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Gordana Comic, Deputy speaker NARS Reintroducing ethics in politics
PSA Annual International Conference 2019
(UN)SUSTAINABLE POLITICS IN A CHANGING WORLD
Strengthening Parliamentary Democracy PANEL
REINTRODUCING ETHICS IN POLITICS
Absence of ethics and moral corruption
Trust, accountability and rule of law are three corners of any social pyramid that we build for
the sake of certainty for development, economical and political freedom and basic decency of
life on daily basis for each and every citizen.
Ethics in politics is indispensible for the existence of all three “corners of society”, without any
ethics there is huge empty space that is very quickly invaded by populism, hatred, extremism
and uncertainty that is spread around like a virus.
That is the point where fear management starts and where everyone devoted to rule of law,
accountability and trust in institutions of society starts to be mocked around.
Instead of politics made on ethical stand points and politicians who are dream builders and
reality producers we start to build, in chaos, a kind of kitsch in politics that should replace all
our social and public values. That is how moral corruption start to be acceptable and frequent
on places where it should not be present. That is how we forget the beauty of trust and true
values and then find ourselves in époque of crisis of everything what we used to believe and
care for, what we thought is there for eternity.
Why does it happen?
Why we tend to forget how hard it was for generations to build trust and accountability in
society? And how we can reintroduce ethics in politics and decrease moral corruption that will
deny our development?
Times are changing, but ethics in politics should not be “old habit that died”
We should fight for it.
Why ethics is almost expelled from politics?
First of all we should remind ourselves what does it mean to have, cherish and promote ethical
code in society, how it differs from moral code or morality as a whole, where does it come from
and why it seems nowadays that we all are lacking some ethical verticals that would keep the
fabric of our societies together and all of us certain of what is proper thing to stand for and
what most certainly is not.
In different societies it comes from different sources, but if we would try to close our eyes and
travel through time all the way to the beginning of human kind we could see a bright line of
never stopped storytelling thrown in time like message in the bottle to the sea of eternity. We
don’t know who, how and when begun storytelling but the magic lasts. The best of all stories
we embedded in legends, myths, religion books, tribal heritage and history of our societies. Our
identity can be found in some storytelling that can be easily proved to be very similar in every
corner of our globe. We, the humans, share the basics of what is good and what is evil, what is
moral and what is not, what is acceptable and what is not, however locally it may look different.
At some point of history we started to write down in laws everything what we agreed that
should be ethical, acceptable for society and punished if not respected. Basically, laws were
wrote and “given to the people” to ban any behavior based on what society said was improper
leaving people to think of that what ever they wanted, but everybody must act according to
what was written in laws.
Through last couple of hundred years we established democracy, political parties, rights and
freedoms for all people, elections and institutional rule of law that should enable stability,
economic development, stability and prosperity for every member of society.
It did not happen at the same time everywhere in the world, on the contrary we who live in
different societies still share the space but we do not share the époque of development,
strength of democracy or level of rule of law established.
If we focus on few last decades we can clearly see how “times are changin’” as Nobel Prize
winner Bob Dylan used to sing. It was kind of a small miracle hearing that Bob Dylan won a
Nobel Prize, but on the other hand, he wrote a line “Times, they are changin’” and with that
line he described our époque, so he might very well deserved that prize.
How and why changes took place?
What triggered them and are they good or bad?
The second question is easier and the answer is “nobody knows yet”, but one thing is for sure
changes in political landscape in the world are here to stay, so let’s deal with it, let us all put
some effort to understand what is going on, exactly.
I would offer times when political parties were formed and start to shape Europe some 100 or
150 years ago – what people thought of that at the time?
It looks like they liked it, it looks like they felt that political parties and elected representatives
will do something for better and for good, something for common goods and rights and
freedom for the people.
And they did, political parties managed to offer some answers to the people during the hard
times and good times, during wars and peace, destructions and developing time in societies.
Political parties changed agendas of the societies, were progressive in gender issues,
environment, dialogue, cross parties cooperation and a lot of other issues.
So, when and how political parties lost momentum in XXI century? When and where was that
tipping point for the people, the point they realized that parties do not hear them, do not see
them and how people decided to put trust in movements, ad hoc groups without structures and
program, to put trust and faith in sometimes angry individuals instead to classic political
When and how the basic ethics embedded in all of the parties started to blur instead of being
the light and clearness? What was the moment when accountability started to have
interpretations, when all the pillars of society started to shake announcing the age of
uncertainty, mistrust, movements, the age of crisis of ideas and crisis of leaders in politics?
There may be two main parameters combined in creation of context that we live nowadays.
Speed of exchange of information accelerated by internet and social media left almost all
democratic institutions, political parties and the way we represent people behind, we in the
system that was created to be accountable and trusted, we all started being too slow and
bordered with procedures consuming time and slower we were it was harder to catch up, the
space was already occupied with movements and individuals. Not just because political parties
did not have the answers for the people, but because they were too slow to respond.
So, in a kind of a paradox, movements are there because political parties and institutions were
Movements were just and right respond for people with fears, anger, for life in the age of
uncertainty. And often they offered “easy and light solutions” in the “land of milk and honey
where there are no political parties” When political parties finally catches up they said “o,
people want that kind of rhetoric’s, fine!” and that how more or less populism was gloriously
born, from the worst of parties and worst of movements.
And there where populism rules there can’t be any ethics, it is removed and vanishes because
“populism can do everything without any ethical code” it is all emotional communication
feeding the worst emotions possible.
For half of XX century we had political parties, civic society and citizens as partners in state
building, establishing rule of law, free media, market economy and coping with burden of the
past, war crimes, unresolved issues and reconciliation across the Europe. We believed in the
beauty of European idea, in that highly appreciated idea of sitting around the table and
construct your own future through the dialogue however hard it is from time to time.
Economic and financial crisis in 2008 dragged whole world back, it dragged EU as well and
enabled strong growth of far-right, populism and finally it looked like any to that point ethical
code in politics dropped from any EU agenda, too many problems in the core structures of EU,
Brexit, migrants, rising atmosphere of narcissism of small differences among countries that
produced conflicts almost on daily basis on issue “what kind of EU do we really need and do we
need EU at all?”
Neither parties nor movements had clear answers.
One gift of globalization and post global world is often forgotten, and that is the fact that
economic and financial power went globally irreversibly and political power stayed local, where
“local” is Brussels but also Washington or Moscow.
How anyone can be accountable as representative when the key players for economical
environment in the country are out of reach?
People see us, political representatives; they don’t see global players and we are not able to
give them right answers and that is fertile soil for populism with “get our country back!” and
rhetoric that only feeds anger and fear among people not giving any solution as well.
So, what can I do, as representative to reintroduce political party in its place, to establish
partnership with movements, to catch up with social media?
The one and only thing that can save our century and that is honesty.
Honesty as the first step to reintroduce ethics in politics.
We live the age of uncertainty and we should share with the people our ideas about new place
for political parties, institutions and representatives, our ideas on how to reform political
parties to fit in new context and combat populism, combat old ideas of will for conflicts that
once upon a time brought nothing but disaster to everyone.
The world we used to know and love does not exist anymore, but basic principles of democracy
are alive and kicking and we should stick to them.
How we parliamentarians can do that? How parliamentary democracy can innovate itself, stay
the same in basic principles, but fit for XXI century? Is it doable?
Every reality is first an imagination, at the beginning, an idea to be transformed in life, on daily
That is what political parties do, we are dream builders and reality producers and to stay fit
with ability to change and adapt political parties must never stop building dreams and produce
reality based on that dreams, if they stop doing it, they die. You can not survive as political
party without ideas you carry on as offer and as a dream to voters.
Being a populist means that you are nightmare builder and in reality you produce disasters.
So, why people love populism than? Knowing from history what happens “after populism”?
It is sweet and seductive, it feeds low passion within people, it uses propaganda to make you
sure that your dream is already fulfilled, you just need populists to show you how beautiful it is
to negatively define everything and everybody else because than you will look better to
everyone than you really are. Populism need enemies, fears, needs the perception that
everything around you is in danger and that hatred, myths and will to fight is the only possible
In Serbia, back in nineties, there was an organization, half a political party half a movement that
took populism as a sharp tool to “make the case” for wars, blood shell, atrocities. And they
were successful, they did it.
The nightmare they shared was that “everybody hates us”, “everybody want to destroy us”,
“conspiracy theories” “nationalism”, “everybody is robbing us” “they hate us because we are so
much better than anyone else” “blood soil poems” etc.
And the reality produced with that nightmare was four wars, more than 100 000 people killed,
more than 700 000 refugees and displaced persons, homes lost, infrastructure destroyed,
families broken, atrocities and war crimes committed, economy in ruins, society poisoned with
hatred, intolerance and shame.
Do they regret, do they cope with the reality that was produced?
Populists never do that. If they would have a kind of “ethical axe” in what they carry as an idea,
they would not be populists at first place.
How populism grows and why it is accepted?
Populism is not possible without fears spread around, without uncertainty, non-visible future
and a picture of danger that is coming to destroy “our way of life”.
Fears can also be produced and made by propaganda, so populism can’t stand dialogue, free
media, rule of law (however fragile).
Everybody different is an enemy. Populism will lie about everybody who doesn’t agree to be
frightened and dares to stand up and defend elementary humanity. Whoever is of different
ethnicity, religion, origin, language, opinion, attitude is a danger “for our way of life”, is an
enemy and everything is allowed to neutralize him, If he or she has a job, than fire him or her,
treat their families, play “shame & blame” and smear campaigns if they dare to organize
themselves. Humiliate, despise, spit that is a discourse of public language. Arrogant to weaker
then himself and humble with more powerful than himself that is true populist.
There is no populism without myths and that is first rhetoric used, people are familiar with
myths of their own narrative, they are omnipresent in tradition and misusing them is the basic
tool of populism. Will it be “the myth of Serbs, the oldest tribe” or anything else depends only
on geography in which populism emerges.
Populism needs democracy for the legitimacy. Populist rhetoric is defended as “freedom of
speech” at the beginning and they are right to do so. Problem starts when and if they gain
power, than they star t to shut down every institute of democracy picturing them as a “danger
for our cause”.
Populism has to hate something, someone. It doesn’t work without hate spread around.
Nationalistic rhetoric in Serbia was all the time “against” someone else who you should hate
because of his ethnic origin. When hate starts to be appreciated in society it starts to poison
every cell of the society and everlasting propaganda is there to make sure that people will
continue to love hate all around.
Why do people let populism to affect their lives?
They liked it. It is very simple, populist wording is something a lot of people like to hear.
How to combat populism? How to reintroduce new ethical code and rebuild trust in societies
that democracy knows what to do?
1) With the one and only cure found and implemented: democracy, rule of law, free media and
dialogue. If those tools are strong populist can’t get legitimacy, however they won on any level
2) With improving every sector in society, dealing with any fear people feel and any critics that
people have for democratic institutions. People should not be afraid of tomorrow and fear
management should be delegitimized as a way to run society-
3) With free media, open to everybody, that will endlessly explain why and how populism is
nothing but a nightmare for any society, free media can hold populists accountable with much
more efficiency than democratic political parties.
Can we erase a wish for populists among people?
No. But with sharing experiences of us who have been ruled by populists we can save someone
We can avoid tragic mistakes that someone else didn’t.
That makes populists very unhappy, insecure and frightened to try again.
History of successful societies is history of crisis management and we live in the world where
democracy is in crisis, people think that it does not work, does not deliver what it should
deliver. Parliaments are there to reaffirm themselves, to regain what truthfully belongs to
them. Reforming the way political parties are performing, calming those who are afraid of what
future may bring and stick to honesty in communication with the people. We are in parliaments
not just to adopt laws and control the government, we are in the parliaments to remember that
we stand on the shoulders of generations of people who we don’t know but who fought and die
believing in democracy to be the best tool for certainty, stability, prosperity and economical
development that will enable economy to grow and inequality in society to drop and decrease.
Democratic systems are made to acknowledge all conflicts in the society and to build all
mechanisms needed to resolve them, one by one. The conflict we are facing in our époque is
there because we are trying to reshape parliamentary democracy without reshaping our own
lack of ethics in politics.
We all know what we should boldly and bravely stand for; we just need to show it.