The public debates in Bratislava and Banská Bystrica, which took place on 15 October 2014 as part of the Prague FORUM 2000 conference, tackled the issue of discontent with the current state of democracy.
Speakers in both cities generally agreed that discontent in democracy is natural and we should even celebrate that democracy allows us to be dissatisfied. However, good reasons for caution remained, and both debates ended with a strong call for awareness and civic activism.
In Bratislava, Martin Bútora, honorary president of the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO), said that the crisis of confidence in democracy is not an isolated Slovak phenomenon, but it has also swept established liberal societies. Rastislav Káčer, honorary president of the Central European Strategy Council, pointed out that history is not linear and that we might end up in a dead end if we accumulate too many mistakes. He also identified a total erosion of responsibility as one of the roots of the crisis of democracy, at least in the Slovak context. Speakers agreed that this was particularly worrisome under the twin pressures of European populism and Russian expansionism, which is supported by a massive propaganda seeking to exploit the grievances in the Western publics.
In Banská Bystrica, Grigorij Mesežnikov, president of IVO, said that problems inevitably arise when people start looking for extreme solutions. This point was particularly topical in Banská Bystrica, a region governed by the right-wing extremist Marian Kotleba. Several panellists touched upon the issue of apathy among the general public, as well as on people’s dissatisfaction with mainstream parties, which were the major factors behind Kotleba’s rise to power. According to Vladimír Pirošík, lawyer and civic activist, this might be caused by the absence of a major political ambition that would spark the imagination of the people. In the past, such goals included the desire for freedom from communist oppression or the “return to Europe” through entry into the European Union and NATO.
Martin Bútora ended the Bratislava debate on a positive note, saying that he could see a lot of new leaders, both at home and abroad, as well as new activities, ideas and issues worth fighting for. The new generation was represented in both cities and included the young designer Jakub Ptačin, as well as creative producer Zora Jaurová and the leader of the Open Society Foundation Marek Kapusta. Very much felt was also the new wave of Central Europe’s excitement about start-ups, whose entrepreneurial courage embodies the virtues of liberal democracy and market economy. Although such groups of activists often remain fragmented and do not communicate between each other, Mr. Bútora believes that this positive trend is unstoppable.
The debates were organised by the Institute for Public Affairs together with the Slovak Atlantic Commission, a member of the Central European Strategy Council.