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  • I'm afraid I'm one of those speakers

  • you hope you're not going to meet at TED.

  • First, I don't have a mobile,

  • so I'm on the safe side.

  • Secondly, a political theorist

  • who's going to talk about the crisis of democracy

  • is probably not the most exciting topic you can think about.

  • And plus, I'm not going to give you any answers.

  • I'm much more trying to add to some of the questions we're talking about.

  • And one of the things that I want to question

  • is this very popular hope these days

  • that transparency and openness

  • can restore the trust in democratic institutions.

  • There is one more reason for you to be suspicious about me.

  • You people, the Church of TED, are a very optimistic community.

  • (Laughter)

  • Basically you believe in complexity, but not in ambiguity.

  • As you have been told, I'm Bulgarian.

  • And according to the surveys,

  • we are marked the most pessimistic people in the world.

  • (Laughter)

  • The Economist magazine recently wrote an article

  • covering one of the recent studies on happiness,

  • and the title was "The Happy, the Unhappy and the Bulgarians."

  • (Laughter)

  • So now when you know what to expect,

  • let's give you the story.

  • And this is a rainy election day in a small country --

  • that can be my country, but could be also your country.

  • And because of the rain until four o'clock in the afternoon,

  • nobody went to the polling stations.

  • But then the rain stopped,

  • people went to vote.

  • And when the votes had been counted,

  • three-fourths of the people have voted with a blank ballot.

  • The government and the opposition,

  • they have been simply paralyzed.

  • Because you know what to do about the protests.

  • You know who to arrest, who to negotiate with.

  • But what to do about people who are voting with a blank ballot?

  • So the government decided to have the elections once again.

  • And this time even a greater number,

  • 83 percent of the people, voted with blank ballots.

  • Basically they went to the ballot boxes

  • to tell that they have nobody to vote for.

  • This is the opening of a beautiful novel by Jose Saramago

  • called "Seeing."

  • But in my view it very well captures

  • part of the problem that we have with democracy in Europe these days.

  • On one level nobody's questioning

  • that democracy is the best form of government.

  • Democracy is the only game in town.

  • The problem is that many people start to believe

  • that it is not a game worth playing.

  • For the last 30 years, political scientists have observed

  • that there is a constant decline in electoral turnout,

  • and the people who are least interested to vote

  • are the people whom you expect are going to gain most out of voting.

  • I mean the unemployed, the under-privileged.

  • And this is a major issue.

  • Because especially now with the economic crisis,

  • you can see that the trust in politics,

  • that the trust in democratic institutions,

  • was really destroyed.

  • According to the latest survey being done by the European Commission,

  • 89 percent of the citizens of Europe believe that there is a growing gap

  • between the opinion of the policy-makers and the opinion of the public.

  • Only 18 percent of Italians and 15 percent of Greeks

  • believe that their vote matters.

  • Basically people start to understand that they can change governments,

  • but they cannot change policies.

  • And the question which I want to ask is the following:

  • How did it happen that we are living in societies

  • which are much freer than ever before --

  • we have more rights, we can travel easier,

  • we have access to more information --

  • at the same time that trust in our democratic institutions

  • basically has collapsed?

  • So basically I want to ask:

  • What went right and what went wrong in these 50 years

  • when we talk about democracy?

  • And I'll start with what went right.

  • And the first thing that went right was, of course,

  • these five revolutions which, in my view,

  • very much changed the way we're living and deepened our democratic experience.

  • And the first was the cultural and social revolution of 1968 and 1970s,

  • which put the individual at the center of politics.

  • It was the human rights moment.

  • Basically this was also a major outbreak, a culture of dissent,

  • a culture of basically non-conformism,

  • which was not known before.

  • So I do believe that even things like that

  • are very much the children of '68 --

  • nevertheless that most of us had been even not born then.

  • But after that you have the market revolution of the 1980s.

  • And nevertheless that many people on the left try to hate it,

  • the truth is that it was very much the market revolution that sent the message:

  • "The government does not know better."

  • And you have more choice-driven societies.

  • And of course, you have 1989 -- the end of Communism, the end of the Cold War.

  • And it was the birth of the global world.

  • And you have the Internet.

  • And this is not the audience to which I'm going to preach

  • to what extent the Internet empowered people.

  • It has changed the way we are communicating

  • and basically we are viewing politics.

  • The very idea of political community totally has changed.

  • And I'm going to name one more revolution,

  • and this is the revolution in brain sciences,

  • which totally changed the way

  • we understand how people are making decisions.

  • So this is what went right.

  • But if we're going to see what went wrong,

  • we're going to end up with the same five revolutions.

  • Because first you have the 1960s and 1970s,

  • cultural and social revolution,

  • which in a certain way destroyed the idea of a collective purpose.

  • The very idea, all these collective nouns that we have been taught about --

  • nation, class, family.

  • We start to like divorcing, if we're married at all.

  • All this was very much under attack.

  • And it is so difficult to engage people in politics

  • when they believe that what really matters

  • is where they personally stand.

  • And you have the market revolution of the 1980s

  • and the huge increase of inequality in societies.

  • Remember, until the 1970s,

  • the spread of democracy has always been accompanied

  • by the decline of inequality.

  • The more democratic our societies have been,

  • the more equal they have been becoming.

  • Now we have the reverse tendency.

  • The spread of democracy now is very much accompanied

  • by the increase in inequality.

  • And I find this very much disturbing

  • when we're talking about what's going on right and wrong

  • with democracy these days.

  • And if you go to 1989 --

  • something that basically you don't expect that anybody's going to criticize --

  • but many are going to tell you, "Listen, it was the end of the Cold War

  • that tore the social contract between the elites and the people in Western Europe."

  • When the Soviet Union was still there,

  • the rich and the powerful, they needed the people,

  • because they feared them.

  • Now the elites basically have been liberated.

  • They're very mobile. You cannot tax them.

  • And basically they don't fear the people.

  • So as a result of it, you have this very strange situation

  • in which the elites basically got out of the control of the voters.

  • So this is not by accident

  • that the voters are not interested to vote anymore.

  • And when we talk about the Internet,

  • yes, it's true, the Internet connected all of us,

  • but we also know that the Internet created these echo chambers and political ghettos

  • in which for all your life you can stay with the political community you belong to.

  • And it's becoming more and more difficult

  • to understand the people who are not like you.

  • I know that many people here

  • have been splendidly speaking about the digital world and the possibility for cooperation,

  • but [have you] seen what the digital world has done to American politics these days?

  • This is also partly a result of the Internet revolution.

  • This is the other side of the things that we like.

  • And when you go to the brain sciences,

  • what political consultants learned from the brain scientists

  • is don't talk to me about ideas anymore,

  • don't talk to me about policy programs.

  • What really matters is basically to manipulate the emotions of the people.

  • And you have this very strongly

  • to the extent that, even if you see when we talk about revolutions these days,

  • these revolutions are not named anymore around ideologies or ideas.

  • Before, revolutions used to have ideological names.

  • They could be communist, they could be liberal,

  • they could be fascist or Islamic.

  • Now the revolutions are called under the medium which is most used.

  • You have Facebook revolutions, Twitter revolutions.

  • The content doesn't matter anymore, the problem is the media.

  • I'm saying this because one of my major points

  • is what went right is also what went wrong.

  • And when we're now trying to see how we can change the situation,

  • when basically we're trying to see what can be done about democracy,

  • we should keep this ambiguity in mind.

  • Because probably some of the things that we love most

  • are going to be also the things that can hurt us most.

  • These days it's very popular to believe

  • that this push for transparency,

  • this kind of a combination between active citizens, new technologies

  • and much more transparency-friendly legislation

  • can restore trust in politics.

  • You believe that when you have these new technologies and people who are ready to use this,

  • it can make it much more difficult for the governments to lie,

  • it's going to be more difficult for them to steal

  • and probably even going to be more difficult for them to kill.

  • This is probably true.

  • But I do believe that we should be also very clear

  • that now when we put the transparency at the center of politics

  • where the message is, "It's transparency, stupid."

  • Transparency is not about restoring trust in institutions.

  • Transparency is politics' management of mistrust.

  • We are assuming that our societies are going to be based on mistrust.

  • And by the way, mistrust was always very important for democracy.

  • This is why you have checks and balances.

  • This is why basically you have all this creative mistrust

  • between the representatives and those whom they represent.

  • But when politics is only management of mistrust,

  • then -- I'm very glad that "1984" has been mentioned --

  • now we're going to have "1984" in reverse.

  • It's not going to be the Big Brother watching you,

  • it's going to be we being the Big Brother

  • watching the political class.

  • But is this the idea of a free society?

  • For example, can you imagine

  • that decent, civic, talented people are going to run for office

  • if they really do believe

  • that politics is also about managing mistrust?

  • Are you not afraid with all these technologies

  • that are going to track down

  • any statement the politicians are going to make on certain issues,

  • are you not afraid that this is going to be a very strong signal to politicians

  • to repeat their positions, even the very wrong positions,

  • because consistency is going to be more important than common sense?

  • And the Americans who are in the room,

  • are you not afraid that your presidents are going to govern

  • on the basis of what they said in the primary elections?

  • I find this extremely important,

  • because democracy is about people changing their views

  • based on rational arguments and discussions.

  • And we can lose this with the very noble idea

  • to keep people accountable

  • for showing the people that we're not going to tolerate

  • politicians the opportunism in politics.

  • So for me this is extremely important.

  • And I do believe that when we're discussing politics these days,

  • probably it makes sense

  • to look also at this type of a story.

  • But also don't forget, any unveiling is also veiling.

  • [Regardless of] how transparent our governments want to be,

  • they're going to be selectively transparent.

  • In a small country that could be my country,

  • but could be also your country,

  • they took a decision -- it is a real case story --

  • that all of the governmental decisions,

  • discussions of the council of ministers,

  • were going to be published on the Internet

  • 24 hours after the council discussions took place.

  • And the public was extremely all for it.

  • So I had the opportunity to talk to the prime minister,

  • why he made this decision.

  • He said, "Listen, this is the best way

  • to keep the mouths of my ministers closed.

  • Because it's going to be very difficult for them to dissent

  • knowing that 24 hours after