Many young people my age, the hopeful 20-somethings who were about to go out into the world, can agree that 2020 did not turn out to be our year. As we face a pandemic and a global economic recession at the dawn of our adulthood, I see many of my peers beginning to question their place in the world and their aspirations about the future, especially those of us living in the poorest European Union member-state. I might have entered into the new decade bright-eyed and hopeful about my future prospects and opportunities, but now, as the year is drawing to a close, I am leaving behind some of my hopefulness. But in return, I have gained a far greater determination to make sure that the future that lies ahead for my generation is not as bleak as it currently seems.
This was one of the driving reasons for my participation in the Athens Democracy Forum; my desire was to gain a better understanding of the challenges our world faces and the potential solutions to these challenges. Learning more about the state of our world through the themes of capitalism, democracy and technology has certainly made me consider more carefully the role I and other young people will play in the development of our societies. The Athens Democracy Forum left me with a newfound sense of optimism and realism regarding the future of our democracies, our economies, and our global society.
Coming from the small Balkan country of Bulgaria, whose people are finally waking up to the injustice and corruption that has reigned over us for years, my perspectives on the Forum topics were formed through the lens of bleak realism, and skepticism that any change will not be sustainable: It would be too little and too late. Observing the current of spread of (dis)information both domestically and internationally has made me aware of the fragility of democracies, and the importance of strong governmental intervention and citizen awareness to prevent the erosion of civil society’s trust in democratic institutions and values.
That being said, the potential of our advanced technology and means of communication is undeniable, and it can allow us to adapt and move forward even in times of unprecedented global crises. This is the case with the Forum, which has allowed me and many other young people to deliberate on the social issues that affect all of us, despite the fact that many of us could not attend in person due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, it is imperative that we remain optimistic but not complacent, and that we strive to protect cultural and informational exchange for our societies to thrive.
The pandemic has also exacerbated the privileges and inequalities we face as a global society. My own situation in my small country can certainly be viewed as one of privilege relative to others elsewhere who are less fortunate. This is a time when we should be the most empathetic for our fellow human beings, for those who are uncertain about their present and future due to the failings of their governments, corporate greed, and uneven distribution of wealth.
The current capitalist system has proven to be unsustainable not only from an economic perspective, but from a political one as well. The chokehold that corporations and governments have on power has led to a great dysfunction in many democratic capitalist states, where rising inequality, corruption and lack of capacity to protect the population has led to public distrust and civil unrest.
The question remains open as to whether the Covid-19 pandemic will truly bring forth the changes our political and economic systems currently need. Realistically, I do not believe that the political and economic elites of the world will move past these unsustainable but profitable models as long as they have a hold on the democratic processes. On a more optimistic note, I do believe that we as human beings can look past our self-interested nature in order to think about and work for a mutually beneficial framework. The speakers at the Forum made a number of convincing points regarding the possible solutions to the political and economic crises the world faces, and especially the role younger generations will have to play in the grand scheme of things.
While the various issues around the world may bring about feelings of hopelessness in some, I believe their positive aspect is that they have pushed people around the world to a boiling point and made us more politically, economically and environmentally aware global citizens. Regardless if people are protesting racial inequality in the USA, authoritarian rule in Belarus, political corruption in Bulgaria, or campaigning for environmental protection around the world, what matters is that we are demanding a change to the current system. It appears, paradoxically, that the more hopeless the future seems, the more hopeful and motivated we are to do everything in our power to prevent our current fears from becoming a reality.
As a member of the young generation that is experiencing this global turmoil during a defining stage of our lives, I cannot help but constantly question what my role will be in the world from now on. Whatever my place, I can only hope that the young people around the globe whom I had the privilege to meet thanks to the Forum feel the same motivation and determination I do to leave a positive and lasting impact on the world. The time for older generations to make the world a better place for us is drawing to a close, and now it is our turn to take on these challenges with principled pragmatism, to make a better present for our fellow humans and leave a brighter future for the next generations.
Optimism might have helped me believe tomorrow will be better. Realism has fueled my determination to make it so.
Alexandra Gouleva (American University in Bulgaria, Sofia)