A New Season for Democracy
Gianluca Solera - 18/07/2011
Between laughs and tears, on June the 13th among old emails, I have found the statement made by the president of the Italian Council of Ministers right after the 25th of January 2011, the day when the Egyptian revolution enflamed the country. This statement said that the former president Mubarak’s regime is a guarantee of stability in Middle East and that the accidents in Tunisia won’t extend further to Egypt. On the 13th of June a popular referendum in Italy against nuclear power, water privatization and politician’s privileges in court cases wins the majority and reaches the necessary quorum to be considered legally binding (50% + 1 of the potential voters) after six previous referenda that had taken place during the past fourteen years without reaching the quorum.
I personally live it as a revenge, after another popular referendum related to environment especially hunting privileges and pesticide use held in June 1990.
Referendum campaigns are the Italian version of the current period of democratic resurgence for freedom and rights that has invested the Mediterranean Region. The popular referendum was conceived by the Italian Constitution to guarantee citizens the possibility of exerting control on the legislative policies of their authorities. In these days, this tool not only regains its legitimacy, but it also becomes a barometer that measures the detachment between the Palace of Power and the citizens in the street. While the popular referendum has often been vituperated and accused of being an old instrument of anti-parliamentary, plebiscitary and anti-liberal politics, today, it rediscovers its original nature, that of being a citizens’ tool. It’s main aim is to contain the excesses of legislative bodies who have lost their independence from the government and where groups of interest plunder public goods and safeguard specific private benefits against the collective ones.
The Italian popular referendum is the post-modern answer to the crisis of Western parliamentary systems’ legitimacy. A crisis that also manifests itself in the popular rallies taking place in Spain and in Greece, where elections take place regularly, where political majorities change. However popular discontent and the feeling that national governments have exhausted their steering role in challenging structural problems and in shaping their country’s future remain especially among the youth.
And if this Spring of people’s democracy regains strength and impetus in Italy, on the other Shore, uncertainty lingers on in those countries where people have dared stand up against authoritarian regimes that were still tolerated by our Northern institutions up until before yesterday.
IDespite the Western air shield, Libyan rebels advance very slowly in front of a well equipped and trained army. The Tunisian consultation for the election of the Constitutional Committee has been postponed. In Egypt, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the young revolutionaries are at odds with each other on the issues of transition and the priority to be given to parliamentary elections and constitutional reform. In Yemen, an uncertain period has started after the unclear departure of President Saleh to Saudi Arabia. But our bitterest tears are now for Syria.
If it has been relatively easy for the Western governments to act against Khaddafi, it will be more difficult to take a stand against al-Asad’s regime. The same regime has nurtured old suspicions over Western ambiguities and the practice of a two weights and measures policy. Syrians are prisoners of a repressive, hermetic and self-referential regime; prisoners of the Cold War and this explains why Russia protects the Syrian regime among international institutions; prisoners of Zionism - as another popular revolt at the Israeli borders seriously worries Jerusalem’s establishment as it is certainly better to negotiate with one dictator than with his people and prisoners of a divided European diplomacy that does not want to open another political-military front in the region. The European Union has adopted severe sanctions against Damascus, but does not ask al-Assad to step aside. It is a damned rectangle of interests and calculations that explains the annoying international cautiousness in front of the deployment of the army against its people by the Syrian regime– the same scenario that justified the action against the Libyan repression.
If the season of freedom and democracy has no borders, then we have to do our best to push our diplomacies to take their responsibilities, safeguard Syrian citizens and effectively isolate the current regime, which has largely proved to be unable to conceive and lead an internal democratic transition alone.
Moreover, liberal governments and social forces must invest in strengthening and supporting the youth of these countries (the foundations of the German political parties alone will invest 10 million € over two years in North Africa). These youngsters want to exchange with their neighbours and cousins on all that concerns the formation of parties, representative democracy mechanisms and election organization.
However, there is a third mission to be conceived and led: encouraging networking between citizens of the North and the South of the Mediterranean to enable them to exchange good practices and experiences related to participatory democracy, development, sustainability and social justice. These are the recurrent issues of social movements and that have found in the recent Italian referendum, a successful example of active global citizenship. First of all, this is a mission to be led by civil society and local democratic institutions and authorities, such as cities and towns. The practice of local governance and the sharing of powers and responsibilities between institutions and citizens should be associated to the review of the current development model with all its contradictions (labour precariousness, concentration of richness, corruption, links between institutions and criminality, global warming, depletion of natural resources, monopolies of information, social dumping).
Our diplomacies might make a move if European and Arab civil societies are able to build permanent channels of exchange and cooperation encouraging active citizenship. People might then not only talk of an Arab Spring only, but alos of a Mediterranean Spring, or even a Euro-Mediterranean one.
For the time being, let us hope that Syrians will not be left alone, and that the Italian referendum will echo beyond frontiers. On the 13th June, for the first time in years, I felt proud to be Italian, and this was not only because it was my mother’s birthday.