By Algimants Kontauts, EST Ambassador to Latvia. Algimants graduated from the University of Latvia in International Economic Relations. After living, studying, working and doing business in more than 30 countries, he is currently enrolled in the European Studies Master Program at the University of Latvia.
On the 8th of September I participated in a discussion meeting on “Democracy in Baltic States: Achievements and Unused Opportunities” which was held at the European Union House in Riga, Latvia.
Participants included experts from various NGOs, academia representatives as well as policy makers. There were so many members of both the ruling parties as well as representatives of opposition parties that there was a need to bring in extra chairs.
Mr. Andris Sprūds, Director of the Latvian Institute of International Affairs and Inna Šteinbuka, Head of the European Commission Representation in Latvia, held the introductory remarks, after which several presentations were held by panelists.
During the Q&A session, I was fortunate enough to be able to ask them a question on the lack of Baltic – and in particular Latvian – youth involvement in the policy making field, and in local and international politics in general.
I asked this question because I feel that our biggest unused opportunities of democracy at the moment are not necessarily related to institutions, but to our society as such, especially the youth.
At the moment, the people and the government live on separate figurative islands and our youth is not yet interested in active contribution to local and EU politics. In our student environment for example (an environment which is expected to be the most active and ambitious of all social environments for youth), there are a very few (more realistically, close to none) people who are members of political parties and it would be extremely hard to find a person who may even consider founding a new party on their own, regardless of their political stances or beliefs.
The problem here is that even if there is a plurality of opinions – as in those who are for or against something – they will not only never get heard, but they are not in any way represented.
This creates a situation where society is not exercising their opportunity granted by democracy to make an impact on the course of our common future and delegating all responsibility to public sector institutions and policy makers, without any support system to people they’ve elected.
When asking about the best instruments to empower our youth to participate in a dialogue, debates, to join or create parties, and to generally play a more impactful role in the future of Latvia, the Baltics, the EU, and the world, Veiko Spolitis, Member of Saeima, Lecturer at Riga Straidins University, noted that a great example would be the German Bundeszentral für Politische Building efforts, which focuses a lot on empowering and recruiting young Germans for political positions. Mr. Spolitis has been advocating of the implementation of similar structures and ideas in Latvia – with limited success so far. Another very important and effective idea is to empower youth to create think tanks for political parties in the Baltic countries. This will bring society and political parties closer together and will facilitate a spillover effect.
Vytis Jurkonis, Project Director of the Lithuanian branch of Freedom House, noted that there used to be Lithuanian think tanks but several of these institutions were brought to ruin by a lack of proper management. Young people used to be heavily involved in the conservative party in Lithuania and had high (perhaps sometimes too high) expectations from political parties. The ‘Convince Them’ campaign in Lithuania, aimed at getting young people to join political parties, has been quite effective. Still, the role of social media, think tanks, and publicity should not be overlooked nowadays. Mr. Jurkonis also noticed the danger of destabilization if there is a lack of contact across different parts of the society.
All in all, it was a great, to the point, and very informative event that encouraged participants to hold further discussions. Hopefully, next time this event will be in an even bigger room with at least the same amount of students, graduates, youth organization members and other young people who are interested in taking more active political stance. I will certainly contribute to that as much as I can.