by Alexandra Sverrisson, faz
The second guest lecture at this year’s SOFIMUN conference was held by the Culture and Press Department’s chef of the German Embassy in Sofia Mr. Matthias Dehner. Fitting conceptually to yesterday’s presentation on the open source form of education, it covered the topic of the new wave of civic activity. The main question revolved around the recent protest movements and their impact on world politics.
Just in the last 3 years we have witnessed quite a few tendencies of this sort. Dehner’s overview summarized what has happened on a global scale. The first massive event was the Arab Spring that broke out in late 2010. The revolutionary wave of demonstrations, protests and riots is believed to be catalysed by the self-immolation and later on death of Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian struggling with unemployment and poverty. The dissatisfaction with the government in power and the system as a whole spread like wild fire over the borders of Tunisia into Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. In 2011 the Israelis expressed their frustration with the cost of living, the inefficacy of the health and education systems as well as the social gap between the rich and the poor through mass demonstrations. Later on, the people of Spain, India, Turkey, Brazil and Bulgaria all engaged themselves in the political and social reality by means of riots and protests.
Presenting this historical background, Dehner prompted the participants to take part in a dynamic discussion about the differences and similarities between those events. Firstly, the Chair José Antonio Villena Sierra mentioned media influence as a crucial point of divergence. Media reactions differ in the way they covered demonstrations and riots, reporting some of them and ignoring others. The Secretary General Manolis Batistakis noted that, for example, the Arab Spring was triggered by the disastrous situation in Russia, where fires burned huge territories and damaged wheat plantations. His point was that the lack of food for export played a huge role in the crisis. Furthermore, there are recognizable differences in the police reaction to those massive movements. In Turkey, for example, the police forces acted quite aggressively, while Bulgarian policemen showed respect and support for their fellow citizens.
Similarities were recognized in the global dissatisfaction with the old status quo. The reactions showed the culmination of increasing tension and the willingness of the youth to take the initiative. Also, in most cases the social unrest started with relatively small issues and escalated quickly into huge challenges for the government. Social media played a great role for the events as well, giving voice to otherwise neglected actors or uncovered by the traditional media topics. Basic democratic values were also a key mark. Rule of the people is the new way of governing that compensates for the government’s failure to meet citizens’ expectations.
Further the participants discussed whether the movements are mostly started by the middle class or not, giving a variety of different points of view. In the end, the German representative summed up what his country and other delegates can do to support the new movements. Social inclusion values, transparency, encouragement of civic participation are just a few the key elements that should be implemented in their political activity.