The International Day of Democracy

In 2007, the United Nations General Assembly declared 15 September the International Day of Democracy, providing us with “an opportunity to review the state of democracy in the world” and arguing that “democracy is as much a process as a goal” (UN). In many countries we can see a deterioration of conditions for democracies, through various forces both internal and external. This has become more noticeable during the ongoing pandemic, but it started long before, which is also indicated by instituting such a day 14 years ago.

Study some of the maps on the Secretary General’s policy brief from April 2020 – in particular the two on school closures and stringency of government containment measures. Also read the concerns and suggested countermeasures on the UN Democracy Day’s website and prepare for a discussion of what threatens a democracy and how we can strengthen it.

Also read the New York Times Learning Network’s editors Schulten and Engle’s introduction to the late Congressman John Lewis’ essay “Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation”. Check out thoughts and responses on the hashtag #DemocracyDay and reflect on Schulten and Engle’s questions posed after Lewis’ essay, as published on the New York Times Learning Network exactly a year ago.  

The late civil rights activist and Congressman John Lewis argued that “[d]emocracy is not a state. It is an act”. Compare this with UN’s claim that democracy is both a process and a goal. What is democracy to you?


In the news: What’s going on in Afghanistan?

The Taliban is in power again in Afghanistan, 20 years after 9-11 and the following invasion of Afghanistan. The USA have decided to pull out all their remaining troops by August this year, leading to total chaos and heart-breaking scenes at the airport in Kabul, with local Afghans trying to board planes to get out of a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. US President Joe Biden has stated that the withdrawal will be completed and that the main concern for him is getting American troops home safely.

So what is the problem? Should we care about the development in Afghanistan? Is it an international responsibility to “clean up” after the mess we have left and to ensure a democratic development in Afghanistan? Or should we just leave them alone and hope that human rights will be respected and democracy thrive? (not very likely….)

Using the sources below, discuss these questions in your groups. Choose a secretary who writes down the main points of your answers and discussion. Also, discuss the reliability of these sources and how they differ in language and style.

Who are the Taliban:

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-11451718

Timeline of the history of Afghanistan:

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/asia-jan-june11-timeline-afghanistan

(excerpts in class)

Western Sahara

Western Sahara is often called Africa’s last colony and also a forgotten conflict. On March 3, you were so lucky to have a visitor via Zoom – Asria Mohamed. She works for The Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara, and talked  about the Morroccan occupation, life in Algerian refugee camps, and the part of the UN in this conflict.

Write a blog post about what you learned about this conflict and activism to support the Sahrawi people in their struggle for independence. Comment on the lack of media attention for this conflict and find out why the media wrote about in again in November/December 2020.

Asria said in the meeting that she feels she has no choice when it comes to her activism for the Sahrawi people – what do you think she meant by that?

Hope you enjoyed the visit – Asria is an excellent speaker and a brilliant woman.

På flukt: Asria Mohamed er født i et telt i en flyktningleir i ørkenen. Nå ønsker hun å gi informasjon til norske studenter om konflikten.

Picture from: https://universitas.no/sak/60458/politiet-kaster-murstein-pa-barn/

Deadline: March 10

– Ingunn

Democracy under attack

Have you heard about the military coup in Myanmar? Read more about that here

Yesterday, the second impeachment trial again former President Trump started. This video was made by the managers of his trial in the US Senate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i9Xd5s0boWc

“Democracy was dealt a major blow in 2020. Almost 70% of countries covered by The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index recorded a decline in their overall score, as country after country locked down to protect lives from a novel coronavirus. The global average score fell to its lowest level since the index began in 2006.” (Economist Intelligence Unit, https://www.eiu.com/n/campaigns/democracy-index-2020/)

The Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index map for 2020

The USA falls under the category of “flawed democracies”. Read more about that here: https://sites.uci.edu/energyobserver/2020/02/04/the-us-and-key-countries-in-the-democracy-index-2019/

Discuss in your groups:

  • What impressions are you left with regarding democracy development after working with these sources?
  • Are you optimistic or pessimistic regarding the future of democracy?

Death to 2020 – working with a mockumentary

Discussion questions after watching this film on Netflix:

  • Say something about (some of) these characters from the movie. How did they strike you? What kind of “stereotypical persons” are some of them portrayed as? In what ways do you think the filmmakers used humor/irony with them?
  • How did the movie present US politics and the presidential election? Do you think the movie chose a side? Discuss how the movie portrayed this.
  • How did the movie portray fake news and how they spread?
  • Was it difficult to separate irony from facts in this mockumentary? Give examples from the film.

Ingunn

Snowden and Assange – Heroes or Criminals?

Edward Snowden – Wikipedia
Edward Snowden

Norsk PEN til stede under rettssaken mot Julian Assange - Norsk PEN
Julian Assange


What do these men have in common?

Julian Assange is the head of WikiLeaks and faces a harsh prison sentence in the USA if he were to be extradited from Britain. He released over 750,000 documents which showed corruption and human rights abuse at the hands of the American government in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as at the prison camp on Guantánamo. The documents were given to him by private Chelsea Manning, who was arrested in 2010 and served 7 years in prison. Just yesterday, a British court decided against extraditing Assange, on the grounds of his mental health.
Edward Snowden is a former contractor for the National Security Agency who in 2013 transmitted to journalists 1.7 million classified documents detailing NSA online surveillance of American citizens. He was charged under the Espionage Act, but gained asylum in Russia.

So, are these people heroes or criminals? How crucial is it for a democracy to have whistleblowers? And where is the line between warning the public and exposing wrongs on the one side and breaking the law and putting your country at risk on the other? What is more important, freedom of speech and the right to privacy, or loyalty to your employer and country? And what costs does this come with for the individual who has to make that choice?

A court sketch of Julian Assange at the Old Bailey in London for the ruling in his extradition case on Monday, January 4, 2021.

A court sketch of Julian Assange at the Old Bailey in London for the ruling in his extradition case on Monday, January 4, 2021.

https://edition.cnn.com/2021/01/04/uk/julian-assange-extradition-wikileaks-us-gbr-intl/index.html

Group project: Foreign media

Press freedom and journalistic independence are values that democratic societies cherish. Unfortunately, too many countries do not respect these values.  Today we will look at press freedom in the world. Each group will be allotted a country. Spend the rest of the lesson doing research on this country’s treatment of the media, and condition and status of free press.

In the groups make a Prezi or Google presentation of media usage in the country you have been researching. Use the websites Reporters Without Borders (https://rsf.org/en and https://rsf.org/en/ranking) and Committee to Protect Journalists (https://cpj.org/). You may use other sources as well. If you come across specific stories about journalists/bloggers/ others who have somehow been punished for their involvement in and use of media, tell us! Be ready to present your findings at 14:00 today.  

Group Erika: Hong Kong

Group William: Brazil

Group Victoria: Russia

Group Verner: Egypt

Group Dejen: India

Group Øystein: South Africa

Find out:

  • do they have a free press or any kind of censorship? Why/why not?
  • do they have state media or not? What could be the importance of this?
  • What are the biggest newsproviding media in this country?
  • Who owns these media?
  • How many use these?
  • Are they politically minded – liberal, conservative etc? If so, how is this seen?
  • Find at least two of the biggest newsproviding media in this country and look at their frontpages: compare headlines, choice of causes, focus, read a story from each and comment on the journalism. Also, find them on social media; check out their Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram account. How are they on social media? Many followers? What kind of profile do they have here? What kind of cases are their fronting on their social media?

Hanna

One story, many truths?

How has president Trump met the Covid-19 pandemic? Fox reports that his vice president could not have been more proud, Alternet repeats allegations of him being a mass murderer, while the New York Times asks questions. How can the same issue cause so different “truths?” And what is true?

Keeping the five C’s in mind (context, credibility, corroboration, construction and compare) – visit the three links above and read/watch how the different news outlets respond to how Trump has handled the pandemic.

Then, use the post-its you have been given to answer the questions below. One post it per answer, and then put up your post its around the classroom.

  1. how do the different articles portray Trump’s reaction to the pandemic?
  2. What adjectives/loaded words are used in the different articles?
  3. Can you tell which article is more liberal and which is more conservative? How
  4. Which of the articles were easiest to read? Why?
  5. Which of the articles do you find most believable? Why?
  • Hanna

The Election in the USA and Global Issues

As Election Day in the USA is approaching, what does it matter to the rest of the world who becomes the next American president? Here’s a look at how global issues will be affected: https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/10/22/926692628/trump-and-biden-on-global-issues-from-reproductive-rights-to-refugees

In the news: Protests in Nigeria

During the last few weeks, protests against police violence and the treatment of certain groups have developed in Nigeria. Find out more here: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-54666368

Social media has played a big role in the protests and spreading information. However, there have also been fake or false news stories circulating: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-54628292

What do you think about social media’s role in spreading awareness about such issues and protests, and in what ways can it be damaging when false accounts of such protests are spread in the media?

What does this cartoon tell you about the government’s response to the protests?