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Dr. Marie Bountrogianni Headshot

Education Is The Key To Protecting Our Democratic Systems

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What will the world look like in 2030? Will liberal democracy still exist? We have recently come to a crossroads where this question is entirely valid. As a former Ontario cabinet minister in a Liberal government, I am not only enthusiastic about liberal democracy, but the institution of democracy itself.

However, I believe I speak for many people when I say that recent exercises in democracy have left me puzzled. Time will tell how the United Kingdom moves forward following its withdrawal from the EU. And personally, I am disappointed that the United States now has a President Trump. Aren't we better than this? Don't character and values matter?

donald trump
President Donald Trump speaks after being sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on the West front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., Jan. 20, 2017. (Photo: Lucy Nicholson/REUTERS)

According to the U.S. Department of State, the United States seek to "assist democracy advocates around the world to establish vibrant democracies in their own countries." Judging by the administration that has just taken power, I am apprehensive about this mandate continuing to be upheld. Mr. Trump has been making a habit of alienating other democratically governed countries and embracing questionable international leadership.

Timothy Snyder , Professor of History at Yale University, wrote about Russia's alleged interference in the U.S. Presidential Election last September in The New York Times. Snyder writes, "the technique of undermining democracy abroad is to generate doubt where there had been certainty. If democratic procedures start to seem shambolic, then democratic ideas will seem questionable as well."

Snyder identifies the hacking as Russia's tool for undermining the democratic system. He suggests that the electoral process undergo a reform to make the ballot process more secure and less vulnerable to such attacks. But we also need to utilize other resources to protect our right to democracy.

European countries have seen their fair share of shifts in ideology throughout history. Last fall, I joined the Academic Advisory Board of the Democratic Study Centre (DSC) in Ukraine. A project of the German-Polish-Ukrainian Society with funding from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Germany, the DSC has been established to help spread knowledge of democracy and democratic values to young people from Ukraine, Eastern Partnership and Russia. I am highly honoured to represent my country in this capacity. I firmly believe that the key to protecting the democratic system -- particularly liberal democracy -- is through education.

My vision for 2030 is a world where everyone has had the opportunity to be enlightened and where values actually matter.

In his article entitled "Ignorance Does Not Lead to Election Bliss," published in The Atlantic, Jonathan R. Cole, the John Mitchell Mason Professor at Columbia University, faults the American education system for what many currently consider a regression of American values. He identifies a lack of education in the schools on the civic system and American history as the culprits for the rise of ignorant politicians. He even indicates that Mr. Trump himself admits to not having read a book in years!

My involvement with the DSC has been a stark reminder that it can be all too easy to take democracy for granted. Although many of us may be confused by the results of the referendum in the U.K. or the presidential election in the U.S., we are privileged to live in a society that allows us to have a voice. Only through education can we ensure that we are making informed decisions.

It is critically important that we continue learning and engaging in dialogue about what we see in society around us. We will do our part at the Chang School at Ryerson University by engaging the public through dialogue with well-respected thought leaders. Events such as ChangSchoolTalks or In/Future can help inform this important conversation. My vision for 2030 is a world where everyone has had the opportunity to be enlightened and where values actually matter.

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