Does democracy have a future?
A number of Finland 100 projects are assessing the state of democracy in Finland and pursuing new ways to participate and exert influence. By innovative means, the projects are seeking answers to pressing questions facing Finland and the whole world: Does democracy have a future? Is democracy in crisis? Is its operating system out-dated?
Finland 100 Democracy Weeks
The Democracy Weeks will be held at the end of March. During the event, a number of citizens’ juries will be arranged, and papers and studies published on the future of democracy. The Democracy Weeks will end on 30 March with a seminar, at which will be awarded the Ministry of Justice’s Democracy Prize and the Ministry of Finance’s Democracy Recognition, whose common theme in 2017 is partnership. The Democracy Prize, being awarded for the fourth time, is granted to civil society bodies or actors that promote democracy. Democracy Recognition, on the other hand, is being awarded for the third time, and it is based on the Finland’s Open Government Partnership initiative.
“The crisis of liberal democracy has stimulated lots of discussion in recent times both in Finland and internationally,” says Niklas Wilhelmsson from the Ministry of Justice. “Research shows, however, that Finnish democracy is still held in high esteem. In international comparisons of democracy, Finland is also ranked among the top countries in the world. Despite this, democracy is facing radical change, and new forms of participation are needed alongside traditional representative democracy. Forms of direct participation, such as citizens’ initiatives, have increased people’s satisfaction with the effectiveness of democracy.”
Municipalities of the future
For one hundred years, the Finns have developed their country and resolved matters together in, among other places, the municipalities. In a municipal election year and amidst the turbulence of the health and social services reform in Finland, the particularly topical work The Municipality of the Future outlines what the municipalities were like before, what their significance is now and what the municipalities of the future will be like. Over 50 researchers and hands-on developers participated in creating the book, which arose through a collaborative effort of the University of Tampere, the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities and the Ministry of Finance. The work was published on 21 March 2017.
“Municipalities and the participation of municipal residents will also play a key role in the democracy of the future,” comments Inga Nyholm from the Ministry of Finance. “Since their time of origin, the municipalities have been communities close to their residents and have been responsible for local democracy as well as services and well-being. In the future, it will be increasingly important whether all municipal residents gain the experience of influencing matters. It is also essential how the municipalities facilitate and utilise new forms of civic participation. The democracy of the future will not only be about voting, but about working together.”
Our Election is a series of election panels to be held around Finland in March of the centenary year of Finland’s independence. The events will highlight issues affecting all municipal residents, including the themes of multiculturalism and equal participation. The Our Election campaign is part of the Finland 100 programme Multicultural Independence.
“At the heart of democracy is the idea that power lies with the people,” says Margareta Tahvanainen from Moniheli organisation. “Power can only be exercised if there are opportunities to participate. In Finland today, this means also recognising immigrants as part of the nation. Democracy rests on respecting others and on a culture of discussion in which everyone has an equal opportunity to express their own thoughts and also sufficient knowledge about the fact that participation is possible.”
Constructive social discussion
Sitra’s Timeout project provides space to stop and consider issues that require more constructive social discussion. Groups and individuals are invited to Timeout events to engage in discussion about, among other things, work, immigration, land use planning and taxation. The goal is to strengthen people’s participation, trust in each other, understanding of future development trends and their engagement in decision-making.
“Together, we can build a better future for democracy,” says Elina Kiiski Kataja from Sitra. “There is no single magic solution for strengthening democracy; many things must be improved at the same time. We need, for example, fairness discussion, dialogue tools, leaps of faith, an updated operating system and a real dose of courage to examine global and local solutions open-mindedly. If we value democracy, we must be able as a society to perform better than now.”
The Parliament of the Future project is seeking new ways of implementing democracy and handling joint issues. The event, to be held in Porvoo on 4 May, will ask the questions: What kind of political actors will the new age demand? Where are the political start-ups, the culture of experimentation and the best new ideas? What could institutions learn from alternative political thinkers?
“Does democracy have a future?,” asks Sanna Kalinen from the Parliament of the Future. “It does not, unless its centuries’ old operating system is updated. Influence via the political parties alone no longer offers most citizens a sufficiently effective channel to influence decision-making. Saving democracy demands continuous dialogue with citizens, more direct channels of participation, in-depth understanding and utilisation of phenomena such as digitalisation and artificial intelligence, and renewal of the political parties. This is not just required to a limited extent; it is essential. And the responsibility lies with each of us.”
The Fate of Democracy project asks what democracy is, now and in the Finland of the future. The project seeks answers to these questions through a collection of essays, public discussion forums and a TV documentary. An extensive opinion survey commissioned on the theme provides material for the collection of essays. Moreover, citizens’ forums to be held in various parts of Finland will bring different people together to consider ways of life and an understanding of living together. To culminate the project, a documentary film Democracy in the Crossfire will be produced, drawing on the ideas that have arisen in the other elements of the project. The film will be broadcast on Independence Day.
The Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences’ 100-year old Finland: A Leading Country for Freedom of Speech project challenges Finns through journalism and humour to see how important an atmosphere for constructive discussion and respect for the freedom of speech of others are for common success. The project consists of an online magazine, a tour of 12 towns and cities, and a book covering the two.