See all 1 projects in this cause
Democracy is much talked about, and for the vast majority of us, living in it is a matter of course. However, now comes a time when it is being severely tested and under the pressure of authoritarian systems who are trying to subvert basic democratic principles and raise doubts in people about the democratic path. Meanwhile, in authoritarian regimes, basic human rights are trampled on on a daily basis and people are only as free as the system allows. Criticism of the government system, as we know it in a democracy (demonstrations, petitions or active political opposition), does not work in autocratic regimes. Governments have unlimited power to control their citizens and disobedience is immediately severely punished. Information is filtered and there is no freedom of press or speech. People are shaped by the media and fed distorted news and half-truths that suit the governing elite. This pressure is striving to gradually transform democratically oriented people and force them to switch to the autocratic way.
So is democracy the right choice? You can find out how it works and what we can expect from it in the text below.
What is democracy? The word "democracy" comes from the Greek "Δημοκρατία" and is composed of two words: "dēmos" (people) and "kratos" (power, strength), i.e. the rule of the people. The exercise of power here is decided by the will of the majority. The manner of exercising power is then determined by the State Constitution. It is the basic law and the highest legal norm that defines the State, guarantees basic human rights to citizens, and laws and legal regulations are created based on it.
But simply calling something "democratic" may not be enough. It is good to remember North Korea and its "Democratic People's Republic" or the Lao People's "Democratic Republic". Even autocratic regimes already know that democracy is linked to elections. But unlike them, in truly democratic and free countries, citizens can choose their representatives according to their preferences to best express their views, without the risk of persecution by State authorities.
However, there is more to democracy. It is a government based not only on the will and demands of the majority. It is a government that is accountable to its citizens, who exercise their own free will to be governed by predetermined and clearly defined rules in the form of laws. It concerns respecting the principles of the rule of law and respecting the human rights of individuals. It is a network of interconnected structures, where those who exercise power are subject to scrutiny by an independent Press, independent courts and civil society as a whole.
Democracy may not always be perfect and impeccable, but it works as a self-correcting machine. If something goes wrong somewhere, the internal mechanisms of democracy will detect the error and correct and strengthen the wrong component. This self-correction makes democracy a successful organism that ensures long-term stability and prosperity for its citizens.
What does freedom mean? Freedom and democracy are not synonymous. Democracy deals with what happens in the public space, while the concept of freedom refers to the definition of relationships between people in the private space. In a democratic system, these freedoms are established by the State Constitution, which should protect freedom from democracy and the rights of the individual against the group. Manifestations of freedoms can be at different levels.
Strengths of democracy Democracy is certainly not without flaws, but it has many advantages and strengths. For example:
Weaknesses of democracy Although democratic principles are constantly being improved, it is not a system without flaws. Most often:
A quick look back Democracy has been with us in various forms for over 2 500 years. Ancient Greece is credited with the first start in a democratic establishment, already in the 5th century BC. In the city-state of Athens, citizens not only participated in elections, but they themselves had to actively serve in the institutions and decide on the laws and regulations by which they themselves had to live. Apart from these differences from the current understanding of democracy, only free men could participate in these processes. Women, children, slaves and foreigners were not considered as citizens and therefore had no right to participate in influencing public life. It is one of the first examples of direct democracy. Around the same time, a democratic establishment was also established on the Italian peninsula, in the original city-state of Rome. The Romans called it rēs pūblica (Latin: Res Publica Romana), loosely translated "public thing".
Of course, it would be fair to state that there were some forms of democracy around the world before the Greek city-states. For example, the Greeks probably inherited it from the Phoenicians, just like their writing. Also in Ancient Sparta in the 7th century BC, there was an ecclesia (or ekklesia) - a gathering of the people, of male citizens over 20 years of age, held once a month. They could only vote for or against the proposals.
In most European countries, the Middle Ages were marked by the rule of feudal lords and the Church. Here, too, there are exceptions that accompany elections. In the Roman Catholic Church, since 1059, the election of the Pope has been conducted by Cardinals in the papal conclave. In 1188, the first parliamentary body, the Cortes of León (or Decreta of León) was established in the Kingdom of León (the northwestern region of the Iberian Peninsula).
A major turning point in the Middle Ages was the Magna Carta document (Magna Carta Libertatum), which was signed by King John on June 15, 1215, under the compulsion of influential nobles. It limited the power of the Monarch and required him to respect legal procedures and also that his decision-making be limited by law. Moreover, it stipulated the freedoms of "free" people. The Magna Carta is one of the most important documents in the long-term historical evolution of democracy. It influenced the development of Anglo-Saxon Common Law and led, for example, to the current form of Constitutional Law in Great Britain and even to the Constitution of the United States of America.
At the turn of the Middle Ages and modern times, interest in Magna Carta reappeared. After civil unrest in England and the Glorious Revolution, the Bill of Rights was passed in 1689 (which, by the way, is still valid) and, after the union of the Kingdoms of England and Scotland in 1707, the first Parliament of Great Britain was established.
Also on the other side of the globe, in British America, there was a revolution. The Americans from the 13 colonies defeated the British in the War of Independence and in 1787 created one of the basic documents of the modern democratic world, the Constitution of the United States. The Constitution begins with the words "We the people of the United States of America," indicating that the Constitution is "of the people, for the people, and by the people of the United States" – a new and revolutionary idea at the time. The Constitution of the United States of America is the oldest and longest-standing written and codified national constitution in force in the world today. It was an inspiration for many constitutions of countries around the world.
Since the second half of the 19th century, the fight for women's suffrage has become louder and louder. Women in New Zealand were the first to get the right to vote, and this right spread throughout the world in the 20th century. In the 20th century, the number of countries where representative democracy played a major role increased significantly. The events after the end of World War I had a great impact on this. After the victory of the Allies, the multinational monarchies in Central and Eastern Europe fell apart and a number of smaller states emerged. After the defeat of Germany and Italy in World War II, the power of Nazism and Fascism as a new possible direction ended. In the 1980s and 1990s, the military dictatorships in Latin America gradually ended, and in the 1990s came the fall of the "Iron Curtain". With it, the fall of the Eastern Bloc and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Democracy was returning to Eastern Europe, and Russia, for the first time in its existence, was experiencing a democratic renaissance.
At the beginning of the 21st century, more than one-third of the world's independent countries have democratic institutions comparable to those in the English-speaking countries and older democracies of continental Europe. In one-sixth of the independent countries, there are democratic principles, but with minor reservations. In total, countries with democratic principles and governments have under their wings almost one-half of the population of our planet.
Q: “Democracy is not the law of the majority, but the protection of the minority.” Albert Camus
(Not only) a democratic dictionary There are many different words, names and connotations used around democracy, politics and ways of governing and electing people. Not everything has to be obvious at first glance, so we will try to explain these clearly.
Pluralism The Latin pluralis means plural or many. Pluralist (or also consensual) democracy means that political decision-making is always based on the agreement of participating groups or individuals. It is a basic principle of democratic functioning. However, the pluralist opinion also includes the decentralization of power and decision-making bodies, and, above all, the principle of sub-solidarity – that is, that matters must be decided at the lowest possible level, where it is easier to make objectively correct decisions.
Direct democracy Here, citizens can directly decide on the political affairs of the State or region. The decision-making process takes place without representatives and the will of the people is directly transmitted to the political decision-making process. Today, the principles of direct election are most often encountered in referendums, where citizens can directly express their agreement or disagreement with a given issue. An example was BREXIT – that is, the referendum on the membership of the United Kingdom in the European Union in 2016.
Indirect democracy Indirect democracy is also called representative democracy. In indirect democracy, citizens elect their representatives, who make decisions on their behalf in political matters. Alternatively, representatives elect their representatives if it is a multi-stage model.
Aggregative democracy In an aggregative democracy, the elected representative is only an unnecessary intermediary. Ideally, it would be best to omit elected representatives and involve citizens in the decision-making process. All this is best done with the use of modern technologies and what is called e-government.
Radical democracy The concept of radical democracy asserts that citizens should have the fundamental right to participate in all decisions that affect their lives. The word "radical" here means that the changes should go to the roots of the problem itself (from the Latin "radix" - root). But this is not extremism in the form of the extreme right or left. In any case, radical democracy splits into different directions, which are quite different from each other.
Bureaucracy A bureaucracy is a complex organism that functions in governments or corporations. These are multi-layered systems and processes, which slow down the decision-making process, but on the other hand contribute to greater control of the entire functional system. It is thanks to bureaucracy that the State can function smoothly and efficiently. Bureaucracy is the same for everyone and treats everyone on equal terms and without prejudice. One encounters bureaucracy everywhere, and many processes improve the quality of life for all of us. An example is the level of security when issuing a building permit.
Can democracy be measured? Of course yes. Everything can be quantified in some way and individual parameters can be compared. However, since democracy is not entirely easy to grasp, some parameters can be subjective. For example, how free and fair are the elections in individual countries of the world? Therefore, it is best to compare data from multiple measurement models, such as, for example, Our World In Data. They use individual measurement models, such as:
It is alarming that the level of freedom in the world has been declining for 16 consecutive years. Violent coups occur in free democratic countries, which are subsequently legitimized by elections which are not free and fair. According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, by the end of 2021, one-half of 173 countries experienced a decline in at least one sub-attribute of democracy.
The rise of authoritarian regimes In recent years, the strength and stability of democracy has been tested in almost every corner of the world. Strong bastions of democracy, such as the USA, are no exception. But the strength of democratic principles is not only being tested from the outside (by the meddling of autocratic regimes), but also from changing political parties that help to extend power to individuals. The number of attacks on elections and the electoral system, civil liberties and the media is increasing. Right-wing populism is growing at a rapid pace, and all this is driven by a feeling of general dissatisfaction with the distribution of power in the State as well as in the world.
Restriction of personal freedoms According to statistics, in February 2022, about 38 % of the world's population lived in countries that we can describe as "Not Free". This is the highest proportion since 1997. Around the world, protests for gender equality, greater democracy, social justice, civil rights or an end to state violence are increasing. These protests have tripled in the last 15 years. People increasingly face intimidation, harassment, censorship, disproportionate violence and restrictive laws.
Freedom or safety? Human rights defenders will be clear on this question, but in general it remains a very complex issue. To be safe means that we have to give up at least some of our freedom, accept surveillance and control, in the hope that it will improve our safety. This issue has been tested, at least from one angle, by the COVID-19 epidemic. We were forced to accept restrictions and regulations that interfered with our sense of personal freedom and safety in terms of health (personal and collective at work and school). But is the safety of the majority superior to the freedom of the individual? And again, the same epidemic showed two different approaches. Both the democratic and autocratic worlds ordered lockdowns. But in a democratic world, it was possible to have a discussion about necessity, time and extent. On the other hand, for example, the regime in China did not allow the lockdown to be challenged and any sign of protests was suppressed by law enforcement. In any case, we need to broaden our perspective on the issue. Safety does not mean only the Army or the Police. Safety means functioning schools, hospitals, safe roads, etc. We should never get to the stage where we choose freedom OR safety. We should find a way where there is freedom AND safety.
Cancel Culture Cancel culture (or "Call-out Culture") is a modern form of ostracism, with the aim of pushing individuals out of social or professional spheres. These are mostly important and influential people or celebrities who have inappropriately expressed themselves on some controversial topics, such as racism, the LGBT community or gender equality. If someone has succumbed to this ostracism, then he/ she is said to have been "canceled". The problem with Cancel Culture lies in its unproductiveness, the fact that it does not bring about any real change, it incites further intolerance and can also be a form of cyberbullying. Cancel Culture can lead to suppression of freedom of speech.
The influence of the media on democracy Freedom of speech and information is a fundamental part of democracy. And, in fact, they are indispensable for the correct decision-making of citizens. The problem arises with information that may not be complete. And this is now happening, for example, with social networks. They try to simplify the message content as much as possible and, above all, present only relevant content to the user. That is, content that the user would like to see, and what the user actually "wants" is decided by a sophisticated, programmed algorithm. Therefore, if the media only provides a limited view of reality, people will be able to make decisions based only on a narrow spectrum of information. In the 21st century, however, information flows to the reader much faster and in greater volume, and everyone is under greater pressure to orient themselves in this flood of information.
Fake news Hand in hand with the amount of information brought about by today's over-technological world, fake news is spreading more and more. It can be a tool of populism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and other extreme political views. It promotes toxic narratives, spreads doubt and confusion, and increases social polarization, which in turn affects democratic decision-making.
Populism Populism is becoming a tangible problem for democracy. It brings about a highly polarizing, emotional and simplistic style of communication. Populists position themselves as fighters against elites and the establishment. They make themselves representatives of the true will of the people. The former president of the United States, Donald Trump, is often associated with the term "populist". He is considered the prototype of contemporary populism. He does not recognize the results of free elections and declares them invalid, disparages and discredits the media and the judicial system and polarizes society. All this, just to gain and maintain power. The whole idea is hidden behind an approach that is supposed to be close to the people, which the people want. Hence populism. His populist attacks are an attack on the very essence of democracy. But populism is a huge threat in other areas as well, such as:
Weaknesses of elections and electoral systems? Elections are a key element in a democracy, because citizens elect representatives who will defend their interests. The problem is that elected representatives may not always be the voice of the people. Those who have money and want political influence can come to power thanks to contacts in influential places or by influencing voters. At that moment, democracy becomes oligarchy. The Italian sociologist of German origin Robert Michels came up with the "Iron law of Oligarchy" in his 1911 book, Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy. Here he conveys the idea that all democratic organizations (regardless of their purely democratic origin) lead to oligarchy, because the representatives gain power over the represented.
Corruption If a democracy has to rely on the election of its representatives, then money comes into play. An election campaign is a contest where, in many cases, money is the deciding factor. And not a small amount of money! Politicians have their sponsors, who can expect more for their contribution than just the improvement of democratic principles. In many democratic countries, politicians tend to be dishonest, corrupt and inefficient, demanding bribes for their services. However, this results not only in distrust of the citizens in the elected representatives, but also in the entire democratic system.
Bureaucracy as a problem As mentioned above, bureaucracy creates a multi-layered organism that serves to manage and control a larger whole. However, if the processes are set up incorrectly, for example very harshly, this creates disproportionate pressure on citizens and, of course, reduces the efficiency of the entire system.
Growing economic and social inequalities between people In recent years, the gap between individual social groups of the population has been increasing in democratic countries. But growing inequality erodes trust in democratic society and supports the spread of authoritarian movements. Although all citizens have the right to vote and participate in elections, only rich people have a chance to win elections. It is one of the reasons why oligarchs and populist parties are increasingly coming to power.
We can take democracy for granted, because we were lucky to be born into a democratic world. We can perceive it as imperfect, because some people present it that way. But it is precisely thanks to the democratic establishment that we can discuss it, we can protest or maybe get involved and improve the system. We can do all this thanks to democracy. But democracy is the government of the people and therefore the people must also be involved in order for the whole system to work.
Be interested! Get interested! Don't just live in your own closed world, but take an interest in your surroundings – also the wider surroundings. Be interested in politics, ecology and employment. If you are in the picture, you will more easily recognize populist pressures, fake news – and during elections you will make decisions more easily on the level of your own knowledge, and not on the level of unfulfillable and empty promises.
Form your own opinion! Don't believe everything you read or hear (even if it sounds logical)! Make up your own mind, check information from multiple sources. In "social bubbles", especially on social networks, people can get the impression that they know the truth, because other members of the group share the same opinion. Little is black or white – reality can be completely different, have multiple layers, or can be viewed from different points of view. If you find that you were wrong before, try to have a (polite) discussion with others and help them to see things differently!
Choose and vote! Elections are not just the Election Day when you choose one of the candidates. Keep track of what elected representatives do throughout the election period, if they keep their promises or if there is misconduct. If your candidate can't advance your interests, then maybe it's time for a change, and the election needs to give the opportunity to someone who will actually work for the voters and not just for themselves. Elections are an effective weapon of democracy, so if you have the opportunity to decide on something, go and vote!
Get engaged! Do you feel that you want change and there is no one to implement it? Get engaged yourself! You can be the one who has implemented changes in the surroundings. And it doesn't matter if it's safer roads, cleaner parks or fighting against a factory that pollutes the air. Let your voice be heard! You can join protests, create a petition, assist non-profits, churches, start a movement, or run for office, where you can create real change. It just concerns your determination and time. In a democratic country, you can change things really actively, and without fear of persecution.
Respect others! You can agree or disagree with others based on their opinion, religion, political affiliation or other parameters, but it should always be done with respect. If you want to be taken seriously and with respect for your opinions, then act in this manner too.