of the EU. In times of EU crisis, we must include citizens!
One of the principles you demonstrate is that citizens have the knowledge, the will and the power to take action for their communities themselves and not to rely on politicians and professionals. How can this be accomplished and to which extend can activism produce drastic results?
Here the key word is direct democracy. Democracy in forms of citizen-initiated law proposals lead to binding law. Hence, there is not only deliberation and activism but the outcome is concrete law that citizens (and not politicians in power) shaped.
Can big-scale, long-term results be achieved through activism?
Yes, working for more democracy requires stamina and patience. Results do not come about over night but over years. Look at the example of the ECI I referred to: It eventually became applicable on 1 April 2012.
Which are the countries that are in need of more democracy at the moment and which are the countries that have made impressive progress during the last decade(s) on the matters of freedom and civil rights?
Well, sadly we see a backlash against democracy and the rule of law in many countries. We just need to refer to Poland, Turkey, Hungary and the United States…. But there is peril in this moment. Many people stand up, raise their voice and protest.
Culture needs democracy in order to thrive. Does democracy need art? Do you believe that art, music and culture in general can help to the promotion and security of democracy?
Yes, democracy means that there are certain freedoms such as the freedom of speech. Art is a vehicle to freely express your dreams, anxieties and to criticize those in power. So there is a reciprocal relationship. Democracy needs all this creative input in order to develop further.
Regarding your recent ‘Re-launch EU Democracy’ campaign, you refer to Brexit and Donald Trump’s election. If citizens don’t act against racist and populist voices what threats do you think we will be called to confront as western societies? Do you think that political conservatism of the recent years is being reflected in the art of today?
Brexit and the election of Trump can be seen as citizens’ desperate call to be included into politics and politicians to seriously take into account their concerns. So we need a real dialogue between the establishment and people from all backgrounds. The debates that come along with direct democracy help for this purpose.
How can young people from around the world, who are interested in contributing to your purpose, help you and what will they gain?
Joining Democracy International means meeting open-minded people from different countries and from all walks of life. We know people in countries all around the world.