||Background Information on the Global Themes
The simple view...
Most people in the world are legal citizens of one or another
nation state, and this entitles them to certain privileges or
rights. Being a citizen also imposes certain duties in terms of
what the state expects from individuals under its jurisdiction.
Thus, citizens fulfil certain obligations to their state and in
return they may expect protection of their vital interests. Or
that is the way it should be.
There are two main questions that complicate this simple equation:
- Which rights are states obliged to guarantee their citizens
and on what terms?
- What happens to those citizens that do not, for one reason
or another, have the protection of the country in which they
To answer the first of these questions, we need to have a clearer
idea of what being a citizen or what citizenship really means,
and we shall look at that below. To answer the second question,
we would need to look at why some people in the world do not possess
citizenship of the country where they are resident and what can
be done about it. This debate is really just beginning and in
this section we shall raise only some of the questions.
What is citizenship?
People have been discussing the idea of citizenship for thousands
of years and even today there is no absolute agreement on exactly
what it means. The concept of legal citizenship appears to be
relatively simple: this is normally linked to a nation state and
is defined in terms of the laws of that nation. This is perhaps
why, for many people, the idea of citizenship has an immediate
connection with the idea of patriotism: a "good citizen"
is often thought to be a "good patriot".
However, the concept of citizenship has far more layers of meaning
than mere patriotism, as we can see from the historical origins
of the idea, set out in the next section. A helpful distinction
to bear in mind is that between a citizen, on the one hand, and
a subject, on the other.
Should citizens always obey the law?
Historical conceptions of citizenship
is a complex and multi-dimensional reality which needs to be set
in its political and historical context. One cannot speak of citizenship
in isolation, since the idea only has any meaning in relation
to the real needs of society or a political system. Democratic
citizenship, specifically, refers to the active participation
by individuals in the system of rights and responsibilities which
is the lot of citizens in democratic societies.5".
It is useful to look at some
of the more important developments in the idea of citizenship,
since this helps to bring out the various strands of meaning that
are discussed today.
- The origin of citizenship can be traced back to Ancient Greece,
when "citizens" were those who had a legal right to
participate in the affairs of the state. But by no means everyone
was a citizen: slaves and women, in particular, were mere subjects.
For those who did have the privileged status of being citizens,
the idea of "civic virtue" or being a "good"
citizen was an important part of the concept. This tradition
led to an emphasis on the duties that citizens were supposed
- The association of citizenship with national identity arose
naturally from the fact that the legal status of a "citizen"
was always tied to a nation state, hence the link between citizenship
- The liberal view of citizenship, which was developed in the
nineteenth century, emphasised the importance of rights for
all citizens. As the franchise began to be gradually extended,
so justice and political rights became a reality for an increasing
proportion of the population.
- In the twentieth century, the supporters of "social
citizenship" went further, in recognising that civil and
political rights are only part of what citizens ought to be
able to expect from the state. The rise of the welfare state
in the last century owed a great deal to thinkers who argued
that rights of citizens ought to cover their own living and
working conditions, rather than just their participation in
- The concept of "multiple citizenship" has been
in existence for a while and allows that individuals may simultaneously
be citizens of more than one state or organising body. For example,
with the development of the European Union, citizens of the
member states increasingly possess some rights from and duties
to the Union as a whole, and not only to their own nation state.
- A final strand in the concept of citizenship, but one that
is gaining increasing importance, involves the idea of education.
If citizenship in the traditional sense involves enjoying rights
and also performing duties, then there is a sense in which citizens
may be said to be not born, but created. Loyalty and responsibility,
for example, are qualities that need to be learned and cultivated.
So, if these are qualities that are essential to being a citizen
in the full meaning of the term, then "real" citizens
need to be educated - in the broadest sense of the word.
Today, most people's notion of citizenship will include elements
of each of the six concepts outlined above, although in different
proportions. Some people will emphasise the "duties"
element, while others will give more importance to "rights"
or "patriotism", or to the qualities that should be
possessed by "real" citizens.
The link with human rights
is as God made him, and often a great deal worse."
Miguel de Cervantes
We can see that both rights
and responsibilities have been an important part of the notion
of citizenship from the earliest days: citizens are expected to
possess certain fundamental rights, and they are also required
to perform certain duties. It is these "duties", or
responsibilities, that people have in mind when they speak of
what citizens ought to be like or how they ought to behave.
However, if such a notion strikes us as too directorial or as
limiting too much the inherent freedom and dignity of every individual
citizen, then it is important to remember that these limits arise
as a direct consequence of human rights theory. It is only the
desire to build societies which respect the human rights of all
citizens that imposes responsibilities on us all as citizens.
There are two immediate links between the responsibilities of
citizenship and human rights theory:
- The fact that every individual possesses basic human rights
does not give anyone licence to behave exactly as he or she
wishes. It only gives them licence to do so in so far as this
does not impinge upon the human rights of other individuals.
So one thing we can certainly say about good citizenship is
that it requires citizens to have respect for the human rights
- The second close link with human rights concerns the way
in which the concept of citizenship is essentially tied in with
membership of society. We do not speak, for example, of citizens
of desert islands, because a citizen is much more than just
an inhabitant of a particular country or region. A citizen is
essentially a member of the society which inhabits that region;
so, if we are concerned to build societies which respect human
rights, then this imposes another restriction on the way that
individuals inhabiting that society should behave.
Thus, another thing that we could say about good citizenship
would be that it requires the type of behaviour that would lead
society to be more respectful of human rights.
What should the citizen do when society is failing to respect
the rights of certain sections of the community?
Problems with citizenship
"Put simply, a subject obeys the laws
and a citizen plays a part in making and changing them."
Most of the debate today concerning
citizenship is focused on the problem of increasing citizens'
involvement and participation in the processes of democratic society.
It is being increasingly realised that periodic voting by citizens
is insufficient, either in terms of making those who govern in
the interim period fully accountable or in promoting feelings
of empowerment among ordinary citizens. Furthermore, even voting
patterns themselves indicate levels of political apathy among
the population that seriously undermine the effective functioning
of democracy. It is with problems such as these in mind that programmes
like the Council of Europe's Education for Democratic Citizenship
have been initiated.
What forms of involvement or participation, other than voting
in elections, are possible for the ordinary citizen?
A second set of issues which has possibly deserved less attention
to date, but which is increasing in importance, concerns the question
of those individuals who do not, for one reason or another, receive
the full benefits of citizenship. One aspect of this is a result
of continuing patterns of discrimination within societies: minority
groups may very often have formal citizenship of the country in
which they are living but may still be prevented from full participation
in that society.
A second aspect of the problem is a consequence of increasing
globalisation, including new patterns of work and migration, which
leads to a significant number of people throughout the world being
resident abroad but unable to apply for formal citizenship. Such
people may include immigrant workers, refugees, temporary residents
or even those who have decided to set up permanent residence in
What should be the criteria for citizenship in an increasingly
multicultural world? Should immigrant workers be entitled to some
of the benefits of citizenship, if not to formal citizenship?
Education for democratic citizenship: the Council
of Europe and youth
am impressed by the high number of young human rights activists
here. Their knowledge and experience gives me confidence to continue
our human rights education programme with schools and develop
more out-of-school activities on learning citizenship6"
Ms Marina Kovinena, Youth Human Rights
Education Forum, 2000.
The Council of Europe's programme
under this name has attempted to provide a European framework
for the strengthening of education for democratic citizenship.
The Council calls on member states to include such programmes
within their educational, training, cultural and youth policies
and practices, and it has itself worked actively to identify new
strategies and approaches and to disseminate these.
The Draft Declaration and Programme on Education For Democratic
Citizenship (April 1999) identified the following essential characteristics:
Education For Democratic Citizenship:
- constitutes a lifelong learning experience and a participative
process developed in various contexts;
- equips men and women to play an active part in public life
and to shape in a responsible way their own destiny and that
of their society;
- aims to instil a culture of human rights which will ensure
full respect for those rights and understanding of responsibilities
that flow from them;
- prepares people to live in a multicultural society and to
deal with difference knowledgeably, sensibly, tolerantly and
- strengthens social cohesion, mutual understanding and solidarity;
- must be inclusive of all age groups and sectors of society.
One important aspect of the Programme on Education for Democratic
Citizenship is that it is aimed at supporting various youth networks,
partnerships, model initiatives, etc., in order to encourage young
people to participate in civil society. Young people form an important
part of the target population.