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Strategies for path towards democratic society

Participants of the “Summer Institute of Civic Studies” convened for two weeks to discuss basic principles and strategies for making societies more democratic, pluralistic, sustainable and open in different contexts. The conference, which was held in Herrsching at Lake Ammer, was organized by Prof. Dr. Tetyana Kloubert (Temporary Chair of Adult Education at the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt) together with the University of Maryland and the Tufts University (Massachusetts). More than 800 interested participants had applied for the 20 available places at the conference, which was supported by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).

Internationale Tagung diskutierte Strategien für den Weg zur demokratischen Gesellschaft.

Photo: Kloubert/upd

The 20 participants who were lucky enough to grab a place at the conference traveled to Lake Ammer from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Ukraine, Germany, Poland and Georgia. Particularly noteworthy in the set-up was the strong heterogeneity among researchers and speakers: The conference was attended by lawyers, political and literary scientists but also by philosophers, teachers, sociologists, economists, environmental activists and managers.

This was well in line with how the interdisciplinary field of Civic Studies wants to be perceived – drawing from elements from the fields of pedagogy, philosophy, economics and sociology. This area of studies focuses on the question of how citizens can actively participate in shaping their world. Research in this field combines ethical topics (what is right and good?), facts (what is the current situation?) and strategies (what can work?). This approach goes far beyond the educational aspect and emphasizes action.

With 1,200 pages, the prepared reading for the conference was very comprehensive but also helpful for understanding and critically evaluating experiences and values as well as for illustrating common aspects of the developments. Topics covered were, amongst others, the approaches coined by the 2009 winner of the Nobel prize for Economics, Elinor Ostrom, on the question of a common management of public goods or Friedrich von Hayek’s elaborations on concepts of freedom in connection with social responsibility as well as concepts developed by Jürgen Habermas (“Deliberative Democracy” and public), Hannah Arendt (“Natality” and freedom) and Edmund Burke (Conservatism).

“A very intensive dialog developed in particular between participants from Russia and the Ukraine as well as from Azerbaijan and Armenia. Despite the fact that these societies are currently at war with each other or had armed conflicts in the past, participants from these countries sat together to conceive a concept for possible democratic development and the strengthening of academic exchange and institutional connections”, says Professor Kloubert. Furthermore, the conference triggered an ad-hoc initiative when participants had the spontaneous idea of writing letters to political prisoners from the countries represented at the Summer Institute who are currently held in Russian prisons to express solidarity and hope. Discussions held at the conference had both a contemporary and historical reference. Supporting political prisoners in Russia today meant calling for attention – in analogy to the attention Soviet dissidents experienced from the West.

The Summer Institute of Civic Studies also focused on practical examples for civic initiatives – for example in Armenia, environmental (“grassroots movements”) in Russia, decentralization discourses in Ukraine, youth movements in Azerbaijan and Georgia as well as creative political initiatives in Belarus. One strategic question was in the center of attention: Which initiatives were practically effective in what way and under which circumstances? Professor Kloubert was clearly pleased when concluding: “As organizers of the conference, we are confident that the fourth Summer Institute will have a multiplication effect. Participants are eager to spread the idea of a civil democratic society and to plan and develop projects and follow-up initiatives”.