In the following paper we shall discuss the link between age as a personal characteristic and the right to vote as one of, if not the most important fundamental political human right, which is inseparably linked to a democratic, plural state ruled by law.
The ability to influence important decisions in a certain state or municipality is often limited by different criteria. Who will represent the people in a democratic state or at a local level is a result of general elections. A question subjected to a referendum is dependent on voter turnout and the prevailing choices of individuals who have the right to take part in such decision making.
The right to vote is not absolute, but is subject to certain restrictions and limitations and was historically limited by criteria nowadays unimaginable, such as race, gender, social status etc. In the 21st century we have lesser restrictions, but some still remain such as citizenship, residence/domicile and age. They are not problematic if they are set on a basis of legitimate reasons. Age based distinctions »are currently employed to determine when a person can marry, vote, drive, consent to sexual intercourse and sell property«.
Age is therefore used as a tool preventing a certain social group from engaging (more) actively in certain areas of political and legislative spectre of society. Stricter age distinctions or rules usually apply regarding the right to run in elections or be a candidate (passive right to vote) than in being able to vote or cast your vote (active right to vote). Concrete chosen age is usually a result of a societies or legislators presumption at what age an individual is capable of understanding the right to vote in a way that he or she will be able to carry out his right in a proper manner with reasonable decisions which will be founded on available information at hand, to choose between different options that are available, so that he or she will choose the option closest to his personal beliefs, values and interest.
Different generations have different interest and values. Legislature (almost) never uses “old age” as a reason for someone to »loose« his right to vote, while youth is often or always used as a reason to prevent the young(er) generations from participating in elections. Since the right to vote is a fundamental political human right it should be interpreted in a broad manner without unnecessary restrictions and limitations.
Age limit regarding right to vote is a consequence of a false presumption by the legislator that young people are not capable of understanding the meaning and effect of elections. Voting ages have changed through time and are not set in stone. Changing social circumstances demand changes in legislature, and the legislator is the one who must show legitimate and convincing reasons and arguments for keeping the voting age at a certain (high) level. A patronage over younger generations in this case is not justified.
A lowering of the voting age – especially for local elections – is justified and would enable a larger part of the population to participate in elections, therefore expanding the electoral body and the total number of voters and at the same time voter turnout – more people vote, more interests and values collide more legitimate the result. Right now the interests of the younger generations are underrepresented and so the electoral or referendum results do not present a real picture of the peoples interests. The picture on a smaller scale is very similar on the local level with some specifics which will be discussed further on.
Balance Between Generations
A whole social group is excluded from public decision making process on the sole ground of their age, or better because of their youth. There exist many initiatives from different youth organisations worldwide promoting the lowering of the voting age. Similar ideas can also be found in a Council of Europe General Assembly Resolution »Expansion of Democracy by Lowering the Voting Age to 16« from march 2011.
Because of the demographic changes in some countries, which are especially visible in certain municipalities, (less young people compared to elder generations) we could be witness to a conflict between generations if the younger generation which thinks that it is capable of making mature, quality and responsible decisions will feel disadvantaged and cut off from public decision making which influences their future. The right to vote would enable them to influence such decisions in a legitimate way by casting their own votes. If the legislature enables them to do so, it would increase their sense of possibilities to influence, which in time could develop into higher voter turnout in their age group. Political arena must not be a place where main topics discussed are connected only to the older generations, on the ground that they have social and political power that can be demonstrated on elections. Important political decisions (from social to ecological) would in such cases be more long term orientated, deliberate and quality, since they would be more future orientated. Younger generations would understand this as decision making regarding their future, and the solutions for the improvement of the future conditions of society and life in a local environment would be subject to more control, because their realization is in the best interest of this younger generations.
There also exist a wide divide between younger and older legislative or local governing body structures and institutions, that does not express the actual structure of society. Although, general representative bodies such as legislative or local bodies represent (local) society as a whole – without any age limitations. The governing bodies are constituted of representatives not belonging to young generations, since they are not allowed either to vote or to run for election, and therefore cannot identify themselves with institutions on the structure of which they have absolutely no influence.
Some respected constitutional scholars like Dieter Suhr claimed that our democracy is based on an error that »the people« is constituted only of adults, while others thought that in a real representative democratic society every voice should be heard and that representative democracy in a state where the right to vote is limited to individuals older than 18 years of age is a myth used to hide systematic age discrimination of children, and that such age limitations deny human dignity and present a violation of the general right to vote (Merk, 1996:12 and 2006: 22, 23). The removal of the voting age would mean that the right to vote is a natural human right, but would also open up new questions regarding who would vote »instead« of the children, who are too young to understand the meaning and effect of elections. If the parents or other legal guardians would execute this in their children name it is known as demeny voting and was already proposed in certain countries (Sanderson, 2007). For example in Germany in 2003 47 member of Bundestag proposed such a solution in a document »Mehr Demokratie wagen durch ein Wahlrecht von Geburt an« , the prevailing argument being that demographic changes demand a reconsideration of the intergenerational contract and that the right to vote is a fundamental basis of every democratic society and therefore limiting this right for children and teenagers on one hand raises a question of the principle of equality before the law and on the other hand encouraging politics which shifts the burden on younger generation.
Similar was the situation in Slovenia where in 2002 a group of 24 members of parliament proposed a constitutional change to lower the right to vote (suffrage) from 18 to 16 years (Ribičič, 2002, 2003). None of these proposals succeeded. Maybe some part of the failure can be contributed to the “all or nothing” stance regarding the lowering of the general voting age. The results might have been different if the proposal referred to or was limited only to lowering the voting age for local elections (as the first step). Such case would make it easier for the legislator to except certain arguments in favour of the proposal since it would not be directly affected by the proposal. In the Preamble of the European Charter of Local Self-Government we can read that “local authorities are one of the main foundations of any democratic regime”, and that “the right of citizens to participate in the conduct of public affairs is one of the democratic principles…” that can be most directly exercised at a local level. The support of local authorities could also be important in the decision making process from the “building democracy from the bottom up” point of view. If we take a look at 2014 State of Participatory Democracy Report we see that one of the goals for local authorities should include the promotion of “youth voice”. Young people are often seen as a driving force for local democracy. Democratic countries that have an inclusive system on local level that enables young people to take part in local decision-making also rank higher in the Participatory Local Democracy Index. What better way to give the youth a proper voice than by giving them the right to vote.
(In)experience, Competence, Legitimate Decisions and Quality of Choice
Most common argument against the lowering of the voting age are that young people are inexperienced, immature, lack knowledge, political interest and motivation, are incompetent of quality decision simply do not stand. Many researches indicate that the younger generation (16 – 18 year-olds) is just as educated and familiar with public matters if not even more compared to the older generations (Hart and Atkins, 2011).
On the other hand a low level of voting should be particularly worrying when the reason behind it is a reflection indifference, disenchantment or lack of capability or competence (Chan and Clayton, 2006).
With the development of modern information society and easy access to certain social media the younger generations have a practically unlimited access to day to day information on politics, state, public affairs etc. and are probably better equipped with information or have easier access to them, compared to some members of older generations. This vital information makes them competent to make a »quality« decision. At this point I cannot turn away from the question of quality and legitimacy of a young voters’ choice. It is very hypocritical to claim that an individuals’ choice in election is not quality choice since quality in such cases is very subjective, depending on the interests and values of a specific and individual voter. In this respect all choices can be and are quality choices. Allowing younger generations to vote would probably enhance the quality of choice and result since new, fresh ideas and habits would appear on the political map that would promote progress and perspective instead of reinforcing old and obsolete patterns.
Modern mass media in the 21st century has a tremendous effect and can reach and activate greater audiences. For instance in Slovenia 82 percent of Slovenian youth (aged 16–27) use the Internet as their main source for acquiring information on current political events. Likewise, 71 percent of Slovenian youth obtain information about politics from television. .
Young voters may also prefer new and different model of political participation over traditional forms such as electoral participation (Topf, 1995).
Generations used to following the media, collecting information, picking out and buying products, paying their bills by internet etc. has become detached to certain traditional ways of doing things that require physical attendance at a certain place like elections. Such ways of casting a vote could be modernized by electronic voting, which would bring the act of voting closer to the everyday of younger generations and would make it easier for them and encourage them to vote (with regard to the secret ballot). This could also add to the level of democracy in a society, one of which aspect is also (voluntary) voter turnout.
Some think that cast votes should reflect citizens’ true preferences, and choices made in elections or votes given should be consistent with the citizen’s views, attitudes and preferences (Lau et al, 2008; Lau, Redlawsk, 1997). This would have negative consequences for democracy (Wagner, Johann and Kritzinger, 2012: 374). This however is true only if the young voters are not tricked into believing something is in their own interest’, or that a political program of a political party will be realized, but the reality later shows a different story.
All and all, every choice is a legitimate choice. This later statement originates from a simple claim that political parties or candidates at elections as well as choices on a referendum must be constitutionally and legally admissible – must fulfil all legal requirements to be able to participate in election etc. Therefore any choice a young voter would be – regarding electoral or referendum choice – is a legitimate and quality choice.
Younger age has some other positive aspects. Young voters are largely still involved in some sort of compulsory school education, mostly live at home and are more involved in their local environment. This period of their life and the environment surrounding them is relatively stable (parental, school and local influence). It is therefore easier to develop the so-called voting habit at an earlier age, since the environment surrounding a younger individual is more encouraging for a young voter to take part in elections (Plutzer, 2002; Franklin, 2004; Highton and Wolfinger, 2001; Bhatti and Hansen, 2010 ).
The consequences of such changes will be positive if they help to encourage young people to participate in the democratic process, encourage the development of voting habit ensure the representation of the young voters interests (Wagner, Johann and Kritzinger, 2012: 373).
There are many possible solutions to enable someone to vote at an earlier age. One of them is connected to the so-called »birthday risk«. An individual can vote only after reaching the voting age, but the closer the election day and an individuals’ birthday are, the bigger the chance he will take part in elections, instead of another individual who will have to wait several months or even years after reaching the voting age to get the chance to cast his or her vote (Folkes, 2004, p. 52-56).This risk can be lessened by different possibilities such as the »voting year benefit«, meaning that a voter would be able to vote from the beginning of the calendar year in which he or she turn old enough to vote (Zagorc, 2006: 338).
The argument that the right to vote belongs only to experienced, mature and capable of quality decision making individuals has also been rejected by different international documents and court decisions.
At the end, most of the presented factors such as motivation, knowledge etc., do not help explain the low turnout rates among young voter, so we cannot claim that young voters fail to vote for reasons particularly troubling for democratic legitimacy (Wagner, Johann and Kritzinger, 2012). Most of the reasoning used for state elections applies also for local elections.
Low Voter Turnout
One of the later and main reasons for upholding status quo regarding the voting age is also the presumption that younger voters do not actively participate in election or do not turn out to vote therefore limiting the legitimacy of electoral result. Some other motives and reasons causing low turnout must also be considered.
Many researchers of late have detected low levels of youth political participation in established democracies. This is up to some extend true also for Slovenia, especially regarding participation in elections. But factual participation in elections regarding youth (in this case 18 to 27 years of age) does not give us a reliable data on the potential participation in election of the 16 (or lower) to 18 year group. The last age group has its own characteristics.
The emphasis should not be on the (youth) voter turnout, because the willingness of the young generation to partake in election, should not be crucial in deciding whether or not to lower the voting age. Such a case would again subdue the younger generation to a stricter standard than the ones that apply to older generations. Once a person reaches a certain age and acquires the right to vote no one asks if this individual participates in elections or referendums and realizes his right. There are no discussions on whether they should be deprived of his voting right if they are not active in the use of this right. Even systems with mandatory voting do not anticipate such sanctions. Therefore the argument of low youth voter turnout cannot be an accepted argument against a lower voting age.
Otherwise the same reason of »low voter turnout« can be used as an argument for enacting a rule that would take away the right to vote for those individuals who fail to exercise their right without an excusable reason.
Later we will show that the prediction of “low turnout” is not entirely true which can be empirically proven at least in the case of local elections.
The same argument is without a doubt used differently for different generations in society, with one extra very important difference – low young voter turnout is an assumption while voter turnout of older generations who already attained the right to vote is a proven fact. The legislator therefore denies a young generation to vote among other reason because of a presumption of a low voter turnout, while at the same time allowing older voters to participate in following elections or referendums although if we would prohibit those individuals to vote it would probably result in higher voter turnout.
This leads to an illogical conclusion that the legislator prohibits younger individuals, who wish to participate in elections or referendums to do so on a presumption that they will not turn out, while at the same time we offer every opportunity to older generations to participate in public decision making solely on the grounds of their age and do not take this opportunity away even if they choose not to use it. Therefore the deprivation of someone’s right to vote on the grounds that he or she did not turn out for election day is an inappropriate measure, as well as unfounded opposition to lowering the voting age on the grounds of presumed or expected low voter turnout of the young generation is. Acting on a presumption is not the same as acting on fact. Younger generations should be given the opportunity to prove whether such presumptions are fiction or fact.
Increased Participation and Voter Turnout, Active Citizenship and Citizenship Education
Electoral or voter turnout in most of modern democracies has declined in the last thirty years, This is contributed to low voter turnout by young eligible voters. This general trend towards declining voter turnout or participation is especially noticeable in Western Europe (Aarts, Wessels, 2005) and wider.
It is often argued that the younger generations exhibit low political interest (Blais et al., 2004)
It is feared that it will cause a decline of democratic legitimacy if the elections fail in its role as the »institutional connection« between citizens (voters) and the state (Topf, 1995a). Same can be said in relation to local elections.
Some scholars see the reasons behind this in different values and interest prevailing between different generations, since the young generation does not consider elections in the sense of a »civic duty« (Blais, 2000; Inglehalt, 1990; Dalton, 2009; Mattenberg, 2002), while others see the prevailing reasons in the fact that to young voters elections do not really seem competitive enough. They have the feeling that their voices cannot change anything, have no effect (Franklin, 2004: 25-30). This is not entirely true for local elections. (Dis)belief in political influence is very important regarding the participation and voter turnout. In Slovenia the study showed that “In general, more young people (16 – 27 years old) have higher self-perceived influence on local institutions than on national institutions.” and that “young people (18 – 27 years-old) are more likely to attend elections if they believe that they have more influence on national institutions or on local institutions” . More young people believe they have influence on the local level and in local elections. Similarly interesting is the fact that in Slovenia local institutions are much more trustworthy for young people (16 – 27) than national institutions or political parties. 34 percent of young people trust (very much or to some extent) local government/mayor/municipal council, while on the other hand the trust is much lower for national institutions such as Government (12 percent), Parliament (11 percent), Political Parties (8 percent). Participating in local elections for young generation is therefore more interesting and appealing.
People under 18 or 21 have different interests than older generations., Therefore a low turnout of those under 18 leads to an underrepresentation of those interests or unequal representation of interest connected to different generations which would have negative consequences for democracy (Verba, 2001).
One of the possibilities to increase young voter participation could be (citizenship) education which could reaffirm or strengthen the bond between young individuals eligible to vote and encourage them to take a more active part in public affairs such as elections, referendums etc. This could be done by teaching the basics of a state constitutional order, electoral and referendum system, system of local self-government etc.
We already established that a higher voter turnout means a more legitimate result in elections. Therefore a high(er) level of voter turnout at elections is often understood as an indicator or sign of a healthy democracy (Fieldhouse, et al., 2007).
Some argue that a low turnout is an indication of high satisfaction with democracy, and therefore a low turnout among younger voters does not endanger the health of democracy (Dittrich and Johansen, 1983, Lipset, 1959). Although this might be true from a perspective that they are satisfied with their interest being realized without their turnout it is not very likely.
When a voting age is lowered a new group of potential voters appears – a young(er) generation – with different values and interests. We can even expect a proportional rise of voter turnout due to the fact that, because of the entry of new interests and values through the new electorate, the later will try to enforce them, which would stimulate the rest of the age or generational groups of voters with different values and interests to actively participate in elections and by doing so enforcing their interests, which would result in the enforcement of a wide variety of interests, together representing a wide mixture of different interest, the sum of which can be described as a wide social interest or even as public interest. Or as the Council of Europe resolution Expansion of democracy by lowering the voting age to 16 puts it »The first argument is the expansion of democracy. An election which also includes 16- and 17-year-olds is more representative than one which includes only those over 18. Adding another section of society increases the representativeness of those elected and there is no counter argument to this…. Lowering the voting age to 16 would continue this trend, making democracies more democratic by including more citizens in decision-making processes. European society is subject to constant change, new challenges, needs and opportunities, especially for young people«. Of course there is no need to stop at 16, but 16 can be the first next step.
Political choices are legitimate if and because they reflect »the will of the people« – that is if they can be derived from the authentic preferences of the members of community.« (Scharpf, 1999:6). This supports the view that individuals who are capable and willing to partake in democratic public decision making should be able and allowed to do so.
Therefore democratic input legitimacy can be negatively affected if a lower voting age extends suffrage to young citizens who are not motivated or capable to take part in public decision making through elections or referendum (Wagner, Johann and Kritzinger, 2012).
In the case of Slovenia a study was carried out recently on the situation of youth in Slovenia. The findings conclude that the youth is relatively uninterested in politics in general, are not burdened by ideology, don’t feel represented (by political institutions), are not satisfied with democracy and its institutions, feel they lack influence on politics etc. On the other hand the youth feels they have more influence on local (rather than state) politics and would more actively take part in elections if they had more influence – a step in the right direction is to enable them to participate in elections. Their trust in local political institutions (mayors and municipality councils) and local politics is also relatively high.
The later statements are empirically harder to test since there is not much data on the subject, a short analysis will follow on the case of Austria. Nevertheless studies conducted in Austria thus far found an increase in political interest among 16- and 17-year-olds following the lowering of the voting age (Zeglovits and Zandonella, 2013).
A Comparative Approach
Many countries are considering the lowering of the voting age to 16 (most of them have the voting age set somewhere between 18 and 21 years of age). Some empirical data on the impact of the lowering of a voting age can be found in the case of neighbouring Austria.
At the moment the only European Union country which lowered the general voting age to 16 is Austria, while a rare few other countries outside EU made similar changes e.g. Argentina, while debates on the subject are going on in many countries such as Malta, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, United Kingdom etc. Estonia is the latest newcomer to the family of countries which lowered the voting age (from 18 to 16 years of age) for local elections in May 2015. The result of the constitutional change is that in 2017 when next local elections for local government councils 24.000 young Estonians will be able to cast their vote. The reasoning behind the decision is seen through some of the discussions in the Parliament. The lowering of the voting age as the parliamentarians saw it is a sign of trust towards the younger generation, it enables them to actively participate in society, is an important development to democracy, it allows young people decide to on the progress of their local communities, it might increase the interest of young people in politics etc. One interesting argument from the initators of the constitutional change was the ageing of Estonian society. Therefore the importance of senior voters, whos number is growing is increasing in elections. At the same time age of representatives passing decisions on the issues concerning the life of younger people is ever growing – the young do not feel represented.
In Slovenia for instance there are few examples of members of Parliament or municipal councils below the age of 25, so that even those young individuals with the right to vote end up for years only deciding on the election of older before being themselves able to successfully run for public office. In the Parliament’s second house – the National Council – which represents special local and professional interests, the young also find no special representation. For these reasons, the interests of the young find themselves wading as salmon against the stream of predominant interests trying to reach the representatives elected by their parents and grandparents. There can be no doubt that they are not in the same position as the elderly and their interests, which are represented through the deputies they themselves elected. The young and their interests face a significant two-stage obstacle on the road to the representative bodies: first, they are represented by deputies who cannot be given binding instructions (Art. 82 Constitution of the Republic of Slovenia) and second, these deputies have been elected by the older generations in line with their own interests and beliefs. Thus, the representation of the young and their interests is a special kind of two-stage, cascade representation. It is therefore of great significance that the voting age be lowered as much as possible and not remain at the age of 18, where it has been maintained for the last 70 years. In so doing, less young individuals will be in the position of having their interests represented on the basis of the described double mediation.
In Ireland a referendum should have been held before the end of 2015 on the lowering of the voting age, since the majority of the Convention on constitution members recommended that the voting age should be lowered from 18 to 16. The Irish government still has not kept up to their promise but instead organized a referendum on the question of the eligible age to run for president – Voters were asked whether to reduce the minimum age of presidential candidates from 35 to 21 years. The results were 73.1% against and 26.9% in favour of lowering the age limit. Interesting enough is also an agreement between the Scottish government and the government of United kingdom, that gave the Scottish Parliament the power to decide whether 16 and 17 years old would be allowed to vote on the referendum regarding Scottish independence that was held in 2014, and by doing so giving the young the power to decide on their countries future. The Scottish Parliament later passed the referendum franchise bill allowing the »every 16 and 17 year old the right to add their voice to the most important decision made in Scotland in 300 years«. On the other hand some countries lowered the voting age for state (not federal), regional and local elections. Such are the cases of Bremen, Lower Saxony, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, North Rhine-Westphalia, Saxony-Anhalt and Schleswig-Holstein, in Switzerland canton of Glarus and in three British Crown dependencies Isle of Man, Jersey an Guersey. Norway for instance even did a trial test of reducing the voting age for 2011 local elections where 20 municipalities participated and voter turnout among 16 and 17 year-olds was 58 per cent, compared to 64,5 per cent state average. The state average for 18 to 21 year-old was 46 per-cent and for 21 to 29 year-olds was 45 per-cent. Some reasons for such results are probably that 16 and 17 year-olds are more easily mobilised than their slightly older peers, they live in a stable environment (go to school, live with their family), still live in their local community.
One must also not neglect the efforts of the municipalities that (voluntarily) entered into trial to try to promote the local elections with the younger generation as much as possible and were also very much engaged in youth politics (Bergh, 2013).
On the other hand Austria reduced the (active) right to vote to 16 years for the elections to the EU Parliament, National Council (Nationalrat), president of the federal republic, referendums, candidate support and peoples initiative. The Government of Austria put in its program for the forthcoming 23rd legislative period the lowering of the voting age to 16. The debate in the Nationalrat was similar to paternity test, since political parties and members of the council mostly fought about who was the first one to propose such legislation, while most of the comments went in the direction as »it is about time for change«, »since young people pay taxes they have the right to take part in decision making about how it is spent«, »enrichment with the view of the young«, »the interest of the young are to connected to their (legal) maturity«, »a decision in support of more intergenerational justice since the population is aging«, »a great success for which the citizens will be more active and decision making processes (because of higher turnout) more legitimate« etc. One of the reasons for the lowering of the voting age was also the positive experience in Austria from the reduced voting age for local elections. But later on a research was carried out, showing that the voter turnout between the age group of 16 – 18 year old was relatively low, but that is not enough to claim that a certain voting habit has developed, since for that more time must pass. The findings in the research also indicate that young voters have more confidence in political institutions on one hand and less knowledge of political parties on the other, but this does not explain low turnout. The research also indicates that the quality of choice (capability to choose political parties that are ideologically closer to younger voters) compared to older counterparts is of the same »quality« therefore a lower voting age does not influence the quality of choice. Their findings on the lowering of the voting age indicate no apparent negative impacts on input legitimacy and the quality of democratic decisions(Wagner, Johann and Kritzinger, 2012: 372, 378, 380-381).
A study of electoral participation from two regional elections in Austria the “first time voting boost” is even stronger among youngest voters and is significantly higher compared to 18- to 20- year-old first time voters and not substantially lower than the average turnout rate at elections. The authors therefore concluded that their findings are encouraging for the idea of lowering voting age as a means of establishing higher turnout rates in the future (Zeglovitz and Aichholzer, 2014: 351). Therefore many positive aspects on the other hand do exist and should be studied carefully.
A close correlation exists between the influence of the people, citizens on the decision making process and the state of democracy in a country. We have shown that age is one of the factors still used to prevent certain groups or generations of citizens to contribute and take part in formal public decision making processes such as elections (on all levels) and referendums. Different countries have different age limitations for acquiring the right to vote. This differs even between different types of elections (state, local etc.) For most of the countries there still exists a leeway to changing certain age restrictions. The decision in such cases is left to the everyday legislator, who enjoys a wide margin of appreciation regarding the regulation of electoral processes. Lowering of the voting age, would increase the absolute number of the voter body or electorate, the consequence of which would be a rise of absolute number of voters and probably also voter turnout (proportion of citizens who can vote), but in any case more citizens (a larger portion of »the people«) would be able to contribute to the decision making. A high(er) voter turnout would in the end also mean more legitimacy for elected representatives, enacted decisions and laws passed through a representative body or referendum, since it has wide support of the people. De lege ferenda we shall probably witness a lowering of the voting age in constitutions and laws in many countries across the world, especially those with demographic challenges such as the ageing of society, that will try to balance different interest of generations through giving a real voice to the younger generation, a voice than can be used in formal decision making, in elections etc. Taking into account the legislators’ wide margin of appreciation in the field of state electoral system, we can conclude that a decision at the end will be left to him. The arguments are convincing, nevertheless if they are convincing enough to make the legislator do something about is a thing of political judgment more than professional. The municipality of Ljubljana has (in May 2015) suggested to the Parliament that in the future when the Government decides to propose a change to the Local Elections Act they should change the age limit from 18 to 16 years of age. Maybe Slovenia is following Austria’s footsteps – will be interesting to keep an eye on the development and realisation of such proposals in Slovenia. Some argue that’s Slovenia’s constitution prohibits the lowering of the voting age for local election to the age of 16. We are of the opinion that the constitution should be interpreted as not prohibiting the lowering of the voting age for local elections since municipal council are not even mentioned in the constitution. In the same manner, it would also be possible to enable the young to vote in the referendum, sign the legislative initiative etc. without having to amend the Constitution. Taking into account Article 15 of the constitution that “No human right or fundamental freedom regulated by legal acts in force in Slovenia may be restricted on the grounds that this Constitution does not recognize the right or freedom or recognises it to a lesser extent” the conclusion should be self-evident. Local elections are a very suitable first experience and a good testing ground for young people. Candidates on the local level are closer to them, they know them better and the fears as to what programs and parties the young might support are lesser as they are at the national level. Groups with highly original programs run in local elections (mushroom gatherers, beer lovers etc.) whereas after the failure of the Youth party several years ago, no one seems to come up with the idea of representing the interests of the young. The concerns of political parties would also likely be reduced after the first experiences with local elections.
By removing some age restrictions regarding the right to vote, we would help balance interest of different generations to make their choices about the decisions affecting their future. We are always in delay regarding measures taken in this field since the ageing of society is demolishing an already fragile intergenerational balance in favour of the older generation. Time to act is now, to give the younger generation in the present a chance to decide on their future. We have seen many ways how this is done. Local elections can be the “test” we need to see how the youngest electorate feels about taking part in public decision making at the local level. The prevailing arguments against the lowering of the voting age such as immaturity, quality of choice and low voter turnout have been theoretically and empirically proven as mere presumptions. The lowering of the voting age especially for local elections is justified, but the choice to do so or not is up to the legislator.
Who did fight for liberation of Bulgaria in 1877-1878?
Russian professor, Doctor of History Sergey Perevezentsev has touched upon a hidden historical and political motive of the scandal caused by the speech of the Patriarch Kirill of Moscow at the celebration of Bulgaria’s liberation from Ottoman oppressors.
It would seem that Bulgarian President Rumen Radev said everything correctly in his speech – he called to keep memory of the warriors of many nations killed on the fields of those old battles: Russians, Romanians, Finns, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Polacks, Lithuanians, Serbians and Montenegrins. “Historical tolerance” is preserved, and principle of “multiplicity of truths” is not broken.
However, as the historian explained, in 1874 military service became obligatory in Russia. In regular military units comprised soldiers of different nationalities, but a regiment included mainly Russian soldiers. In addition, very often the name of the regiment would not match its permanent location.
Some subjects of the Russian crown, in particular the habitants of the Great Duchy of Finland and the North Caucasus at the beginning of the Russian-Turkish war were free from military service. But in these regions there were military units comprised of volunteers from the locals.
So a question arises: why is the number of the nationalities mentioned in the Bulgarian president’s speech so limited? In fact Chechens, Avars, Kumyks, Kabardians, Ossetians, Ingushes fighting in the Russian army brought a big contribution in that victory over the Ottoman Empire. And if we recall that the officers of the Finnish battalion were Swedes, then it is necessary to add them too to this list. And also Baltic Germans, in the large number represented in the officer corps of the Russian army. And many others.
Then another question: why is there self-contradiction in this list? In fact besides Polacks battling with Turks in the Russian army, there was the Polish Legion that, vice versa, participated in fights on the side of the Ottoman Empire.
So why was it necessary to distinguish certain nationalities, ignoring the merits of others? Why was it impossible to say the simply “multinational Russian army”?
Answer for these questions Sergey Perevezentsev finds not in the past, but in our times: the Bulgarian president mentioned exactly those people that once were a part of the Russian empire, but today are title nations of independent states. Otherwise speaking, this list has a hidden “anti-imperialistic” meaning: commemorated should be only those people, who “broke out” of the “Russian imperial burden”. Historical events are used first to underline the rightness of the “European civilization choice” and, second, to minimize the role and value of the Russian state in history and in today’s events.
As Doctor of Political Sciences Alexander Shchipkov noticed in his article Bulgarian speech of Patriarch, the western politicized historiography constantly promotes the idea that “not Russia took part in all its important historical victories, but individual nations being a part of it”. And the aim of such a manipulation with history is to “deprive Russia of its right on its own great history and, as a result, the rights on the modern big politics”.
His Holiness Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia Kirill also stood against this hidden anti-Russian rhetoric. “Russia did not look at Europe: moved by her love of the Bulgarian people, still weakened by the previous war and having no political support in the world, she began her struggle for the liberation of the Bulgarians. It was a great example of how spiritual, cultural and religious solidarity overcomes political pragmatismBulgaria was liberated by Russia, not Poland, nor Lithuania, nor any other countries but Russia. I would like to say frankly that for me it was difficult to hear references to the participation of other countries in the liberation of Bulgaria. Neither the Polish Sejm, nor the Lithuanian Sejm made the decision to start a war against Ottoman Turkey. We stand for historical truth; we won it by our blood and there can be no political and pragmatic reasons for which this truth should be hushed up or interpreted falsely “, he said
According to Professor Perevezentsev, the polemic flamed up after these words, and the speeches of some Bulgarian politicians saying loathsome and embarrassing things unacceptable for a decent person only confirmed the presence of that hidden meaning.
The foreign policy proposals of the various Italian political parties
While, in the so-called “First Republic”, Italian foreign policy was an essential tool in the practice and activity of the various political parties, exactly the opposite happens in the current so-called “Second Republic”.
After the Cold War, it seems there is no longer a need for foreign and defence policies – a bit like that US senator who asked for closing the CIA after the USSR fall.
Just think that – as the former Italian President of the Republic, Francesco Cossiga, used to say – 50% of voters rooted for the East.
Aldo Moro was the leader who actually led the intelligence services politically – the services with which, for example, we could afford to secretly deal with Arafat and the countless movements of the Palestinian insurgency to be spared terrorist actions on our national territory.
It is also worth recalling that the so-called “Lodo Moro” -an unwritten agreement introduced by Aldo Moro while Foreign Minister, which permitted Fatah and the other Palestinian resistance movements to move personnel, arms and explosives through Italy on condition that the Italian territory was spared attacks – was well-known also by Israel, who appreciated the Lodo and used it.
A diplomatic and intelligence masterpiece that the current childish leaders in power would not even be able to understand, let alone conceive and put in place.
Currently the Italian politics has seen the materialization of the play written by Roger Vitracin 1929, namely “Victor, or Power to the Children”.
In the programs of the 42 political parties that run for the 2018 general elections, there is obviously much talk about migration, but no one even thinks that this problem is related to foreign policy.
There are also apparently specific and analytical programs on international cooperation but, once again,the link between development cooperation and foreign policy is not understood – and indeed, even a child could understand it.
Do the drafters of many electoral programs probably think that there is no connection at all?
“Second Republic”, or rather parochialism, provincialism and demagogic incompetence.
In fact, one of the typical features of our current Republic is moralism, i.e. the evaluation of national or international political phenomena according to the distorting lens of supposedly superior ethical standards.
Precisely in his own country Machiavelli is definitely dead and buried. Vacuous political narratives – often originated in North America -are rife on Kim Jong-Un being “crazy” or Putin manipulating the US elections won by Donald J.Trump.
Putin is also supposed to make his “populist” friends win in Italy, too.
Whoever, like us, read the CIA-NSA-FBI documents on the issue of Russian pressure on the US elections can hardly not understand how the alleged Russian manipulation of the US presidential election is a huge fake.
A power like the Russian Federation certainly has its agents of influence and its specific relations with the American power, but the issue is not as the intelligence documents tell us.
What if all this happened to us? What would happen with the heirs of Vitrac? In fact, Italy no longer has a foreign policy. Neither right nor wrong.
Obviously this huge issue of Italy’s future foreign policy is not at the core of the average voter’s interest, butit is anyway the soul of a State’s practice, even though it is still hard to be turned into empty propaganda.
Let us now analyse the programs submitted to voters before the general election of March 4 last.
Deafening silence on the United Nations, which is also called into question at every turn, when needed.
There is no mention of the United Nations in the centre-right coalition program, while the Democratic Party (PD) speaks about Italy’s one-year mandate in the Security Council as non-permanent member in 2017, where it has been replaced by the Netherlands in the current year. Italy had not sat on the Security Council since 2008.
However, Italy’s presence in the Security Council is regarded by the Democratic Party only in relation to the conflict in Syria and Libya.
For the time being,as far as we know, no miraculous results have been reached thanks to Italy’s mandate in the Security Council.
The Five Star Movement calls for the full implementation of the UN Charter, as well as of international law that is not as unambiguous and unequivocal as the draftersof the Five Star Movement’s program may think.
Conversely, More Europe, the liberal and pro-Europeanist coalition led by Emma Bonino, thinks about the establishment of a National Autonomous Agency for the Protection of Human Rights.
It should be noted, however, that there is already an organization known as European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, established in 2007 and based in Vienna.
No electoral programmentionsthe Council of Europe, OSCE (except for a minor reference in the program of Free and Equal, the left-wing coalition led by the former Speaker of the Senate and anti-Mafia prosecutor, Piero Grasso) and other international organizations.
Hence we wonder what prospects and guidelines our future representatives will have in those structures.
With reference to torture, the centre-right coalition proposes a law putting aside this type of crimespossibly perpetrated by the law enforcement agencies, but torture is an international crime that is precisely so if it is perpetrated by public officials.
Furthermore the rule published in the Official Journal in July 2017 has been criticized by the United Nations itself.
Hence a foreign policy that seems to be the result of a rock concert, devoid of any realism and continuously having a guilty conscience: we are the “rich” (but you can rest assured that soon this will no longer be the case) who exploit the “poor” – without considering the impact of Article 11 of the Constitution.
Rules and regulations that would not allow our “peace-keeping missions” abroad – not even in strictly legal terms – or probably not even the reaction to an attack.
While the “repudiation of the war” enshrined in Article 11 of the Constitution is the foundation of Republican Italy’s adhesion to the UN and the other international peace alliances, Article 11 does not distinguishes between defence war, resistance to the forces of a possible invasion, Italian action taken jointly with allies, defence of the territory and, even worse, defence of national interest.
Former Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema shall be given credit for having considered this constitutional tenet “outdated and old-fashioned”.
Even the repression of terrorism can hardly fall within the scope of Article 11.
In the Constituent Assembly of 1948, Luigi Sturzo said that war was a crime in itself and obviously the Communists skilfully manipulated the Constituent Fathers’ strategic ignorance and the fully specious union between Fascist warmongering and ordinary and effective military defence.
The wording of Article 11 was good for a Constitution at a time when the Communist Party and the Catholic and liberal forces gloweredat each other with hostility, but certainly not today, when the rules and regulations pursuant to Article 11 jeopardize even our participation in actions in Libya.
A treatment implicit in the “repudiation of war”, which implies reducing a country to the servile state.
In fact, before Italy, it was put in place only with the Japanese Constitution, dictated by General Mac Arthur in 1946 after two nuclear bombs being dropped on the Japanese territory.
Indeed, also Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution speaks about “renouncing the sovereign right of belligerency”, but since 2013 Shinzo Abe has developed the Japanese Self-Defence Forces significantly, so as to clearly oppose China.
The United States haseven been happy with this new proactive Japanese pacifism combined, however, with a resurgence of national pride and imperial traditions.
Still today, albeit secretly, young officers of the Japanese “Self-Defence Forces” go to the Yasukuni Shrine to worship not only their ancestors, but also the heroes who fought against Westerners (and the Chinese).
Still today, the red-ray flag that General MacArthur had forbidden – is secretly sold.
If the Cold War ends, you must also think that there is no longer the Big Brother rescuing you from an invasion.
Hence you prepare for not giving in and for creating a strong deterrent.
If you are still a State and you have a just decent ruling class.
Incidentally, it is worth recalling the sibylline, but witty remark by former prime Minister Giulio Andreotti when he was accused of having declassified “Operation Gladio”.
“If I had not declassified it, the others would have done so”.
Which others? Easy to imagine. But here we are still in the Republic of Adults, not in the Republic of Children – just to paraphrase Vitrac’s play.
However, let us revert to the electoral programs: in Silvio Berlusconi’s opinion, common defence would make us “save billions of euros” and the EU go back into the mainstream of world’s great powers.
Unfortunately, defence is not made only of money, but also of doctrines, technologies and political will – and I doubt that this pot pourri of European defence could develop a common policy line.
France looks to a European Army because it takes Italy’s weakness and the new alliance with Germany into account.
Let us also think about the role played by France for peace in Libya, with a truce declared during the meeting held between Macron, Fayez Al-Sarraj and Haftar at the end of July 2017.
A role stolen from Italy, but Italy has no one to blame but itself.
Therefore Berlusconi thinks that NATO should be strengthened and that we should side with the new Franco-German axis.
A defence policy that does not necessarily combine our economic interest with the interest of the new Franco-German axis.
In the foreign policy program outlined on January 18 last, the current Forza Italiaparty also speaks about rising military spending, to 2% of the GDP,which has long been a key political goal of NATO and the United States led by Donald Trump.
Nevertheless, unlike what happens in Hegel’s philosophy – quantity does not automatically turns into quality.
More Europe, the coalition created by Emma Bonino, believes that Permanent Structured Cooperation on security and defence(PeSCo) – which inevitably leaves a great deal of autonomy to national governments – must be strengthened significantly.
More than this? And how? Where is Italy’s national interest in this choir of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9?
More Europealso wants the denuclearization of the whole Europe and the universal abolition of nuclear weapons.
Military inventions, however, can be never disinvented and we wonder what would happen if terrorist groups or minor States were to use “dirty” nuclear bombs or threaten the use of a nuclear weapon – albeit small – to reach a specific political or economic goal.
In the Mediterranean region alone, which should be the perfect theatre for testing PeSCo, the countries which plan to have nuclear weapons are currently Algeria, Egypt and probably Morocco.
Are we sure that, in this case, it is enough to sing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, “You millions, I embrace you”?
Obviously Brexit is a unique opportunity to build a new hegemony in Europe, but everyone is playing a new national role. Only Italy is stuck to the old Cold War and asks for others’ help, which is never disinterested.
The Five Star Movement does not even talk about a specific electoral program for foreign and defence policy.
Nevertheless, considering their Parliamentary positions, we must mention the difference existing between the group in the House of Deputies and the group in the Senate with reference to Italy’s NATO membership: the former is quite favourable while the latter is fully opposed to it.
With specific reference to the mission in Niger, someone said that we are going to “patrol the desert”, not considering the fact that the desert there is currently very populated.
The Free and Equalcoalition deems it necessary to further reaffirm the constitutional principle of repudiation of war, also in relation to international terrorism, and to sign the Nuclear Weapon Prohibition Treaty. Also the More Europe coalition agrees on this latter point.
The aforementioned Treaty was adopted on July 7, 2017 at the United Nations and was supposed to come into force after 90 days with the ratification of at least 50 States.
Fifty-three States have already ratified it and it was already adopted – God forbid -by the Italian Parliament on July 18-24, 2017.
God forbid we miss the new Manzoni-style edict described in his novel, The Betrothed,boiling down to empty gestures, as well as all talk and no action.
Hence there is no need to include it in an electoral program.
In short, a collection of platitudes and ultra-pacifist clichés typical of the late 1968 protest movement.
Is Croatia Closing the Gender Gap in Science?
Today, on International Women’s Day, we would like to introduce you to four Croatian women. These women are inspiring, because they spend their days pushing the boundaries of knowledge in artificial intelligence, IT, reproductive biology, ecology, biochemistry and enzymology. They are female researchers working in the male-dominated fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) – fields where women account for onlyjust 28% of the world’s researchers.
While some of these scientists are already recognized beyond Croatian borders, others are just starting out their careers. What they also have in common is that their research is being financed through World Bank loans that support the Unity through Knowledge Fund (UKF). This fund finances collaborative projects for Croatian scientists, and scientists of Croatian origin, who are working for international research institutions, focusing on the career development of young scientists and researchers.
The UKF provides an excellent example of how employing an unbiased, transparent, and competitive selection process can allow women researchers to excel. Of the 130 grants, awarded, 64 were given to women applicants.
Dr. Gabriela Vuletin Selak, of the Split Institute for Adriatic Crops, has dedicated most of her scientific research to the reproductive biology of olives. She is currently studying the Olea europaea L. – one of the most commercially important fruit species in the Adriatic area of Croatia. With its growing commercial importance, olive cultivation has been increasing over the past three decades, while the genetic structures of orchards have been undergoing changes with the constant introduction of foreign varieties.
Through her work, Gabriela is providing invaluable information to Croatian olive growers about which cultivars to plant together, so that their mutual pollination and fertilization provide optimal results. Her work is so appreciated by olive growers that the Association of Olive Growers and Olive Oil Producers of the Split-Dalmatia County gave her an award for scientific research and publishing in the area of growing olives.
Gabriela’s love for science started at a young age. She was a curious girl, spending hours exploring the outdoors and the shores of the Adriatic to see what wonders she could find. She loved asking questions about the world around her. For her, science is about working hard and playing around with the most interesting “toys” in order to answer those questions. The Mediterranean landscape played a decisive role in her career path. Olives have become her scientific choice; olive orchards her lab.
The Zagreb-based professor, Dr. Bojana Dalbelo Bašić, shapes intelligent systems through inspiration from human reasoning and learning patterns. Bojana leads several international and domestic projects in the field of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data and text mining, and has published over 100 scientific and professional articles and papers. Her research landed her a spot on the list of the 50 most influential women in the Croatian IT industry.
Bojana, who works at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing, is leading the UKF financed project “Event Retrieval Based on Semantically Enriched Structures for Interactive User Tasks (EVERBEST),” together with another female researcher – Prof. Nataša Milić-Frayling from the University of Nottingham.
Through EVERBEST, the two researchers and their team are focusing on researching event-focused information needs of the general public and professionals. With the availability of tremendous amounts of news online, the technical challenge lies in providing event-oriented search and recommendation capabilities that meet diverse information needs. Bojana’s team has developed novel techniques and models for event-oriented searches and recommendations grounded in event consumption habits – which will ultimately change information-seeking task models and will provide a valuable service to journalists, news analysts, and the general public.
“Science gives you an opportunity to remain a child and continue exploring with wide open eyes, asking questions and seeking answers each day, hoping that one day this will lead you to new discoveries perfecting the picture of the world as we know it.” This is the motto of young Dr. Daria Ezgeta Balić, from the Split-based Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries.
Daria is passionate about the biology and the ecology of mollusks (marine bivalves). Daria and her all-female team of six researchers are working on the UKF-funded project, “Competition between native Ostrea edulis and invasive Crassostrea gigas oysters in the Adriatic Sea – effects on the ecosystem, fisheries and aquaculture.”
The Pacific oyster – C. gigas – entered the Mediterranean sea in the 1960’s as a response to a decrease in the production of the native Ostrea edulis, caused by parasitic diseases. The non-native, invasive C. gigas started reproducing and spreading outside aquaculture sites, endangering the native O. edulis. The research of these seven young women is the first step towards the establishment of management strategies for C. gigas in the Adriatic Sea and will help estimate the economic impact of the invasive oyster on fisheries and aquaculture.
Prof. Ita Gruić Sovulj, Associate Professor at the Chemistry Department, Faculty of Science, University of Zagreb, tells us that she has a great love for enzymes, since, to her, they are “the marvelous molecules that provide the foundation of life and are the enduring motivation in my scientific life.”
Currently, Ita is leading a project concentrated on how the cellular error-correction mechanisms evolved to ensure accurate protein synthesis (translation). She works on enzymes aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases (aaRSs), that attach amino acids to their cognate tRNAs. This is a crucial step in recruiting amino acids for building proteins.
She explains that errors in protein synthesis are toxic to bacteria and are related to neurodegeneration in mammals. Understanding how cells control the fidelity of this process and prevent translational errors, as Ita attempts to do through her research, is therefore highly relevant. Ita’s work provides clues on how to create antibiotics that will compromise the fidelity of protein synthesis and kill bacteria.
Ita’s research was published in seven papers in respectable journals. For her achievements in strengthening the understanding of aaRS error-correction mechanisms, she received the National Annual Science Award of the Republic of Croatia for 2014 in the Field of Natural Sciences (Chemistry). Ita’s scientific knowledge and enthusiasm are shared with many students while she teaches biochemistry and enzymology courses for students of both chemistry and molecular biology.
In summary, the experiences of these inspirational women show that the STEM fields, which, globally, are still mostly dominated by men, are now increasingly becoming a place for women as well. Statistics corroborate these improvements, as Eurostat data shows that Croatia’s distribution of engineers and scientists by gender was almost 50 percent each in 2016, while the EU average is 40 percent female.
Nonetheless, much remains to be done with regard to gender balance in science. There are still great barriers that discourage women from entering these professions and obstacles continue to block progress for those already in the field. Women have to work harder to get recognition. Hopefully, by talking and spotlighting accomplished women in STEM fields, more young women will be inspired to take on this challenge and become scientists who may change the world through their research and discoveries.
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