AEGEE International Politics Journal

Democracy nowadays

These first two weeks of June 2009 prompt remarkable reflections on the true meaning of democracy nowadays.

4 June was the date Europeans went to the polls to re-elect the supposedly second biggest democratic Parliament in the world (second only to the Lok Sabha, the Indian Parliament). The turnout was the lowest in history. Europeans have enjoyed the right to vote for the EU Parliament for 30 years, a time span longer than the lives of most of us.

4 June 2009 marks also another important anniversary, twenty years from 4 June 1989, the day the intervention of the army denied democracy to Chinese youth gathered in peaceful protests in Tiananmen
square.

On 12 June 2009, Iran went to the polls, skyrocketing levels of turnout were registered, the polling stations were kept open for two more hours. Shortly after the communication of the results, the streets of Tehran were taken by demonstrators contesting the supposedly rigged re-election of Mr Ahmadinejad. The suspects of fraud are widespread, the restrictions on the freedoms of expression and assembly are becoming blatant. There are even rumours of an Iranian “Tiananmen phase” about to happen soon.

For us Europeans the defence of democracy abroad is an objective of foreign policy. Even more importantly, the belief in the universality of human beings and democratic values are part of our identity.

The stories from Iran are indeed alarming, but how do we accommodate our values and concerns with the simple fact, as recalled by Ahmat Batebi, an Iranian who, as a student in 1999, took part to protests
and was then forced into exile, that “every society has to make their own version of freedom and democracy, and that is what the Iranian people are doing right now”?.

And, how can we promote democracy abroad if our own democracy is flawed?

Our elections are maybe open and fair, ballot boxes are not stuffed at night, electoral commissions are not corrupted, but are we sure Iranians have much more to learn from us than we can learn from them?
What lesson can we draw for our own democracy? The Iranian elections have seen levels of participation that in Europe not even national polls reach. In Iran it is young people who now lead the protest, young people who do not wonder “why vote?”, but rather “where is my vote?”, because they do not have any doubt whatsoever that their vote matters.

Like the Chinese in 1989 and the Iranians today, is it young people who care more when democracy is threatened. And when this year will mark its twentieth or thirtieth anniversary, and young people at that
time will look back to these first days of June 2009, it will be us responsible for their blame or for their gratefulness, in Iran, as in China as in Europe.

These are important questions for us young people of Europe grown used and disaffected towards democracy and most of the times unsympathetic to the diverse ways other societies practice democracy.

Important questions for AEGEE and our new Flagship Project “Beyond Europe – Perspectives for Tomorrow’s World”.

And on 23 June we will invite you to meet in a chat room online to discuss about these important issues. The meeting will be on msn, to get more information contact Julia Batkaeva, IPWG Human Resources Responsible (julia.batkaeva@hotmail.com) and keep tuned on our blog.

Mario Giuseppe Varrenti

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