Burkhard Gnärig

21 February, 2017

This blog first appeared on OpenDemocracy.

More than 20 years ago I had a lively discussion with a leading German politician who complained that Terre Des Hommes, the child rights organisation I was leading at the time, interfered with national politics. He abhorred our advocacy and campaigns and demanded that we “leave politics to the politicians”. This politician’s perspective was firmly rooted in a traditional understanding of democracy shaped in the 19th and early 20th centuries: once every four or five years people would undertake the often arduous journey to a polling station, cast their votes and return home, most of them leaving politics to the politicians until the next election.

Since that conversation, the growth of digital communications means that politicians have lost their monopoly on politics. Representative democracy as we know it is under enormous pressure everywhere. Globally, a power struggle between governments and “their” citizens or, from my perspective, between citizens and their governments, is underway. The Internet has provided each individual with more and better means to inform themselves, to control politicians, to voice their opinion, to seek the support of others and to form powerful political alliances. The space for civic participation has grown enormously and power has shifted away from traditional political structures and actors. MORE

Chase Strangio

14 February, 2017

Over the coming weeks, Disrupt&Innovate is looking at relevant, practical actions being taken against the rise in hatred across the globe. This article first appeared on ACLU’s Speak Freely blog.

Across the country [USA], before state legislative sessions have even convened, lawmakers are making clear that transgender people will again be the relentless targets of discriminatory legislation.

Last year, lawmakers introduced more than 200 anti-LGBT bills in 34 states. At least 50 of those bills targeted transgender people specifically. We were able to defeat the overwhelming majority of these proposed laws.

The two most sweeping anti-LGBT bills to torbakhopper via Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0become law, HB 1523 in Mississippi and HB 2 in North Carolina, we promptly challenged in court. In North Carolina, the passage of HB 2 has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue to the state, costly litigation, and former Gov. Pat McCrory’s defeat at the ballot in November.

But it seems lawmakers are not heeding the lessons of North Carolina. MORE

Zeynep Serinkaya

7 February, 2017

Over the coming weeks, Disrupt&Innovate is looking at relevant, practical actions being taken against the rise in hatred across the globe.

In a social environment defined by the absence of equal rights, downright discrimination and repressive cultural norms, representation is all the more crucial for LGBTQI+ individuals. The LGBTQI+ movement is growing stronger in Turkey. From the academic production of knowledge to representation in political arena, from demanding an end to ethnic discrimination to calling for new laws regarding sex workers, the LGBTQI+ movement is indeed active in all aspects of daily life. Its strength lies in its power to revert stereotypical imagery back to its beholder, most particularly through methods of creative resistance. This is exactly why we, LGBTI News Turkey, come together as an active group of volunteers to translate news on
LGBTQI+ life in Turkey into English.

eringobro via Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0eringobro via Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

While working for political representation in municipalities, at the National Assembly and all levels of governance, the LGBTQI+ movement mobilises its efforts to produce its own cultural representations and images against the discursive and symbolic violence, two aspects of heteronormativity and sexism ever so sinister and so deeply engraved in our lives.

Melissa Sonnino

31 January, 2017

Over the coming weeks, Disrupt&Innovate is looking at relevant, practical actions being taken against the rise in hatred across the globe.

What is hate crime and why should we all be concerned about it? Defining the problem is a first step towards understanding a phenomenon which affects our society as a whole. Hate crime is commonly defined as a criminal act with a bias motivation, where bias is a type of prejudice against a person, or a group, because of their real or presumed identity.

Although probably not morally correct, the “could be you” argument is usually a winning argument when it comes to explaining to people why hate crime is not only for civil society organisations (CSOs), targeted groups and police. In fact, to not belong to any of the groups at risk in society doesn’t mean you cannot be a victim of hate crime. The perpetrators’ assumption about someone’s identity is the only decisive factor. Passing by a gay bar with a friend or reading a copy of the Quran at the bus stop could lead a perpetrator to the assumption you are gay or Muslim, even if you are not, and to commit a hate crime motivated by homophobic or anti-Muslim sentiments. MORE

Kyle Khandikian

24 January, 2017

Over the coming weeks, Disrupt&Innovate is looking at relevant, practical actions being taken against the rise in hatred across the globe.

Online networks in Armenia were abuzz as the country welcomed the New Year over a seemingly harmless photograph of a mixed-race family – an Armenian woman, a black man, and their mixed-race child – in traditional Armenian garb. The photograph, taken and posted on Facebook by a popular photo studio specialising in vintage photos, sounded the alarm bells for racists and ultranationalists, who decried the defiling of the “Armenian gene”, customs and nation. The photograph, later taken down by the studio after relentless threats against them and their families, ignited a debate over mixed marriages, anti-black racism in Armenian society, and national values.

Gay pride 2011 à Toulouse

Fear and intolerance for all things otar – “other”, “foreign”, “not Armenian” – do not come to us from a vacuum; they are symptoms of our long and painful history of violence, displacement and genocide. The question today is whether we give in to the fear of that which is different, forgoing all reason and conscious in the name of dogma and ideology, or, protect ourselves and others whose lives and dignity are equal to our own, but who are unable to realise the full potential of that dignity. MORE

Menno Ettema

17 January, 2017

Over the coming weeks, Disrupt&Innovate is looking at relevant, practical actions being taken against the rise in hatred across the globe.

The internet gives us new opportunities to enjoy our rights to express our opinions and to assembly, even internationally, free from practical burdens such as travel costs or visa regimes. It gives us the opportunity to be truly inclusive and work together towards a better future for everyone. To ensure the longevity of this space, coordinated efforts are needed to counter the threat of online hate speech through awareness raising, human rights education, promoting alternative messages, and legislation._MG_3863

The Council of Europe’s recommendation on human rights for internet users reconfirms that the internet has a public service value. States have the obligation to secure human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.

Legislation to address hate speech is often opposed on the grounds that it will restrict our right to free expression. Such risks are real, and therefore monitored by the Council of Europe, who published a study on state practices regarding filtering, blocking and taking down of illegal content in 2016. MORE

Burkhard Gnärig

10 January, 2017

“We urgently need to come together in a powerful global movement to defend tolerance against the intolerant, pluralism and the rule of law against authoritarianism, and our future as a global community against chauvinism and xenophobia.” This appeal at the end of my most recent post demands action – and it demands a plan: What do we have to do?

  1. We need to take the rise of xenophobia, ultra-nationalism, and authoritarian government seriously

For years, a small number of individuals and organisations have warned of rising intolerance and shrinking civic space, but still too many of us think that this worrying trend will not affect us directly, eventually passing by. I recently discussed this phenomenon with a friend who is part of the German political establishment. His comments: “This is democracy. There is not much we can do. It will turn worse before it gets better”. I don’t think we can afford such fatalism. We have seen democracies turning into nasty dictatorships before, Germany being a case in point. We have left the stable political environment where two or three moderate parties replaced each other in government from time to time and arrived at a point where intolerance, racism, chauvinism, and authoritarian leadership are entering the mainstream. Democracy allows us to elect representatives of these nasty ideologies – but will we have enough democracy left to kick them out once we recognise that they are doing a terrible job? If we truly value democracy, pluralism, and the rule of law, we must act now, and with determination.

A Jones CC BY-ND 2.0 via Flickr


Burkhard Gnärig

20 December, 2016

The biggest, most unexpected and most shocking events of the past year for me and for many people in our sector were Brexit and Trump. Already in my review of the year 2015 I wrote: “As authoritarian government is on the rise globally, the space for civic participation is shrinking”. However, it was far beyond my imagination that, in 2016, developments would speed up so dramatically.

With Brexit, the courageous and farsighted European project of post-war reconciliation is being seriously endangered. As aggressive nationalism is spreading its wings across Europe, we need to once again start worrying about war in Central Europe, a concern we thought we had overcome for good.

For me personally, 2016 was the year in which I used my privilege of being a European citizen and moved to Portugal where I feel welcome and very much enjoy living in a different culture and speaking a different language. Will future generations no longer be able to enjoy such privileges? Will they be tied back into old, primitive, and dangerous concepts of national superiority? The fact that a majority of young Brits voted against Brexit provides some hope. Building a united Europe never looked like an easy task. We will have to allocate more time and effort to this task and brace ourselves for further setbacks – setbacks which don’t mean that the idea is wrong, but that we just need more time to learn and overcome old prejudices.

Ed Everett CC BY 2.0 via Flickr MORE

Burkhard Gnärig

13 December, 2016

A brief review of Paul Raskin’s essay Journey to Earthland

JTE-Cover-SampleIn Journey to Earthland, Paul Raskin, the founding President of the Tellus Institute and founding Director of the Great Transition Initiative, charts the way to a peaceful, just and sustainable world, which he hopes we will have achieved by 2084.

As we start our journey we find ourselves as passengers on a plane that has lost its direction and cannot determine its location: “Zombie ideologies—territorial chauvinism, unbridled consumerism, and the illusion of endless growth—inhabit the brains of the living. Coherent responses to systemic risks of climate change, economic instability, population displacement, and global terrorism […] lie beyond the grasp of a myopic and disputatious political order.” MORE

Alexia Skok

6 December, 2016


Are your rights secure? Will they be gone tomorrow?

From Hungary to Cambodia – and everywhere in between – we are witnessing an onslaught of aggression against civil society organisations (CSOs), activists, and everyday citizens. At every turn, governments, politicians, and powerholders are attempting to block civic participation. We see the ‘Trumps of Europe’ scaremongering citizens to give up their rights in the name of national security. Police and military are arresting and detaining protestors, denying them their rights to freedom of association and expression. In other corners of the globe, governments are laying down arbitrary laws and increasing bureaucracy in an attempt to slow down the effectiveness of organisations which are trying to improve the lives of their citizens.Photo by Debra Sweet via CC BY 2.0

Yet, in the face of this constant suppression, people and organisations are standing up to defend themselves and their communities. They are uniting, they are fighting, and they are claiming their space! From this growing solidarity the Civic Charter – the Global Framework for People’s Participation was born.

Over the past two months, Disrupt&Innovate has shared stories on the state of civic space across the globe. See highlights here, and share your experiences in the battle for civic rights in the comments section below. MORE