"The Challenges of Liberal Democracy Today" | Academic Conference
In an ever-changing political environment, marked by the rise of extreme anti-democratic voices in Europe, the aggressiveness of autocratic regimes, and the dangerous prevalence of populism in Europe and globally, liberal democracy is called upon to confront a series of risks that hinder the preservation of its values.
On Monday and Tuesday, December 4th and 5th, the scientific conference "The Challenges of Liberal Democracy Today" took place at the National Foundation for Research. The Center for Liberal Studies, the Center for Political Research at Panteion University, and the Laboratory of Political and Institutional Theory and History of Ideas, belonging to the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, organized the conference with the support of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom in Greece and Cyprus. The conference focused on ways in which Europe can become more resilient against threats to freedom and defend liberal democracy.
The program featured presentations on various topics by young researchers who analyzed the challenges of liberal democracy today. They also proposed actions that civil society and individual citizens can take to overcome threats to the values of liberal democracy, along with interventions by reputable academics. The speeches were followed by constructive dialogue among speakers and conference participants.
A central panel discussion on "The Challenges of Liberal Democracy Today" included representatives from the organizing institutions.
The Conflict between Autocracy and Democracy
Martin Kothe, Regional Director for East and Southern Europe & Project Director for Bulgaria, North Macedonia, and Greece at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, highlighted the increasing tensions in Eastern Europe between autocracy and democracy. Autocratic leaders are portrayed as bearers of simple solutions, power, and identity. These leaders tend to be supported by segments of the population that often feel excluded or betrayed by the democratic system, exacerbating the conflict. Additionally, from the liberal perspective of the Foundation, the speaker sees political identity as a powerful tool for minority groups, especially the LGBTQ+ community. By providing people with a platform to express themselves, political identity becomes a means of empowerment, liberating them from the role of mere victims in a society that may oppose them.
The speaker noted that the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine exposes the true nature of autocratic regimes, emphasizing the urgent need to address autocratic regimes and human rights violations. Simultaneously, this tragedy underscores the commitment of liberal forces to resist autocracy and defend democratic values.
The Threat of Populism
Vasiliki Georgiadou, Professor at the Department of Political Science and History at Panteion University, presented the historical context regarding the contemporary challenges of liberal democracies, highlighting the spread of populism as the dominant political theme of the 21st century. She emphasized that populism appears in both left-wing and right-wing political scenes.
Left-wing populism focuses on supporting grassroots movements and citizen participation in decision-making processes. In contrast, right-wing populism focuses on issues of law and order, expressing hostility towards cultural diversity and social values.
Regarding right-wing populism in Europe, the speaker observed a rapid rise in influence in the 21st century. The European elections of 2014 marked the beginning of the infiltration of right-wing movements into the political scene. Right-wing populism has become an established force in both economically prosperous European countries and more vulnerable countries in the south.
She highlighted the challenge posed by right-wing populism, which questions the foundations of liberal democracy. Right-wing populism is seen as challenging the principles of equality, human rights, representative institutions, and the rule of law. The concern is focused on the resilience of democracy against the ideas promoted by right-wing populism.
Liberalism as a Gift of Western Civilization and a Return to the Foundations of Liberal Democracy
In the context of the conference, Alexandros Skouras, President of the Center for Liberal Studies, praised the significance of liberalism and highlighted some critical challenges facing democracy, especially in the context of economic freedom.
Liberalism, as we know it, is one of the greatest gifts of Western Civilization to the world, stated Alexandros Skouras. Starting from the first liberal democracy of the United States, it was built upon European ideas and flourished there. Liberalism allows people to be optimistic, while economic freedom changes the climate of ideas, enabling ordinary people, who were not aristocrats or bureaucrats, to gain social value. This allows them to strive for better lives for themselves and their families.
According to the speaker, there has been a step back in economic freedom, which was a significant element of liberal democracy. Although many organizations and institutes have excelled in various fields, economic freedom either remains unknown or is treated hostilely.
The speaker emphasized that economic freedom is one of the most powerful tools for wealth creation, as it allows free trade and can contribute to reducing poverty worldwide.
In conclusion, Alexandros Skouras argued that it is necessary to return to the foundations of liberal democracy, including individual rights, the rule of law, a free market, free trade, tolerance, and an open society. These values defined liberal democracy, and only by returning to them can we address the challenges facing modern society.