GSA at World Forum for Democracy

Belgrade, 16.12.2013.

The second World Forum for Democracy took place from 27 to 29 November 2013 in Strasbourg, organized by the Council of Europe with the support of the French government, the Region of Alsace and the City of Strasbourg. Representatives of Serbia, participants of the Annual Seminar of the Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence (BFPE), also attended the Forum and among them was also a member of Gay Straight Alliance Vesna Gajišin.


The Forum asked a lot of questions about the state of democracy in Europe and in the world, about the influence of the Internet, social networks, blogs and other online media on citizen participation in the democratic system of government, and about the need to rethink and recreate models and methods of political engagement and political parties in the new digital age. Representatives of civil society, elected officials, and political leaders and media representatives from more than 100 countries discussed the future of democracy in order to identify the opportunities which the digital age offers, as well as the risks which it may pose to our fundamental rights and freedoms.

In the opening session of the Forum Thorbjorn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, mentioned the bad trends of the past few years, which could threaten democracy, such as: a decline in democratic participation, low voter turnout, and similar – symptoms of detachment between citizens and institutions. On the other hand, trends of other kind have been noticed as well – the engagement of individuals through social networks, online petitions and Internet activism – which are still outside the traditional, institutional systems, but which can sometimes have long-term consequences, for instance the role of digital platforms in the “Arab Spring”.

With this Forum, the Council of Europe provided the space and the opportunity for an open discussion between elected politicians, representatives of institutions, civil society leaders, bloggers and future activists and politicians. Discussions took place in laboratories, which also presented specific examples of initiatives, for example: (the largest petition platform with more than 130 million users from 196 countries); direct democracy model from Switzerland (where the government and parliaments share political power with the citizens); ONLIFE Manifesto (European Commission initiative which has launched a public debate on the policy relevant consequences of the changes brought about by a world of hyper connectivity), and many other initiatives.

Some of the initiatives are highly practical, while others seek to redefine democracy. Conclusions of the Forum are very thought-provoking, because, even though citizen participation through Internet and various digital platforms cannot replace traditional democratic institutions, it is evident that it can change them in some ways. Institutions need to keep up with the demands of the digital, hyper connected, global society that uses smart phones and has access to information with a click of the mouse.

Still, direct democracy and the Internet are not without faults and it is very important to be aware of those faults even now, before they threaten those values which modern democracy has fought for. Internet is a place of freedom, but the freedom of speech is not the same thing as saying and writing whatever you like. True democracy is not only freedom, but also taking responsibility for that freedom. Online world is not some other world, it is a reality – a part of our everyday life – and just like citizens are responsible for their actions on the street, they have to act responsibly on the Internet as well.

At the Forum there was a presentation of a campaign initiated by the Council of Europe: No Hate Speech Movement – the European youth movement against hate speech on the Internet.

In his closing words to the World Forum Thorbjorn Jagland also emphasized the importance of preserving those values on which democracy rests, and summarized the conclusions of the forum: “Democracy must not become the rule of the majority; if citizens are allowed to decide on questions such as human rights and freedoms, it could happen that they be denied to the minorities, and this must not happen because human rights belong to everyone simply due to the fact that we were all born as human beings.”

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