The weekend of 15-17 June 2001 will likely be remembered for the violent anti-capitalist street protests in Gothenburg: hooded anarchists, smashed shop windows, fires in the streets, heavy-handed police reaction. The message of the large numbers of peaceful protestors who came to highlight the 'democratic deficit' in European and national politics will be largely ignored. Promising effectively to ignore the Irish referendum “No” to the Nice Treaty (“a dog's breakfast cooked up by elites and forced on the electorate with little discussion” – TIME, 25 June), those elites continue to abuse the democratic process from their fortified convention centres and pseudo-democratic parliaments.
Oblivious to the hollowness of his own words, Tony Blair declares that “such protests must not and will not disrupt the proper workings of democratic organizations”, apparently unable or unwilling to see that it is precisely the undemocratic nature of those organizations (national and European) and the fact that they are not working properly which is the root cause of the protests. Violence begets violence. The prior violence is that of the pseudo-democratic state which imposes the will of a handful of unrepresentative politicians on the whole population, the vast majority of whom did not vote for the ruling party and do not agree with its policies: a not so subtle form of dictatorship masquerading as democracy.
The only realistic solution is to 'close' the democratic deficit. That means restoring (or creating for the first time) genuine democracy – the right of every citizen to be directly consulted and involved in all decisions which affect him or her. Representative democracy – especially in a first-past-the-post system – does not represent and is not democratic. Voting to elect a different bunch of politicians once every four or five years is not the expression of democratic responsibility, but rather the abdication of responsibility, especially when, once elected, politicians assume they have a mandate to make any changes they please, whether or not they were a part of their manifesto.
That same weekend, another conference took place some 250 miles due south of Gothenburg, in Rostock, on the German Baltic coast. There was no violence, but a protest was nonetheless being made. Beside the ancient Marienkirche, in the very spot where 12 years ago citizens of Rostock faced down ranks of armed state police, a double-decker bus in white, gold and green livery was parked – the campaign bus of “Mehr Demokratie” (More Democracy), which over the coming months will travel the length and breadth of Germany, taking the message of direct democracy to every corner of the country. The campaign, begun in 1992, has already achieved notable successes. In the state of Bavaria and the city of Hamburg, the principles of direct democracy have been adopted, allowing ordinary citizens not only to challenge legislation passed by the administration, but also to initiate new legislation (a right enjoyed by the Swiss for 200 years!).
The other organization behind the Rostock conference was 'eurotopia', which began life 11 years ago as the 'Transnational Working Group for a Comprehensive Peace Politics in Europe'. eurotopia has a special connection with Rostock. In early May of 1991, the 'First Working Conference for Direct Democracy and the Abolition of Armies in Europe' took place there. 35 men and women from 5 European countries founded the 'Movement for a Non-Violent Europe' with a commitment to direct democracy, demilitarisation, ecology and solidarity.
This is only 18 months after the fall of the Berlin Wall. On 26th November of that year – 1989 – a citizen's initiative in Switzerland led to a referendum on a proposal to abolish the Swiss army. It was not carried, but an astonishing 36% of the voters supported the proposal. A similar initiative – to abolish the 'Volksarmee' – was coincidentally launched around the same time in Mecklenburg, the state of which Rostock is the capital. Representatives of both these initiatives met and became founder-members of the 'Movement for a Non-Violent Europe' at the first Rostock conference in 1991.
Later that same year, the name of the movement was changed to 'eurotopia'. Since then 18 more conferences have been held all over Europe and one in the U.S. This year's conference – the 20th – returned to Rostock, the movement's spiritual home. It brought together old friends and new enthusiasts in a restatement of its core concerns: the need for both direct and transnational democracy – even more urgent now than ever before in view of the march of globalisation and its violent opposition and of the political and economic integration of Europe, carried forward without democratic consultation or accountability. The current malaise confirms the validity of the thesis first expounded at the eurotopia conference held in Edinbugh in May 1994: “No democracy without Europe; no Europe without democracy” – the conviction that transnational (i.e. in the European context 'pan-European') direct democracy is essential to the future of Europe and that the guarantee of European democracy lies in a future European constitution.
As yet still in draft form, the fruit of Rostock 2001 will be a document outlining what needs to be done to safeguard European democracy against the widespread democratic deficit and the particular challenge of economic globalisation. It represents the positive pole to the negative one of Gothenburg – the route of peaceful, constructive argument as opposed to the ultimately self-destructive route of violence. It seeks to save the idea(l) of an integrated, co-operative, genuinely democratic Europe both from those who see in the current EU only a negative force and from those politicians who, once elected, show only contempt for the democratic process.
This is 'eurotopia' – not the 'no place' of Utopia, but the 'good place' of Eutopia.
© 2001 Paul Carline
Paul Carline was born in 1944 near Manchester, England. He studied German and Russian at Manchester University and later took a teaching qualification at Cambridge. He has taught in Rudolf Steiner schools and in various Camphill schools and villages. He also ran a kite and juggling shop in Edinburgh for 8 years! For the past three years he has been studying, writing about, translating books and articles about and giving occasional talks about evolution theory. He also plays in a ceilidh band (mainly Scottish and Irish music).
You can write to Paul Carline at: [email protected]