21st Karlsruhe Dialogues - Speakers

The Enemies of Pluralistic Societies: Youth, and the Challenge It Represents


Dr. Tom Junes


Dr. Tom Junes is a historian and holds a PhD from KU Leuven, Belgium. He is a member of the Human and Social Studies Foundation in Sofia and currently a Visiting Fellow at the European University Institute in Florence. As a postdoctoral researcher, he has held fellowships in Warsaw, Vienna, Budapest, Helsinki, Potsdam, Jena, and Sofia. His research interests cover Eastern European history, Cold War history, and the history of youth and student movements. He is the author of Student Politics in Communist Poland: Generations of Consent and Dissent and has published widely on topics relating to student protest in Eastern Europe.



1. In your opinion, which “enemies” pose the greatest threat to pluralistic societies?

One could come up with a list of ‘enemies’, but one element I rarely see, or do not see enough of, is the acknowledgement that in significant parts of our societies certain rifts have appeared that seem increasingly unbridgeable. Many societies are divided and polarising. Intolerance is rising. In addition, it is baffling to see the rise and endorsement of a discourse advocating the curtailment of rights and liberties in the name of preserving freedom, culture, or civilisation. While many recent analyses that deal with the rise of authoritarianism and illiberalism focus on the mainly political protagonists, more attention should be paid on understanding the motive force that propels these actors, namely society or rather certain groups in society.


2. Public trust in elites and the media has been declining in recent years. What do you think can be done in order to restore this trust?

I think we should first and foremost focus on the media, as they can still offer a potent check on the elites. Due to technological advancements, the mediascape has changed; the internet and social media have greatly contributed to this. A monopoly on information is no longer possible. Instead, there is an amplitude of information available. However, it is also easier for people to resort to ‘living in a bubble’. Media should hold up high standards of fact-checking, while simultaneously allowing for pluralism and debates without falling into the trap of equalling pluralism of opinions to false equivalency. This would require an increase in the quality of media reporting. The media’s independence is a key factor that needs to be guaranteed, a fact not easily realised in a commercialised media sector prone to increasing tabloidisation, while simultaneously governments try to sway the public through state-sponsored media outlets.


3. In pluralistic societies, how can awareness of the advantages of freedom – and the appreciation thereof – be raised, in particular when it comes to those who lack experiences with unfreedom?

Again, I would designate a role for the media here. Though I would also want to underline the importance of education, especially when it comes to the humanities, which are in decline or forced retreat. For example, history can teach us a lot about our societies, and it is therefore of the utmost importance that enough attention is given to it. Unfortunately, we are seeing the reverse tendency. More so, in those countries that experienced authoritarianism not so long ago we are seeing a ‘politics of history’ emerge that is causing more damage than good. There is an incitement of nationalist sentiments that feeds feelings of frustration among certain segments of society, which in turn fuels the divisions within society and a ‘closing’ off towards the outside world.