Radical Democracy: A Video Challenge for an Open Society
By Peter Matjašič & Leonie van Tongeren
In times of crisis we have witnessed a polarization of views on what Europe can and should deliver. The gap between citizens’ expectations and the complicated reality of multi-layered governance is increasingly evident.
The technocratic and managerial solutions offered at the EU level often mask ideological choices that are not debated and are subject to little public scrutiny. The decision-making processes in Brussels and Strasbourg seem complex and distant, while the narrative of peace, prosperity, stability, and unity holds little ground in the aftermath of the worst economic crisis Europeans have witnessed in decades. Many are thus turning their back on the Europe they fail to understand or participate in.
However, every crisis offers a golden opportunity. While the current European economic and political crisis polarizes societies and challenges the “European dream” across Europe, ordinary people are reclaiming public space, and demanding transparency and social justice. A new sense of community and citizenship is spreading across the continent.
The upcoming elections to the European Parliament, taking place May 22–25, mark a unique opportunity for ordinary citizens to breathe new life into the EU by helping to determine the political majority of the Parliament. The elections are one of the largest democratic events in the world, with over 413 million European citizens going to the polls, but they will take place in a politically challenging environment.
Low levels of voter turnout, a lack of knowledge of the EU, and general feelings of political disengagement make a dangerous cocktail for the upcoming elections. Rather than critically examining the EU, some parties oppose the Union mainly as part of their overall strategy of distancing themselves from mainstream or governing parties, often providing a simplified picture of reality.
To unmask this approach, European citizens need to see the different views debated on the future of how this continent is to be democratically governed and be allowed to challenge the existing status quo. This is why it’s so important for European citizens to take a stand right now, to rethink what we want democracy to be like, and to create new narratives for an open society.
Whether austerity policies should be maintained or abandoned, whether we want more or less “Europe”—this is the moment to exert our democratic right. Likewise, this is the moment to show the world that the EU has not hit rock bottom, but that it is still full of ideas, discussions, and experiments, reaching far beyond the borders of the Union.
Against this background, the Open Society Initiative for Europe wants to draw on the creative potential of media makers and activists across Europe with Radical Democracy: European Video Challenge 2014, which aims to bring together the visual stories of local heroes and grand ideas, to amplify representation beyond the ballot box. Together with the European Cultural Foundations and their Doc Next Network hubs, we hope to see creativity turn political apathy amongst Europeans into awareness about rethinking democracy.
The overarching goal for the Open Society Initiative for Europe is to reinvigorate European democracy by supporting local agents of change who can help bridge the gap between the values that a united Europe was founded on and the reality which falls short of those ideals. This video challenge is a perfect example of an exciting, fresh new opportunity that can help bring new voices into the discussions and break the technocratic perception of a distant Europe.
Rather than simply rejecting the current form of European integration, we want people to critically debate what is good about Europe and what isn’t, as well as to make them rethink existing power structures and the role they themselves could play in decision-making processes in Europe. At this critical moment, Europe needs genuine views on open society values and democratic representation across Europe.
You, too, can challenge prevailing notions of democracy and share your views on video. And with a bit of luck you may even win €2,500 while you are at it.
Peter Matjašič is a senior program officer for the Open Society Initiative for Europe.
Until May 2018, Léonie van Tongeren worked as the Special Assistant to the Regional Director for Europe at the Open Society Foundations.