Are “citizen” parties for real?

The following op-ed by Yves Patte, sociologist and community organizer, was published in August on the Belgian website La Libre (original in French, my translation).

Are “citizen” parties for real?

A few months before the elections, have you noticed how at some point all the parties seem to be “citizen” parties? In their name (“citizen list”, “citizen party”), as well as in their platforms (“re-empower the citizens”).

Naturally, we are not going to complain. It would be grouchy to be too particular now that the political world is attending to the wish for citizen participation. However, we must remain careful and ask ourselves whether this sudden mass conversion to the faith of citizen participation is sincere. After “greenwashing”, are we witnessing a case of “citizenwashing”? So, how, as citizens, can we assess the sincerity of a list or a party that calls itself a “citizen” list or party? Of course, merely printing “citizen” on its campaign posters is not enough, nor is inserting this word into its platform.

Drawing ideas from citizen movements does not legitimate declaring a party to be a citizen party either. It is not because a party promotes local agriculture, short supply chains, social connections or “zero waste” that it would be “a citizen party”.

What is the citizen?

We know that democracy, since its origins, gave a central place to the “citizen” in managing the city-state. It is he (and today fortunately, her) who had political rights and duties, who participates “in the power to judge and to order” (Aristotle). There is a link between democratic organization (that is to say when power resides with the “demos”) and the citizens being able to take on the functions of the democratic organization.
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