The rise of Putinism, Victor Orban’s Hungary, serious political tensions in the Western Balkans and upheaval in Greece – on several fronts democracy is under threat.This is the main theme of Problems of Representative Democracy in Europe. A Challenge for Progressives, that was presented on 21 November at a conference in Vienna, co-organised by the European Forum. It is a publication of the Brussels based progressive think-tank FEPS, the Austrian Renner Institut and the European Forum for Democracy and Solidarity (an NGO that coordinates and stimulates democracy activities in East and South East Europe and in the Eastern Partnership countries).
The book contains a series of articles of, mainly, young academics from inside and outside the EU. For two years the group discussed the problems of democracy in their respective countries and the publication is a reflection of that.The differences in Europe of course stand out. The debate in the Netherlands about the role of politics is not the same as in for example Serbia. While we can observe in some of the so-called older EU member states a certain democracy fatigue, in Central, East and South East Europe they have to deal with the complications caused by the transition from communist dictatorship to a pluriform system.
What all the countries have in common are frustrated electorates, the rise of nationalism, right and left wing populism and the return of authoritarian government in places where democracy has ended up in a grey zone. These trends often go hand in hand with anti-European sentiments and diminished support for the enlargement of the EU. At the same time new social movements manifest themselves in the political arena as we have witnessed recently in Turkey and Bosnia. Al these topics are being discussed in the book. But also others such as the role of the EU in the democratic reform processes, the influence of the media, the independence of the judiciary, revisionist interpretations of recent history, the changing narratives and the negative impact of the Euro crisis.
Problems of Representative Democracy is a political book with contributions written from different angles and analysing day to day practice. It brings stories of what can go wrong but also presents examples of how democracy can be improved. One cannot imagine progressive politics without democracy, nor the other way around. This is however not a given.
Jan Marinus Wiersma, Ernst Stetter, Sebastian Schlubach (Eds), Problems of Representative Democracy. A Challenge for Progressives. Van Gennep Publishers, Amsterdam, 2014.
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