“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?
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.
We must develop a powerful, positive narrative
Fueled by economic crises, unemployment, terrorism, and the arrival of large numbers of refugees, insecurity and fear have widely spread through our societies. Ruthless demagogues are using this situation to turn fear into hatred, and to pursue their discriminatory and authoritarian agenda. They want us to believe that building walls at our borders, throwing foreigners out, and discriminating against all kinds of minorities, will solve our problems. We know that they are wrong. We know that their policies will lead us to less freedom, less equality, less tolerance, and more aggression, conflict, and war. We urgently need to develop a powerful, positive narrative that shows the benefits of a peaceful, inclusive, just, and fair society, built on the admirable human attributes of solidarity and empathy. I have heard many of us complaining about the lack of a common narrative; why don’t we follow the positive example of the creation of the Civic Charter? Let’s set an international process in motion that produces that narrative, share it with civic activists at international, national, and local levels, and leave it to them to adapt our common narrative to their specific needs?
We must develop an effective strategy
It has been well documented how authoritarian and oppressive governments systematically learn from each other how best to restrict their citizens’ rights to participate in shaping their societies. On our side, however, we observe a wide, very diverse, and poorly coordinated community that increasingly loses ground in the competition between governments that want to control their citizens, and citizens that want to control their governments. If we want to prevail in that competition we need effective strategies: a global one, plus effective national ones for every country. We are talking about a mapping of civil society activities in defense of civic space. This is be an important first step, but we need much more: we need a thorough analysis of power relationships, of threats and opportunities, of our allies and adversaries and of those who have not made up their minds yet. Building on that information, we must develop effective strategies as the basis for our common fight. We have been discussing the need for such a strategy for some time; let’s make 2017 the year in which our common strategy takes shape and is widely adopted as the basis for our joint activities.
We must form a global citizens’ movement
A credible and legitimate narrative, and a widely supported global strategy, is a perfect basis for forming a powerful global citizens’ movement. After Brexit and Trump, we heard innumerable manifestations of people who expressed their support for democracy, open societies, and the rule of law. We know that a majority of citizens around the world want to live in open, just, and fair societies. Millions of them are looking for a basis on which they can make their voices heard, and join in with the fight to preserve our common values. Our biggest challenge – and my greatest wish – for 2017 is to forget about our personal and organisational interests, and come together forming a powerful global citizens’ movement to reclaim and defend our rights. It is time for us to forget about our egos and logos, and create that movement to defend our rights.
I wish all of you a happy and successful 2017 and look forward to joining you in advancing our common fight.