The Estonian Debating Society (EDS) organised a wide variety of activities between September 15 and 22 surrounding Democracy Day (September 15). The Democracy Days activities took place in 76 different schools spread over 30 different locations in Estonia. A total of 5885 high school and university students participated in lectures given by well-known public figures such as politicians, actors and business leaders or members of the EDS presenting debates about democracy-related topics.
The activities kicked off with a mock demonstration supporting democracy (pictured above) that illustrated how the largest threat to democracy is a passive citizenry that drops their support at the first show of a dictator. You can check out a video of the demonstration. Estonia has been a democracy for over two decades since it became independent from the former USSR and the newness of democracy has waned off. Estonia youth have been born into democracy and even take it for granted. Now that democratic institutions are well established, but voter turnout is not particularly high, what are issues that threaten democracy?
This question had a lot of different answers from different positions. Linnar Viik, an IT-guru argued that citizens should use social media to pressure politicians. Andrus Kivirähk, a sociologist, explained that the largest threat is the government getting alienated from the people. The participants of a public debate in Haapsalu argued that the danger lies in voting on the basis of arguments rather than emotions. Dr. Igor Kopõtin stated that citizens need to be more educated and become critical thinkers as „you’re not born to be a citizen, you’ll be grown to be one.“
The informed discussions that took place and the focus on arguments in social debate are precisely what the Estonian Debating Society aims to achieve in its work. With the total reach of the Democracy Days numbering in the thousands, with partner organisations that reached out to even more through two conferences, two European Youth Parliaments and four videos, and with Facebook activity on the issues getting up to 8995 people in total, the EDS has certainly achieved that more people have been touched by informed debate in one way or another.
The Democracy Days was organised as part of the project idebateEU. This is a cooperation project of IDEA Amsterdam, IDEA London and ten IDEA members from all across Europe. The project aims to improve cooperation between IDEA and its members and between members, sharing debate methodologies and organisational knowledge in the framework of common activities on European topics. The project is made possible with support of the Europe for Citizens Programme of the European Commission.