Реч на президента на Република Северна Македония по случай 25-тата годишнина от основаването на Хелзинкския комитет за права на човека

Уважаеми представители на медиите,

Драги гости, 

Благодаря за поканата, за мен е чест да направя обръщение днес по повод четвърт век от съществуването на Хелзинкския комитет за права на човека в нашата страна – организация, която е безспорен ветеран в защитата и узаконяването на правата на човека.

Почти трите десетилетия независимост на нашата държава и дългият и тежък преход бяха изпълнени с политически кризи, социална неправда, разклатени междуетнически отношения, недоверие в политиката и нетърпимост към различните.

При тези условия вече 25 години Хелзинкският комитет е градивен критик на държавата, който сигнализира за социалните неправди, правните пропуски, политическите злоупотреби и другите отклонения от обществения ред. Вие активно се борите против предразсъдъците, против стереотипите, против дискриминацията, корупцията, омразата и против насилието в нашето общество.

Благодарение на вашите механизми, като безплатната правна помощ, към вас могат да се обърнат за помощ семействата на лица с увреждания, самотни майки, жертви на домашно насилие, социално онеправдани граждани. Вашата сигурна защита помага и на членове на ЛГБТИ общността, които са жертви на насилие. Чрез посещенията на затворите в нашата страна вие давате гласност за състоянието на правата на човека, борбата против дискриминацията, защитата на бежанците и търсещите убежище, което е само част от вашата работа. Вие правите видими гражданите, които остават невидими за институциите, заставайки винаги на страната на по-слабите.  

Правата на работниците, равенството между мъжете и жените, етническата равнопоставеност, социалното включване  на лицата с увреждания, правата и защитата на ЛГБТИ общността, равното право на социална и здравна осигуреност, образование и правна помощ, речта на омразата и престъпленията от омраза – всички тези теми биха били в периферията на общественото внимание, ако вие не алармирахте и не работехте активно за защитата на човешките и права и свободи за всички.

Драги приятели,

Вие знаете по-добре от мен, че работата далеч не е приключена. Човешките права и свободи са застрашени винаги, когато се приемат за даденост, сякаш дадени веднъж, те са осигурени и гарантирани. Всяко поколение трябва да ги утвърждава отново и отново, за да може да се възползва от тези права. Не минава и ден без да научим за нарушението на някое човешко право или ограничаването на някоя човешка свобода. Домашното насилие, експлоатацията на работниците, етикетирането на различните според тяхната етническа и религиозна принадлежност, сексуална ориентация или джендърна идентичност, заклеймяването на зависимите, за жалост, са част от нашето всекидневие. Не можем да си позволим да бъдем равнодушни към нарушаването на човешките права и правото на човешко достойнство.

 Уважаеми присъстващи,

Битката за правата на човека трябва да продължи, защото нито едно човешко право не е право само на една личност или една общност. Трябва да използваме свободата, която имаме, за да утвърждаваме и свободата на другите. Истински свободното общество е онова, в което правата на най-малката общност са точно толкова уважавани, колкото и правата на най-голямата.

Трябва да бъдем активни! Борбата за човешките права и свободи не трябва да бъде ангажимент само на няколко интелектуалци и активисти, а дълг на всеки гражданин, на всеки човек.

Всички хора се раждаме свободни и равни, затова не трябва да позволим по-силните да имат повече права от по-слабите. Нека да работим заедно, за да намерим баланса между общата сигурност и индивидуалната свобода, да се запази универсалността на правата на човека, без да се наруши разнообразието.  

Нека постоянно да препрочитаме и да тълкуваме Всеобщата декларация за правата на човека, Международния пакт за икономически, социални и културни права, Международния пакт за граждански и политически права и Европейската конвенция за правата на човека. Прогресивното европейско общество е само онова, в което се почита и се промотира богатството на разнообразието.

По този начин ще постигнем напредък в два неразривно свързани процеса: първият е гражданското помирение, когато всички, които живеят на тази земя, ще се уважават един друг и ще бъдат уважавани и зачитани от институциите, не само на хартия, а и на практика. Нашата основна цел трябва да бъде общество, освободено от предразсъдъци, в което има място за всеки. Вторият е европейската интеграция. В основата на Европейския съюз и така наречения европейски начин на живот лежи защитата на правата на човека, демокрацията и върховенството на закона. 

Уважаеми приятели,

Вие от Хелзинкския комитет цели 25 години устоявате в борбата за човешки права и свободи, водени от вярата в ценността и неприкосновеното достойнство на всяко човешко същество. По този път съм зад вас и ви подкрепям безусловно.  

Пожелавам си до следващия юбилей да изградим европейско общество и европейска държава на политически диалог, на социална правда, солидарност между хората и маргинализираните общности, грижа за околната среда, където правилата важат за всички.

Поздравявам ви и ви благодаря!

Източник: Кабинет на президента на Република Северна Македония
Източник: Кабинет на президента на Република Северна Македония
Източник: Кабинет на президента на Република Северна Македония

Източник: Кабинет на президента на Република Северна Македония

Източник: Кабинет на президента на Република Северна Македония

The 1989 revolutions and the roots of illiberal populism

The 1989 revolutions and the roots of illiberal populism

The deep unfairness of the transition from communism in Central and Eastern Europe fed the illiberal populist rebellion across the region today.

The ideological victory of liberal democracy over communism shaped the way in which historians, politicians, and social scientists made sense of the events of 1989. But there is a strong case today for a revised look at the revolutions of 1989—a critique of the way the prevailing narratives and theories have presented these revolutions as essentially a transition from the tyranny of the party-state to a free and democratic society. A more complex picture of that momentous year reveals not only the eclipse of different possibilities, but how frustrated expectations have shaped post-communist societies in subsequent decades, contributing to the upsurge of illiberal populism in the region over the last decade.

Today’s dominant narrative of 1989 gets one important thing right: liberty was the lodestar for many revolutionaries, in particular the intellectual elite. But the majority of the people were more annoyed by the betrayal of the communist promise of equality than by the lack of civil liberties. They came out in the streets and squares of Central and Eastern Europe in the hundreds of thousands because elites that had promised equality had instead built a world of privilege for themselves. The paradox of 1989 is that communism was stormed and brought down from the left, by people with unfulfilled egalitarian aspirations, but the revolutionary road led to a new society that has been experienced as more unfair than communism.

This paradox is rooted in a historical shift that occurred below the revolutionary surface: the liberation of the elite from the economic, political, and ideological restrictions of communism. Studies in European post-communist countries in the early 1990s led by Iván Szelényi showed that a very significant part of the post-1989 elite was made of former nomenklatura families who converted their political assets into economic wealth, which developed alongside the new spoils of cultural and ideological freedom and membership in a borderless global elite.

In October 1989, Bulgaria’s most popular dissident group, Ecoglasnost, was campaigning in the streets of Sofia. Among its many posters about the environment, civil liberties, and human rights was one that demanded, “Bulgarian millionaires! Donate to Ecoglasnost!” This doesn’t sound like much today, but at the time it was the most daring and thrilling slogan—the one that best captured the spirit of popular discontent and to which passersby responded most vibrantly, with laughter and tears. The very mention of communist millionaires in public disrupted the status quo and signaled a new era. The “people” genuinely wanted freedom, too, but for most this meant most immediately a society freed from nomenklatura privilege.

The Betrayal of the Communist Promise of Equality

During the first three decades of Central and Eastern European communism, postwar majorities benefited from rising living standards and greater socioeconomic mobility (with the exception of Czechoslovakia, which was more advanced economically to begin with). A large part of the predominantly poor agrarian population of the prewar period, further impoverished by the war, enjoyed upward mobility. Most people experienced the industrialization, urbanization, mass education, housing, and other elements of a modernization project as positive achievements of the communist system. Economic growth during these first decades helped produce rising living standards for almost all social groups. On September, 15, 1964, UK Ambassador to Bulgaria William Harpham reported to Foreign Office, “Whatever the mistakes of the regime in this country (which are plentiful), the average Bulgarian who has never been governed well and is not used to live in comfort is better off today than at any point in the past.” A similar observation could be made about the average Hungarian, Pole, and even Romanian, before Nicolae Ceauşescu’s bizarre economic decisions tanked the Romanian economy. As a result, until the mid-1970s, socioeconomic dissatisfaction in communist Europe was low.

In the realm of communist ideology, equality reigned supreme. But the social structure of Central and Eastern European societies during the communist period was shaped by two forces running in opposite directions—egalitarian social policy on one hand and a new kind of class formation on the other.

Communist social policy led to gains related to income, access to goods and services, housing, healthcare, social welfare, pensions, and—crucially—education, which stood above all else in terms of its social significance. No event was more important in a family than the summer months when children applied for high school and university admission. Beyond and above special privileges that affected very few young people, the communist regimes established a rather stable educational meritocracy dependent on exam results.

Elsewhere, egalitarian social policy imposed limits. There were restrictions on private ownership expressed in the number of square meters a household could legally own. Salary scales were rather flat, and economic incentives in the workplace were relatively weak. Living standards were low compared to those in the West, but the ordinary person felt a degree of security, and welfare benefits were not dependent on individual economic performance. There was no unemployment, and, as a rule, both spouses worked.

Countervailing these egalitarian policies was the consolidation of a new politically dominant class that, as time passed, became increasingly wealthy. Class difference was generated by the inheritance of formal and informal privileges and a system of “connections”—mutual favors between members of the elite. By the late 1970s, there existed a stable socioeconomic class division in European Communist societies. Individuals who had enjoyed privileges because of their place in the party-state had now passed down their wealth and elevated class position to their descendants. In the 1980s, the prominence of nomenklatura wealth and privilege became as undeniable as it was unacceptable. Popular resentment was directed particularly at the patrimonial element of nomenklatura privilege: “The Politburo are sending their children to Cambridge!” was the ultimate lament of the traditionally egalitarian, education-obsessed average citizen.

The growing gap between poor and rich began to show in art and literature, both in the alternative culture and to some degree in officially sanctioned works of art. The 1983 film Adj király katonát(The Princess) by Hungarian director Pál Erdöss dramatized the clash between these different classes through the heart-wrenching love story of a youth from the new wealthy class and a girl from the bottom. The best artists managed to convey how some people were condemned to a life in which only the most basic necessities were met, no matter how hard they worked, while others enjoyed a life of wealth and unlimited privilege on account of their parents’ positions.

In the 1980s, these trends led to a rather quick loss of popular legitimacy of the communist regimes on a scale unmatched by earlier periods of resistance. They had not done enough to either meet or weaken egalitarian expectations; indeed, in 1989 the shared feeling was that communists had broken the egalitarian promise, which had been the whole point of communism as far as most people were concerned.

In addition to socioeconomic equality, communism promised equality of status based on gender, ethnicity, geographic residence, and disability. Status inequalities followed their own complex trajectories during the communist period. But, in broad terms, these inequalities tracked with increasing socioeconomic inequality. Policies to increase gender equality and in support of the rights of ethnic minorities were undermined by a gradual rise of new types of inequality during the final decades of Central and Eastern European communism.

The Egalitarianism of the Streets

The people who signed up for the emerging oppositional political organizations in Central and Eastern European countries in the 1980s came from all walks of life; a sizeable segment were still members of Communist parties. In Poland, the membership of Solidarity reflected the composition of the general population. In Bulgaria, Ecoglasnost, which numbered around 100 individual members before November 1989 but delivered the fatal blow to the party-state through the first mass demonstration for democracy on November 3, grew to over 200,000 people in 1990, also reflecting Bulgarian demographics overall. Indignation over the privileges of the nomenklatura was the predominant sentiment animating direct action. In the days after the series of major breakthrough events in each country in the region, millions of people were frenetically engaging in the day-to-day business of revolutionary politics. Very few of them had a stable liberal outlook, but all shared the feeling that communist elites had perverted the ideal of equality.

The egalitarian ideal was rarely attacked before and immediately after regime change. When it was, the critique was addressed at its perceived utopianism and incompatibility with freedom, rather than at its inherent value. In November 1989, only 3 percent of respondents in Czechoslovakia preferred capitalism over socialism, and in December 1989 an overwhelming majority opposed privatization. There was strong support for the vision of worker self-management of the sort explored by Václav Havel in The Power of the Powerless—genuine worker participation in economic decision-making that could produce a genuine feeling of responsibility for their collective work. In Poland, self-management (samorząd) had been the main demand of Solidarity since 1981. By 1990, it had already disappeared from the agenda of the new elite, but it was still upheld by the majority of the people. According to a general survey in 1990, 61.8 percent of respondents favored worker self-management, 66.9 percent backed a full-employment policy, and 65.9 percent wanted to retain state control of prices. In Romania, too, the build-up of popular fury against the ruling elite had a long socioeconomic pedigree, going back to the 1977 Jiu Valley miners’ strike, which ushered in a period of intermittent labor unrest.

Perhaps the best-known participants in the popular uprisings of 1989 were dissident intellectuals who for decades had expressed a moral and social critique of communist governments. Most dissidents did not express, at least before the middle of 1989, any expectation that profound systemic transformation could occur in the near future. The prevailing vision among intellectuals was of a more or less gradual internal liberalization of one-party state socialism, with the goal of a more democratic but still socialist political system. Multi-party pluralist democracy combined with a capitalist market economy did not become a proclaimed objective until the second half of 1989. The programmatic documents of practically all dissident organizations in 1988 and 1989 articulated a liberal platform of democracy, human rights, and civil liberties. Freedom of speech, religious freedom, minority rights, and the right to access information were at the center of dissident demands. Equality was not.

Still, concerns about growing socioeconomic inequality were present in many dissident organizations’ platforms in the late 1980s, even though these platforms were crafted by members of an alternative elite whose passion was liberty rather than equality. In Bulgaria, the Club for Glasnost and Perestroika, the Social Democratic Party, and the Agrarian Party were critical of the system of “lawful” privilege and the various forms of unlawful corruption that resulted in the enrichment of the top nomenklatura and the impoverishment of large sections of society. In Czechoslovakia, Civic Forum’s platform issued on November 26, 1989, bore clear evidence of a lingering adherence to egalitarianism; it condemned the inequality of power and wealth and expressed commitment to equal economic opportunity even while formulating the principles of a capitalist market economy. Polish intellectuals expressed similar sentiments; but their takeover of the major challenge to the regime (which began with a workers’ movement) signaled the eclipse of the pro-egalitarian agenda of the revolution. By the time of the 1989 roundtable negotiations, 195 of the 232 participants were intellectuals from both sides.

Large parts of the party elite also saw liberalization as something they could not just tolerate but benefit from. The freedom to make money, to travel, and even to think and speak were increasingly attractive to them, with one important condition: that they could remain part of the elite. In 1989, liberalization—rather than liberal democracy—was the elite common ground. Arguably, it is what made peaceful revolution through roundtable negotiations possible.

The New Inequality

Following the first free multi-party elections, post-communist elites managed the transition in their favor. The new governments accommodated the interests of both old and new elites. The liberation of the dominant class—an economic, political, and ideological emancipation that removed barriers to their further advancement and encouraged their global integration—created a deep sense of unfairness among ordinary people.

The egalitarian agenda was quickly marginalized, and no alternative political actor emerged to champion equality. “The original sin of the postcommunist democracies is that they came into being not as an outcome of the triumph of egalitarianism but as a victory of an antiegalitarian consensus uniting the communist elite and the anticommunist counterelite,” wrote Bulgarian scholar Ivan Krastev in 2007. “Ex-communists were anti-egalitarian because of their interests. Liberals were anti-egalitarian because of their ideology.”

But while elites and then nearly everyone gave up on the possibility of socioeconomic equality during the 1990s, and a sizable section of the people gave up on equality altogether, people still held to an ideal of fairness—about who gets ahead in life, who becomes a member of the elite. Everyone expected some form of fairness to replace the compromised ideal of communist equality. The battle cry of those years was “normality,” and a “normal” society had a market economy with democratic elections. But it also meant the sort of society one found in an average Western European country circa 1975—not just capitalist democracy, but one with the protections of a social welfare state.

Shortly after the revolutionary breakthrough, life in formerly communist Central and Eastern Europe couldn’t be more different from that disappearing Western European social welfare state. The strictures of neoliberal economics had settled in, justifying and guiding the Wild West brutality of accumulation in the first years after 1989, leading to the economic dislocation of millions. Shock therapy introduced unregulated prices and, for many, a loss of their lifetime savings. Meanwhile, former nomenklatura members hectically distributed state assets to their allies under shady privatization deals. Unemployment surged. In Poland, it rose from practically zero in 1989 to 16 percent in 1993. Poverty increased from 17.3 percent in 1989 to 31.5 percent in 1990. The Gini coefficient increased from 26.9 in 1989 to 32.7 in 1996 and 35.9 in 2006. A similarly drastic version of shock therapy took place in Bulgaria in 1991–92. Even in Hungary, where shock therapy was postponed until around 1995, the effect was disastrous.

Privatization in all its forms failed to demonstrate even a semblance of fairness. Voucher privatization (in which citizens were allowed to purchase shares in formerly state-owned enterprises) in the Czech Republic (1992–94) was chaotic and rife with illegal practices. Václav Klaus, who was in charge of the reform, delayed the creation of a legal framework for privatization because he was more interested in creating a loyal economic elite than in accommodating public expectations.

Shortages, queues, confusion, and despair became the defining aspects of daily life in the early 1990s. When the dust settled, the winners of the transition were mostly members of the former communist elite joined by newcomers who had managed to take advantage of the massive abuse of power, theft, fraud, fake bankruptcies, racketeering, and mafia account-settling that sprouted in the vacuum created by the absence of established legal rules and authority.

The implementation of capitalist reforms and the way in which new democratic institutions legitimized them generated a new, anti-meritocratic pattern of status mobility. The process was experienced by most people as profoundly unfair. As time passed, many came to blame the new class landscape on the elites who presided over the “transition to democracy.” The process of accession to the European Union in the first years of the twenty-first century only postponed the destruction of elite legitimacy.

In this sense, the formative experience of deep unfairness in the aftermath of 1989 created a dynamic that, a generation later, translated into a specific Central and Eastern European brand of illiberal populist rebellion. It took a generation to reach the point where it was too soon to forget but too late to undo the injustice at the foundation of the new social hierarchies. By around 2010, the redistribution of power was complete. There was no more fishing in muddy waters: stronger laws and regulations had reined in but also ratified the wealth and property accumulated during the “transition.”

It is therefore not correct to say that the root cause of the illiberal surge that started around 2006 and continues to this date is inequality itself; rather, it is the manifestly unfair way in which the new, post-1989 inequality was produced. Today, we face an irony that is the inverse of 1989: in order for equality to make its comeback, a popular mobilization for liberty must open the way.

Author: Dimitrina Petrova

Participants in the 1989 roundtable negotiations in Poland, Source: https://www.dissentmagazine.org/

Equal Participation in Political and Public Life

Dr Dimitrina Petrova

1. Еqual participation in political and public affairs is a moral and political aspiration, but it is also a broadly recognized realizable political right to which OSCE participating states are committed. Progress, however, has been slow and uneven. Even with groups that have been in the focus of multiple empowerment efforts, such as women, and even in respect to the most traditional forms of political participation, statistics reveal a persisting gap between commitments and reality. In September 2015, parliaments in the OSCE region had an average of 25.7% women’s representation. Thirty-four surveyed OSCE countries had, on average, about 27% women in municipal councils, and only 12% of mayors were women.[1]

2. Equality (and non-discrimination subsumed in it) has a triple status in international human rights law: it is a general principle, an autonomous right, and an accessory right. Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, taken together with Article 2, enshrines the accessory right to equality in respect to participation in political and public affairs. It is worth recalling the content of the right provided in Article 25:

“Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions: (a) To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives; (b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors; (c) To have access, on general terms of equality, to public service in his country.”

3. To ensure political rights without discrimination on prohibited grounds such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, States should have in place the legal framework of equality law. Modern equality law has developed within a number of OSCE participating States, but it is still sorely missing in others. In the meantime, while in some countries there is not even a legal definition of discrimination, in others, as well as at the regional and international levels, the legal concept of equality has evolved in the last five decades, reflecting the changing views on the question: what should we wish to equalize through legal means? Accordingly, there has been an evolution of the understanding of the right to equality, from equality of treatment to equality of opportunity, and onwards to equality of participation. Today, the right to equality is broadly seen as containing as its elements (a) equal enjoyment of all human rights; (b) equal protection and benefit of the law; and (c) equal participation in all areas of life regulated by law.[2] Under this approach, positive (affirmative) action is a necessary element of the right to equality.[3]

4. The global picture of the protection from discrimination and the promotion of equality shows a stark difference among States, including within the OSCE region. With constitutional protection purely rhetorical, many States lack a developed, or indeed any, legislative or policy framework related to equality that would give effect to equality rights enshrined in international human rights law and their own constitutions. At the other end of the spectrum are Canada, the USA and most EU Member States. They have strong comprehensive equality legislation and policies which cover extensive, closed or open-ended lists of protected characteristics (sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, etc.) and areas of life (administration of justice, government and public functions, employment, education, health, provision of goods and services, etc.), and provide legal definitions of prohibited conduct as well as effective remedies. In many jurisdictions, the law goes beyond the prohibition of discrimination and imposes positive duties on public sector bodies and on private organisations to take steps toward equality.[4]

5.In view of the above, it is recommended that, to strengthen the promotion and protection of equality in respect to participation in political and public affairs, all OSCE States should adopt comprehensive equality legislation. This recommendation, while not new, is central and pertinent to the topic of this session. Certainly, it has become customary for UN treaty bodies, when reviewing a State party’s performance under a particular treaty, to include a standard recommendation to this effect in their concluding observations. But many OSCE participating States are still far from complying.

6. Further, each State, including those that already have otherwise well-developed equality legislation, should look seriously at the neglected issue of discrimination on the basis of political opinion – one of the prohibited grounds of discrimination which has featured in international human rights law ever since the listing of protected characteristics in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Discrimination on the basis of political opinion is frequently experienced by persons with oppositional and dissenting political views or affiliations, and can take a huge variety of forms, from politically motivated torture and ill-treatment in custody to pressure on employers to dismiss them or on universities to expel them. It might be argued that this type of discrimination is better dealt with under other human rights related laws, but I believe that equality law covering political opinion can be a potent legal instrument with which to approach the specific area of political participation. It is recommended, therefore, that participating States review their national legislation to assess its effectiveness in combating discrimination based on political opinion, and take steps to strengthen it.   

7. The modern understanding of human rights places all human rights on an equal footing, thereby emphasizing the interdependence and indivisibility of civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. Applied to the right to equal participation in the political and public sphere, this approach means that its enjoyment is intrinsically linked to other rights including freedom of association, peaceful assembly, opinion and expression, and access to information, among others. Furthermore, the OSCE participating States have made a solemn commitment to political democracy as the only form of government in which human rights are meaningful and realizable.

8. Recent reports by human rights groups paint a gloomy picture of the entire OSCE region and spell out a disturbing regressive trend in fundamental rights on which equal political participation crucially depends. Where has the spirit of the 1989 Vienna and 1990 Copenhagen Documents disappeared? Where is the glorious determination of that generation of statesmen/women who, in the 1990 Charter of Paris, committed “to build, consolidate and strengthen democracy as the only system of government of our nations”, and to the values of pluralistic debates fostering inclusive and effective participation in political and public affairs? Twenty-seven years later we see, in the OSCE region, anything but a culture of free and equal participation: excessive and disproportionate use of force against peaceful protesters, assaults on journalists, unjustified criminal charges against political opponents, crackdowns on dissenting voices, further surges of restrictive laws suppressing NGO work, outright denials of freedom of association to government opponents, overt political discrimination against minorities, tightened control over the media, and continued growth of government surveillance in the name of counter-terrorism and counter-extremism.[5]

9. Equal participation in political and public affairs is closely related to the way in which States regulate the relationship between freedom of expression and equality. States within the OSCE region have a history of difference over whether/when hate speech should be outlawed, including online speech. As there is no firm bright line in international human rights law on the complex balancing of free speech and equality rights, State policies are drifting across a line in the sand, particularly as regards online expression. It has been argued that online speech differs from offline speech as it can be more disinhibited than speech in the real world; it persists and can be accessed for a long time unless deliberately removed; and it is inherently trans-border, both in the way it travels and is accessed. These attributes can make online speech more powerful and complicate the task of regulation.[6] Participating States should consider creating new opportunities for debate on regulating online speech to ensure the enjoyment of Internet freedoms and balancing these with equality. The aim should be agreeing a set of principles that – while leaving plenty of room to work out solutions on a case by case basis – spell out criteria for expression that should be protected in the name of equality and non-discrimination. In this regard, I would draw attention to the Camden Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Equality elaborated by Article XIX in 2009.[7]

10. An increased political participation of under-represented groups (minorities, women, youth, persons with disabilities and non-citizens) is a pathway to a more inclusive and equal society. We should add to this the role of socio-economic status – and not as an afterthought, as it has been the most persistent factor in shaping political equality in many if not most countries.[8] To the extent that political parties are still the main gatekeepers to positions of political power, it is important to encourage internal party diversity through a variety of targeted measures, such as the adoption of (voluntary or mandatory) quotas and capacity building programmes. Different quota systems can indeed be effective, although they do raise concerns with many equality advocates.

11. Effective equality policies are predicated on high quality social information. The issue of equality statistics should be addressed by States wishing to encourage equal participation. To give full effect to the right to equality of participation, States must collect and publicise information, including relevant statistical data, in order to identify inequalities, discriminatory practices and patterns of disadvantage, and to analyse the effectiveness of measures to promote equality. Of course, such information must be collected in compliance with human rights.[9] In 2009, the Outcome Document of the Durban Review Conference recommended that States should develop a system of data collection, including equal-opportunity and non-discrimination indicators, that, upholding the right to privacy and the principle of self-identification, makes it possible to assess and guide the formulation of policies and actions to eradicate racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. States should recognise that they have a similar positive duty, mutatis mutandis, in respect to sex, disability, age, religion, language and other protected characteristics.[10]

12. A mature discussion of equal participation in the 21st century must be concerned with the participation rights of children and young people. The KidsRights Index shows that the implementation of child participation rights is impeded by traditional practices and cultural attitudes in the family, schools and certain social and judicial settings. Children at risk, such as, for example, children in alternative care, are rarely included in deciding matters concerning them, let alone matters of more general interest. OSCE participating States should ensure that the views of children and young people are given due consideration in public affairs through the adoption of child participation legislation, training of professionals, introducing curriculum reforms and awareness raising. The purpose is to create meaningful venues through which children and young people can influence public policy. Young persons should be respected not so much as apprentice citizens but as autonomous persons who, despite their limited experience, deserve to speak for themselves on agendas of their own making.[11]

13. Young people of voting age in many countries have often been accused of being apolitical, consumerist, disengaged, self-centred, cynical, etc., and their low participation in formal elections has been cited as symptomatic for such attitudes. But young people themselves have strongly challenged this view: they have emphasised that they are not indifferent, but are different, and that they care and express themselves in a different way. At present, millennials (and indeed the children of millennials) are creating exciting forms of political participation that differ from traditional forms. But before discussing how these new forms are shaping the future, let us recall that there are things States could and should do to enhance youth participation in classical formal elections, such as making it possible to vote online. Electronic voting in Estonia, for example, illustrates the challenges but also the successes of ensuring both secrecy of the ballot and identification of the voter, two key concerns expressed by the sceptics. Further, there should be same-day voter registration, and the physical voting could be spread over two consecutive days, including one working day and one weekend day. While compulsory voting employed in some States remains controversial, there may be a strong argument in favour of a “nudging” approach – making opting out of the vote more difficult, so that people choose to vote by default. Further measures that can be taken by States include various forms of voter education and the increasingly popular Voting Advice Applications (VAAs) – online tools helping one decide whom to vote for, through answering a multiple-choice questionnaire on relevant issues.[12]

14. The notion of participation in political and public life is changing in the 21st century, with strong implications for democratic societies. First, the notion is becoming broader and richer: we are no longer satisfied with calculating percentages of women or ethnic minorities in parliaments, ministerial councils or judiciaries, even though parity in these areas is still a remote destination. Genuine participation should relate to all stages and aspects of the democratic process, from access to information, to expression of policy positions, organising, advocacy, direct political action, consultation on policies and laws, deliberation, and – most importantly –decision-making. For example, access to information allows real-time fact-checking on the Internet during political contests that enables informed voting choices in elections. In response to the deeper needs to participate, political parties in many States conduct surveys, opinion polls, nominations and leadership elections online, shortening the distance between leaders, members and supporters. E-governance is also developing at an impressive pace, transforming the local and central public administration as regular electronic consultations involving civil servants and citizens’ groups are becoming standard practice.

15. The notion of participation is also changing in respect to the level of government, encompassing the local, sub-national, national and global level. It is particularly interesting to observe how governance is moving closer to the people through decentralization and subsidiarity. In Kosovo, for example, the OSCE Mission funded and developed a Digital Platform for Public Participation website in the municipalities of Prishtinë and Gjakovë, through which citizens can file requests, view municipal projects, comment and vote, including on suggestions made by fellow residents.[13] A good practice sometimes described as rights-based budgeting is also spreading, allowing people to participate more or less directly in defining the budgeting priorities of their town or municipality, and promoting transparency and accountability of governance. There is also the question of what counts today as relevant issues in democratic participation: whether civic participation is relevant only to elevated notions of political power and systemic reform, or also to everyday life issues, in emerging forms of what Bakardjieva described as “subactivism”.[14]   

16. In view of these new trends in participation, what role can new information and communication technologies (ICTs) play in the 21st century? Are they helping to ensure more equal participation in political and public life? Are they empowering disadvantaged groups in making their voices matter? Arguments are being put forward in support of opposite views on these questions.

17. Techno-optimists believe that the ICTs in the 21st century promote new forms of democratic participation, though based on values and principles articulated before the age of the Internet. They regard democracy as a work in progress, with ICTs as a game-changer. E-democracy is credited with a strong potential for reconciling the tension between the size of the group that participates in democratic decision making and the depth of the will expression. Traditionally, large group size was achieved with simple ballot voting (Yes/No), while depth of will expression was achieved by limiting the number of participants through representative democracy. The social media Web 2.0 revolution combines large numbers of participants with depth of will expressions/opinions, but the latter are not structured and it is difficult to make sense of them. Enter the new information processing techniques, including big data analytics and the semantic web, which have shown promise in overcoming the content cacophony.[15] In legislative and policy decision making, Internet creates the opportunity for a type of government that is simultaneously more democratic and more professional, by creating open online collaboration between self-selecting social networks and closed panels of experts.

18. Techno-optimists also see pathways to genuine deliberative democracy and deliberative decision making, the concept of which has been developed in the pre-digital world and advocated, without requiring digital mediation, in areas such as healthcare rationing.[16] A recent example of Internet based deliberative democracy process is the California Report Card created by the Data and Democracy Initiative of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society at the University of California, Berkeley. Launched in January 2014, the California Report Card is a mobile-optimized web application designed to facilitate deliberative decision-making. Participants reply to a short opinion poll on six political issues, and are then grouped through Principal Component Analysis into teams that engage in deliberation by entering textual suggestions and grading other participants’ comments, eventually leading up to decisions.

19. Allegedly also made practicable by the Internet is so called “liquid democracy” suggested as a new form of representation. This semi-direct democracy with delegable proxy would allow people to appoint a proxy entrusted to vote on their behalf on issues within certain specified areas, while retaining their own right to vote. The proxies could form proxy chains, in which if A appoints B and B appoints C, and neither A nor B vote on a proposed bill but C does, C’s vote will count for all three of them. Voters could also rank their proxies in order of preference, so that if their first-choice proxy fails to vote, their vote can be cast by their second-choice proxy.

20. The Internet has also been described as a positive force in boosting electronic direct democracy (EDD) in Switzerland (the country with some of the strongest direct democracy traditions from the deep pre-digital past), Sweden (Demoex party), UK (People’s Administration Direct Democracy Party), Turkey (Electronic Democracy Party), USA, etc. Advocates of EDD are getting traction, especially among young people, and some of the proposed radical models seek to make traditional political institutions obsolete. Sooner or later, according to Silicon Valley visionaries such as the Argentinian-born Santiago Siri, the demand for direct democracy will lead to the invention of new tools that would make it possible to eliminate the middleman in politics and governance, as the bitcoin eliminates the middleman in financial transactions.[17] Carl Miller dreams that one day Internet-enabled bitcoin democracy will even eliminate the state as a power structure, and global citizens will be direct decision-makers on everything that concerns them. J. Manuel Feliz-Teixeira envisioned wiki-democracy in which there would be three wings of legislative, executive and judiciary decision-making roles in which every citizen could have a voice with free access to the wiki and a personal ID to continuously reform policies until the last day of December when all votes would be counted and the new law, policy or judicial ruling ratified.[18]

21. New forms of political participation inevitably mean also new forms of political protest, such as Electronic Civil Disobedience. Applied in cyberspace, it is based on the same principals as traditional civil disobedience, like trespass and blockage, and is sometimes identified with hacktivism. And with hackers without borders targeting the slow, inefficient and elitist institutions of power, the plotline of a techno-utopia may be writing itself in real time.

22. Unfortunately, technological progress doesn’t necessarily mean positive pro-democratic innovation. Electronic democracy activists can recruit supporters online, but so does Islamic State. A wave of critique has been directed at the new ICTs of the 21st century, warning of their role in ruining the achievements of democracy.

23.Change in political participation in the age of Internet is part of the transformation of the “public sphere” as defined by Habermas: society engaged in critical public debate, whereby the only legitimate government is that which listens to the “public sphere”. The Internet is apparently reshaping legitimacy. The role played by the broadcast media is shared by alternative power structures that may or may not be more democratic. In the new “public sphere”, one observes emerging new links between politicians and their audiences, with which they can now be in direct daily contact via Twitter, Facebook, email lists, etc. Traditional journalism is no longer so central to the creation of the media agenda itself. Messaging, too, is changing in the digital communities of the social media. New viral forms of messaging are displacing the linear, controlled process of message creation by traditional political elites and mainstream media. It is difficult for a central power to fight the guerrilla style mobilisation spreading online, and viral communications engender real-world movements. All this can go in the direction of stronger democratic participation, but at the same time, authoritarian or populist leaders can also rely on new ICTs fed by a voluntary digital army as their power base.

24. According to the techno-sceptics (or are they better described as techno-realists?), the Internet has not changed people’s role as citizens in a positive way. Martin Hindman, in The Myth of Digital Democracy, argues that, contrary to popular belief, the Internet has done little to broaden political discourse and instead has empowered a small set of elites.[19] In the digital world, people tend to divide into very distinct digital tribes living in a kind of echo chambers, re-tweeting, sharing and forwarding content that they agree with. No proper debate or dialogue occurs across tribe lines. Indeed, the argument goes, the Internet has accelerated the decline of parliamentary democracy by turning the audience into a shallow crowd and a consumer market to whom politicians are trying to sell a product at election time. But fewer people are buying it, leading to high levels of distrust and fall in election turnouts.[20] Further, objections to direct democracy have been voiced and the argument is that they apply with a vengeance to EDD, such as the potential for direct governance to tend towards the polarization of opinions, populism, and demagoguery.

25. Critics have also pointed at the offensive language, the trolls, the surge of populism, the lack of privacy, the superficiality of the social media discourses, the fragmentation of knowledge, the fake news in the post-truth world and the blurred levels of truthfulness, the dominance of symbolic politics over evidence based, expert-made policy, etc. Of these and other risks, I would grade as most dangerous the potential for tyranny of the majority and for further marginalisation of the most disadvantaged minorities, as well as the runaway surveillance by government of everyone’s entire communications, under the pretext of combatting terrorism and extremism.

26.And yet, the Internet has been described as promoting a culture of sharing; allowing everyone’s voice to be expressed; providing universal and inexpensive access for the powerless; providing the option of anonymity in States that persecute opponents; being ultra-pluralistic, with information coming from an avalanche of different sources, etc. Can these views, opposed as they are, be all simultaneously true? Can the Internet foster equal participation in decision-making enjoyed by well-informed citizens, as well as lead to the debilitation of the public sphere as, for example, in the dystopian fictional world of Dave Eggers in his chilling novel, The Circle? I believe the answer is affirmative. Much as they have been extolled as the gateway to a democratic participatory utopia, or feared for their potential for totalitarian surveillance by Big Brother, in one respect, the information and communication technologies of the 21st century, in their captivating complexity, are descendants of the humble stone age axe. They are tools. Which way they strike is up to the user. The Internet is itself neither democratic nor anti-democratic. It will take a sustained effort by democracy stakeholders to utilise its democratic potential and to limit its perils.


[1] OSCE/ODIHR, Compendium of Good Practices for Advancing Women’s Political Participation in the OSCE Region, Warsaw 2016, p. 9-10; 5.

[2] The Declaration of Principles on Equality, an international instrument of good practice recognized by the Council of Europe in 2012, defines the right to equality as “the right of all human beings to be equal in dignity, to be treated with respect and consideration and to participate on an equal basis with others in any area of economic, social, political, cultural or civil life. All human beings are equal before the law and have the right to equal protection and benefit of the law”. (Declaration of Principles on Equality, The Equal Rights Trust, London, 2008, Principle 1, p. 5.)

[3] “To be effective, the right to equality requires positive action. Positive action, which includes a range of legislative, administrative and policy measures to overcome past disadvantage and to accelerate progress towards equality of particular groups, is a necessary element within the right to equality.”(Declaration of Principles on Equality, Equal Rights Trust, London, 2008, Principle 3, p. 5.)

[4] Often, governments in States where equality law is under-developed or missing are not aware of equality law as an emerging legal field. Some States have group specific or area specific laws that they would typically point at when asked about their equality legislation. For example, these can be declarative framework laws about the advancement of women, social cohesion, disabled persons, etc.; however, they do not qualify as equality legislation if – as the case often is – they do not contain enforceable equality rights. Accordingly, such States have little or no relevant jurisprudence resulting from discrimination claims filed in courts.

[5] On all of these claims, see details in Human Rights Watch World Report 2017, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2017/.

[6] D. PoKempner, “The Internet is Not the Enemy”, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/world_report_download/wr2017-web.pdf, p.42. Still, as PoKempner states, the principle is that all rights that apply offline apply online as well. Limitations should be strictly necessary and proportionate to legitimate aims.

[7] See https://www.article19.org/data/files/pdfs/standards/the-camden-principles-on-freedom-of-expression-and-equality.pdf. See also the well-argued opinion of David Cole commenting, in the New York Review of Books, on the 2017 Charlottesville violence and ACLU’s decision to defend the white supremacist rally organiser, Jason Kessler. Consonant with the prevailing approaches of anti-discrimination law, Cole argues that hate speech should be limited in the name of equal rights only in situations involving formal hierarchy and captive audiences (such as the workplace or the school), but it should be protected in the public space and the media, in situations where those who disagree can turn away or talk back. (D. Cole, “Why We Must Still Defend Free Speech”, NYRB, 28 Sept 2017.)

[8] In the USA, for example, socio-economic status has been shown to be more important for intergenerational political inequality than sex, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, etc. (See K. Schlozman, S. Verba and H. Brady, The Unheavenly Chorus: Unequal Political Voice and the Broken Promise of American Democracy, Princeton University Press, 2012.)

[9] See Declaration of Principles on Equality, Equal Rights Trust, London, 2008, Principle 24, p. 14.

[10] For a framework on collecting statistical information related to human rights performance, see the work on human rights indicators developed under the auspices of the UN OHCHR, available at: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/Human_rights_indicators_en.pdf.

[11] On the controversy of age-appropriate regulation of youth participation in the Internet age, see S. Coleman, „Doing IT for Themselves: Management versus Autonomy in Youth E-Citizenship“, Civic Life Online: Learning How Digital Media Can Engage Youth, ed. by W. Lance Bennett, MIT Press, 2008, pp. 189–206. 

[12] None of these measures is specific to young people, but it is young people that would be among the likely beneficiaries.

[13] http://www.osce.org/stories/when-click-does-the-trick.

[14] M. Bakardjieva (March 2009), „Subactivism: Lifeworld and Politics in the Age of the Internet“The Information Society,25 (2), pp. 91–104.

[15] M. Hilbert, „The Maturing Concept of E-Democracy: From E-Voting and Online Consultations to Democratic Value Out of Jumbled Online Chatter“Journal of Information Technology and Politics, April 2009.

[16] See, for example, L. Fleck, Just Caring: Health Care Rationing and Democratic Deliberation, OUP, 2006.

[17] See for example the website democrarcy.earth on what Siri describes as 10x disruption of government.

[18] https://paginas.fe.up.pt/~feliz/e_poster4_wiki-law-government.pdf.

[19] See also his article „Digital Processes and Democratic Theory“MartinHilbert.net, 2015.

[20] See Carl Miller’s TED talk on Digital Democracy on Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FNL22RvFwn0.

Source: OSCE: Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe – https://www.osce.org/odihr/342536?download=true