Today, Debating Europe will be liveblogging the European Universities Debating Championships in Belgrade, Serbia. You’ll be able to follow our coverage below, including the video livestream. You can also view the livestream here.
If you’re on Twitter, then you can also use the hashtag below. We’ll be looking out for your tweets and comments.
There are two finals today: “English as a First Language” and “English as a Second Language”. The following universities are finalists in the English as a Second Language category: Berlin, Raphael Recanati International School (RRIS), Tallinn and Leiden.
The finalists in the English as a First Language category are Oxford, Cambridge, BPP and University College Dublin (UCD) Literary & Historical Society.
And, finally, the schedule for today is as follows:
15.15 – 15.20: Motion announcement
15.20 – 16.30: Debate (English as Second Language)
18.15 – 18.25: Motion announcement
18.25 – 19.40: Debate (English as First Language)
And that’s all, folks! The results will be published on idebate.org as soon as they are announced.
My 2 cents: The “For” team struggled to explain why religious groups should be treated differently to other interest groups (such as trade unions and big business). They made a valiant effort to argue that religious groups are somehow “uniquely” powerful, but it didn’t quite stick. They were fighting an uphill struggle, though, with the “Against” team having the natural advantage of defending the status quo.
It’s a tough one to call, but my feeling is that the “Against” team have clinched it.
Some very inventive arguments on display tonight! The “Against” team has been turning the “protecting minorites” argument (which the “For” team didn’t make enough of, in my opinion) against their opponents. They argue that “the church is a crucial part of the ‘get out the vote’ campaign” amongst minority groups, particularly amongst individuals that have a lower socio-economic status.
Really good one-liners coming from both sides tonight:
“The word of God is not susceptible to democracy.”
“They say: ‘Religious groups have huge power’ which, as far as we can see, means: ‘A lot of people agree with them’.”
The “For” team are now talking specifically about the influence of religious groups on the Republican party. Again, though, why did a candidate from a minority religious group win the primaries?
The “For” team are still focusing on the argument that religious organisations have unique power compared to other organisations (such as trade unions or big business). This seems (to me, at least) to be a shaky argument.
The seperation of church and state argument, which seemed a bit more promising, has apparently been abandoned.
The “For” team are still focusing on the enormous influence of the church in the US. Nobody has yet picked up on the example of the Republican primaries, however. Rick Santorum, who was the chosen candidate of several highly influential religious leaders, nonetheless lost the primary to Mitt Romney, a candidate from a minority religious group.
Are religious organisations really the most influential group in politics? And if they’re not, why should they be banned in particular?
The “Against” team are now taking an interesting line of argument, based on the practical effects of such a ban. They argue that religious groups are going to exist whether or not they are banned from participating in the electoral process, and cutting them off from access to peaceful democratic processes might risk radicalising them. An interesting argument, but this seems to undermine their earlier line that religious groups should not be characterised as extremist.
Good come back from “Against” team. Religions are not “violently cooercive” as the “For” team has implied.
The “For” team are now tackling the question of “Why descriminate against religious groups” head on. Why are religious groups different to trade unions? Because, according to the “For” team, religious organisations have a captive audience every Sunday, and are able to use the threat of hellfire and eternal damnation to force their followers to vote a certain way.
The trouble seems to be that other organisations DO have built-in audiences (zealous supporters of communism or libertarianism, or whatever other ideology). These ideologies also, arguably, have their secular equivalents of heaven and hell.
Good points from the “Against” team (who, as the team arguing for the status quo, have a bit of an advantage). They’ve also finally picked up on the church and state argument, but don’t seem to have tackled it directly. Instead, they’re focusing on freedom of association, which is a valid point – but it’s not the one that was put forward by the “For” team. What about the protection of minority rights?
That was a zinger from the “Against” team: “It is not true that people simply blindly believe what their church tells them.” So, within religious organisations there are still debates about opinions and belief.
Here comes the rebuttal. The “Against” team are, again, hammering home the point that ALL interest groups influence their supporters. So, why should religion be different? Let’s see how they deal with the point about church and state.
The “For” team still don’t seem to be making the case for why religion should be treated differently to other interest groups. They are arguing that “[Democracy] must be a meaningful choice, and the choice is more meaningful as it becomes more independent… It’s not clear why you need the church to tell you what you should do when you’ve weighed all your other views.”
But the media also influences choice. Should Fox News be banned from reporting on an election because they sway opinion?
Ah, but now they’re making the “church and state” arguement, which could be a much more convincing line of argument. They argue that religious influence in elections in the US is “overwhelmingly from Christian groups.” So, there are reasons to ban religious organisations from involvement in the electoral process in order to protect religious minorities and to preserve the division between church and state.
The “For” team is arguing that this is a debate about “specific, powerful institutions using very powerful means” to undermine the electoral process. This is problematic, because there are LOTS of powerful institutions affecting elections. Big business, for example? Why are churches being singled out?
This seems to be crux of the issue: there are all sorts of interest groups in society. What is the reason for choosing to exclude religious groups, but not others? The “For” team will really have to prove they’ve got an answer to this. They’ve begun to do this with an argument about the “seperation between church and state”, but they’ll have to really tackle it head on.
The “Against” team is now picking up on the “irrefutable” claim by the other team. They’re arguing that some people also have “blind faith” in other systems, for example, capitalism or communism.
The “Against” team is arguing that the “For” team’s argument would only appeal to the “lefties in the room!”
Hope there aren’t any lefties amongst the panel of judges!
The “Against” team is now speaking. As expected, they’re focusing on the question of why religious groups should be descriminated against in particular.
And we’re off!
The “For” team goes first. The difficulty for them will be arguing that religious groups can be banned from involvement in the electoral process, whereas all other groups are still allowed to participate. The problem, of course, is on what grounds is this distinction being made? The “For” team has decided to argue that religion “cannot be disproved analytically”, which seems like a shaky reason for a ban.
So, the “English as a First Language” final is now under way, and the motion has been announced as: “This house would amend the United States constitution to prohibit any involvement by religious organisations in the electoral process.”
And that’s all folks! Let’s see what the judges think.
Interesting to see how the various speakers deal with Points of Interest (PoI). The methods range from a polite “No thank you”, to a dismissive flapping of the hands, to the short but brutal: “Sit down!”
Both teams are batting South Africa backwards and forwards as an example. Will be interesting to see what the judges think.
Good point from the “Against Rejecting Amnesties” team about justice: “Amnesty is not immunity from prosecution. It is taking people guilty of crimes, and withholding punishment for the purposes of reconciliation“
That sneaky argument from the “For Rejecting Amnesties” team has come up again. They’re arguing that even if all amnesties currently in place were retrospectively overturned, then that doesn’t mean that future amensties wouldn’t be effective. This is, apparently, because there is always a “local, credible perspective that this amnesty will not be overruled in the future.” Because we are not a local power but some kind of omnipotent international government (in this fantasy scenario) we can revoke all amnesties without undermining the credibility of future amnesties.
Not sure about the logic on this one, but the opposing team hasn’t picked up on it.
Quick summary of the two arguments:
FOR REJECTING AMNESTIES: It’s the principled stance and it’s better for the long-term stability of the country.
AGAINST REJECTING AMNESTIES: It’s the realistic, pragmatic stance and it’s better for ending violence that is happening right now.
A very sneaky argument coming from Leiden: even if we removed existing amnesties, it doesn’t necessarily mean we would have to stop granting amnesties in future. Which seems to undermine the argument that removing amnesties is “undermining the principles of society.”
An interesting spin from RRIS on the argument that denying amnesties puts a dictator’s back to the wall and merely prolongs the violence. If you refuse amnesties, then they argue that you offer a dictator either “certain death” (by stepping down) or “probable death” (by fighting on), whereas adding amnesties adds the option of “certain life”. Interesting argument, but Bashar al-Assad doesn’t seem to share this perspective.
RRIS argues that Leiden should be ashamed of supporting the removal of amnesties. Which seems a bit harsh, seeing as the teams couldn’t choose what they were arguing.
Then they turn to the Prisoner’s Dilemma to support their argument, which is a novel philosophical turn of argument.
Oh no you didn’t! RRIS come out shooting by arguing that Leiden has been lying to the audience over how effective amnesties can be. Then they turn to a rebuttle of Leiden’s South African point: “This is not a question of hate. This is a question of the socio-economic situation. A lack of education and hope. This is why people turn to crime.”
Leiden: picking up again on the South African example: “you did have truth and reconciliation courts, but because those courts did not take action they created a narrative amongst South African blacks that justice was denied”. This, Leiden argues, undermines the long-term stability of the country.
Leiden now have the floor again. Making the point that amnesty for stability is a short-term fix, whilst prosecutions are ultimately necessary to ensure the long-term stability of a country.
RRIS now developing their main argument further: “after the dictator is removed, all stakeholders need to form a country together. One needs to be able to, as painful as it is, forgive.”
A good point… but isn’t the example of Yugoslavia a counterpoint? Rather than forming a country together, we saw the country break apart.
Now Raphael Recanati International School (RRIS) are asking “What are crimes?”, which seems (to me, at least) to be a bit of a dead end.
Raphael Recanati International School (RRIS) now has the floor, and immediately they are citing South Africa as an example of reconciliation. One of the main reasons amnesties are given, as RRIS argues, is to stop violence. They bring up the example of Syria under Assad, and the importance of offering a “way out” for dictators without “pushing their backs against the wall”.
Another interesting argument from Leuven: amnesties fracture national unity because they suggest that not all groups within a society are equal in the eyes of the law. Removing amnesties will remind people that “We all suffered.”
Interesting argument from Leuven’s team: amnesties damage communities because they deny justice. They then use the example of South Africa (whilst many would cite the Truth and Reconciliation Committees as an example of restorative justice)
Interesting choice of topic. On the one hand, host country Serbia has been pursuing Serbian perpetrators of war crimes during the Yugoslav wars and sending them to the International Criminal Court in the Hague for prosecution. On the other hand, countries like South Africa have set up Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (TRCs) that have offered amnesty to members of the old regime. In addition, there are the more recent examples from the Arab Spring: where the prosecution of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak follows a completely different approach to the experience of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for stepping down from office.
And the motion has been announced: “This house would retrospectively remove all amnesties granted to those who committed crimes as part of oppressive regimes.”
The finals are getting under way now. The teams have only been told what subject they’ll be debating 7 minutes ago, so they’ll be frantically preparing their cases right now. Previous motions debated in this competition have included: “The ECB should unconditionally buy significant amounts of government debt from struggling Eurozone countries” and “Allow anyone to take up residence in any country, provided that they will not be an economic burden on that country.”
Perhaps controversially, given the venue for this year’s championships (Serbia), one of the motions was: “Republika Srpska should secede from Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
Looks like things are running a little behind schedule, but the hall seems bustling.