Opinion: What does a democratic Italy mean now?
ROME – Recent affairs have led our country down a path of disinterest in its own true homeland. The pandemic and the war in Ukraine have affected the running of businesses in Italy, as well as the working class who are subsequently not able to lead a good quality of life. To me, the mark left by these recent economic, social, and humanitarian issues, will not easily be wiped away with new and productive forces that attempt to rebuild the fabric of society. Unfortunately, we face living in this debacle for a long time.
Every day, we are witness to tirades on television (and even in newspapers) against journalists, photojournalists, freelancers, parliamentarians, and politicians who are accused of not acting of their own accord on social media, on TV, in newspapers, and platforms from which they launch their propaganda, and it seems, do so underhandly to target politics and information, and are being labelled pro-Russian or Putinist. Though, most probably, they are just people who want to express their opinion freely through an exchange of ideas and a democratic debate.
I find myself asking a question I thought was evident. Do we really live in a democracy? Some take to television to express their opinions. Why should they be condemned for this? It is always better to say what you really think. In fact, as free-thinking people, freedom of expression is one of the fundamental pillars of the democratic process and we should protect this if we want to live in a fair and equal society, not doing so only weakens democracy.
Since the beginning of time, the aim of democracy has always been to establish a pluralistic and tolerant society. However, does the democracy of our time with its current symbolism still hold this same value? I am not completely convinced, I feel that authentic democracy no longer exists, the one that promised to ensure peace, justice, equality, freedom, and coexistence between people, the one that ran through politics, as well as the institutions around which society was structured.
The most important historical passages that have determined the very essence of democracy up to the present-day date back to 5th century Greece. City-states succeeded in involving a certain number of citizens in the affairs of government, recognising the people as having a decisive role in the practice of government. With the ultimate affirmation of the people as the sole legitimate governing authority, the term 'democracy', derived from the union of the words 'demos'-people and ‘kratos'-government, is understood precisely 'as government of the people.’ The history of the best governments throughout modern and contemporary ages is well known; it is enough to recall the contribution of Hobbes and Locke, Montesquieu, or the contribution of utilitarians such as Bentham and Mill, or that of Marx and Engels, Weber and others who have discussed the democratic process, defining its merits, but emphasising its limitations where some have discerned them.
It is clear that, through the process of transformation of politics that has taken place over the centuries, the very notion of democracy itself has undergone changes, passing, for example, from government by the people who take a direct and active part in decision-making to that definition of democracy, which emerged from Rousseau, according to which it is the form of government that comes from the people, is of the people and for the people who exercise it through the institution of representation for the achievement of the common good in a society. This classical theory of democracy was strengthened during the 19th century when parliaments flourished, and the transition from absolute monarchies to constitutional monarchies and then to republican systems made parliament the locus of popular sovereignty, sowing the seeds of the principles of freedom, pluralism of ideas, and free initiatives of the individual.
Nowadays, democracy is experiencing a particularly fragile time, especially if we step outside national borders and look around the world. For example, an increased pressure on human rights organisations, growing intimidation of academics, intellectuals and journalists, and a progressive deterioration of political rights and civil liberties. Does this mean we are heading towards a process whereby the media and civil society are attacked, where political discussion and issues relating to society are only focused on their own interests, thus spreading false and distorted information, igniting a process of manipulation of institutions, and disrespecting those who would freely express a different opinion? All of this slows down and implodes the democratisation process.
I consider certain concepts essential to the process of democratic construction: sharing, listening, participation, good faith, respect for positions that differ from one's own, and the acceptance of majority decisions. To this end, democracy depends on the degree of civic maturity in order to be successfully applied, otherwise it would become a form of government that is absolutely cosmetic and emptied of the rights and guarantees typical of democratic methods. The UN's Agenda 2030 itself, in Goal 16, speaks of 'Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions', i.e., healthy, accountable, efficient, democratic. By reaching this goal first, we could reach progress in all other areas: economic, financial, cultural, political. This would happen, if and only if nations are led by strong and democratic institutions capable of mobilising energies, passions, movements, where competition is at high levels and, above all, where social, economic, political actors are capable, of quality and trained to conceive a project and govern the state with competence.
What is the future of our democracy? Are we heading towards a post-democracy model?
Today, democracy in Italy has become a toothless tiger.
The dark doesn’t frighten me
because your eyes at night
are even more beautiful.
Two beacons of light swimming in the air,
a spell of hope.
In the silence I embrace you,
you give me strength in life
to be a heart that serenades its love,
that smiles and sometimes cries
when time passes
and has no answers for this world of ashes
that it scatters down every day
through the echo of lifeless words.
Democracy is but a dream that walks barefoot
Translated by Ana Lanzon
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