In the second decade of the 21st century, liberal democracy faces the greatest challenges worldwide since the end of the Second World War. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain and the alleged "end of history", the global condition of democracy has been thoroughly transformed. Economic globalisation, new emerging international conflicts, and the fact that the Europeanisation process has been turned into a neo-liberal agenda have transformed welfare-state organized societies into spaces of economic investment and financial speculation in which the market is seen as the ultima ratio of controlling social processes. However, the release of market forces and a "de-embedding" of global markets presents a risky strategy, as the impact of the collapse of the global economy in 2008 to this day shows. What became obvious is that democratic politics are barely able to regulate such a situation, leading to a massive loss of social trust and legitimacy in the institutions of formerly regulated liberal democracies. As a result, populist movements and parties with a nationalistic agenda have emerged, as well as authoritarian regimes that reject democratic principles and democratic political culture altogether. Indeed, we might be witnessing processes of "illiberalization" on different societal scales.
Whilst in almost all western democracies growing skepticism about democracy as a form of government and life can be observed, the idea of democracy has obviously lost little of its appeal in Middle Eastern countries, as the democracy movements of the so-called Arab Spring have shown in the years since 2010. Developments in these countries have been very diverse: hopes of democratization have not been met, and some have been forcibly suppressed and crushed, with the worst consequences in Syria where civil war and the involvement of international powers have led to large-scale refugee movements, especially to neighboring Lebanon and Turkey and also to Europe. In the course of these processes, citizenship as democracy's core institution is undermined. There are various symptoms that show the vulnerability and fragility of both democracy and citizenship as institutions and expressions of political culture: the reactions of citizens towards the inability of politics when it comes to having significant influence on economic decisions, developments in security and surveillance such as big data and the enforcement of algorithms, the increasing willingness to use violence as a means of political conflict, and the role of democracies within the wars of the 21st century, to name just a few.
Against the background of these diverse and interdependent developments, this year's international conference aims at reviewing and elucidating the basic conditions, foundations and future prospects of liberal democracy in order to understand, explain and discuss crucial and pressing questions of citizens' rights to participate in political life.