Make your voice heard!

What are the similarities and differences between Eastern European and Arabic protests? What role do emotions play in politics and political participation? These were the guiding questions in the second part of the panel sessions of this morning concerning the overall issue of possibilities for a Euro-Mediterranean dialogue.

The first statement on the topic of rethinking protest and participation in times of change came from Julian Popov, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Bulgarian School of Politics, who gave an introduction to the nature of protest and its relation to democracy. He described protest as a form of participation that can be found everywhere, including in established democracies. For Popov, democracy is in a permanent state of transition in which it is important to turn disagreements into constructive force. With the claim that “educated debate is the guardian of democracy” he drew the line between protest, the need to citizenship education and democracy.

The second speaker, Ahmed Driss from the Centre of Mediterranean and Internations Studies (Tunisia), then turned towards the specific issue of comparing the uprisings in 1989 in Eastern Europe with the Arab Spring. He started with explaining the different causes of the protests, the different protest cultures that prevail in the two regions and how it can be seen from the examples that long-term violent protest cannot support sustainable democratic transition. Driss argued that in contrast to this form of resistance, “civil society is a unique way” of getting a say and making one's voice heard in the long-run. Like Popov he sees citizenship education as a crucial part of the transitional process towards democracy, because “ it is impossible to have democracy without democrats”.

Fernando Vallespín from the Instituto Universitario José Ortega y Gasset (Spain), opened the discussion about the influence that emotions have on processes of political participation. In his point of view there exists a necessary connection between human rights and basic human emotions. At the same time he also recognised that while we need to listen to feelings on the one hand we have to publicly argue for and justify them on the other. Picking up the topic of protests from earlier Vallespín argued that they have a symbolic value of saying: “enough is enough!”. The nature of current protests in Europe he analysed as lying in the feeling that no matter what we do and who we vote for policies and markets won't change.

The feelings because of which people went on the streets in the Southern Mediterranean ranged from rage against the political system in the beginning, to hope of success and concern for the worst-off who had to fight for basic rights with their lives, in the later stages of the uprisings. This was explained by Nelly Corbel from the American University in Cairo (Egypt). She went on to describe the difficulties in rationalising such feelings and linking them to citizenship education. The solution for her is that “with empathy we will be able to relate” to people and that thus we can find viable solutions for citizenship education.

Political Participation
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