Democracy more than just holding elections: Papandreou

Democracy more than just holding elections: Papandreou

ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
Democracy more than just holding elections: Papandreou

Socialist International President Georgios Papandreou (C) plants a tree at Gezi Park, 'symbolizing the power of citizens around the world to have a voice over their own fate.' DAILY NEWS photo, Emrah GÜREL

Democracy means much more than just holding elections and it does not allow concentration of powers, Socialist International (SI) President Georgios Papandreou has said, stressing that grassroots movements such as the Gezi Park protests constitute a great part of democracy.

“Democracy is an innovation to ensure a distribution of power... because a concentration of power would only deprive society from a collective imagination, that is, somebody would be deciding for you. The deep meaning of democracy is not to give up power to somebody - it is the participation of all,” Papandreou told a group of journalists on Nov. 12 in İstanbul. “Youth movements are here, the Gezi Park movement is here. We need more participative voices heard. That’s just as much a part of democracy.”

Papandreou, who spoke to a small group of Turkish journalists ahead of his visit to Gezi Park, was responding to a question over the turmoil in Egypt.

“On the one hand there were elections in Egypt. Mr. [ousted President Mohamed] Morsi was elected. But on the other hand, democracy is much more than just electing a president. I think democracy has to go much deeper,” Papandreou said, raising a Socratic question, “Can you elect a dictator? Can you elect someone, who is remaining forever?” that he replied to himself: “This was a debate about democracy. That’s not democracy. Democracy means that politics is not electing only politicians.”

Papandreou, who is also the former Prime Minister of Greece, stepped down in 2011 following a political crisis over austerity measures placed on it by the European Union, commented on rising nationalism in Europe, saying that politicians’ “blame game” leads to the divergence of societies.

“Sometimes politicians begin to blame each other rather than working together cross-borders to solve the problem. They play on nationalism, they play on sectarianism, they play on religious differences, they play on populism,” Papandreou said. Rather than saying “This is an economic, financial problem, let’s work together as Germany, Greece and Italy etc,” some politicians say “No, no, it’s the lazy Greeks that is the problem,” according to the senior statesman, calling on politicians to desist such an approach.

“It helps the most conservative forces in our society take us back to our tribal instincts. So the big question for democracy today is ‘Can we, within the framework of our democratic institutions, work beyond borders?’ Can we work in the sense of solidarity both intra- and inter-nation? [We should be asking] How can Greeks and Germans have a sense of solidarity as a common problem rather than blaming each other,” Papandreou said.

“These are more complex problems, nationalism is easy. But it’s not logical, it’s not solving problems. We need to work together,” Papandreou maintained while voicing his hope that Europe could constitute an example for working together on basic values soon.

When asked to share his views on Turkey’s internal politics, the Greek politician refrained to comment on his neighboring county’s internal matters. Nevertheless, he said that there are certain values he truly wants to see as a European and as a socialist. “First of all, I want to see Turkey moving forward in its EU accession process,” he said, “Basic freedoms of journalists, freedom of the press - these are issues which are very important. These are basic principles that have nothing to do only with Turkey. I want to see these principles strengthened anywhere in the world.”

When questioned as to the international effectivity of SI, the organization that he runs, Papandreou replied cynically: “Let me begin by asking; who is effective on an international level? How effective is G-20 in the world? Turkey is taking the leadership of G-20 in 2015. Hopefully you’ll have the force in putting the agenda together. But there’re people who say G-20 is actually G-0.”

The SI has an alternative voice on all global issues, he continued. “As a collective of over 160 parties, we have been able over to agree to a common policy. On the financial crisis, climate change, Israeli-Palestinian issue, we have a common policy. We have them able to show that progressive forces around the world can unite and come up with common solutions. We are saying to the rest of the world ‘there’s a possibility to come up with common solutions,” he said.