Last week European Alternatives' co-director, Niccolò Milanese, attended the Believe in Dialogue, Act for Citizenship conference organised by the Anna Lindh Foundation– a Euro-mediterranean foundation for dialogue between cultures- in Tunis (Tunisia).
200 agents and associations from the civil society promoting democracy and freedom from an intercultural perspective were present. This meeting was the occasion to exchange on the challenges euromediteranean societies are facing in terms of citizenship in today’s context of democratic transition and social change.
Following Niccolò Milanese’s meeting with activists from Tunisia and Egypt, below is an open letter he wrote to them, calling for future collaboration. Read Ahmad Badawy's response here from Egyptian Democratic Academy !
It was a pleasure and an honour to meet you at in Tunis last weekend during the conference Believe in Dialogue, Act for Citizenship.
I was inspired by your stories of commitment and passion for change, and moved by your sacrifices and courage. The young people of Egypt and Tunisia have taken a major step in your nations’ histories, and yet it is clear that the fight for democracy is still not won, and courage and endurance will be required to fully overcome the horrors of the old regimes without falling into new dictatorships.
In listening to you and speaking with you, however, two thoughts continued to disquiet me, and it is of these that I take the liberty of writing to you. The first is to emphasise how much hope and inspiration you have given to young people throughout Europe. I am sure you have seen the placards in Madrid and Athens saying ‘This is our Tahrir square’ or the slogans ‘Tunis, Cairo, Brussels’ written on the walls of the European capital, but perhaps you have not fully internalised their meanings. Although almost all of Europe with the exception of Belarus no longer has murderous dictatorships, the young people of our continent see in your uprisings a signal of hope for their own situations: that the people rising up together can overcome the forces that oppress them, young people in particular, who face joblessness, lack of prospects, or the loss of previous securities. The youth of Europe looks to you in admiration, and the protests and sit-ins throughout Europe have been an emulation and an attempt to adapt your successful actions to our own situation.
This leads me to my second disquiet, which is more profound. I understand that the prize of achieving true parliamentary democracies in your countries is so important, and risks being so fragile, that you are intensely focused on realising it. But I would urge you to think further, and to ask whether parliamentary democracy such as you see in Europe or America is all that you want.
Parliamentary democracy is not working properly in Europe, and in particular it is failing young people. 20 or 30 years of apathy created by our system have led to the disenfranchisement of a generation who now realise that there are no political leaders or political parties who represent them or their interests. In all European countries there is an oligarchy which rules, and the choice between the existing political parties is becoming less and less significant. Finally, the most crucial decisions over the future of our economies are now barely in the control of the parliaments at all, but are rather dictated by the neoliberal logic of a system represented by the International Monetary Fund and the European Union in its current form. This has led the young people to the street, without any clear alternative system to call for.
It is with these thoughts in mind that the young people of Europe are looking to you with hope. Hope that an alternative form of democracy, based on citizen participation, can be invented by you who by your own efforts to have the chance to take part in the design of a new system, and by you young Tunisians and Egyptians who have brought change in your own countries with web 2.0 technologies and popular mobilisation, and who have inspired change and uprisings beyond your own frontiers.
Achieving parliamentary democracy will be a first, and major, step for your countries. But beyond that you must seek to avoid the mistakes we have committed in Europe and which have led to our current situation. We must work together to ensure that democracy is built across the Mediterranean, as well as within each Mediterranean country, because our globalised world is no longer one of distinct sovereignties.
In this perspective I finish this letter with an invitation to you to enter into dialogue with your peers throughout Europe on precisely
this question: how can we work together to make a better democracy for the future, for all of us? I understand you have pressing tasks ahead of you all in the months that come, and in Europe we as well are facing historic circumstances, but we must find the time to think to the future, a common democratic future. My own organisation, European Alternatives, will do all it can to make this possible, and I know that young people and organisations from throughout Europe will eagerly take part alongside us.
Yours with all my respect
Niccolò Milanese in Tunis, June 23rd