Jogging on the more familiar terrain of the Foret de Soignes this morning, a number of experiences came back to me and I list them here in no particular order. The first was some three years back, in Huangshan, China. Our guide one day was a young university student, eager to learn and completely open to discussion. He and I became engrossed in a discussion about political systems and at some point I made a dismissive comment along the lines of ‘but you don’t have real political parties’. ‘But of course we do!’ he replied, astounded, and then he listed some; a green party, I recall was among them, but not the Communist Party. ‘All right,’ I said, ‘and what about the Communist Party?’ ‘Ah!’ he replied, ‘but that’s the government.’ In the same period I participated in a seminar in Budapest with a number of television and newspaper journalists and was asked for my reaction to the recently-published Commission White Paper on Democracy, Dialogue and Debate. So I gave my reactions, in passing regretting the lack of emphasis on the role of political parties. ‘Political parties!’ they all exclaimed. ‘We’ve had enough of political parties! We don’t trust them at all! We’d much prefer to receive information through other vectors.’ And then there was that meeting in Moscow in the White House three days ago with the Vice-Prime Minister and three clearly very powerful figures: the business and trades union leaders and the President of the Civic Forum. I thought back to Italy and the Christian Democrats’ lengthy de facto monopoly of government (what Giovanni Sartori called ‘polarised pluralism’). What happened in that case was the evolution of ‘currents’ within the governing party, with competing personalities at their helms. Is that not what has been happening in China? And in Russia (where the United Russia party has 315 out of the 450 seats in the Duma)? One-party (or one-party-dominated) states are not necessarily monolithic nor are they necessarily undemocratic (or democratic) but clearly something new or different is occuring in these systems. Other organisations, in many cases with mass membership and considerable resources, are also ‘players’ in the system of governance (as they have always been, of course). But there are new such players and the balance of forces seems to be changing. When AICESIS President Antonio Marzoni explained the emerging concept of participatory democracy, about how civil society organisations’ legitimacy was drawn from the ‘real worlds’ which they represented, Zukhov and Velikov sat up and replied enthusiastically that that was what was also happening in Russia. And then I thought, last of all, about what the new European Parliament President, Jerzy Buzek, said to the EESC’s President, Mario Sepi, when the two met a few weeks back. ‘The Committee,’ he said, ‘is an important part of the democratic equation.’ Something is definitely going on, whether or not the term ‘participatory democracy’ is to be found in the Lisbon Treaty and it’s not just happening, or even not happening primarily, in the EU.