“From Fictional to Functioning Democracy Developing Concepts and Strategies for an Inclusive and Participatory Europe (FIFUDEM)”
Institute for the Danube Region and Central Europe (IDM) in cooperation with Danube Rectors’ Conference (DRC)
The Rationale behind the accepted project proposal was based on the observation that liberal democracy has been eroding for years, so that in some cases we could speak of fictional instead of functioning elements of democracies. Whereas the project focuses specifically on the region of Central East and Southeast Europe, events during the project period such as the attack of the US Capitol or the severe repression of protesters in Hong Kong by the authorities shed light on the global dimension of the problem.
Threats such as populism, attacks on the separation of powers as well as corruption are shared by both young and consolidated democracies. Nevertheless, countries of the Danube Region face region-specific issues regarding their geopolitical position, their historical legacies and non at least the existing socio-economic disparities between old and new EU member states and those waiting in limbo for potential EU accession.
Based on this status quo, present project aimed to scrutinize the contexts and causes of so-called illiberal, respectively fictional democracy, to develop concepts and strategies of strengthening liberal, respectively functioning democracy and its functioning political communication as well as active citizenship in an inclusive and participatory EU. Furthermore, it followed the goal to disseminate the project’s findings through awareness raising activities, events and publications for different target groups on the local, regional, national, international and EU level.
The consortium aimed to conduct research on European integration and enlargement in its focus region and disseminating the project’s results through the international IDM publications, events, and network as well as through the network of the IDM project partner, the Danube Rectors’ Conference (DRC), including 65 university members. All these various activities aimed to affect various segments of the public discourse on the importance of strengthening liberal and functioning democracy and to support active citizenship in an inclusive and participatory European Union.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit hard and required a high level of adaptability to keep track with the goals of the project. While some activities had to be cancelled, particularly those outside of Austria, new digital formats were developed and offered the chance to connect people from various countries despite lockdowns and travel restrictions. In early 2022, when the pandemic seemed to finally calm down a bit thanks to vaccinations, the next crisis hit. With the Russian attack on Ukraine, some project activities had to be adapted once again.
Some results of the project regarding Publications are IDM Info, which is the print newsletter of the IDM and is published four times a year with updates on the project in various issues during the project period; the IDM’s academic journal "Der Donauraum", which brings together contributions from experts in the fields of political science and communication studies, international relations, contemporary history and sociology and was conventionalized based on the FIFUDEM kickoff conference in January 2021; The IDM Policy Paper Series (IDM PPS) deals at regular intervals with current political issues with a focus on the Danube region, Central and South Eastern Europe.
Some of the events that took place during the Project are: Kickoff Conference 2020, Young Scholars Forum 2020, Train the trainer seminar 2021/2022, DRC Annual Meeting 2021, IDM@GLOBSEC Bratislava Forum 2022, DRC Summer School 2022, Final Conference 2022, 5 Democracy Talks.
During the Final Conference in July 2022, project partners hosted a panel discussion on concrete actions for democracies in Europe. The 5th Democracy Talk entitled "Let's talk about anger management!" focused about forms of mobilisation and engagement. Thomas Prorok, panelist and Managing Director of the Centre for Public Administration Research (KDZ) in Vienna, brought up the idea of a "Greenpeace for Democracy". He stated that Europe, particularly the Danube Region, would need a membership-based international organisation similar to established civil society organisations in the areas of environment or Human Rights. Although starting as a small grassroot activist network, International Non Governmental Organisations (INGOs) such as Greenpeace managed to institutionalize and transnationalize to a certain level without losing certain national and regional autonomy and embeddedness. Based on strategic professioal campaigns they are able to mobilise a broad and diverse pool of followers. Whereas Greenpeace is considered an influential actor on supra-national levels such as the EU institutions, practice lobbying and are very active in scientific research, they have not neglected to organise local actions such as occupations, sit-ins or other media-friendly protest activities. We suggest to further investigate the successes and constraints of INGOs, to identify best practices for a new movement or organisation - similar to "Greenpeace for Democracy" - that could learn from past successes and failures. Such research could provide the basis of a more media-affected communications and a campaign-oriented way of democracy promotion e.g. by utilizing storytelling methods and other mobilisation strategies known from Social Movement Research. This would require to deconstruct the abstract topic of democracy to more tangible pillars (media freedom, inclusion, participation, etc.) and to further develop key stories and target groups for a more emotionalized and personalized approach. Also, Greenpeace's success is based on concrete wins against certain policies or projects. Therefore a democracy-focused INGO would need to first identify concrete cases of democratic backsliding, and act very goal-oriented against such attacks (e.g. on the rule of law). Successes need to be measured and made visible which poses a challenge for many existing actors and projects.
You can check out the Final Report here: