International Day of Democracy

This blog post is part of the series, where the board members of UN Youth of Helsinki write about the themes of United Nations International Days. This blog post is written by Helmi Soininvaara, who studies Social Studies and serves as an environmental attendant on the board.

International Day of Democracy, 15th September 2018


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The International Day of Democracy is marked on the 15th of September each year to bring attention to the ideals of democratic inclusivity in the political sphere. The theme of this year’s International Day of Democracy is ‘Democracy Under Strain: Solutions for a Changing World’. The theme captures the concerns of many in the contemporary world: Can democracy survive the trends of slow economic growth and poor distribution of income, political instability and threatening climate change?

In the 1990’s, the hopeful narrative of the 20th century was the victory of liberal democracy over authoritarianism at the end of the Cold War. Francis Fukuyama, a political scientist, in particular, came to be known for his theory of the “end of history” – that Western liberal democracy would be the endpoint of the sociocultural development of human societies. Today that narrative is assuming a new chapter: the decline of liberal democracy and the rise of harsher politics of fear and prejudice. The championing of liberal democracy now inevitably seems like a naïve dream destined to be crashed.
A central assumption of the “end of history” approach was that in time, capitalist economic systems (or “free trade”) would lead to democracy. It was assumed that economic growth would create a middle class capable of demanding political rights and that prosperity would turn over the oppressive practices of rulers. The most glaring example contrary to this view is China, where economic growth and a rising middle class haven’t undermined the authority of the Communist party regime this far. In other parts of the world once predicted to move towards liberal democracy, progress has been slow too: the region of the Arab Spring revolts remains as unstable as ever and former Soviet Russia is now tightly under Vladimir Putin’s grip.

The decades since the end of the Cold War have also seen a rise in illiberal democracies, such as Hungary and Poland in Europe. Under the pretence of democratic institutions, demagogues and strongmen cash in on dissatisfaction and claim to lead their nations back to prosperity, often reinforcing nationalistic juxtapositions. The populist fury can be seen as a failure of democratic institutions to protect their subjects amid the wins and losses of economic competition. Free trade has contributed to political discontent since, albeit all its benefits, a lack of redistribution has excluded some from the gains of economic growth.

In protecting democracy, it is vital to tackle political and economic inequalities, come up with credible solutions to issues such as climate change and migration, and promote voter participation. Democracy is an idea worth striving for, which is what this day is focusing our minds on.

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