Is Populism A Problem-Catherine Cooke reflects on the World Forum for Democracy

08 January 2018

In November the Trust support a group of NI VCSE sector representatives to attend the World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg.

In the fourth blog post by attendees Catherine Cooke, director of Building Change Trust and head of Foyle Women's Information shares her views on the conference.


Strasbourg 2017

The question asked by this conference was “Is Populism a problem”?

Well I don’t know is it?
What is it, did I ever think about this before, is populism even in Northern Ireland, I hope I find out before I go home.

This conference is going to open my mind!

According to the majority of speakers Yes Populism is a major problem for Europe, it undermines Europe and it is everywhere, this was the view of many.
There were two views of populism:
1. Populists claim to make marginalise voices matter by formulating more equitable, fair and sustainable policies.
2. Populists hijack the political debate with an aggressive, divisive, rhetoric and attack liberal values. Some say they claim to embrace democracy but not liberal values.

I heard many time during my time in Strasbourg that Russia has had a major hand in the Populist uprising and they have invested 3 Billion on information gathering they believe that this feeds the populist thinking thus helping to create more of the far right parties which according to the world cafe event I attended are made up of lots of angry white men. A lot of the far right parties in France and Greece are anti-feminist and anti-gender, they believe that gender ideology or sex-ideology is constructed by feminists and to get female support they don’t say that they ban or disagree with abortion, so women think they support the women’s right to choose, in reality they believe that their country needs more youth, therefore indirectly they believe women should stay at home, that the family unit is paramount.
To increase the population women should have lots of children, as according to the far right parties this is their role. Its not about having jobs, careers or being financially secure but being at home, being bare footed, tied to the sink and pregnant. This is the will of the people so say the populist parties.

I have a few more Questions
1​ Is populism a symptom or a threat?
2​Does the rise in populism in Europe really mean a Europe without Muslims?
3 ​Why does everyone talk about Europe and not the world?

I attended a workshop on the Female Face of the Far Right and one of the main things coming out of this workshop / seminar was that investment has to be made to enable women at the grass roots get the opportunity to engage in personal development, patriarchy training and new ways of engaging with and understanding political structures (this is not new to me, sure I have been spouting this for years).

There was a belief that in America women voted for Trump because they felt more threatened by a multi-cultural society than a society where women are put in their place and male white supremacy is upheld.

The conference overall was well organised and had interesting speakers but in line with my question 3 was this conference about:
Europe talking about democracy to the world as opposed to the world talking about democracy in Europe what made me think this?
Well it was pointed out that out of 183 speakers 141 were Europeans.

You can make up your own mind!

Social media and the press media both written and spoken were under the spotlight, the seminar discussed the threat populism represented to the public service media- well when you at how the BBC dealt with the Brexit campaign did they let their impartiality get in the way of the truth, both sides lied and the BBC did call them out on this but not every time and their coverage of the campaign was heavily criticised by all sides.
There were conflicting theories floating about that populism, it is not about power (it is a means to getting it) it is based on emotion, it appeals to your feelings, it is the will of the people, however on the other hand, it is not rational, it undermines institutions and it is helped by the economic crisis countries are currently facing.

Well I am still confused maybe if I get the opportunity to attend next year I might learn a bit more and in the mean time you can make up your own MIND.

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