DEMOCRACY OR DESPOTISM? The Renaissance of Dark Powers
Thursday, 14 September 2017, Orangery Sanssouci, Potsdam
Moderator of the day: Dr. Leonard Novy
Under the heading “Democracy or Despotism? The Renaissance of the Dark Powers”, around 70 participants discussed the effects of current political developments, the situation after the first nine months of the Trump presidency and the future of the media.
The M100 Sanssouci Colloquium was opened by the multiple award-winning Turkish journalist Can Dündar. The former editor-in-chief of the Turkish daily newspaper Cumhuriyet has launched the bilingual journalistic platform Özgürüz in 2017 in cooperation with the non-profit research network Correctiv. In his keynote, which was published exclusively on the first page of the feuilleton of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, he warned Europe and the federal government as well as the candidate for chancellor of the SPD, Martin Schulz against turning away from Turkey: “Europe should not abandon Turkey.”
This is exactly what the Turkish president wanted to achieve, he added, as it would put German politics in Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s hands.It was time for Europe, and Germany in particular, to distinguish Turkey and Erdogan from each other. “The other Turkey: this is a country that suffers, is oppressed and yet continues to resist,” Dündar said.
Erdogan has gained his power not in spite of, but thanks to the West. “Since one mistakenly saw a moderate Islamic potential where this did not exist, the West relied on this non-existent moderation to keep the radicals in check.” That was a fatal error.
Even today, the West and the EU continue to contribute to autocratic developments in Turkey. “Stable despotism is better for international capital than democratic chaos,” said Dündar. Europe closes its eyes to oppression in Turkey and abandons the pro-Western, modern part of Turkish society.
Today, the European Union is no longer of central importance. Now it is up to the Union of Democrats. Dündar: “We must get globalisation going again, but this time for freedom.” Dündar believes Erdogan will use Europe’s rejection to fuel the fire of anti-Western sentiment in Turkey. He concluded his speech with an appeal to the West: “It is time for Europe, and Germany in particular, to distinguish Turkey and Erdogan from each other and learn to treat them differently. The other Turkey is a country that is suffering”, he explained. “A country “oppressed yet still resisting and defending democracy, freedom and secularism to the very last breath”.
SESSION I: THE DAWNING OF A NEW AGE
Input: Prof. Dr. Andreas Rödder (Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz)
Moderation: Astrid Frohloff (TV Moderator, ARD)
Moderated by TV journalist Astrid Frohloff, the first session discussed the emerging global divide between functioning parliamentary democracies and authoritarian governments. Over the last 10 years of crisis, instead of close, peaceful cohesion between the member states of the European Union, we have witnessed the rise of nationalist movements and centrifugal tendencies in the EU. With the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump, long-established structures and certainties are in question.
Referring to Can Dündar’s opening speech, Martin Kotthaus, Head of the European Department at the Federal Foreign Office, emphasized the EU’s long-standing relations with Turkey and the efforts leading to them, not least through the accession negotiations. He underlined Germany’s comprehensive efforts to maintain traditionally good relations with Turkey at a high level and to promote dialogue, despite the setbacks in recent months –notably the ongoing imprisonment of German journalists and others. Regarding the future of the EU and Europe’s prospects, Kotthaus concluded that the last 12 months had falsified many negative predictions. The Brexit did not divide the EU-27, but on the contrary demonstrated the great advantages the EU member states had of the EU and therefore brought them closer together. This is reflected in the Bratislava and Rome agenda.
The second part of the meeting focused on a constructive plan and outlook for the future of Europe. Italian journalist Annalisa Piras referred to the collective failure of European media and politicians to explain the real dimension of the challenges facing Europe. It called for solutions to counter this gap in consciousness, as well as actions instead of just reactions to current challenges.
Dr. Andreas Rödder, Professor of Contemporary History at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, gave an overview of the perspectives of an “ever closer union” of Europe and outlined the history of the EU. Rödder also highlighted the emergence of new actors, such as North Korea, Turkey, Russia or China, and points out the Western internal crisis. Rödder concluded that it was not the time for a global West, but that it was time to stick to principles and an attitude of openness: “The moral charge of an ‘ever closer union’ has exaggerated the European Union’s great idea of an ideology,” Rödder said. “This deprives her of the willingness to self-criticism and the ability to correct – and jeopardizes her unique historical achievements. What Europe needs is a wise mix of realism and ideas – a flexible and open-minded Union to preserve its priceless achievements”.
Kotthaus contradicted Rödder’s statement that the negative Brexit referendum was more due to the EU than Great Britain itself. The slow progress in the exit negotiations was also not due to Brussels but to the difficulties in London in finding a closed negotiating line. The EU does not intend to punish the UK, which has decided to leave the EU, but seeks the closest possible relationship – within the red lines of the British government. At the same time, the EU must ensure that the internal market and cohesion of the EU27 are preserved. It makes a difference whether a state is a member of the EU or a third country. According to Kotthaus, there is no sign that Great Britain will make the exit from Brexit. The Bratislava and Rome agendas place particular emphasis, with good reason, on an EU that delivers and achieves concrete improvements in the lives of its citizens.
Mark Leonard, co-founder and director of the European Council of Foreign Relations (ECFR) is optimistic about the current situation of Europeans. Europe has already overcome last year’s pessimistic questions about the survival and existence of the EU and is now in a state of refoundation and reinvention. Instead of paying too much attention to failures such as the Brexit, it gives priority to building a future EU. “We must reinvent the European project,” he appealed.
Michal Kobosko, Director of the Wroclaw Global Forum at Atlantic Council, provided insights into the Polish perspective and questioned the concept of a more flexible Union: Polish nationalism simply does not want the EU to interfere in its internal affairs. In contrast, Poland’s liberal society prefers a less flexible but rather strong and clear European Union.
Simon Shuster, head of the Berlin office of Time Magazine, said the West overestimates autocratic regimes and underestimates democratic systems. Belarus, Russia and others are attracted by European values. He says that alarming stories sell better, but reality looks different.
Tobias Endler from the Heidelberg Center for American Studies is an expert on European relations with the USA. In his view, Europe was an opportunity for the US, but Europe did not have the US in sight. “Europe is not a big issue in Washington,” he said. Moderator Astrid Frohloff suggested that Trump’s policy could perhaps also lead to a strengthening of the EU. Kassandra Becker and Susanne Zels of the young grassroots think tank Polis180, cooperation partner of this year’s M100SC, presented their study “Economic Uncertainty & Perspectives towards the EU”. It says that today’s young generation is the first to have a lower standard of living than the previous generation, combined with the question of what can be done to prevent them from becoming Eurosceptic. Their vision for an alternative Europe implies the need for a new narrative, characterized not only by peace but also by solidarity and security, including both an economic and social union and the need for a European army.
Andreas Rödder denied the thesis of a lower standard of living. In his closing remarks he said that what Europe needed now was a concept for European ideas and an open debate. History teaches us that there will be no liberal world order and that the West should not continue on global missions.
Session II: FAILING DEMOCRACY?
Input I: Prof. Jason Brennan (Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics and Political Science, McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, USA)
Input II: Viktor Eerofejev (Writer, Russia)
Moderation: Christoph Lanz (Journalist and Media Adviser, Germany)
Liberal democracy is experiencing a serious global crisis. More and more citizens are turning away from it and towards alternative, undemocratic parties and movements.
Against this backdrop, Session II discussed the state of our current democracy. Faced with increasing populism and authoritarianism, the participants asked how crisis-proof liberal democracies are, whether the populists have reached the zenith of their success and what needs to change in order to win back disappointed citizens for democracy.
Moderator Christoph Lanz started the session with a quote by the philosopher Karl Popper: “Our Western democracy is an unprecedented success. The result is that more and more people have a better, freer, more beautiful and longer life than ever before. The question, according to Lanz, is whether this mechanism still works today. The answers varied greatly, from optimistic to pessimistic.
Lorenz Hemicker of FAZ said that European companies need to work more together when it comes to challenges. The editor-in-chief of Profil Christian Rainer argued that there is already too much direct democracy at the moment, as the Brexit has demonstrated. “We must rethink representative democracy, otherwise it will rethink itself, and what then emerges could no longer be democracy,” he warned.
In contrast, Ljiljana Smajlovic from Serbia emphasised that not only populists may be held responsible for everything, but that self-criticism is also necessary. “We call all those we don’t like and who are elected populists,” she said.
Götz Hamann observed that although the political debate is growing, the challenge is to find new ways to compromise. Christopher Walker, Vice-President for Studies and Analysis of the National Endowment for Democracy, said it was necessary to analyse the challenges more precisely in order to find solutions. Surprisingly, democratic hopes in countries such as Russia or Tunisia have not materialized, to the contrary, the situation is becoming increasingly depressing. Therefore, it is important to identify the deeper reasons for such developments.
In the following input, Prof. Jason Brennan (Georgetown University) put forward the provocative thesis that only educated people should have the right to vote. He said: “Democracy is the rule of the many, but what if many do not know what they are doing?” Brennan, author of the book “Against Democracy”, prefers the rule of the knowledgeable to the rule of the many. He describes most voters as “hobbits” without stable ideology, a sense of political interests, the ability to judge or any participation. However, voters with strong ideologies and interests – the so-called hooligans – would hate parties that differ from their ideology. From Brennan’s point of view, both voting behaviour is unfavourable, but understandable: “Voters have no sense of politics,” he says, “they are only interested in their own interests. Most voters simply do not benefit from participation in political processes; their individual vote is irrelevant and does not change anything. Moreover, people’s voting behaviour is biased because they seek information that confirms their opinion instead of being informed – the so-called distortion of confirmation. Brennan countered the objection that bad voting behaviour is attributed to the voter’s feeling of being left behind by politics, pointing to various statistics and studies. Brennan’s solution is to let everyone vote, but also to include voter demographics to assess the impact on their voting behaviour.
Dr. Tobias Endler noted that the problem was a rather low election turnout and questioned Brennan’s criteria for a good voter. Mark Leonard was particularly critical of Brennan’s thesis that there is no reason for voters to feel left behind and to distinguish between relative and absolute utility. Even if people feel better in absolute figures, they can feel left behind when they see that others are still doing better.
Brennan replied that the study reveals that the very points against which voters are rebelling are actually good for them. He also expressed concern that voters will decide not only for themselves but also for him: “In a democracy, you don’t decide for yourself but for everyone what makes things a question of justice – we owe it to each other to make good decisions, even if you don’t owe it to yourself to make good decisions.
Georgian journalist Vazha Tavberidze, editor-in-chief of the Georgian Journal, noted that most problems were caused because phenomena such as the rise of Donald Trump or the Brexiteers were underestimated by the elites. Western democracy may not have failed, but it has a lot to do.
In the second part of the session, Russian writer Victor Yerofeev gave an input on the subject of “Against stupidity” and argued that dark powers, such as the French National Front, should simply be banned. He finds that “Western democracy currently looks poor. It is like a tree without roots and falling leaves. Post-Soviet nations such as Ukraine or Georgia or pro-European movements in Russia wanted to follow Europe, which shares the same values. But Western democracy had become a simulacrum and running after it was the same as running after a ghost.
Jevhen Hlibovytsky, member of the Ukrainian public broadcasting board, added the problem of democratic systems in the EU: security is taken for granted and there is no conscience for democratic values and freedoms. Therefore, education is the only solution. People need to learn causes and effects so that they can choose more consciously. In this context, Polis 180 addressed the relevance of the younger generation, whose voter turnout was too low according to the study. That is why the grassroots think tank is leading an action plan with major change objectives such as more flexibility for party engagement, more cooperation between parties, lowering the voting age and more political education.
Session III: THE NEW(S) MEDIA
Input I: Mathias Müller von Blumencron (Editor-in-Chief Digital Media, FAZ, Germany)
Input II: Áine Kerr (Manager, Journalism Partnerships, Facebook, USA)
Moderation: Ali Aslan (TV Moderator and Journalist, Germany)
The world is facing a crisis of public communication that is not the result of a lack of information, but of a “communicative wealth” that blurs truth and illusion. At the same time, freedom of the press and freedom of expression is increasingly threatened by autocratic countries such as Russia and Turkey, but also by established democracies in which independent media and journalists are increasingly subject to restrictions. Against this backdrop, the third session “The New(s) Media” dealt with the challenges for journalism in view of the rapidly changing political, social and technical conditions and with concrete measures against fake news and hate speech.
Leonard Novy presented the meeting with reference to current paradoxical developments. With an unprecedented coverage, the media are often better than ever in their reporting, more successful, more independent and more transparent, while freedom of the press and institutional capacity for the press are declining overall in the face of difficult economic conditions. All this at a time when fake news is on the rise and the media and increasingly targeted attacks on media delegitimisation are increasingly criticised by populist actors. Under the moderation of Ali Aslan, the participants discussed about the current status and respect for journalism and the future of journalism.
Mathias Müller von Blumencron, Editor-in-Chief Digital Media of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, mitigated in his input the role of social media in the spread of hate speech. Anger is not an invention of the digital world, but of people.
While measures against hate speech are viable, fake news poses more difficult challenges. First, the definition of fake messages is arbitrary, and it is not clear who can decide on true and false information. Second, social media platforms such as Facebook are private institutions making their own rules more or autonomously. Thirdly, fake news based on freedom of expression is not illegal and should therefore be accepted. Müller von Blumencron nevertheless advocates the use of technical means to identify credible sources and ranking systems. Some participants, such as Monika Garbačiauskaitė-Budrienė, editor-in-chief of the Lithuanian news platform Delfi.lt, or the editor-in-chief of Koha Ditore, Agron Bajrami, contradicted Müller von Blumencron and stressed the importance of state intervention to limit counterfeit news due to its extreme risk.
The manager of the Global Journalism Project of Facebook, Aine Kerr, then gave insights into Facebook’s measures in the fight against fake news and hate speech. She emphasized in particular the role of Facebook as an alternative platform and not as a medium, as it involves different responsibilities. Since Facebook is mainly used for news feeds and information, the platform offers a number of rules and measures against hate speech and fake news. Facebook and the news industry will be more closely linked to develop products together, to learn from journalists how they can become better partners and how people can become informed readers in the digital age, Kerr said.
Annalisa Piras, Director of The Wake Up Foundation, explained a fundamental problem with Facebook. The platform is not a publisher, but behaves like a traditional medium and receives the money from advertising companies. In this context, information has evolved from a public good to a commodity in an attention-driven market. As a result, algorithms are created regardless of the intentions and truth of the information and the business is driven by the pressure to get as many clicks as possible. Piras therefore called for a new prioritization of information in the news feed. Instead of information based on the number of clicks, the focus should be on the truth.
Aine Kerr replied that Facebook wanted the newsfeed to be designed to reduce the frequency of low quality news in the future. She also recommended supporting a private group for journalists on Facebook called “News Media Unpublishing” with feedback and updates.
M100 Media Award to Natalia Sindeeva
The 13th M100 Sanssouci Colloquium ended with the festive presentation of the M100 Media Award to the founder and managing director of Doshd TV, Natalya Sindeeva.
Following the cancellation of Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel due to illness, his State Secretary Walter J. Lindner gave the main political speech of the glamorous evening. He addressed Natalya Sindeeva, who operates the last remaining independent TV channel in Russia with her channel founded in 2010, with a clear commitment to freedom of the press: “Keep up the good work! It is important that there are good people, like today’s winner, who always run the risk of being harassed. It is fundamental that we stand behind these people”.
Unlike the majority of government-related media in Russia, Doshd-TV (Rain-TV) also allows voices critical of the government to have their say. In 2011, Doshd TV attracted international attention when it was the only Russian channel to report extensively on the protests following the 2011 Russian parliamentary elections. In recent years, Sindejewa and her employees have come under increasing pressure. In the meantime, the transmitter has been removed from all cable and satellite networks and can only be received on the Internet. Advertisers jump off by the dozen under pressure from the Russian government, and the rental contract for the studio was terminated head over heels.
The laudatory speech to Natalya Sindeeva was given by Tanit Koch, editor-in-chief of the Bild Zeitung. Koch emphasized the role of Doshd TV: “In three words, your channel is the other Russia. Because the other Russia exists. Wild, creative, liberal, intellectual and critical. Doshd TV is his medium”. At the end of her speech, Tanit Koch addressed the prizewinner directly: “Natalya Sindeeva, I am humbled by her courage”.
In her acceptance speech, Natalya Sindeeva called on the European press representatives present to live honesty, courage and openness, but above all to protect human dignity as the most important good for both people and the media. To succeed without forgetting what is most important in life, namely dignity, is fundamental to us at Doshd.” She went on to say: “I would like to be appreciated for our work in Russia as well.”
More than 460 articles, articles and mentions about the M100 Sanssouci Colloquium appeared in German media in 2017, including Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Tagesspiegel, ZEIT Online, BILD, dpa, rbb, 3sat Kultur, Deutsche Welle, Radio1 and many more. In addition, there are about 100 mentions in foreign media and online platforms.
This year’s event was sponsored by the City of Potsdam, the Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, the Federal Foreign Office and the National Endowment for Democracy. Sponsors were medienlabor and Facebook. Cooperation partners: Polis 180, Reporters Without Borders, Sourcefabrik, Stiftung Preußische Schlösser und Gärten Berlin-Brandenburg and VDZ.