authoritarianism, autocracy, democracy, european union, globalisation

Are ‘Democratic’ Governments Listening to Us?

Democratic countries around the world have become detached from their citizens. These nations need to once again engage their populations.

Many democracies are struggling for civic engagement and enthusiasm in present times. This can be observed throughout Europe as well as in individual countries such as Sweden, despite the world becoming more interconnected and interdependent through politics, civil activism and information technology. Human relations and interactions are important in everyday life. It is important to remember that the strength of democracy is based on the ability to change, improve and modify the democratic system. Our current democratic systems can develop further if more of us get involved in shaping its future.


During the beginning of the 90’s, the world became smaller for a large number of people. We started hearing more and more phrases such as ‘global village’ and ‘the information society,’ etc. Globalisation, just like the regionalisation of Europe, took place primarily in economic terms but also in ecological and ethnological ones. Many citizens around the world, often those who did not like such developments and changes, started to discuss in what ways democracy would be affected by such developments. Today, over 20 years later, we can see different and mixed results.

Globally, there are more democratic societies at present than 20 years ago. At the same time, there are new and growing anti-democratic and authoritarian tendencies taking shape around the world. China, the world’s most populated country, is still the largest dictatorship and a state that promotes an undemocratic kind of governance to other parts of the world. In Europe, Russia is the largest example of the ‘illiberal democracy‘, where basic liberal-democratic tenets such as the rule of law, equal treatment in the eyes of the law and civic freedoms are often not recognised. The Arab Spring has led to a lower or higher degree of democratisation in Tunisia and Jordan but not in Egypt or Saudi Arabia.

Vladimir Putin, Autocracy, Authoritarian, Anti-Democratic
Vladimir Putin addressing a rally of supporters at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow in 2012. Putin has presided over an increasingly authoritarian regime in Russia. Photo: Yuri Kadobnov/AFP/Getty Images

Civic disengagement

When it comes to Europe, the ‘health’ of democracy can be described as being very ill from time to time. There are intergovernmental decisions that are being made behind closed doors in Brussels. Many citizens are feeling uninterested, unheard and are not voting in the European Parliament elections. Complicated procedures regarding the EU-citizen initiatives are often ignored by the EU-institutions. Anti-democratic tendencies in Hungary and Poland are rising as the leading politicians try to gain more control over the media and NGOs, and also turn a blind eye to corruption and misuse of political power.

The situation, however, is not any better in individual countries like Sweden. Political parties have gone from being mass, popular movements that channel the voices of the society to the state, to being more elitist voices of the state. Today, there is a record low number of Swedes as members of political parties when compared to the 1970’s when the Swedish population was smaller. Many citizens, regardless of the political colour, feel that the parties are ‘not listening’, not accepting the new ideas or proposals from the citizens.

“Political parties have gone from being mass, popular movements that channel the voices of the society to the state, to being more elitist voices of the state”

Re-engaging citizens

In order for a democratic society to develop, more people need to raise the same question: how democratic is our society? Sweden is usually at the top of the lists. The EU has the world’s only democratically elected supranational parliament. Globally, there are more democracies today than ever before. However, as members of those societies, we can never be satisfied just by the fact that we live in a democratic society. We need to continuously search for the new solutions and have new discussions on how to solve the problems within our democracy.

“In order for a democratic society to develop, more people need to raise the same question: how democratic is our society?”

Today, there are many proposals that could make democracy strong again. For example, besides Switzerland, Finland also has a system of citizen initiatives that can lead to referendums. In Austria, 16 year old citizens are allowed to vote. There are older and newer popular movements dealing with the topics of basic income, migration, environment, law and order, etc. that more politicians should listen to. Proposals have also been raised on how to make the EU-commission democratically elected as well as having a democratically elected World Parliament as a citizen part of the UN-system. There are ideas and proposals that could improve European as well as global governance when it comes to policy topics such as climate change, migration and energy.

Direct Democracy, Democracies, Switzerland
Direct democracy has an extensive history in Switzerland. Source: Wikipedia Commons

Democracy has a better future if more of us become active and engaged in order to improve it and to shape better democratic societies for ourselves. As humans, we are all equal but also different and unique which is why democracy goes hand in hand with human and political diversity. We are never going to find the absolute answer on the question of how democratic our society really is, however, we can always find new ways that help us come closer to what makes a more democratic society.


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