BERLÍN: MANNRÉTTINDI OG LÝÐRÆÐI Í HARÐNANDI HEIMI
Síðastliðinn miðvikudag sótti ég áhugaverða ráðstefnu í Berlín
um mannréttindi og lýðræði á vegum Institute
of Cultural Diplomacy, ICD. Ég nefndi erindi
mitt "Human Rights and Democracy in Times of
Global Insecurity" og birti ég það hér að
Since this event is organized in seminar form, my talk will be such. I want to make ten points to throw into the discussion.
1) First of all I want to say that it is good to be together with people who are concerned about democracy. To foster and nurture a discussion on democracy is of tremendous importance in our time and age. We have reached the point where we hardly need say that we do have concerns - I would say grave concerns - for the future of democracy. Our task is to find it a safe future. Hence we must deepen our understanding and seek inspiration to further our thoughts and deliberations. And mentioning understanding and inspiration: Bill Clinton, the former president of the United States, once said that there were two people, he had, above all others, learned from and been inspired by, one was Nelson Mandela of South Africa, the other was Emil Constantinescu of Romania and he is here with us today.
2) Secondly, I want to say something about global security. We are in Berlin. Those who look at the world from the European continent, not to speak of the western part of it, are justified in saying that, at least relatively speaking and in an historical perspective, the period since the Second World War has been peaceful and stable. And take note, I am not talking about freedom or the condition of individuals or groups or nations for that matter. But when we widen our horizon the same can not be said of the world at large - Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, the Middle East, Central America, Nigeria, Ethiopia ... , the list is long and then of course the Balkans. However, in spite of this, the world at large has enjoyed a certain degree of stability - or should we rather say predictability. This predictability was due to the military strength of powerful states and power military blocks which in turn is embodied in the very structure of world politics. Here I am referring to the United Nations with its Security Council and then the military alliances. NATO and the Warsaw Pact, which of course had a dominant role in this part of the world, thus provided predictability. The tractate of NATO indeed spells it out: An attack on one is an attack on all and will be dealt with as such. Here geographic integrity is the key factor. So we had stability based on predictability.
3) The third point I want to make, also has to do with
stability, is inward looking and applies primarily to the
capitalist world. The political structure used to reflect economic
and social interests in society and as such could be taken
for granted to be in place, at least to some extent.
When we look back to the latter part of the past
century, there were of course divergencies and political
differences on how to tackle social ills. Nevertheless, in Western
Europe and North America, which are my centre of attention, there
was general consensus that when unemployment became widespread or
social inequalities became glaringly apparent - the have-nots in
society too numerous - something had to be done about it! Otherwise
stability was endangered. Very much as was the case when the upper
classes of 19th century Europe discovered that the cholera bacteria
did not ask about social class when it selected its victims. An
open sewage system was therefore a threat to all, and hence a
concern and responsibility of society at large.
On both sides of the Atlantic, mechanisms were developed to deal with economic ills. Even if the right and the left did not agree to what extent to follow the blueprint of Roosevelt´s New Deal or Keynesian economics in times of recession, there were at least discussions around the table on such issues with trade unions playing a vital role. Indeed sometimes there were confrontations. But a common understanding could be taken for granted. And you could also predict that labour would be voting for labour- or parties of socialist or social-democratic leanings, while business interests would rally around conservative or liberal parties. This was the general pattern.
In the 1980´s this began to change. Margaret Thatcher and a group of determined right wing politicians had come along, heeding the advice of Hayek, Freedman and Buchannan to revisit the liberal doctrine, and put it untainted into practice in the spirit of those days before the nature of the cholera bacteria had been discovered!
So my third point has to do with political stability based on a widely accepted consensus and predictability.
4) The fourth point I want to make is about
progress. Progress is not only an objective
phenomenon, but also subjective. It has to do with what people
believe about the way society develops and hence is related to my
former point, namely predictability.
I for one would place myself amongst those who claim that in spite of two world wars, totalitarian regimes in large parts of the world, famines, plagues and calamities of various kinds, mankind in its collectivity nevertheless experienced more progress in the 20th century than at any other given time in history. And this indeed was a predominant view: In the second half of the 20th Century and the beginning of our present century the belief in progress was strong and widely shared. This is important since this touches what we might call the human condition: We are not content with status quo, we want to move forward and such have always been the ambitions of mankind. The Millennium goals set by the UN bear witness the desire for improvement. Progress and no less the belief in progress gives hope and has therefore a subjective, political dimension to it.
5) I want to dwell on this and extend it into my fifth point, namely the hopes people had about globalization in trade and the sharing of economic prosperity. When 44 nations, of the capitalist world, came to an agreement in Bretton Woods in New Hampshire in 1944 on an order intended to govern monetary relations among these independent nation-states, there were also high hopes of creating a constructive framework for the development of opening markets which in the end would bring us all to the same market place with our goods and services. A world trade organization did not come into being at this time as had been aspired by some, but we got the GATT framework which was progressively developed from the late 1940s until the mid 90s, mainly dealing with the reduction of tariffs in international trade. In this spirit developed regional trade agreements in the Americas, Asia and of course in Europe with its Common Market and the free trade organization, EFTA, eventually merging into the European Economic Area. Again here there were high hopes held by many, the yardstick on development being progress for all.
6) In point six I want to turn to democracy and human rights. Global stability based on the power of the mighty, did not necessarily open the road for progress in this sphere. In many respects it hindered and hampered such a development. Thus the UN Genocide Convention from 1948 quickly became a casualty of the Cold War, with the main antagonists being unable to agree on a mandate for such a court. They were also unwilling to face charges levelled against themselves for breaching the Convention. Indeed, a permanent international judicial body, the International Criminal Court, did not become a reality until half a century later. During the Cold War, the absurdity of the situation became so pronounced that none of the mass killings from the 1950s until the late 1980s were denounced by the UN as genocides. It was not until the 1990s, when the UN Security Council established the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and its counterpart in Rwanda that the Genocide Convention was revived as an instrument of international justice. This brought hope for the furtherance of human rights and so did Kofi Annans´ initiative on the Responsibility to Protect, a principle still to be developed.
7) Now in my seventh point I want to turn to more negative
developments, namely that the predictable world of
yesterday is no more when it comes to securing peace and
stability. Faraway wars are suddenly at the doorstep of
all mankind. I hardly need extrapolate on this. And the big power
blocks are adapting to these new realities. In the years leading to
the 50 years anniversary of NATO, celebrated in Washington in 1999
and further developed and consolidated in the following years, a
new ideology was developed. Instead of saying, an attack on one
member state is an attack on all, it now was said that a
threat to one was a threat to all. And in line with this
new approach the idea of mobility was emphasized, NATO forces
should be movable to all parts of the world, where such a threat
was seen to be a reality.
What does this mean in practice, namely not to think merely in terms of a geographically defined area, but to have the whole world in sight; to move from the local to the global and then equal threat with attack? The first obvious thought is to relate a global threat with global interests which of course for some are local! A powerful state with strong global economic interests pursued aggressively is of course more likely to be threatened than a state pursuing its interests in a just, peaceful and non-aggressive manner. This is why the smaller member states of military alliances are beginning to realize that it matters who become the leaders in the dominant states; or to put it bluntly, who leads the United States is more important in the new world picture than was the case earlier. In other words and spelling it out, Donald Trump is a concern to all of us!
And this is why many of us listen with apprehension to the deliberations, and now decisions, to involve NATO more directly in the fight against those who are seen to threaten "our order" world-wide. This means involving all of us in actions decided by the dominant military powers.
My point is this: The effectiveness and indeed the feasibility of the policing methods of yesterday are being questioned today.
8) This brings me to the domestic political arena again,
and in my eighth point I maintain that also here questions and
misgivings are on the rise. Margaret Thatcher the former
prime Minister of Great Britain, was asked not long before she died
what she saw as her greatest political achievement in her career.
She answered bluntly:
"Tony Blair and New Labour. We forced our opponents to change their minds."
And exactly this had happened. As we got neo-liberals we now got new Labour not only in Britain but in most western European countries and if I recall correctly, Bill Clinton, west of the Atlantic, began to refer to the New Democrats, although of course, I hasten to add that great reservations should be made when comparing European and North American politics.
But while the neo-liberals sought their ideological roots, the neo-labourites abandoned theirs. There was talk of a Third way where theorists like Anthony Giddens tried to find a compromise. The institutional world of politics found this heaven-sent, especially the social democratic parties, while I believe the public at large simply became perplexed. Uncertainty began to creep in and gradually also disillusionment.
The German economist Wolfgang Streeck said in an interview published in the Guardian a few months ago that capitalism was broken and more specifically he said, "modern capitalism has relied on its enemies to wade in with the lifebelt of reform. During the Great Depression of the 30s, it was FDR's Democrats who rolled out the New Deal, while Britain´s unionists allied with Keynes ... Compare that with now. Over 40 years, neoliberal capitalism has destroyed its opposition."
So, the life-boat was gone. And with it has also gone the relative stability and predictability my generation in Western Europe grew up with. And this the voters have registered.
9) And now to my ninth point, namely increased
misgivings about economic globalization. When GATT - the
General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade came to an end in the mid
1990s we finally got the World Trade Organization many had aspired
to create in Bretton Woods, and with it an effort to create a
global market not only for goods but also services. Now the drive
for marketization became qualitatively different and more
demanding. From the start it was clear that international capital
interests were at the helm, mapping out the conditions for the
global market place. This time around the emphasis was not only on
doing away with tariffs but on introducing compulsory marketization
of the entire infrastructure - hopefully globally. While Bretton
Woods had recognized the independence of individual states, the
idea now was to introduce a supranational arbitration system with
open access to corporations, for settling disputes that might arise
between market interests on the one hand and democratic and social
interests on the other. The demand now was that individual states
should adjust their economies in such a way that would ensure
equality for all competing actors. "No, more interference with the
market, no more subsidies!", and "if you help your domestic firms
you must create equal conditions for foreign competitors". This
was, and is, the idea of GATS (General Agreement on Trade in
Services) advocated by the WTO from its creation in 1995 onwards,
widely contested and opposed by the poorer part of the world, trade
unions world-wide and various democratic grass-root organizations,
primarily because of the content but also because of the secrecy of
these negotiations. And the secrecy has of course to do with the
I have no time to go into this here, but the immoral thing is that soon after GATS ran into difficulties a few years back, due to strong protest, the rich part of the world decided under the banner of TISA to make an attempt to complete an agreement in the hope that the rest of the world would have to swallow the packet in the end.
The point is that trade agreements have turned into an attempt to force-feed us with fully fledged capitalism with all the consequences this entails socially and economically. This indeed has also been the criticism waged against the European Union of late for developing a structure based on market values rather than social values. Here the so-called right wing and the so-called left have all too often been united.
10) Then along come Donald Trump and Brexit! And here I arrive at my final point, namely the arrogance of the institutional world in evaluating political behavior and democratic aspirations and in their failure to understand why grass root politics and the traditional institutional political world are drifting apart. I may not agree with the reasons why Trump put a halt to international trade agreements, TISA and TPP, its equivalent across the Pacific, or the ideology of Nigel Farage in the UK on Brexit and certainly not with Marine Le Pen. But neither did I agree with the way Obama handled TISA in Congress nor Macrons´ flirting with market ideology; nor do I agree with the European Union´s emphasis on organizing society with finance- and capital- interests always in the forefront. And I am not alone! This is why many of my kind might have sympathies with Brexit, i.e. as a legitimate protest against these developments and welcome Trump´s u-turn on international trade agreements.
When we add all this together, the international power blocks consolidating their grip again, which seems to be the case, the trade alliances pursuing antisocial policies, high ranking people from the institutional world hiding their money in Panama, people of all political colors included, inequalities in all parts of the world on the increase and not to forget the media at large, arrogantly giving marks to the population, like a teacher scolding an unruly class of pupils, saying that the British failed the democratic test, while the French had stood it - thank god they stood the assault of populism ..., when we put all this together we are bound to begin to ponder.
To conclude I say, let us go for some self-examination for the
sake of democracy.
Democracy is in danger and it is not only populists, so-called, who are responsible for this, but the institutional world of big-finance and politics which has deprived people of what is essential for democracy, the belief that we are moving forward, progressing, and the hope that there is a better future - for ALL.
It is our task to change this.