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Dr. Thomas Volk is the Director of the Regional Program Political Dialogue South Mediterranean. We did this interview in November 2022. 

Vladimir Kljajic: You have been the regional director of the KAS office In Tunisia for around two years. Could you tell us why Tunisia is Essential for Europe? 

Dr. Thomas Volk: Tunisia is already of strategic importance for Europe due to its geographical location. It is located in Europe’s direct southern neighborhood and the capital Tunis is geographically closer to Europe than the EU member state Malta. However, Tunisia also offers many potentials economically due to its proximity. And last but not least, the country has an active civil society, which has contributed to Tunisia becoming the region’s democratic showcase after the so-called Arab Spring more than ten years ago.

VK: What are the primary areas of interest in partnership with Tunisia for KAS and the international community?

Dr. Thomas Volk: The last ten years have been largely characterized by helping to consolidate the country’s democracy and pointing out economic prospects for the young population. As KAS we have two offices in Tunisia. One country program, which celebrates its 40th anniversary in Tunisia this year. And since 2016, a regional program for the Mediterranean Dialogue, which connects politicians and business representatives from the region. The presence of two KAS offices in Tunisia alone proves how important the country is for our work.

VK: Consider your extensive knowledge about the modern history of Tunisia; what are critical takeaways from the last decade of the revolution and democratic change?

Dr. Thomas Volk: Tunisia took consistent steps toward democratization after the so-called Arab Spring. A new constitution was adopted in 2014 and elections with party competition took place. Unfortunately, however, the economic democracy dividend failed to materialize, and many Tunisians today complain that they are worse off economically than before the revolution. Since July 25, 2021, the country has therefore once again been in a process of political transformation-this time, unfortunately, with autocratic features.

VK:Certain members of the International community are concerned about recent developments regarding the concentration of power in the hands of the president. What are your thoughts on this? 

Dr. Thomas Volk:We are seeing autocratic and populist tendencies on the rise in many countries in the region. Tunisia is unfortunately no longer an exception, and the president elected in 2019 chose to shut down democratic achievements. The constitution adopted in 2022 in a referendum with low voter turnout gives him a great deal of power, and it is alarming that there is still no parliament in session and parties are to be excluded from the upcoming elections. Unfortunately, Tunisia is not taking a good direction politically.

VK: You have a lot of programs related to the youth of Tunisia; what are your observations? Do you think they gave up on democracy? 

Dr. Thomas Volk: As a regional program, we have a variety of political exchanges for young actors from countries in the region – from Morocco to Lebanon. I have noticed that the young generation is political and wants to get involved. Often, they just don’t have the right access and, in some cases, the knowledge of where and how they can best get involved. Civil society plays a very active role for young people in all countries. At the same time, we find that political parties in the region are of little interest to most young people. Nevertheless, I do not believe that the young generation has given up hope in democracy. They stand up for human rights, insist on freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly. They want to have a say, but they also demand fair economic participation and social mobility.

VK: How do you see Tunisia in five years regarding democracy and human rights? 

Dr. Thomas Volk: It remains to be seen whether the elections will take place in December and how high the turnout will be in Tunisia. After that, a key challenge will remain whether the socioeconomic situation in the country will improve and prospects for the young generation can be created. Otherwise, the youth will probably once again demand their rights even more strongly.