Democracy has to be constantly renewed

Dominik Marbet
April 13, 2021
Switzerland’s direct democracy relies to a considerable degree on citizens’ engagement and involvement in political discourse. It will wither and die if it is merely “consumed”. It has to be constantly realigned and rejuvenated. This is an area in which the “Change Switzerland!” initiative organised by the Association of Youth Parliaments (DSJ) is doing its part. It allows young people to gain initial experience of the direct democratic system, which is exactly why Baloise is involved in it.

Democracy: active engagement as opposed to mere consumption

Baloise has been a partner of the “Change Switzerland!” (www.engage.ch) initiative organised by the Association of Youth Parliaments for three years now. Our involvement in the initiative allows us to give our apprentices and young employees the opportunity to gain important political experience. Baloise is convinced that we can only have a stable society and intact environment if citizens remain actively committed to upholding them. If you end up with a situation in which a democracy only consists of “consumers”, political responsibility for change is delegated to “professional” politicians. There is then a risk that the decisions made no longer respond to people’s actual needs. The Swiss militia system helps to prevent this.

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Young people are becoming more political again

As a result, it is worth spending time looking at how a direct democracy works. The “Change Switzerland!” campaign with the www.engage.ch platform, which is being organised for what is already the fifth time, offers this very opportunity. Participants can submit the issues that are important to them over a six-week period. Workshops on a range of topics also give the young people an insight into various issues of the future (environment, digitalisation, working world, etc.). More than 200 topics were submitted and the best submissions have now been selected by the six youngest members of the Council of States so that political initiatives can be launched together with the young people concerned. 

Particularly in these times dominated by the pandemic, many young people are realising just how important it is to be able to help shape our political destiny. But democracy is an arduous process and rarely holds the promise of quick solutions. This was something that Peter Boder, a Baloise employee whose topic was submitted two years ago, has experienced first hand. His topic has still to be addressed by the Council.

A democracy has to deal with arguments and counterarguments. Solutions have to find the support of the majority and cannot simply force the opinion of a minority on a majority. And in particular, it is about respecting and accepting other people’s opinions. As long as there is trust in a country’s democratic institutions, a democracy can usually resolve conflicts peacefully. This is something we witnessed only recently in connection with the vote on the town of Moutier leaving the Canton of Bern and joining the Canton of Jura, in which the minority that lost accepted their political defeat.

Social media as a challenge

The current pandemic is testimony to just how important it is for every generation to find its way of becoming involved in, and helping to shape, the political system. One challenge lies in social media. The algorithm means that we generally mix with like-minded people. But discourse is virtually impossible in an “echo chamber”. It is not about facts, but rather about the authority to interpret them. The people that are loudest in proclaiming what is morally right see themselves as the victors. If, however, discourse is hindered, or even prohibited, this is difficult to reconcile with the values of a democracy. A democracy has to tolerate different opinions in the knowledge that, in the event of a popular vote, the majority will decide and the minority will have to accept the decision. The more actively everyone is involved in direct democracy and, as a result, in votes, the broader the support for the decisions at the end of the day. In Switzerland, individuals can get involved at municipal, cantonal and federal level. This explains Baloise’s commitment to campaigns like “www.engage.ch”. The aim is to ensure that democratic values are not only put into practice, but are redefined for the future thanks to the active involvement of the next generation.

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