New Forms of Political Participation – Crisis Management from Greek, German and Turkish Perspectives : A Conference for Young Academics from Greece, Germany and Turkey. Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, 14.10.2013-18.10.2013.
Reviewed by Anna Steuber
Published on H-Soz-u-Kult (February, 2014)
New Forms of Political Participation – Crisis Management from Greek, German and Turkish Perspectives : A Conference for Young Academics from Greece, Germany and Turkey
The concept of ‘post-democracy’, conceived by Colin Crouch in 2004 Colin Crouch, Post-Democracy, Cambridge 2004. , centres on a political elite serving a powerful minority rather than seeking to balance the interests of the body politic. Almost ten years from the publication of Crouch’s seminal essay, the surge of new protest movements on a global scale has reinforced the notion that representative political systems have failed to address the demands of its citizens.
Aimed at exploring the links between the post-democratic tendencies observed by Crouch and the recent global upheavals, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) brought together young academics and activists from Turkey, Greece and Germany to discuss whether the future of democracy required “New Forms of Political Participation.“
After Nicole Katsioulis’ (Athens) introduction to the work of the foundation’s Athens office, JÜRGEN MITTAG and URSULA BITZEGEIO (both Bonn) delved into the theoretical framework of the conference. Jürgen Mittag explained why Crouch’s concept particularly lent itself to a discussion of new forms of political participation. It offered a precise description of the political processes that had engendered feelings of disenchantment among the public. ‘Post-democracy’ referred to the state of a growing ellipsis between a self-referential political class and its electorate. That is, the prevalence of liberal democracies in Western countries, focusing on business interests, the dominance of lobby groups, and the governance of practical constraints had led to the political disenchantment of large sections of society.
Ursula Bitzegeio focused on possible new forms of crisis management. Until the early 1990s, most schools of Political Sciences regarded the electoral act as the main participatory element. These views stemmed from the experiences of the dictatorships of the 20th century, and the view of the “immature” citizen, unqualified to participate in political decision-making processes. Yet the current Political Science discussion suggested an increase in the quantity and quality of political participation as a solution to the current crisis of democracy.
Mainly focusing on Greece, the first panel explored the political aftermaths of the economic crisis. The first presentation by KATHARINA LOUKIDOU (Athens) discussed in how far the economic crisis had changed the structure of the Greek civil society. Mass demonstrations and the emergence of new movements suggested that civil society had gained new ground, and complemented traditional forms of participation.
KAI MÜRLEBACH (Bielefeld) discussed in his presentation the continuities of the current post-democratic crisis from a systems-theoretical point of view. Some of the repercussions of the current economic crisis such as the governance of inherent constraints or the rule of expert governments had already been observed in the 20th century. Drawing on Niklas Luhmann’s concept of the political system, Mürlebach discussed the workings of democratic decision-making processes. He concluded that the current demands for new forms of participation are a reaction to the perceived lack of contingency in decision-making.
VERA TIKA (Athens) focused on the correlation between post-democratic tendencies in Greece as a result of the economic crisis and the success of the far-right party Golden Dawn. The seismic changes the Greek political landscape had undergone in recent years could be ascribed to both the austerity’s measures imposed on Greece by the Troika and Greece’s dysfunctional democratic system.
ANASTASIA KAFE (Athens) centered on the Indignants, a further movement that emerged in the wake of Greece’s economic crisis. She presented the results of her research which indicated that a majority conceived democracy as an ideal rather than a concrete political system. Thus, in contrast to its agents and institutions, democracy enjoyed a diffuse support. A representation crisis was therefore the main reason for the democratic malfunction in Greece.
The conference’s second panel addressed the situation in Turkey in the wake of the protests caused by the urban development plan of Istanbul’s Gezi Park. ASENA ULUS (Istanbul) described in her presentation the aftermaths of the Gezi Park eviction, and the current state of representative democracy in Turkey. The country had entered into an ambivalent state marked by the perpetuation of the power held by the representative system on the one hand, and the protesters’ demand for more direct avenues of political participation on the other.
FIRAT DURUSAN (Ankara) embedded the Gezi Park uprisings within the theoretical framework of post-democracy. He discussed how the increasing delegation of national decision-making processes to the supranational level had undermined the democratic legitimacy previously safeguarded by the nation states. In Turkey, there was a strong popular demand for a more participatory form of democracy that overcame both the populist style of the AKP (Justice and Development Party), and the post-democracy engendered by the globalisation of governance.
EMEL TÜRKER (Istanbul) discussed in her presentation the role of new participatory forms of journalism during the Gezi Park protests. Since Erdoğan’s AKP first came to power in 2002, basic civil rights such as the freedom of speech and freedom of the press had become increasingly impaired. The mainstream media failed to fulfil a supervisory function during the Gezi Park uprisings. This gap was filled in by alternative media, ranging from online to broadcasting initiatives, which had sustainably shaped Turkey’s media landscape.
The third panel sought to further delve into the characteristics of the current protest movements in Germany, Turkey and Greece. JOHANNES DIESING’s (Rostock) presentation examined the refugee protests in Germany which diverged fundamentally from the protest movements that had been discussed so far. The refugee movement was not spearheaded by the middle class, but by one of the most socially marginalised groups in Germany, standing up against the massive civil rights infringements they experience in Germany.
Subsequently, DENIZ BAYRAM’s (Istanbul) presentation focused on feminist interventions to court cases as a means of feminist protest. Lawyers and protesters gathered during court hearings and disseminated information about the case via social media, thus voicing their protest against the patriarchal legal system.
SELIME BUYUKGOZE (Istanbul) outlined the current situation of women in Turkey, which was still marked by inequality and oppression. For example, the denial of elective C-sections, for its effect on future parturitional success, and the government’s discourse, classifying “abortion as murder” and dividing women into “good” and “bad,” had sparked a number of feminist protests.
THOMAS PAPAKONSTANTINOU (Athens) presented his social anthropological PhD project, investigating police practices in Athens. Although the police were generally perceived as the institution that defended and enforced the law, their practices were not based on the legal ground, but on the two fundamental notions of “lines and grades.” The former functioned as a dynamic border dividing the public space into police territory and non-police territory. “Grades”, on the other hand, referred to the police officers’ state of alertness which was symbolised by a code of colours. He further discussed the significance of the ‘street’ and the ‘suspect’.
The subsequent discussion with PAVLOS CHRISTIDIS (PASOK Youth Organization) and KATHARINA OERDER (German Young Socialists) addressed the current trust deficit between traditional membership organisations and the European youth. The question whether the future of democracy would be shaped by parties and their youth organisations or by alternative, direct democratic forms of political participation dominated the discussion.
DOROTHÈE DE NÈVE’s (Berlin) illustrated on a number of examples from European cities how different graffiti techniques might be used to express a wide range of motivations (from declarations of love to politico-ideological statements, ranging from far-left to far-right messages, or even commercials). Proceeding from the assumption that graffiti influenced political communication, perception, and agenda-setting, she discussed how the public space could be appropriated and transformed into a visual enactment of a political message.
The fourth panel focused on membership campaigning in times of crisis from two very different perspectives. The first presentation by GEORGE KORDAS (Athens) discussed how Golden Dawn facilitated social media to mobilise its members, gain new followers or organise protests. He presented the results of his analysis of Golden Dawn’s activity on facebook, blogs, and the dissemination of their music on platforms such as youtube.
KATHARINA OERDER (Bonn) discussed in the presentation of her psychological PhD project membership campaigns, using data obtained from the German industrial trade union IG BCE. She discussed recruitment strategies apt to increase the number of trade union members. One of the symptoms of post-democracy was the erosion of traditional membership organisations and their growing lack of entrenchment within society. Drawing on theories from a branch of psychology called ‘recruitment research’, she investigated in how far recruitment success relied on political skills.
The last panel of the conference was rounded off by a discussion with VASSILIS SOTIROPOULOS (Transparency International Greece). Defining corruption as “misuse of entrusted power for personal gain,” Transparency International Greece particularly focused on the protection of whistle-blowers, who reported corruption in public and private sectors.
Finally, Ursula Bitzegeio and Dorothée de Nève led the summary and final evaluation of the conference. Considering the broad spectrum of topics, ranging from academic to activist perspectives which, furthermore, referred to different forms of crises – from a democratic trust deficit resulting from the severe economic crisis in Greece to the protests in the economically prospering Turkey opposing the authoritarian government – the presentation of an overall bottom line and future outlook was considered unfeasible. Yet, it could be ascertained that the current manifestations of post-democracy were – in contrast to Crouch’s observations – not marked by apathy and depoliticization, but by political protest and communication.
Particularly the imbalance in the relationship between democracy and economy were at the heart of the protests. Thus, in contrast to previous movements, the current protests were rather concerned with the economisation of all spheres of life rather than peace or environmental issues.
The current protest wave did not elude historisation. For example, many of the established parties had emerged from social protest movements (for example the 19th century social movements that integrated into the German Social Democratic Party).
However, the conference’s main controversy whether the current wave of protests was indicative of a historical “watershed moment” that rendered the traditional membership organisations obsolete and demanded the introduction of new forms of political participation might only be assessed in hindsight.
Nicole Katsioulis (Director Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Athens), Introductory speeches by the hosts
Ursula Bitzegeio / Jürgen Mittag (Bonn), Political Participation in Crisis: Considerations on Colin Crouch‘s Concept of Postdemocracy
Panel 1: Political Transformation of European Societies in Times of Crisis
Katerina Loukidou (Athens), Civil Society as a Dynamic Sphere of Political Participation
Kai Mürlebach (Bielefeld), New Forms of Political Participation? Responses of the Political System
Vera Tika (Athens), The Rise of the Far Right as a Result of the Crisis
Anastasia Kafe (Athens), Decodifying the Indignants’ Mobilization in Greece. Democracy, Political System and Violence under Challenge
Panel 2: Gezi-Park-Strike: Prototype of Pure Democracy?
Asena Ulus (Istanbul), A Perspective on the Birth of the Prototypes for Direct Democracy in Turkey after the Gezi-Strike
Firat Durusan (Ankara), The Gezi-Park-Protests as a Popular and Political Response to the Crisis of Postdemocracy
Emel Türker (Istanbul), Democracies‘ New Watchdogs: Citizen Journalism and Social Media
Panel 3: New Social Movements or Postdemocratic Protests?
Johannes Diesing (Rostock), The Current Refugee Protests in Germany
Deniz Bayram (Istanbul), Intervention to Cases as Feminist Protest
Thomas Papakonstantinou (Athens), Suspects, the Citizens of Crisis - Street Management in the "Margins" of Democracy
Selime Buyukgoze (Istanbul), From a Marginalised Group of Women to Powerful Political Subjects
Youth Protests and Youth Culture in Crisis
Discussion with representative of PASOK Youth Organization, Pavlos Christidis, and the Vice-president of the German Young Socialists, Katharina Oerder
Dorothée de Nève (Berlin), Visual Interventions - Political Graffiti in Public Space
Panel 4: “Only united we are strong!“ Membership Campaign in Times of Crisis
George Kordas (Athens), The Use of Facebook and Blogs from the Chrysi Avgi in Greece as a Way of Approaching New Activists and Party Members
Katharina Oerder (Bonn), Effective Membership Campaign in Times of Crisis. The Example of German Trade Unions
Corruption as a Cause of Crises? - Creative Strategies against Corruption
Discussion with Vassilis Sotiropoulos (Transparency International Greece)
Dorothée de Nève / Ursula Bitzegeio, Summary of Conference Findings & Evaluation
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