“Apathy is greatest threat to democracy”

Uppsala University

Portrait of Sofia Näsström in the middle of the city

“I believe that most of us know what democracy is, but somehow we have managed to come off track, ” says Sofia Näsström.

Photograph: Axel Öberg

Hello there, Sofia Näsström, a professor at the Department of Government. You have recently released a new book, “Demokrati: En liten bok om en stor sak” (“Democracy: A small book about a big issue”). Why did you choose to write this book?

“I believe that most of us know what democracy is, but somehow we have managed to come off track. A lot has happened during a short period of time. We have seen migrants from other EU countries come here as beggars, populist parties have been elected to parliament, and we have lived through a pandemic that has shut down society. And in the US, we witnessed a president attempt to overthrow democracy in the country. As a result, we posed the question as to whether democracy will survive these tests. I came to the conclusion that we need an accessible book covering ten simple questions about democracy.”

Who is the target audience of the book?

“It is aimed at a broad segment of the public with an interest in these issues. The book is also directed towards university students and can be used by faculty in their courses. It will also be released as an audio book.”

How would you describe the state of democracy in the world today?

“It is not doing well at all. Most studies have shown a decrease in the number of countries that can be classified as democracies. In some previously stable democracies, we are witnessing an innovative deconstruction of democracy. These countries, such as Hungary and Poland, are continuing to hold elections but, at the same time, placing impediments in the way of the parties in opposition. They are also undermining the freedom of the press and the independence of the judiciary.”

What would you describe as the most serious threats to democracy?

“Many would say populism and xenophobia. But it is actually apathy, in that we as citizens do not believe we have the ability to bring about change. We talk about threats to democracy, but we must also actively defend democracy. Democracy means that we have the freedom to begin again. That is what democracy is really about and what we actually do when we go to the polls every four years. Other threats to democracy concern resistance to facts and that we have lost the sense of a shared place in the world, the public arena. If we think exclusively of ourselves, we risk becoming a bit detached. Public debate and public institutions are important.”

What can we do to protect democracy?

“There are three things we can do. We need to be careful about our language, look people in the eye and try to maintain a generous attitude.

Secondly, we need to see that we can fight for something. Make a decision that your library should be kept open, that a newspaper is important, or that a certain law should be kept on the books.

A third recommendation is to continue to listen to the experts. For example, we should take notice of what happened in the US when election officials and solicitors stood up for democracy. We researchers must cherish and defend our profession so that we cannot be misused by others for the wrong purposes.”

Åsa Malmberg

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