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July update from openDemocracy editors

How the dramatic events of the last few weeks have been seen through the eyes of openDemocracy writers...
Rosemary Bechler
5 July 2011

It would be fair to say that in the last few weeks attention on openDemocracy has shifted to Europe, in our coverage of Spain in revolt and the Greek crisis, German angst as well as the latest twists in Turkey’s accession to the EU - but also in what this tells us about what in another more optimistic era used to be referred to as our ‘common European home’. In retrospect, Ash Amin’s Europe Day call echoed by Etienne Balibar in Our European incapacity, paved the way for this month’s clear stand-out article by José Ignacio Torreblanca of the European Council of Foreign Relations – Five reasons why Europe is cracking up.  We continue to track Europe-wide xenophobia this June in a series of articles by Cas Mudde, Nira Yuval-Davis (who questions the terminology), Philip Ebels, and a moving return to the meaning of the Srebenica massacre prompted by the arrest of Mladic by two writers who find themselves on either side of this still gaping wound, Hariz Halilovich and Milan Marinkovic. But xenophobia is only Torreblanca’s starting point en route to addressing Europe’s deeper lack of values, together with crises in the euro, European foreign policy and leadership.

The absence of a convincing political leadership (national and EU), and in particular, the repeated failure of highly polarised political establishments in recent years to meet the demands of the body politic, is a constant drumbeat in our coverage of the protests of Spain and Greece. While Pere Vilanova, Bernardo Gutierrez, and Pedro Moreno provided urgent background, Anthony Barnett went to talk to Beatriz Perez, member of the Communications team of the 15 May movement in Madrid’s Tahrir Square, to capture for openDemocracy the spirit of this seminal movement, at once uniquely Spanish, and part of a ‘wonderful… democratic inspiration’ that is ‘travelling from east to west’. No sooner had we identified this spreading and adapting meme than like our own butterfly, Real Democracy was espied skipping over into a new battle for survival in Syntagma Square, our readers and contributors in pursuit.

openDemocracy was designed to map such horizontal movement, alert to the deep-structural conversations involved. While the mainstream media awaits a return to normality, ignoring the many stories that are circulating of its own corruption, inadequacy or demise, openDemocracy readers and contributors want to know what this new form of political organisation is, and how it fundamentally challenges our own democratic edifices. We pay our respects to James Cameron, and the humane international journalism of a passing era, but urged in very different ways by Giorgio Fontana, Peter Bradwell, Anonymous, we have to move on to recognise and defend the burgeoning forms and implicit challenges of digital democracy.

In other words, there is a reflexive self-consciousness in the openDemocracy response to current events well encapsulated by David Marquand’s reply to Torreblanca, in which he argues that the ‘True challenge of a European demos’ is to free Europeans from their subject-object relationship to the rest of the world, and in particular ‘the east’ – the backdrop to our European preoccupations. Just as we are media-aware, so we are willing to contemplate vast and spreading repercussions for the western way of life – whether in a crisis for international justice, the failures of post 9/11 strategy, hard truths about Pakistan, or the banking system as such.

openDemocracy, like the rest of the media, has its fair share of articles this month on the Arab spring giving way to a much more sobering and complex reality in Libya, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Tunisia or Egypt. But since we are more open than most to the notion that democratic inspiration is coming from ‘east to west’ -  when Philip Marfleet tells us that, while headlines in global media focus upon candidates for the presidency and new parties jostling for electoral advantage, the dynamics of change in Egypt are being shaped at the grassroots; when others talk of ‘western complicity in the crimes of the Ben Ali regime’ or Kristine Goulding designates as self-serving fantasy the ‘West’s fondest dream’ for Tunisia’s October elections – ‘an open and fair election that will pit Islamists against secularists, with control over the future of women’s rights as the prize’; when we are offered a critique of the Quartet’s predicates, or when Lars Erslev Anderson describes the silence around Bahrain as deafening – we listen.

For recreation, I am glad to say, we have started becoming interested in happiness… which of course we are taking very seriously!

Rosemary Bechler, 4/7/11

Peter Geoghegan: dark money and dirty politics

Democracy is in crisis and unaccountable flows of money are helping to destroy it. Peter Geoghegan’s new book, ‘Democracy for Sale: Dark Money and Dirty Politics’, charts how secretive money, lobbying and data has warped our democracy.

How has dark money bought our politics? What can be done to change the system?

Join us for a journey through a shadowy world of dark money and disinformation stretching from Westminster to Washington, and far beyond.

Sign up to take part in a free live discussion on Thursday 13 August at 5pm UK time/6pm CET

In conversation:

Peter Geoghegan Dark Money Investigations editor at openDemocracy and the author of ‘Democracy for Sale: Dark Money and Dirty Politics’.

Mary Fitzgerald Editor-in-chief, openDemocracy.

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