Topics – International Round Table Conference 2023
Historically, 1989’s Peaceful Revolution was a broad and intersectional movement. It united independent environmental, peace and human rights groups as well as artists and engaged citizens who shared the common goal of “a free society with free people”. Following this tradition, the range of topics discussed at the International Round Table Conferences has been equally broad. For the 2023 edition, we have decided to sharpen and condense those topics into 5 guiding themes that constructively overlap and have the power to bring people from various different contexts of civil activism together, create connections and networks beyond regional contexts. The REVOLUTIONALE – International Round Table 2023 (IRT23) provides a platform and a safe space for exchange on our shared values, as well as issues that may seperate us. In order to have diverse, yet focussed discussion, we have chosen 5 big challenges of our societies today and are very much looking forward to the evolution of those questions at the conference.
1. THE POWER OF TELLING STORIES
Stories are powerful weapons in our social media societies and attention economies. They go beyond information and can be of great help to engage people for a personal cause, to make complicated political and scientific questions more accessible and to create communities of supporters. But with the recognition of “storytelling” as a political tool comes a growing need to reflect its power and the risks of manipulation, populism and deliberate fake news. The global war on truth in both traditional and social media will be a shaping factor for all future political activism, further enhanced by the rise of smart authoritarian governments as well as the rapid developments of artificial intelligence.
Time to reflect and share: How do we, as activists, successfully use the potential of personal stories in day-to-day campaigning, while navigating the risks of misrepresentation and inaccuracy? How can we recognize and deconstruct populist and authoritarian stories? How do we ally with journalists and scientists in order to protect democracy against fake news?
Besides the critical reflection, 2023’s International Round Table also aims to be a platform for sharing your own stories. Imaginative or realistic; in front of an audience or without; at the Round Tables or in informal settings – let’s enjoy mutual empowerment through good stories.
The struggle for democracy is a never-ending story. The road to democracy is long and often requires sacrifice. In dictatorships and other autocratic systems, those in power obstruct, threaten, criminalise or violently repress initiatives and individuals who seek democratic change. Once a society has achieved democracy, it must recognize that it is never complete and that it must be constantly defended. Democracy is vulnerable to attack by authoritarian politicians and movements and, of course, it can be lost again.
Democracy is a political system that often frustrates its supporters because lengthy procedures and difficult compromises delay desired changes. At the same time, anti-democratic politicians enjoy the freedoms of a democratic society. They use them to present authoritarian politics as a supposedly effective and just alternative, to defame civil society actors, and ultimately to attack the system that gives them these opportunities.
In such a contradictory situation, how can we move towards a stable democracy? How can we tell the never-ending story in a way that remains more appealing than the promises of easy solutions offered by authoritarian politicians?
3. ACHIEVING EQUALITY
We live in a time of crisis. And while global crises affect us all, no matter how far away they happen, it is undeniably marginalised groups that are most negatively affected by climate change, war and subsequent displacement. Racist migration policies further divide people, block access to human rights and any form of justice and participation. And even where human rights seem guaranteed, for example by the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, many countries are facing negative developments in the field of women’s rights, queer rights and economic equality. All this while governments often keep up a pretence of equality that masks deeper structures of injustice and suppresses protest by making it seem “unnecessary”. Hence, we are witnessing more and more divided societies when it comes to participation, equality and representation.
All the more we need solidarity and empathy. What does solidarity look like today? How to really be an ally, beyond merely symbolic engagement? How to tackle ‘traditional’ structural discrimination and how to counter new racist and sexist structures immediately while they are being built? What do we need for more equality and justice as the key to democracy and truly guaranteed human rights?
4. JUSTICE AND LAW – A COMPLICATED RELATION
Law and justice are closely related concepts. After all, laws are intended to regulate social relations in such a way that they function in as fair a manner as possible. Laws are designed to protect people’s rights against the state and society. Independent courts, at least in democratically organised societies, have the task of ensuring that laws fulfil this purpose.
But even in countries with well-established legal systems, there is often a discrepancy between what constitutes justice through law and what actually happens. Observers of legal debates quickly realise that justice is not an objective and definable condition, but an idea that emerges from social negotiations. Ideas of justice change over time, so that new ‘justice vacuums’ constantly emerge, sparking debates and translating into new or amended laws. Nevertheless, a shared understanding of justice is often the driving force behind social movements – with or against the law.
In certain social constellations, laws can even restrict freedom, human rights and civil liberties. Governments may even use certain protective laws to suppress inconvenient political and civil society actors. This reverses the supposed relationship between law and justice, a common conflict that deserves our attention. What does justice mean in our particular field of work? How can we work to ensure that justice protects the weak, rather than becoming an instrument of oppression for the strong?
5. HOW WAR CHANGES EVERYTHING
Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is a cruel reminder of the fragility of our world, of how war suddenly disrupts social, political and economic realities, how it completely disrupts everyday life. It destroys lives, leaves people in fear and uncertainty about the future, grief and trauma. It robs people of their home and creates various new infrastructure, health, safety needs. Armed conflict challenges human rights defenders and civil society actors broadly and at many levels.
In addition, war acts not only within the war zone, but with impacts far beyond borders. The effects on neighbouring countries are immediate through direct physical threats as well as mass migration, further complicated by economic and diplomatic relations to the aggressor.
And even in faraway places, trauma and responsibility are felt. War is not, but peace is a common project – and it needs civil society more than ever. What can new community building look like? How to establish and support activism in exile? What should post-conflict social and political education look like, and how can memory work contribute to peacebuilding?
The International Round Table Conference 2023 will take place from
October 8th – 13th in Leipzig, Germany
The conference language is English. Costs for the program and accomodation will be covered.
We invite participants from Europe and beyond including individuals and organizations acting in exile.
CALL FOR PARTICIPANTS