Welcome! Ongi! Bienvenido!
Active citizens and participatory governments are fundamental features of every modern democracy. When it comes to addressing major global challenges — from education to welfare, migration to climate change — social movements and local governments serve as the practical rescue teams for fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in the concept of people power: transparency, accountability, delegation and participation.
The idea of modern participatory politics is under attack. After a series of controversial national plebiscites in different corners of the world, critics of direct democracy have seized upon an opportunity to advocate a return to purely delegative forms of people power. New restrictions are being added by governments and courts to direct democratic processes. At the same time, local practices of direct democracy are developing and growing, in sophistication and youth. New participatory tools and media are being invented.
The 2016 Global Form on Modern Direct Democracy is the sixth such world conference since 2008, when the first forum took place in Aarau/Switzerland. The Global Forum has since then traveled the world, with editions in Seoul/Korea (2009), San Francisco/US (2010), Montevideo/Uruguay (2012) and Tunis/Tunisia (2015). In just one month, we meet at a pivot point for direct democracy. The number of jurisdictions around the world with some form of initiative and referendum has grown in recent years. But the practice of direct democracy has proven to be difficult to sustain in many places, particularly at the national level. And this year’s highly contested popular votes in Great Britain (on EU membership, June), in Hungary (on refugee quota, October) and Colombia (on a peace treaty, October) have sparked global concern that direct citizens’ participation on important issues may not be good practice.
Join us this autumn for the Sixth World Forum on Modern Direct Democracy in Donostia/San Sebastian, European Capital of Culture 2016. In the new climate of change created in the city following the cessation of terrorist violence, San Sebastian’s citizens and council have been working together to consolidate citizen participation in the different phases and areas of municipal decision-making. We’re transforming this beautiful city on the Atlantic Coast into a beacon of democracy and urban community living.
We welcome you to Donostia/San Sebastian’s story, and to this timely gathering that brings together the most innovative mayors, city officials, civil society activists, political party members, journalists and scholars from around the world. In the Basque country, we all will share our work and perspectives as we confront current and future challenges to democracy. The forum is hosted by The Muncipality of Donostia/San Sebastian and the Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy Consortium (which includes the Initiative & Referendum Institute, Democracy International, Zocalo Public Square and people2power.info) in cooperation with partners and sponsors like International IDEA, The Council of Europe and Swissinfo.ch.
Bruno Kaufmann and Joe Mathews
Co-Presidents, Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy