“We must not be afraid of dreaming the seemingly impossible if we want the seemingly impossible to become a reality.” Vaclav Havel’s words must guide us as we rethink what it means to be an active citizen in the Twenty-First Century and develop new institutional structures of governance capable of addressing both the foreseeable and unforeseeable risks we all face today. This is the seemingly impossible dream we must strive today to transform into reality in order to create tomorrow’s sustainable, resilient global society.
“The Future is never written.” At critical points along the way, and for short periods of time, it can move in radically different directions, as a result of the actions – or inactions – of ordinary individuals. Today, the technological, communications, and transportation revolutions that have re-shaped our lives over the past three decades have empowered citizens throughout the world to have a determining impact upon world events. The fall of the Soviet Bloc, the end of Apartheid in South Africa, and the Arab Spring are clear proof that the power of global civil society to affect world events has increased exponentially. And yet, without careful planning and organization, such revolutions are easily derailed by regressive and well-established power networks. In time, these can reverse civil society’s hard-fought achievements and restore the same authoritarian and corrupt régimes, dressed only in different robes. In both 1989 and 2011, we should have actively supported the progressive forces of civil society in Eastern Europe and the wider Middle East. Instead, we stood by and watched how the blood and toil of their heroes were wasted in vain. Today, from Ukraine and Georgia to Iraq and Yemen, we live with the consequences of our previous inactions.
Even we, citizens of the European Union and of North America, are facing a particularly difficult moment: a global financial meltdown and economic recession unprecedented since 1929; a rise in narrow nationalisms and anti-‘foreigner’ feelings; continuing conflict and instability on our borders. All of us have experienced a marked decline in the trust we put in our political institutions and in our elected officials. This is the inevitable result of their chronic inability to seriously address some of the most urgent issues we face today: quality healthcare and education; a clean environment and global warming; hyper-urbanization and mass migrations, global epidemics, man-made and natural humanitarian disasters. Memories of having fought together against dictatorship and genocide can just still bring our politicians together for ceremonial functions. But they are at a total loss to creatively imagine how to bring about in a sustainable manner democracy, prosperity and diversity for the Twenty-First Century.