The first conception entails that we must educate and teach people about how important it is to be an active citizen, and why it is useful for our society. This point of view can be illustrated by several strong statements by several great thinkers of the past. Robert H. Jackson: It is not the function of the government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the government from falling into error. Charles de Montesquieu: The tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not as dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy. J. William Fulbright: The citizen who criticizes his country is paying it an implied tribute. Vaclav Havel: There can be no free and independent nations without free, self-respecting, and autonomous citizens.
The second point of view on how to understand democracy puts the emphasis on the practice of active citizenship. Here it is not as important to understand what democracy and active citizenship are in their essence as much as it is important to act and understand these things through practice. You have a vision and you simply act to reach it, theories are secondary. ”You must be afraid - that is how you become an honest citizen”, said Jean-Paul Sartre.
In this issue of DialogWeb Clara Henriksdotter Puranen, the Finnish editor describes how the second conception of active citizenship has functioned in Finland. According to the dissertation of a member of the Finnish parliament, Lauri Rapeli, most people in Finland can not explain what democracy and active citizenship are (they are not better than Americans at this), but never-the-less Finnish people are active citizens. They rely on the practice and tradition of the Finnish society. The opposite example are Estonians. During the soviet time all people learnt in school what democracy and active citizenship are. They are good in theory. But since Estonia gained re-independence it turns out that most Estonians are still not very active as citizens – the results of EU study ”Trend-net” show. Why it is so? The reason might be precisely a big lack of practice of active citizenship.
Another good example about the second conception of active citizenship is the Glokala folk high school in Malmö where students practice active citizenship: in the courses about environmentally friendly society they also learn how to send mobile phone messages to the local web television in order to propagate environmental society. Perhaps that is how to have less graffiti in the streets and it’s good for the kids to learn to use the web TV for something more important than just entertainment or self-promotion. Practice is what works and functions.
Enjoy reading DialogWeb’s issue about active citizenship!