Young people in politics – a new kind of politics?

23. October, 2001

Foto: J. Pipars

Discussions among politically active young people do not engender optimism. Representatives of youth organizations of political parties can easily live with the two-faced nature of politics. Only a few have become involved in the organizations in the interests of society, not because of their own interests. Those who are not involved in politics have no desire to join in the process. There are too few “positive heroes” in the ranks of politicians.

Last summer, there were heated debates in Latvia about the United Nations’ Human Development Report. Latvia. 2000/2001. The authors of that report always analyze public policy processes in Latvia. The report said that the most important decisions in Latvia are very often taken by a narrow range of individuals, and no solid arguments have been presented to oppose this thesis. One-third of Latvia’s residents believe that work in political parties is a very influential form of political participation, but the fact is that only 1-2% of the population are involved in parties.

Will the younger generation in Latvia change the situation? On 18 October, a meeting at the United Nations building in Riga brought together young people who are members of youth organizations of political parties, university and high school students who care about being involved, and public policy experts, the aim being to talk about this matter. In this article, I will look at two issues which were raised at the discussion and which I consider to be of key importance – the motivation of young people when they become involved in politics, and the extent to which information is available.

Why do young people become involved in politics? Do they want to “change the world”? Members of political party youth groups who were at the discussion said that it is interesting to be involved – new acquaintances and friends, access to information, support from older members, contacts, an opportunity to gain experience in political life, relaxation and everything else that is important for young people when they have free time. The process is engaging and interesting. Is that the point of politics, however? It is all well and good to develop oneself, but should this be the exclusive or even primary motivation for being involved in politics?

Other participants in the discussion said that participation in a political party is a way to work on behalf of the public interest as one sees it. Participants at the meeting were worried about various problems which face students and young people. It is hard to have your voice heard if you are alone, or even if you operate in a non-governmental organization, they said. Young people feel that if you are standing outside the group, you can watch, you can monitor, and you can criticize, but you cannot influence the process. Even if you have a professionally prepared and expressed viewpoint – is anyone going to hear it?

Do young people have access to participation resources – information in particular? Participants in the discussion affirmed that only if you are “inside” politics you can get the “right” and “true” information. As a party activist, you can receive support for your ideas, you can gain advice, and you can defend your views in person. At the same time, however, the more important the issue, the less information is disclosed outside of the ranks. Young people agreed with the human development report’s claim that there are some important issues which are of material interest to a narrow range of individuals, as well as other important issues which are of interest to the public at large and are not influenced much by the economic interests of just a few people.

Some of the participants, however, said that there is enough or even too much information – all that you need is an ability to find it. Many draft laws and regulations are published on the official homepages of government institutions and political parties. The problem is finding, selecting and disseminating the information. People at the meeting talked about the need to systematize the information, agreeing with an idea that was expressed at a conference last September on the subject “The Media on Information Openness and E-government in Latvia” – that a public information portal must be established.
Did the discussion engender optimism? I’m afraid not. No, the discussion brought together only a tiny share of university and high school students. No, those who are outside of politics really have no desire to come in – there are too few “positive heroes” among politicians. No, representatives of the youth organizations of political parties can easily live with the two-faced nature of politics. No, only a few have become involved in political party youth organizations in the interests of society, not because of their own interests. I will be very pleased if the young people themselves prove me wrong. raksts

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