Fragility of Democracy – Workshop on “Understanding the history of democracy”

Workshop hosted by Gijs van Gaans.

This workshop is inspired by the eLearning Activity on “What can we learn from the Ancient Greeks for democracy today?”.

Fragility of the Ancient Athenian Democracy
The Ancient Athenian Democracy was one of the first democracies in world history, and perhaps also one of the most far-reaching ones. All citizens were allowed to speak up in the Assembly, which was the equivalent of parliament, could serve as juries and judges and could hold office. At some point taking part in the Assembly was even paid, enabling even the poorests citizens. However, this democracy was at the same time quite frail. Not only was citizenship, and thereby civil power, restricted to Athenian, freeborn and adult males. Women, slaves and people from foreign origin had no significant power. Also, in the first century BCE, this democracy radicalised, giving populists more power than they ever had. This radicalisation led to cases of serious mistreatment of Athens' allies and seems to have contributed to policies that led to her defeat in the Peloponnesian War.

This workshop explores the development of the Athenian Democracy from prior constitutions as oligarchy and tyranny. It will discuss the frail elements in the democratic constitution and the social causes that led to it's radicalisation in order to draw some cautious lesson for our world today.
About the workshop host
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Gijs van Gaans (1976) studied history and religious science at the Radboud University in Nijmegen. He has taught history and latin in secondary schools. From 2009 onwards he has worked as a teacher trainer/ lecturer of didactics in history and religious education at Fontys University of Applied Sciences and since the start of this academic year also at Amsterdam University. His main interests are the development of a critical historical consciousness and developing skills that allow for inter-wordview dialogue.

Registration is now open.

Participation Fees

Participation to the webinar series is free for all EuroClio Individual Members, as well as for Members of our Member Associations.

If you are not a Member, you can register to single sessions for a fee of 15 EUR, or register to the full series for 35 EUR.

Would you like to become an Individual Member? Register here.

Not sure if you would like to join the full series? Join our keynote lecture free of charge and take a peak at our work!

We would like to thank our Individual Members for their support in developing this webinar series. The topic has been selected based on input from all members, and the recordings of our sessions are (partially) supported through individual membership fees.

The allure of authoritarianism and modern populism: A keynote lecture with Prof. Takis Pappas

Ralitsa Angelova Articles

On the 15th of September on the international day of Democracy, EuroClio hosted the first session of a series of online workshops entitled A Resilient Promise: Teaching the Fragility of Democracy.

Prof Takis Pappas opened our webinar series on democracy with a compelling keynote lecture on The allure of authoritarianism and on modern populism.


Democracy is something that must be learned at early age

Prof. Pappas commenced with a strong statement that democracy is not something that you can touch or feel. Democracy in his words is something that must be learned at early age. He emphasized that democracy cannot be felt, sensed, or otherwise experienced other than, through formal education and practice from early age, which begins at school. In this respect, he added that teachers are the responsible for teaching young Europeans how to be good democratic citizens.

Furthermore, he noted that there is a challenge how to teach democracy at schools. In this regard, the idea of applied political science helps us to draw lessons from past historical and political experiences to ameliorate our lives in modern societies.


Explaining the concepts

To better understand democracy prof. Pappas highlights some important concepts that we often hear but do not know what exactly the meaning of. He defines democracy as a pluralist political system in which the incumbent party may lose office after free and fair elections.

And what then is liberal democracy? Liberal democracy is a recent phenomenon. According to Prof. Pappas, there was no liberal democracy before 1945. Liberal democracy is a democracy based on the rule of law, i.e., the principles and precepts of political liberalism.

And what is then non-democracy? Non-democracy is a system in which some leaders hold nearly unbounded and arbitrary power even if there are (unfree & unfair) elections.

Modern populism is, in Prof. Pappas taxonomy, a novel political system which is democratic but militates against political liberalism. Hence, democratic illiberalism.

The final important concept is nativism, which is a liberal democratic system meant to protect the interest of native-born citizens against immigrants and other populations. This system is liberal and democratic but prioritize the interest of the natives.

Prof. Pappas clarified the distinction between populists and nativists. When talking about a perceived backsliding of democracy, an association is often made with populists and populism.

The Difference between populism and nativism, according to Prof. Pappas. Source :


Prof. Pappas defines 10 ways to tell populists and nativists apart. The key to distinguishing the two lie with the last three points: power capture, performance in office and core democratic idea.


The lecturer argues that when populist parties come into office they tend to stay in office for many years, while attempting constitutional changes in effect replacing the liberal constitution with an illiberal one. The difference with the nativist parties is that they do not intend to change the (liberal) constitution. In Europe, these parties have so far not managed an outright majority and have only been in power through coalition governments.

­­­­­Prof. Pappas listed some of countries were populist parties won office, amongst which are Greece (since 1980), Italy (since 1990), Hungary (since 2010), Poland (since 2015), the USA (in 2017), Mexico (since 2018) and Brazil (since 2018).

As previously mentioned, when populist come to power, they try to change the constitution. In some cases, they succeed, in others, they fail. In the infographic below you can see the major populist and nativist parties that, according to Dr. Pappas’ research, endanger liberal democracy.

Source :


To better understand the political parties in Europe prof Pappas proposes the following classification, dividing parties into two main groups : democratic and nondemocratic.



According to Prof Pappas, we can successfully located all political parties, irrespective of time, geographical space or political circumstance, in the simple “map”.

Using this overview, Prof. Pappas demonstrates the political landscape in today’s democratic Europe. He claims that in Europe there are no more than six or seven types of parties. We will find liberal democratic, populist, nativist, nationalist, regionalist and secessionist, antidemocratic parties.

Source :


A typology of parties in Europe.  Blue refers to liberal, yellow to nativist, and magent to populist political parties.

Source :


In his lecture, Prof. Pappas introduced the audience to is “typology of parties” wheel. The wheel comprises 19 significant parties in 18 countries divided into seven party types based on the political goals and kind of society each type wants to achieve. In terms of historical evolution, the wheel was largely blue (liberal) until about 1990.

Prof. Pappas underlines that the infographic gives us a very dynamic idea of the forces of liberal democracy, where it is moving towards and what happened with the opponents of liberal democratic parties, both populist and nativist parties.



What can we learn form that? Prof. Pappas summarized several key takeaways from his lecture.

  1. Europe’s liberal democracy is still strong, but fragile. The only countries in Europe in which we currently have exclusively liberal, democratic parties (thus not nativist and not populist) are Portugal, Ireland and Luxembourg. In other countries in Europe, a mixture of liberal, populist and nativist parties exists. That was not the case some 20-30 years ago. The European Union was meant to be a union of countries with liberal governments and we have since its establishment seen an increase in parties on the nativist and populist flank.
  2. The enemies of liberalism are populism, autocracy, nativism. These are the biggest threats of liberal democracy.
  3. Populist parties are strong in Southern and Eastern parts of Europe. We see a lot of populist parties in Eastern Europe, particularly in Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. In the last twenty years there have also been a strong presence of populist parties in Greece, Italy and Spain.
  4. When populists come to power, they usually rule singlehandedly. There is one exception- Spain, where the current government consists of a liberal party (PSOE , Spain’s socialist party) together with a populist party (Podemos, a left wing populist party). Usually, however, when populists come to power, they rule by themselves, and they stay in power for many years.
  5. Nativist parties are strong almost everywhere in Western and Northern Europe (From Norway to France).
  6. No nativist parties have ever come to power singlehandedly. There are only three cases in the EU where nativist parties have been in office as junior coalition partners- Austria, Finland, and Italy. In all those cases, the governments did not last very long. They were not successful governments.
  7. Strong antidemocratic parties are almost non-existent in today’s Europe. They do exist but they are not very strong.
  8. Europe is now faced with having to deal with anti-democratic, “rogue” states. There was a time, not long ago, when Europe was a collection of liberal states, and an ally of a liberal United States. There was a sort of attraction to liberalism, with other countries wanting to “join the club”. Turkey, for instance, had its eyes set on becoming an EU member. Hopes for a liberal Russia were also present, at least up until then occupation of Crimea. The same thoughts appeared about the Middle East after the Arab spring. There was excitement about the Arab spring, however bad the results have turned out to be.

Europe today as an adherent of democratic liberalism is, in a sense, standing alone. The number of antidemocratic “rogue states” includes Russia, Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries. With Brexit one of the most liberal nations in Europe has left the EU.


About Prof. Takis S. Pappas.

Takis S. Pappas is a scholar of political science. He has done research on populism, democracy, and political leadership. Presently, prof. Pappas is a docent and associate researcher at the University of Helsinki, Finland, working within the EU funded Horizon 2020 project “Populism and Civic Engagement” (PACE). His latest book Populism and liberal democracy provides an exquisite and concise analysis on the notion of populism, and how it threatens liberal democracy.

To learn more about democracy, populism, nativism and other important topics please visit prof. Pappas’ blog.

A Resilient Promise: Teaching the Fragility of Democracy

“What are the challenges that democracy is facing today?”; “How can we deal with these challenges?”; “Why, regardless of them, is democracy worth fighting for?”. But, most importantly, how can we discuss these and more key questions about democracy with our students?.

As the world celebrates the International Day of Democracy on 15 September, we will kick off our webinar series on “A Resilient Promise: Teaching the Fragility of Democracy”. During 6 weeks of online events, we  will reflect not only on how to help our students learn about democracy, but also how they can contribute to making it more stable and safe.

The Design of this Webinar Series

The series will consist of five sessions. It will kick off with a keynote on the allure of authoritarianism and on modern populism, hosted by Prof. Takis S Pappas, which will help us set the tone for future sessions by putting us in touch with first-hand experience of individuals who were part of extremist groups in their youth, what appealed to them, and how did they decide to leave this path and promote democracy and
understanding. The keynote lecture will take place on 15 September 2021 at 17:00 (Amsterdam Time), and it will be followed by three active workshops. Each workshop will give participants practical advice and access to tools to promote:

Teachers as Changemakers: The webinar series will close with an interactive session where participants will have the opportunity to share the obstacles they encounter when talking about democracy in their classroom, and to discuss approaches on how to overcome these obstacles. This session is currently set to take place on 27 October 2021 at 17:00 (Amsterdam Time).

The dates are confirmed, and you can already register to this workshop by clicking on the button on the right!

What will we learn?

During the webinar series, we will:

  • Discuss how different generations may view democracy;
  • Discuss the role that expressing extreme viewpoints has in the classroom;
  • Discuss best practices for Teachers as Changemakers.;
  • Investigate the different democratic activities that are available for young people;
  • Be introduced to tips and tricks to lead debates involving contrasting points of view;
  • Discuss your experiences regarding the challenges that non-democratic systems pose for the future.

Upcoming Events

  1. Using Historiana to teach history from different angles

    February 15 @ 5:00 pm - 6:30 pm
  2. EuroClio 28th Annual Conference – What is History for?

    April 28 @ 9:00 am - May 1 @ 3:00 pm

Registration is now open.

Participation Fees

Participation to the webinar series is free for all EuroClio Individual Members, as well as for Members of our Member Associations.

If you are not a Member, you can register to single sessions for a fee of 15 EUR, or register to the full series for 35 EUR.

Would you like to become an Individual Member? Register here.

Not sure if you would like to join the full series? Join our keynote lecture free of charge and take a peak at our work!

We would like to thank our Individual Members for their support in developing this webinar series. The topic has been selected based on input from all members, and the recordings of our sessions are (partially) supported through individual membership fees.

Piloting Descriptors of Competences for Democratic Culture

EuroClio Partners ,

Teachers in Europe working with learners from 9/10 years old up to higher education have the possibility to contribute to the piloting of the descriptors of competence for democratic culture in the framework of a Council of Europe project, endorsed by the ministers of education.

The piloting requires a preparation which can be done through an online course with the estimated duration of 5-6 hours and implies the organisation of educational activities, observation and filling-in an online questionnaire. Access to the online questionnaires and to the additional materials needed for the piloting is allowed only to teachers having attended a face to face workshop or the online course. The online course is open from June 2016 and can be followed by interested teachers at any time until the end of October 2016. Details are available at

The model of competences for democratic culture

The Council of Europe developed a model of competences that an individual needs in order to act as a responsible democratic citizen in culturally diverse societies. The model, developed by the project on “Competences for Democratic Culture” (CDC) consists of 3 sets of values, 6 attitudes, 8 skills, and 3 bodies of knowledge and critical understanding. These 20 competences are listed in the following diagram. Education which aims to prepare children and young people for their future lives as active democratic citizens needs to foster the development of these 20 competences.

Competences for Democratic culture


 How were the 20 competences identified?

Over 100 existing schemes of democratic and intercultural competence that have been proposed by academic researchers, national institutions and international organisations were audited and analysed. The CDC working group established by the Council of Europe identified the common core competences contained across all of these schemes. A draft document describing the model resulted was circulated in an international consultation involving academic experts, educational practitioners, educational policymakers, and experts nominated by the education ministries of Council of Europe member states. The responses received in the consultation strongly endorsed the contents of the model.

What are competence descriptors?

Descriptors are short statements of what a person is able to do if they have mastered a particular competence. They provide clear and explicit descriptions of the behaviours that are associated with the mastery of that competence. Some concrete examples are provided below.

Descriptors for civic-mindedness include:

  • Takes action to stay informed about civic issues
  • Collaborates with other people for common interest causes
  • Expresses the belief that helping other people is something that everyone should do

Descriptors for analytical and critical thinking skills include:

  • Can analyse materials in a logical or systematic manner
  • Uses evidence to support his/her opinions
  • Can make evaluations on the basis of evidence and experience

Descriptors for knowledge and critical understanding of the media include:

  • Can reflect critically on how the mass media are commodities that involve producers and consumers
  • Can explain what propaganda is
  • Can reflect critically on the effects of media content on individuals’ judgements and behaviours

All of the descriptors in the CDC framework are formulated using the language of learning outcomes. The current set of descriptors submitted to piloting have been validated through teachers’ ratings in an international survey involving 1236 teachers in 53 countries. Overall, there are 559 descriptors submitted to piloting but an individual teacher will only focus on a limited number of them.

Council of Europe Publishes Handbook to Promote Democracy through and in Education

The Pestalozzi Programme of the Council of Europe has published “Developing competences for democracy – 60 activities to learn and assess transversal attitudes, skills and knowledge (TASKs)”, to support teachers in their efforts to promote democracy through and in education.

This book is meant as a handbook for practitioners in formal and non-formal educational settings. You can find the handbook here.