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Young activist sparks small revolution: that is the canned version of 21-year-old Dimitri Rougy’s life story. Since March 2018, the independent campaigner and student of cultural studies, who was previously little known on the national scene, has risen to become a Swiss political star. Almost singlehandedly, he organised the referendum against social detectives that will be put to the vote on 25 November 2018 (see page 12). Here is how it came about: multi-prize-winning author Sibylle Berg ranted on Twitter about the social detective law passed by parliament in March 2018. Rougy chimed in. He contacted parties and organisations but with no success – none of them wanted anything to do with a referendum. Then we will just have to go it alone, Rougy and Berg told themselves.
Rougy orchestrated it all online. Within three months 50,000 signatures had to be collected. The two-person democratic guerrilla shock troop searched for donations and signature collectors via an online collection platform. Soon there were 11,000 online supporters. In July 2018, 55,861 signatures were submitted. For the first time, a referendum petition that had its origin in social media had become a success. Political analysts speak of a possible sea change if it is no longer only the big parties and organisations who can call for a referendum, but thanks to digital democracy, also small, spontaneous citizens’ movements.
Dimitri Rougy’s political engagement is nothing new. With a colleague he founded the Berner Oberland Youth Parliament and sits for the Social Democratic Party (SP) on the Interlaken Municipal Council. Always on the go, he organised, among other things, the demonstration against Donald Trump at the World Economic Forum 2018 in Davos. And following the November 2015 Paris attacks, he virtually singlehandedly organised the illumination of the parliament building in Bern in the colours of the French tricolour. Now he is giving Swiss domestic politics a few striking splashes of colour.