Death of a peace process: martial law returns to Turkey

Open Democracy News Analysis - 29. Août 2015 - 9:01

Turkey has placed the Kurds and their struggle for human rights within a state of exception – outside the protections of due process of law.

Kurdish women pleading with a Turkish soldier.The Kurdish peace process is over and a huge wave of violence has started in Turkey’s south-east.  The violence follows the killing of 33 Kurds in the Suruc bombing and the subsequent murders of two policemen in nearby Viransehir. Many fear that what is happening in Kurdish region of Turkey now is a return to the 1990s which were marked by widespread violence and state crimes. In this period much of Turkey’s south-east became what Agamben has described as a state of exception: martial law became normalised during the 1990s and the Kurdish region experienced intensely high levels of state crime including village destruction, massacres, extra-judicial killings, disappearances, mass forced displacement and endemic torture.

It seems that the nature of the Turkish state in relation to its Kurdish minority has not changed since the dark days of the 1990s – the inherited fear of Kurdish separatism and the Kurds themselves remains. We prefer to call it Kurdophobia, given that for 15 years the leaders of the Kurdish movement have made clear their demands are not for a separate nation but instead for equal citizenship in a democratic state.

For the past two years negotiations between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish government had resulted in a peace process – the aim of which, for Kurdish leaders, was an end to the discrimination, human rights violations and violent conflict which the Kurdish community had long suffered at the hands of the Turkish state.

The peace process ended abruptly, a result it seems of the recent electoral success of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HDP) in June, and the consequential thwarting of Erdogan’s presidential ambitions. Erdogan has made no secret of his desire for constitutional change towards a presidential system in which he would assume ultimate power. The approaching early general election in November is unlikely to change this course. The AKP administration’s dramatic loss of support among Kurds has forced it to consider ways in which it can restore those lost votes. Its first step was to re-introduce the ‘terror’ card by declaring a state of emergency in over a hundred different Kurdish regions. These regions have been declared high security regions and civilians are prohibited from entering even their villages or towns for days at a time. 

Erdogan’s resurrection of the war on terror is, in effect, a return to the institutionalised punishment inflicted on all Turkish Kurds whose daily lives are obstructed at every level. In response to the broken ceasefire and the return of 1990s state practices, some pro-HDP ruling municipalities have declared political self-rule. A declaration of autonomy is a strong message to the state but it is important to distinguish between what the state understands as democratic autonomy and how the Kurdish political community perceives it. For the Kurdish movement, such a declaration is a way of exposing the state’s illegitimate activities in the region and seeking a situation in which elected Kurdish politicians might assume more power while still operating as a part of the Turkish nation. By contrast, the state accepts the declaration of democratic autonomy as a sign of separatism and the first stage in the establishment of a Kurdistan on Turkish land.

Most of the declarations of autonomy, perhaps unsurprisingly, have come from those Kurdish regions where security forces and the pro-PKK Kurdish Youth Organization (YDG-H) are engaged in increasingly violent confrontations. This violence, however, has affected the ways in which the declarations of autonomy have been perceived by the state and has, in turn, defined the intensity of the state’s response to those declaring autonomy. It seems that both sides are using a controlled-chaos strategy to threaten and inhibit the actions from the opposing side. Resorting to its long experience in state criminality, and in criminalising its political opponents, the Turkish state is in the process of creating a de facto state of martial law.

The mayors of Diyarbakir’s Sur District, Fatma Şık Barut and Seyit Narin, with Kurdish students before their arrest.Fatma Şık Barut, a pro-HDP mayor of Diyarbakir Sur Municipality, was detained on 19 August, at 5am, in front of her 8-year-old daughter. She was held in detention for 4 days without charge, in contravention of regulations which stipulate a detainee must not be held longer than 24 hours without charge. The Turkish state, however, initiated recent changes which allow for detention without trial for up to four more days if security forces claim that the allegation consists of an organized crime. Despite the fact that it was the Sur neighbourhood committee and not the mayors who declared autonomy, Fatma Şık Barut was arrested with others including another Diyarbakir mayor, Seyit Narin. They were detained in their homes in an early morning raid. Some of those detained have alleged torture and exposure to physical and verbal violence and they were reportedly held in filthy cells without beds.

The raids and detentions had the character of performative symbolism. Such raids are normally reserved for suspects of violent crimes and those likely to flee. The mayors fit neither category and should have been invited for police questioning. For Fatma, her arrest and detention came as a complete surprise: “We have collaborated with our governor, the chief of the police department, the city administration and MPs to prevent the conflict that has been taking place over the past 15 days. Even the chief of police has called me several times to thank me for my effort to stop current events. I do not have any statement that explains what has been happening.”

After four days in custody, on 22 August at 9pm, they were brought before the court and accused under the infamous article 302 of attempting to destroy the unity of the state and integrity of the Republic. Article 302 carries with it a potential life sentence. The court hearing lasted less than 4 hours, and when the accused attempted to defend themselves, they were silenced by the judge. Despite a prohibition against the presence of armed security forces during the court session, weapons were visibly displayed by five officers, four of whom were identified as special police unit members (‘özel harekat’), and the fifth a member of MIT, the Turkish Intelligence Agency. Such was the speed and cursory nature of the court process that the decision on the guilt of the mayors had clearly already made. In a meeting on 18 August, with a neighbourhood ‘Muhtar’ (or headman), Recep Tayyip Erdogan had declared that  those responsible for the separatist acts “will be punished in the heaviest way”.

Immediately after the ‘hearing’, the detainees were bundled from the court and forced into waiting unplated and unmarked vehicles. The three mayors and two municipality workers were then ‘disappeared’ to an unknown destination revealed to neither the detainees nor their families.

Equally reminiscent of the state terror of the 1990s was the special police unit officer’s armed threat to those travelling in the car: “You are going to be executed”.

Over 48 hours and travelling only at night, the detainees were subject to persistent humiliation and threats. Following a short stop in the nearby city of Kirikkale, they arrived at Ankara Sincan Prison where the abuse and humiliations continued. There is a medical report confirming the detainees were tortured. Each detainee was strip-searched, a practice which had ended in Sincan Prison some years earlier, but resurrected for the Kurdish mayors. Following the strip-search, they were placed in a cell without any bed or basic furniture, denied food for 24 hours and told they would have to purchase anything they needed. Guilty until proven innocent, the mayors were then removed from their posts with immediate effect.

Fatma and her colleagues must now wait for the series of court hearings which will inevitably follow, and, which in Turkey, may take years before a final decision is handed down. This is also a form of judicial punishment.

This example show us just how fragile Turkey’s Kurdish reforms indeed are. The Turkish judiciary remain deeply opposed to Kurdish rights and the Turkish criminal justice system remains imbued with a counter-insurgency raison d’etre when dealing with Kurdish issues.  Turkey has placed the Kurds and their struggle for human rights within a state of exception – outside the protections of due process of law. In this state of exception unlawful treatments are legitimised and the accused is deprived of both voice and defence. 

Here, the processes of arrest, trial and custody become in themselves forms of punishment, far removed from the protections of due process: violent house raids in the middle of the night, 4 days without any detailed investigation or charge, denying the right to self-defence, being removed from a farcical court hearing at night in unmarked vehicles, and being subjected to full strip-searches and humiliation.

Removed too are the more humane features of locating prisoners close to their homes and families. Despite room in Diyarbakir prison, the state has demanded that these public servant detainees be treated as exemplary high security threats to Turkish integrity. As such, they were theatrically transported to Ankara – a trophy in the President’s campaign for electoral success in November.

The message Erdogan is sending is clear – the peace process is over, the Kurds are once again Turkey’s greatest threat, and only a strong man leading a strong state can protect the Turkish population from Kurdish political violence. The attack on the Kurdish mayors and other civilian leaders is a powerful message of intent to all Kurds.

The joy felt by the Turkish left and Kurdish populations following the HDP’s success in the June elections has quickly descended into fear and despair in the wake of Erdogan’s campaign of judicial and military violence in the south-east – a campaign designed to restore support for his presidential ambitions, and one which is sure to continue and worsen as the November elections approach.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Why is Turkey bombing the Kurds? Country or region:  Turkey Topics:  Civil society Conflict Democracy and government Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Catégories: les flux rss

Death of a peace process: martial law returns to Turkey

Open Democracy News Analysis - 29. Août 2015 - 9:01

Turkey has placed the Kurds and their struggle for human rights within a state of exception – outside the protections of due process of law.

Kurdish women pleading with a Turkish soldier.The Kurdish peace process is over and a huge wave of violence has started in Turkey’s south-east.  The violence follows the killing of 33 Kurds in the Suruc bombing and the subsequent murders of two policemen in nearby Viransehir. Many fear that what is happening in Kurdish region of Turkey now is a return to the 1990s which were marked by widespread violence and state crimes. In this period much of Turkey’s south-east became what Agamben has described as a state of exception: martial law became normalised during the 1990s and the Kurdish region experienced intensely high levels of state crime including village destruction, massacres, extra-judicial killings, disappearances, mass forced displacement and endemic torture.

It seems that the nature of the Turkish state in relation to its Kurdish minority has not changed since the dark days of the 1990s – the inherited fear of Kurdish separatism and the Kurds themselves remains. We prefer to call it Kurdophobia, given that for 15 years the leaders of the Kurdish movement have made clear their demands are not for a separate nation but instead for equal citizenship in a democratic state.

For the past two years negotiations between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish government had resulted in a peace process – the aim of which, for Kurdish leaders, was an end to the discrimination, human rights violations and violent conflict which the Kurdish community had long suffered at the hands of the Turkish state.

The peace process ended abruptly, a result it seems of the recent electoral success of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HDP) in June, and the consequential thwarting of Erdogan’s presidential ambitions. Erdogan has made no secret of his desire for constitutional change towards a presidential system in which he would assume ultimate power. The approaching early general election in November is unlikely to change this course. The AKP administration’s dramatic loss of support among Kurds has forced it to consider ways in which it can restore those lost votes. Its first step was to re-introduce the ‘terror’ card by declaring a state of emergency in over a hundred different Kurdish regions. These regions have been declared high security regions and civilians are prohibited from entering even their villages or towns for days at a time. 

Erdogan’s resurrection of the war on terror is, in effect, a return to the institutionalised punishment inflicted on all Turkish Kurds whose daily lives are obstructed at every level. In response to the broken ceasefire and the return of 1990s state practices, some pro-HDP ruling municipalities have declared political self-rule. A declaration of autonomy is a strong message to the state but it is important to distinguish between what the state understands as democratic autonomy and how the Kurdish political community perceives it. For the Kurdish movement, such a declaration is a way of exposing the state’s illegitimate activities in the region and seeking a situation in which elected Kurdish politicians might assume more power while still operating as a part of the Turkish nation. By contrast, the state accepts the declaration of democratic autonomy as a sign of separatism and the first stage in the establishment of a Kurdistan on Turkish land.

Most of the declarations of autonomy, perhaps unsurprisingly, have come from those Kurdish regions where security forces and the pro-PKK Kurdish Youth Organization (YDG-H) are engaged in increasingly violent confrontations. This violence, however, has affected the ways in which the declarations of autonomy have been perceived by the state and has, in turn, defined the intensity of the state’s response to those declaring autonomy. It seems that both sides are using a controlled-chaos strategy to threaten and inhibit the actions from the opposing side. Resorting to its long experience in state criminality, and in criminalising its political opponents, the Turkish state is in the process of creating a de facto state of martial law.

The mayors of Diyarbakir’s Sur District, Fatma Şık Barut and Seyit Narin, with Kurdish students before their arrest.Fatma Şık Barut, a pro-HDP mayor of Diyarbakir Sur Municipality, was detained on 19 August, at 5am, in front of her 8-year-old daughter. She was held in detention for 4 days without charge, in contravention of regulations which stipulate a detainee must not be held longer than 24 hours without charge. The Turkish state, however, initiated recent changes which allow for detention without trial for up to four more days if security forces claim that the allegation consists of an organized crime. Despite the fact that it was the Sur neighbourhood committee and not the mayors who declared autonomy, Fatma Şık Barut was arrested with others including another Diyarbakir mayor, Seyit Narin. They were detained in their homes in an early morning raid. Some of those detained have alleged torture and exposure to physical and verbal violence and they were reportedly held in filthy cells without beds.

The raids and detentions had the character of performative symbolism. Such raids are normally reserved for suspects of violent crimes and those likely to flee. The mayors fit neither category and should have been invited for police questioning. For Fatma, her arrest and detention came as a complete surprise: “We have collaborated with our governor, the chief of the police department, the city administration and MPs to prevent the conflict that has been taking place over the past 15 days. Even the chief of police has called me several times to thank me for my effort to stop current events. I do not have any statement that explains what has been happening.”

After four days in custody, on 22 August at 9pm, they were brought before the court and accused under the infamous article 302 of attempting to destroy the unity of the state and integrity of the Republic. Article 302 carries with it a potential life sentence. The court hearing lasted less than 4 hours, and when the accused attempted to defend themselves, they were silenced by the judge. Despite a prohibition against the presence of armed security forces during the court session, weapons were visibly displayed by five officers, four of whom were identified as special police unit members (‘özel harekat’), and the fifth a member of MIT, the Turkish Intelligence Agency. Such was the speed and cursory nature of the court process that the decision on the guilt of the mayors had clearly already made. In a meeting on 18 August, with a neighbourhood ‘Muhtar’ (or headman), Recep Tayyip Erdogan had declared that  those responsible for the separatist acts “will be punished in the heaviest way”.

Immediately after the ‘hearing’, the detainees were bundled from the court and forced into waiting unplated and unmarked vehicles. The three mayors and two municipality workers were then ‘disappeared’ to an unknown destination revealed to neither the detainees nor their families.

Equally reminiscent of the state terror of the 1990s was the special police unit officer’s armed threat to those travelling in the car: “You are going to be executed”.

Over 48 hours and travelling only at night, the detainees were subject to persistent humiliation and threats. Following a short stop in the nearby city of Kirikkale, they arrived at Ankara Sincan Prison where the abuse and humiliations continued. There is a medical report confirming the detainees were tortured. Each detainee was strip-searched, a practice which had ended in Sincan Prison some years earlier, but resurrected for the Kurdish mayors. Following the strip-search, they were placed in a cell without any bed or basic furniture, denied food for 24 hours and told they would have to purchase anything they needed. Guilty until proven innocent, the mayors were then removed from their posts with immediate effect.

Fatma and her colleagues must now wait for the series of court hearings which will inevitably follow, and, which in Turkey, may take years before a final decision is handed down. This is also a form of judicial punishment.

This example show us just how fragile Turkey’s Kurdish reforms indeed are. The Turkish judiciary remain deeply opposed to Kurdish rights and the Turkish criminal justice system remains imbued with a counter-insurgency raison d’etre when dealing with Kurdish issues.  Turkey has placed the Kurds and their struggle for human rights within a state of exception – outside the protections of due process of law. In this state of exception unlawful treatments are legitimised and the accused is deprived of both voice and defence. 

Here, the processes of arrest, trial and custody become in themselves forms of punishment, far removed from the protections of due process: violent house raids in the middle of the night, 4 days without any detailed investigation or charge, denying the right to self-defence, being removed from a farcical court hearing at night in unmarked vehicles, and being subjected to full strip-searches and humiliation.

Removed too are the more humane features of locating prisoners close to their homes and families. Despite room in Diyarbakir prison, the state has demanded that these public servant detainees be treated as exemplary high security threats to Turkish integrity. As such, they were theatrically transported to Ankara – a trophy in the President’s campaign for electoral success in November.

The message Erdogan is sending is clear – the peace process is over, the Kurds are once again Turkey’s greatest threat, and only a strong man leading a strong state can protect the Turkish population from Kurdish political violence. The attack on the Kurdish mayors and other civilian leaders is a powerful message of intent to all Kurds.

The joy felt by the Turkish left and Kurdish populations following the HDP’s success in the June elections has quickly descended into fear and despair in the wake of Erdogan’s campaign of judicial and military violence in the south-east – a campaign designed to restore support for his presidential ambitions, and one which is sure to continue and worsen as the November elections approach.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Why is Turkey bombing the Kurds? Country or region:  Turkey Topics:  Civil society Conflict Democracy and government Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Catégories: les flux rss

Why 'no-fly zones' or 'IS-free zones' are not a solution in Syria

Open Democracy News Analysis - 28. Août 2015 - 22:01

An external military intervention to establish these zones, even with the best intentions, is likely to make things worse; the international community should instead work on building consensus. A NOREF policy brief.

See Li/Demotix. All rights reserved.

There is a renewed push in Washington for the US military and its allies to establish no-fly zones in Syria to protect civilians. With well over 200,000 people killed, half the population displaced and no end in sight to the war, the need to safeguard civilians is indeed urgent. However, an external military intervention, even with such a good intention, is likely to precipitate more chaotic fighting, ensure the partition of the country into ungovernable fiefdoms and further harm civilians.

Rather than leading another military intervention in the Middle East, the US should assume the more productive role of working to build a minimum consensus among the “Friends of Syria”, and with Russia and Iran. This consensus must accommodate the interests and concerns of Syria’s external stakeholders, and reconcile the existential fears of various communities and regime supporters in Syria with the aspirations of the country’s majority Sunni population. Once these fundamental issues are addressed, a political solution to the Syrian crisis would become possible.

Politically, the regime’s internal and external support base is eroding, with the business elite, the Alawite community, Russia and Iran questioning the regime’s inability to explore a political compromise to end the war. Militarily, the regime is having difficulty recruiting the foot soldiers needed to pursue the war on all fronts (a fact President Assad admitted in his latest address to the nation), and army commanders are resenting the role that external forces have assumed in the conflict. Economically, the country has depleted its foreign currency reserves, its national currency is falling in value and credit lines from abroad are drying up. At the same time, various opposition forces in Syria are on the offensive. Regional powers have tenuously agreed to a common strategy whereby support is channelled to Islamist opposition forces.

The strategy has resulted in recent opposition advances against regime positions throughout the country, but has brought the Syrian people no closer to a resolution of the conflict. Independently, the Islamic State (IS) continues to make inroads throughout opposition-held areas. The Turkish government’s announcement of the creation of an IS-free zone along Turkey’s southern border is unlikely either to protect civilians in major Syrian cities or stop the IS advances elsewhere.

Under these circumstances, external military intervention to impose protected zones or no-fly zones has the potential of inducing further opposition advances, leading to ground wars in major cities between and among various opposition and pro-regime forces, causing more casualties and the additional massive displacement of civilians. IS is likely to fill the vacuum when the regime is further weakened. Moreover, a western-led military intervention in Syria will stiffen internal and external support for the regime, fuelling further militarisation and violence. Military action in the present environment to protect civilians will thus backfire—and it will largely be civilians who will pay the price. Pursuing such military action in lieu of political strategy will indefinitely delay—if not altogether destroy—any possibility of developing a sustainable political solution to the Syrian conflict.

The U.S. and all other international supporters of various sides in the conflict have common interests in Syria, namely ending the catastrophic levels of violence, preventing state collapse and extremist takeover of the country, and creating an orderly transition to a new government. If external stakeholders are able to coalesce around these common interests they will have a far higher chance of success in negotiating an end to the Syrian conflict. The latest consultations between the US, Russia and the Gulf Cooperation Council in Doha, and other current discussions taking place in Riyadh, Tehran and elsewhere on Syria are encouraging new developments in the direction of a political solution to end the war.

The proposed external military intervention to secure no-fly or protected zones is yet another band-aid solution to the conflict, just like the formation of an international coalition to fight IS, the creation of a small IS-free zone, the air strikes against al-Qaeda operatives, the training and equipping of a “moderate” armed opposition, and so on. These measures are politically expedient, but completely ignore the root cause giving rise to the problems that these policies seek to address—the continuing war in Syria. These lazy solutions ignore the elephant in the room, which is that the Syrian war will endure until the powerful backers of Syria’s many antagonists roll up their sleeves and hammer out a compromise between themselves and their Syrian counterparts. Then, and only then, will an international use of force—specifically in defence of an agreement and under a UN Security Council mandate—be justified, productive and legal.

Originally published by NOREF on 19 August 2015.

Sideboxes Related stories:  A solution for Syria (part 1) A solution for Syria (part 2) The United Nations and a peace process strategy for Syria The utter failure of the international community to protect civilians in Syria Country or region:  Syria Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Catégories: les flux rss

Why 'no-fly zones' or 'IS-free zones' are not a solution in Syria

Open Democracy News Analysis - 28. Août 2015 - 22:01

An external military intervention to establish these zones, even with the best intentions, is likely to make things worse; the international community should instead work on building consensus. A NOREF policy brief.

See Li/Demotix. All rights reserved.

There is a renewed push in Washington for the US military and its allies to establish no-fly zones in Syria to protect civilians. With well over 200,000 people killed, half the population displaced and no end in sight to the war, the need to safeguard civilians is indeed urgent. However, an external military intervention, even with such a good intention, is likely to precipitate more chaotic fighting, ensure the partition of the country into ungovernable fiefdoms and further harm civilians.

Rather than leading another military intervention in the Middle East, the US should assume the more productive role of working to build a minimum consensus among the “Friends of Syria”, and with Russia and Iran. This consensus must accommodate the interests and concerns of Syria’s external stakeholders, and reconcile the existential fears of various communities and regime supporters in Syria with the aspirations of the country’s majority Sunni population. Once these fundamental issues are addressed, a political solution to the Syrian crisis would become possible.

Politically, the regime’s internal and external support base is eroding, with the business elite, the Alawite community, Russia and Iran questioning the regime’s inability to explore a political compromise to end the war. Militarily, the regime is having difficulty recruiting the foot soldiers needed to pursue the war on all fronts (a fact President Assad admitted in his latest address to the nation), and army commanders are resenting the role that external forces have assumed in the conflict. Economically, the country has depleted its foreign currency reserves, its national currency is falling in value and credit lines from abroad are drying up. At the same time, various opposition forces in Syria are on the offensive. Regional powers have tenuously agreed to a common strategy whereby support is channelled to Islamist opposition forces.

The strategy has resulted in recent opposition advances against regime positions throughout the country, but has brought the Syrian people no closer to a resolution of the conflict. Independently, the Islamic State (IS) continues to make inroads throughout opposition-held areas. The Turkish government’s announcement of the creation of an IS-free zone along Turkey’s southern border is unlikely either to protect civilians in major Syrian cities or stop the IS advances elsewhere.

Under these circumstances, external military intervention to impose protected zones or no-fly zones has the potential of inducing further opposition advances, leading to ground wars in major cities between and among various opposition and pro-regime forces, causing more casualties and the additional massive displacement of civilians. IS is likely to fill the vacuum when the regime is further weakened. Moreover, a western-led military intervention in Syria will stiffen internal and external support for the regime, fuelling further militarisation and violence. Military action in the present environment to protect civilians will thus backfire—and it will largely be civilians who will pay the price. Pursuing such military action in lieu of political strategy will indefinitely delay—if not altogether destroy—any possibility of developing a sustainable political solution to the Syrian conflict.

The U.S. and all other international supporters of various sides in the conflict have common interests in Syria, namely ending the catastrophic levels of violence, preventing state collapse and extremist takeover of the country, and creating an orderly transition to a new government. If external stakeholders are able to coalesce around these common interests they will have a far higher chance of success in negotiating an end to the Syrian conflict. The latest consultations between the US, Russia and the Gulf Cooperation Council in Doha, and other current discussions taking place in Riyadh, Tehran and elsewhere on Syria are encouraging new developments in the direction of a political solution to end the war.

The proposed external military intervention to secure no-fly or protected zones is yet another band-aid solution to the conflict, just like the formation of an international coalition to fight IS, the creation of a small IS-free zone, the air strikes against al-Qaeda operatives, the training and equipping of a “moderate” armed opposition, and so on. These measures are politically expedient, but completely ignore the root cause giving rise to the problems that these policies seek to address—the continuing war in Syria. These lazy solutions ignore the elephant in the room, which is that the Syrian war will endure until the powerful backers of Syria’s many antagonists roll up their sleeves and hammer out a compromise between themselves and their Syrian counterparts. Then, and only then, will an international use of force—specifically in defence of an agreement and under a UN Security Council mandate—be justified, productive and legal.

Originally published by NOREF on 19 August 2015.

Sideboxes Related stories:  A solution for Syria (part 1) A solution for Syria (part 2) The United Nations and a peace process strategy for Syria The utter failure of the international community to protect civilians in Syria Country or region:  Syria Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Catégories: les flux rss

Ten years on: Katrina, militarisation and climate change

Open Democracy News Analysis - 28. Août 2015 - 20:51

A security-led approach to climate change and complex emergencies not only fails to address the fundamental causes of these crises – it will often exacerbate them.

Hurricane Katrina 2005. Flickr/NASA. Some rights reserved.As images from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina are replayed around the world, they are still as shocking as they were ten years ago. Many of us watched in disbelief as we saw how the world’s richest and most powerful state seemed unable, then unwilling, to rescue its own citizens – sending in trigger-happy troops who shot at the hurricane’s victims instead. Coming so soon after the Iraq war, the hapless Bush administration appeared unable to respond to any crisis without resort to the military. As the waters receded, America’s deep-seated racism and inequality was laid bare for the whole world to see.

Could it happen again today? To an important extent, the US government’s response to Hurricane Katrina has become a textbook example of ‘how-not-do-it’ for crisis managers around the world. Embarrassed by their failure, the US government carried out a significant reorganisation of the maligned Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). When Hurricane Sandy caused carnage in 2012, their response – while still wanting in places – was more widely praised.

But the structural inequality and institutional racism that underpinned the Bush administration’s response is still there, a fact that President Obama noted on his visit to New Orleans this week. Moreover, the already bloated military and security complex that reflected these power relations has expanded enormously since Katrina – and is now using the spectre of climate change to grab yet more public resources.

Storm surge from Katrina. Flickr/AlienGraffiti. Some rights reserved.Two years after Katrina, in 2007, the Pentagon released its first major report on climate change, warning in no uncertain terms of an “age of consequences” in which, amongst other things, “altruism and generosity would likely be blunted.” This was followed up a year later by an EU security report that talked of climate change as a “threat multiplier” that “threatens to overburden states and regions which are already fragile and conflict prone.” It warned that this would lead to “political and security risks that directly affect European interests”. Over the next few years, the national security strategies of the countries across the global north would be rewritten to offer the same self-interested and dystopian vision.

In the aftermath of the financial crisis and the so-called Arab Spring, the dystopian thinking of powerful elites has had to face up to increasingly ‘complex emergencies’ as the reliance of modern societies on global supply lines, industrial food production, transnational infrastructure and high-tech communications have exposed and exacerbated existing vulnerabilities, by ensuring that disaster in one place now reverberates far beyond the initial point of contact. Climate change, the narrative goes, will add more fuel to the fire.

Former UK Government Chief Scientist John Beddington has already warned of a potential “perfect storm” of converging food, water and energy crises by 2030, which could see states struggle to control delivery of basic goods and services. Doomsday scenarios are very much the order of the day. For some commentators, this is little more than ‘collapse porn’, a malign and apathy-producing catastrophism that fails to take into account the capacity of modern societies to adapt and become more resilient.

However, in one sense, the accuracy of the predictions doesn’t really matter. On the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina  we only have to look at how the humanitarian crisis on Europe’s doorstep and in its borderlands is unfolding. In Calais, we see a humanitarian emergency being treated as a security issue as the British government has pledged £22 million pounds on fences, police and dogs to keep out refugees fleeing war and torture. Both Hungary and Bulgaria announced this week that they were deploying troops, so-called “border hunters”, to prevent refugees entering the country from the former Yugoslavia.

Hurricane Katrina, 2005. Flickr/News Muse. Some rights reserved.Further afield in Brazil, there were reports this summer of authorities mobilising troops to defend water infrastructure amid an ongoing drought in the megacity of São Paulo. Absent credible plans to conserve water and tackle some of the root causes of water scarcity such as deforestation, journalists reported that approximately 70 soldiers were involved in exercises to prepare the utility for an uprising, with 30 men with machine guns stationed in the facility’s canteen.

And we can already see how the national security planners are factoring protests against inequality and social injustice into the new crisis management paradigms: by trying to predict complex emergencies and social unrest. Today, the UK’s National Risk Register, for example, lists “public disorder” and “disruptive industrial action” as among the most severe and likely security threats facing the country. Crucially, by casting these issues as security threats rather than social justice issues, a very different medicine is proscribed. Moreover, the authorities have greatly increased their powers to deal with these so-called ‘threats’. Staying with the UK, the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 permits ministers to introduce "emergency regulations" without recourse to parliament and "give directions or orders" of virtually unlimited scope, including the destruction of property, prohibiting assemblies, banning travel and outlawing "other specified activities". Again, this is the shape of emergency planning the world over.

Dystopian preparations by the state are reflected in the corporate arena. Where we see a future climate crisis, many companies see only opportunity: oil firms looking forward to melting ice caps delivering new accessible fossil fuels; security firms touting the latest technologies to secure borders from ‘climate refugees’; or investment fund managers speculating on weather-related food prices – to name but a few. In 2012, Raytheon, one of the world’s largest defence contractors, announced "expanded business opportunities" arising from "security concerns and their possible consequences," due to the "effects of climate change" in the form of "storms, droughts, and floods". The rest of the defence sector has been quick to follow.

Damage from Katrina, 2005. Flickr/Loco Steve. Some rights reserved.The implications of a militarised and profit-making approach climate adaptation and crisis-management are very disturbing – and need to be taken more seriously by anyone concerned with environmental justice, civil liberties and democracy.

Ultimately, a security-led approach to climate change and complex emergencies not only fails to address the fundamental causes of these crises – it will often exacerbate them. Worldwide the increased focus on food security is already driving increased land grabbing. The diversion of resources into military spending and strategies is preventing much needed investment in crisis-prevention and tackling the root causes of human insecurity. Given that climate change will impact disproportionately on the poorest, a militarisation of our response merely compounds a fundamental injustice – that those least responsible for climate change will be most affected.

In this sense, Hurricane Katrina was a watershed moment and a warning to us all as it laid bare the way in which democratic states would become more preoccupied with the threat posed by their own citizens – instead of taking the bold steps needed to protect current and future populations. Transformed by 9/11, it is this vision of ‘Homeland Security’ that is shaping future responses to emergency – and transforming climate change from a social justice issue to a national security one. We the people have to combine our actions to end worsening climate change with a transformation of the institutions that seek to respond to its impacts. 

Ben Hayes and Nick Buxton are editors of the forthcoming book, The Secure and the Dispossessed: How the military and corporations are shaping a climate-change world (November 2015) available for pre-order at Pluto Press.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Ocean grabbing: a new wave of twenty first century enclosures Topics:  Civil society Democracy and government International politics Science Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Catégories: les flux rss

Ten years on: Katrina, militarisation and climate change

Open Democracy News Analysis - 28. Août 2015 - 20:51

A security-led approach to climate change and complex emergencies not only fails to address the fundamental causes of these crises – it will often exacerbate them.

Hurricane Katrina 2005. Flickr/NASA. Some rights reserved.As images from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina are replayed around the world, they are still as shocking as they were ten years ago. Many of us watched in disbelief as we saw how the world’s richest and most powerful state seemed unable, then unwilling, to rescue its own citizens – sending in trigger-happy troops who shot at the hurricane’s victims instead. Coming so soon after the Iraq war, the hapless Bush administration appeared unable to respond to any crisis without resort to the military. As the waters receded, America’s deep-seated racism and inequality was laid bare for the whole world to see.

Could it happen again today? To an important extent, the US government’s response to Hurricane Katrina has become a textbook example of ‘how-not-do-it’ for crisis managers around the world. Embarrassed by their failure, the US government carried out a significant reorganisation of the maligned Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). When Hurricane Sandy caused carnage in 2012, their response – while still wanting in places – was more widely praised.

But the structural inequality and institutional racism that underpinned the Bush administration’s response is still there, a fact that President Obama noted on his visit to New Orleans this week. Moreover, the already bloated military and security complex that reflected these power relations has expanded enormously since Katrina – and is now using the spectre of climate change to grab yet more public resources.

Storm surge from Katrina. Flickr/AlienGraffiti. Some rights reserved.Two years after Katrina, in 2007, the Pentagon released its first major report on climate change, warning in no uncertain terms of an “age of consequences” in which, amongst other things, “altruism and generosity would likely be blunted.” This was followed up a year later by an EU security report that talked of climate change as a “threat multiplier” that “threatens to overburden states and regions which are already fragile and conflict prone.” It warned that this would lead to “political and security risks that directly affect European interests”. Over the next few years, the national security strategies of the countries across the global north would be rewritten to offer the same self-interested and dystopian vision.

In the aftermath of the financial crisis and the so-called Arab Spring, the dystopian thinking of powerful elites has had to face up to increasingly ‘complex emergencies’ as the reliance of modern societies on global supply lines, industrial food production, transnational infrastructure and high-tech communications have exposed and exacerbated existing vulnerabilities, by ensuring that disaster in one place now reverberates far beyond the initial point of contact. Climate change, the narrative goes, will add more fuel to the fire.

Former UK Government Chief Scientist John Beddington has already warned of a potential “perfect storm” of converging food, water and energy crises by 2030, which could see states struggle to control delivery of basic goods and services. Doomsday scenarios are very much the order of the day. For some commentators, this is little more than ‘collapse porn’, a malign and apathy-producing catastrophism that fails to take into account the capacity of modern societies to adapt and become more resilient.

However, in one sense, the accuracy of the predictions doesn’t really matter. On the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina  we only have to look at how the humanitarian crisis on Europe’s doorstep and in its borderlands is unfolding. In Calais, we see a humanitarian emergency being treated as a security issue as the British government has pledged £22 million pounds on fences, police and dogs to keep out refugees fleeing war and torture. Both Hungary and Bulgaria announced this week that they were deploying troops, so-called “border hunters”, to prevent refugees entering the country from the former Yugoslavia.

Hurricane Katrina, 2005. Flickr/News Muse. Some rights reserved.Further afield in Brazil, there were reports this summer of authorities mobilising troops to defend water infrastructure amid an ongoing drought in the megacity of São Paulo. Absent credible plans to conserve water and tackle some of the root causes of water scarcity such as deforestation, journalists reported that approximately 70 soldiers were involved in exercises to prepare the utility for an uprising, with 30 men with machine guns stationed in the facility’s canteen.

And we can already see how the national security planners are factoring protests against inequality and social injustice into the new crisis management paradigms: by trying to predict complex emergencies and social unrest. Today, the UK’s National Risk Register, for example, lists “public disorder” and “disruptive industrial action” as among the most severe and likely security threats facing the country. Crucially, by casting these issues as security threats rather than social justice issues, a very different medicine is proscribed. Moreover, the authorities have greatly increased their powers to deal with these so-called ‘threats’. Staying with the UK, the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 permits ministers to introduce "emergency regulations" without recourse to parliament and "give directions or orders" of virtually unlimited scope, including the destruction of property, prohibiting assemblies, banning travel and outlawing "other specified activities". Again, this is the shape of emergency planning the world over.

Dystopian preparations by the state are reflected in the corporate arena. Where we see a future climate crisis, many companies see only opportunity: oil firms looking forward to melting ice caps delivering new accessible fossil fuels; security firms touting the latest technologies to secure borders from ‘climate refugees’; or investment fund managers speculating on weather-related food prices – to name but a few. In 2012, Raytheon, one of the world’s largest defence contractors, announced "expanded business opportunities" arising from "security concerns and their possible consequences," due to the "effects of climate change" in the form of "storms, droughts, and floods". The rest of the defence sector has been quick to follow.

Damage from Katrina, 2005. Flickr/Loco Steve. Some rights reserved.The implications of a militarised and profit-making approach climate adaptation and crisis-management are very disturbing – and need to be taken more seriously by anyone concerned with environmental justice, civil liberties and democracy.

Ultimately, a security-led approach to climate change and complex emergencies not only fails to address the fundamental causes of these crises – it will often exacerbate them. Worldwide the increased focus on food security is already driving increased land grabbing. The diversion of resources into military spending and strategies is preventing much needed investment in crisis-prevention and tackling the root causes of human insecurity. Given that climate change will impact disproportionately on the poorest, a militarisation of our response merely compounds a fundamental injustice – that those least responsible for climate change will be most affected.

In this sense, Hurricane Katrina was a watershed moment and a warning to us all as it laid bare the way in which democratic states would become more preoccupied with the threat posed by their own citizens – instead of taking the bold steps needed to protect current and future populations. Transformed by 9/11, it is this vision of ‘Homeland Security’ that is shaping future responses to emergency – and transforming climate change from a social justice issue to a national security one. We the people have to combine our actions to end worsening climate change with a transformation of the institutions that seek to respond to its impacts. 

Ben Hayes and Nick Buxton are editors of the forthcoming book, The Secure and the Dispossessed: How the military and corporations are shaping a climate-change world (November 2015) available for pre-order at Pluto Press.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Ocean grabbing: a new wave of twenty first century enclosures Topics:  Civil society Democracy and government International politics Science Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Catégories: les flux rss

Mobilising for peace and freedom: from aspiration to lasting change

Open Democracy News Analysis - 28. Août 2015 - 20:33

The 2015 WILPF manifesto outlines how those who choose peace over conflict must act, and recognises that negotiations on a treaty making transnational corporations accountable for violation of human rights is part of the way forward.  

In 2014, Cynthia Cockburn wrote the first article in the 12-month lead up to the 100th anniversary of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She reprised the formation of the organisation reminding us of our history in April 1915:  

More than a thousand women assembled to talk peace. They travelled there from twelve countries, on both sides of the Atlantic and both sides of the conflict, drawn by a belief that women could achieve something male leaders were unwilling or unable to do: stop the carnage. The organisation emerging from the Hague Congress called itself the International Women's Committee for Permanent Peace. A few years on, it would be renamed the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.”

In her article on oD 50.50, Cockburn announced WILPF’s main strategy to prepare for the centenary: to roll out world-wide mobilisation under the bold headline Women’s Power to Stop War, and to ask the cogent question “is this a statement a fact, or mere aspiration?”

Now it is August 2015, and the anniversary is over. A congregation of two parts: the Congress and the Conference. The former to devise and approve the WILPF programme for the next three years, the latter to start building anew, a movement for change, an alliance of women and men to realise women’s power to stop war. Not unambitious, certainly aspirational, but then again one has to be - given what we are up against. 

Over the last 12 months our sections and members from over 40 countries - many in the midst of conflict - discussed and debated the fundamental issues of women, war and peace. At our Congress in April, we adopted a Manifesto reflecting the culmination of that process. 

Manifestos can be tricky things. There is always the risk that they can become dogmatic, inflexible, and ultimately part of the problem, or too different from what exists - with the risk of being disregarded as idealistic nonsense.  

The Manifesto we adopted serves to re-state our purposes as an organisation. To re-visit our history - a history of opposing war, of identifying conflicts’ root causes, and of adhering to principles of multilateralism as a means to address these concerns. In our Manifesto, we contextualized the issues and the challenges of today’s world and clearly outlined the obstacles to peace:

Militarism as a way of thought, and the militarisation of societies, such that perceived threats are likely to be met with weaponry rather than words; 

The capitalist economic system, involving the exploitation of the labour and resources of the many by the few, wantonly harming people and the environment, generating conglomerates of global reach and unaccountable power; 

The nation-state system as it is today, involving dominant states, Imperialist projects, inter-state rivalry, contested borders, and, inside those borders, all too often, failure of democracy, political repression and intolerance of diversity; 

Social systems of racist supremacy, cultural domination and religious hierarchy; 

Patriarchy, the subordination of women by men, in state, community and family, perpetuated by the social shaping of men and women into contrasted, unequal and limiting gender identities, favouring violent masculinities and compliant femininities. 

Environmental destruction and ecocide as both cause and consequence of conflict and possibly the greatest danger we face in the modern world.

All of these obstacles are interlinked and need to be addressed coherently, consciously, and constantly re-appraised, evaluated and monitored so that we - those who choose peace over conflict - can see and understand when and how to engage.  

At a conference full of like-minded and inspiring people from 80 countries, it’s easy to get swept away by the euphoria of the moment, by the recognition of commonality of purpose and a unified passion for change. But then you have to make it work. Our Manifesto did set out some of the main issues (as summarized above) that have to be addressed, but these were taken further by the conference - not surprisingly given the range of talents, experience, activism, and commitment of the participants.

The main question was and is: how do we implement the Manifesto and the outcomes of the conference? There were some immediate and obvious things identified by the conference: 

The first element is to campaign for and demand a UN Secretary General who is appointed justly, and not by some secret negotiating process in the Security Council. The ideal is to appoint a person who will truly respect the charter. Who will be serious about human rights and how to realise them. A long list of attributes is necessary, but someone like Mary Robinson has them and she is not the only one. 

A second element is to engage with men to restructure power and to improve our understanding of gender identities.  

The third element is to critically analyse what a feminist foreign policy should really look like. A policy that combines the talents of the academics, the economists, the lawyers, the environmentalists, and the development experts.  A policy that works with the people of a country and uses their input, their information, and their expertise to really implement change, to really make an impact. Let that be a formula for all foreign policy and see what a difference it would make. It would hit all of the issues in our Manifesto, both directly and indirectly. More importantly, it would not leave Margot Walstrom, the Minister for Foreign Affairs in Sweden, as the lone political advocate of a feminist foreign policy. She has opened the door, it behoves us all to follow her through it. 

The fourth major issue discussed at the conference was engagement with the United Nations and the multilateral system. Feelings of betrayal surfaced with what they do and how they do it. Words like patriarchy, arrogance, machismo, ineptitude and corruption, were interlaced with a less printable lexicon. The UN is not what it was hoped it would be. The claim was that we must take it back, bring it back to the Charter; engage, on our terms not theirs and on every issue - from development to environment to the women, peace and security agenda - and to be aware that we cannot all do it all. We need to combine, to look at who is doing what and make sure we make the connections.

One of the most obvious answers to how we can achieve these goals can be answered in that old cliché: it starts with ourselves. This time, however, we need to analyse our context; we need to understand where we stand in 2015 and adapt to the changing environment.

I want to give one simple example of how this could work:

In July this year representatives from UN member States gathered in Geneva for a week-long first session of the intergovernmental working group (IGWG) towards a Treaty on Transnational Corporations (TNC) covering multinational and domestic corporations and other business enterprises, with regards to human rights. This was the start of a series of negotiations, which could lead to a legally binding treaty framing the work of transnational companies and making them accountable for violations of human rights. In some respects, this process implicates the seven points of engagement (as mentioned in the new WILPF Manifesto listed above) and demonstrates the intersectionality of all of the issues while also providing us with a chance to roll out the “how”. 

If the ‘how’ part of implementing our Manifesto starts with ourselves (the peace makers, even if not signed up as full members yet) then issue one is knowledge: how many people in the world know that this is happening and what an incredible impact it could have in protecting their rights? Everything from greater food and water security, greater environmental protection, improved working conditions, less exploitation, less discrimination, accountability for violations, adherence to ILO conventions. Environmental responsibility. The list of potential benefit is endless. 

Issue two is States response: most governments stayed away in the first round, the EU tried to block the process. Other States such as Russia and Switzerland stated that the UN Guiding Principles on business and human rights work, and that a treaty would be premature. 

Issue three is systemic fault lines: this is the exemplification of what is wrong with a mono-economic culture. The dominating principle is neoliberalism, the extremist form of capitalism that puts profit ahead of law, regulation or - heaven forbid - the well being of people or the environment. 

Issue four is the multilateral system: it’s good that the working group has convened, but it’s not so good that the ways in which negotiations occur is to avoid acknowledging the power dynamics. Look at who the sponsoring states are, then at who is in opposition, and put money on who will prevail? The reason for this lies in the first three issues. Keeping people ignorant of what is happening enables governments and states - which have a primary responsibility for protecting human rights - to subvert legal obligations and consequently to protect the neoliberal economic system which can only survive if regulation based on human rights norms are not enforced. The multilateral system reflects this power imbalance and nothing changes. 

It does not take genius to see the implications of this for the other issues in our new Manifesto. In particular, the militarisation and consequent arms transfers to ‘protect’ areas where there are natural resources that feed the neoliberal system and hence must be available to the companies who would extract them.

Organising intelligently: communication is key in all issues that are dealt with in the multilateral system. The biggest obstacle is knowledge and the media is crucial. Most people see the big picture as too overwhelming to address. They are either too engaged in their own plight - distracting themselves from that of others - to engage in trying to make change on this or any other issue. In the TNCs there is greater responsibility on the States that are the main opponents to the treaty. These are the industrialised “democracies” where we have access to elected representatives and media - if we choose to use them.   

So now revert to the ‘how’. Imagine a system that works: civil society, including trade unions, academic institutions and NGOs (including those which are not usually involved in issues of International corporations or human rights) recognise the link to their issue and engage. There is advocacy and lobbying of elected officials, work on the media to make sure more and more people are aware of what is being done, and being done in their name. We must demand the state actually does what international law (all the human rights conventions, arms trade treaty, the Charter of the UN) demands.  

The concept of due diligence is such that states should be regulating the conduct of companies registered in their territories. A treaty would give the state more leverage in controlling the activities of these non-state actors and would therefore facilitate the state meeting its obligations under international law. At present, there is a plethora of complicated regulations that severely inhibit the states engagement. I personally know of one case where a state was fairly sure that violations of human rights were being perpetrated by a particular transnational extractive company in DRC, and would have wanted to take action, but there were so many sub- contractors that it would have taken 200 lawyers over a year to work through them all, and even then there would have been little hope of attribution, something which is untenable. In these circumstances the power of the TNC becomes greater than that of the State. That cannot be what people want. Unelected, non-transparent, unaccountable bodies can act with impunity. It’s not what many TNCs themselves want, as witnessed by those that try to comply with the UN Guiding Principles on business and human rights.  

Lawyers need to engage using international human rights law. Academic institutions need to engage using the research already available that violations of social and economic rights when combined with the gendered dynamics of political economy, lead inexorably to conflict.

Changing the position of the powerful states is a function of democracy. It would make the multilateral system closer to its purpose under the UN Charter.  By engaging on the issue of the TNC treaty we would all be putting into action the elements of the WILPF Manifesto for the 21st century and proving it can work. 

No one ever said this is easy. Mobilising and encouraging people to be engaged in issues they do not see as interesting, in places that are remote, in negotiations which seem interminable and hence irrelevant is not for the faint hearted, but it is what we must do.   

Our conference was full of belief in change, not naïve, not merely aspirational but solid, committed and entirely possible. When women from Syria, Libya, Iraq, DRC, -and of all places Palestine—(you name the place which inspires hand wringing and helplessness and there were women from there showing anything but ), embrace that belief, and drive it forward as a way of dealing with their daily experience, then we have something!  

Our Manifesto states the what, the how, and the consequence if we make it happen. If we do want sustainable peace then we know what we have to do to get it—the TNC treaty is merely one part of the jigsaw. 

 Read more articles from WILPF's Centenary Conference in 50.50's series Women's Power to Stop War. 

 

 

 

Sideboxes Related stories:  This is what a feminist foreign policy looks like Women's power to stop war: Hubris or hope? There are more of us who want peace than want the killing to continue World disarmament? Start by disarming masculinity Speaking truth to power at the UN Scrapping Trident: the holistic approach Where your conscience can take you: North Korea Mairead Maguire: walking for peace between North and South Korea Why we need a feminist foreign policy to stop war Challenging militarized masculinities Violence is not inevitable: It is a choice Libya: "Rejoicing at our bloody democracy" A new narrative on human rights, security and prosperity The masculinisation of complexity Creating peace: a manifesto for the 21st century Debating the long and the short-term view of sexual violence in war An alternative history of peacemaking: a century of disarmament efforts Peace and reunification in Korea: in our life time Topics:  Conflict Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Catégories: les flux rss

Mobilising for peace and freedom: from aspiration to lasting change

Open Democracy News Analysis - 28. Août 2015 - 20:33

The 2015 WILPF manifesto outlines how those who choose peace over conflict must act, and recognises that negotiations on a treaty making transnational corporations accountable for violation of human rights is part of the way forward.  

In 2014, Cynthia Cockburn wrote the first article in the 12-month lead up to the 100th anniversary of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She reprised the formation of the organisation reminding us of our history in April 1915:  

More than a thousand women assembled to talk peace. They travelled there from twelve countries, on both sides of the Atlantic and both sides of the conflict, drawn by a belief that women could achieve something male leaders were unwilling or unable to do: stop the carnage. The organisation emerging from the Hague Congress called itself the International Women's Committee for Permanent Peace. A few years on, it would be renamed the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.”

In her article on oD 50.50, Cockburn announced WILPF’s main strategy to prepare for the centenary: to roll out world-wide mobilisation under the bold headline Women’s Power to Stop War, and to ask the cogent question “is this a statement a fact, or mere aspiration?”

Now it is August 2015, and the anniversary is over. A congregation of two parts: the Congress and the Conference. The former to devise and approve the WILPF programme for the next three years, the latter to start building anew, a movement for change, an alliance of women and men to realise women’s power to stop war. Not unambitious, certainly aspirational, but then again one has to be - given what we are up against. 

Over the last 12 months our sections and members from over 40 countries - many in the midst of conflict - discussed and debated the fundamental issues of women, war and peace. At our Congress in April, we adopted a Manifesto reflecting the culmination of that process. 

Manifestos can be tricky things. There is always the risk that they can become dogmatic, inflexible, and ultimately part of the problem, or too different from what exists - with the risk of being disregarded as idealistic nonsense.  

The Manifesto we adopted serves to re-state our purposes as an organisation. To re-visit our history - a history of opposing war, of identifying conflicts’ root causes, and of adhering to principles of multilateralism as a means to address these concerns. In our Manifesto, we contextualized the issues and the challenges of today’s world and clearly outlined the obstacles to peace:

Militarism as a way of thought, and the militarisation of societies, such that perceived threats are likely to be met with weaponry rather than words; 

The capitalist economic system, involving the exploitation of the labour and resources of the many by the few, wantonly harming people and the environment, generating conglomerates of global reach and unaccountable power; 

The nation-state system as it is today, involving dominant states, Imperialist projects, inter-state rivalry, contested borders, and, inside those borders, all too often, failure of democracy, political repression and intolerance of diversity; 

Social systems of racist supremacy, cultural domination and religious hierarchy; 

Patriarchy, the subordination of women by men, in state, community and family, perpetuated by the social shaping of men and women into contrasted, unequal and limiting gender identities, favouring violent masculinities and compliant femininities. 

Environmental destruction and ecocide as both cause and consequence of conflict and possibly the greatest danger we face in the modern world.

All of these obstacles are interlinked and need to be addressed coherently, consciously, and constantly re-appraised, evaluated and monitored so that we - those who choose peace over conflict - can see and understand when and how to engage.  

At a conference full of like-minded and inspiring people from 80 countries, it’s easy to get swept away by the euphoria of the moment, by the recognition of commonality of purpose and a unified passion for change. But then you have to make it work. Our Manifesto did set out some of the main issues (as summarized above) that have to be addressed, but these were taken further by the conference - not surprisingly given the range of talents, experience, activism, and commitment of the participants.

The main question was and is: how do we implement the Manifesto and the outcomes of the conference? There were some immediate and obvious things identified by the conference: 

The first element is to campaign for and demand a UN Secretary General who is appointed justly, and not by some secret negotiating process in the Security Council. The ideal is to appoint a person who will truly respect the charter. Who will be serious about human rights and how to realise them. A long list of attributes is necessary, but someone like Mary Robinson has them and she is not the only one. 

A second element is to engage with men to restructure power and to improve our understanding of gender identities.  

The third element is to critically analyse what a feminist foreign policy should really look like. A policy that combines the talents of the academics, the economists, the lawyers, the environmentalists, and the development experts.  A policy that works with the people of a country and uses their input, their information, and their expertise to really implement change, to really make an impact. Let that be a formula for all foreign policy and see what a difference it would make. It would hit all of the issues in our Manifesto, both directly and indirectly. More importantly, it would not leave Margot Walstrom, the Minister for Foreign Affairs in Sweden, as the lone political advocate of a feminist foreign policy. She has opened the door, it behoves us all to follow her through it. 

The fourth major issue discussed at the conference was engagement with the United Nations and the multilateral system. Feelings of betrayal surfaced with what they do and how they do it. Words like patriarchy, arrogance, machismo, ineptitude and corruption, were interlaced with a less printable lexicon. The UN is not what it was hoped it would be. The claim was that we must take it back, bring it back to the Charter; engage, on our terms not theirs and on every issue - from development to environment to the women, peace and security agenda - and to be aware that we cannot all do it all. We need to combine, to look at who is doing what and make sure we make the connections.

One of the most obvious answers to how we can achieve these goals can be answered in that old cliché: it starts with ourselves. This time, however, we need to analyse our context; we need to understand where we stand in 2015 and adapt to the changing environment.

I want to give one simple example of how this could work:

In July this year representatives from UN member States gathered in Geneva for a week-long first session of the intergovernmental working group (IGWG) towards a Treaty on Transnational Corporations (TNC) covering multinational and domestic corporations and other business enterprises, with regards to human rights. This was the start of a series of negotiations, which could lead to a legally binding treaty framing the work of transnational companies and making them accountable for violations of human rights. In some respects, this process implicates the seven points of engagement (as mentioned in the new WILPF Manifesto listed above) and demonstrates the intersectionality of all of the issues while also providing us with a chance to roll out the “how”. 

If the ‘how’ part of implementing our Manifesto starts with ourselves (the peace makers, even if not signed up as full members yet) then issue one is knowledge: how many people in the world know that this is happening and what an incredible impact it could have in protecting their rights? Everything from greater food and water security, greater environmental protection, improved working conditions, less exploitation, less discrimination, accountability for violations, adherence to ILO conventions. Environmental responsibility. The list of potential benefit is endless. 

Issue two is States response: most governments stayed away in the first round, the EU tried to block the process. Other States such as Russia and Switzerland stated that the UN Guiding Principles on business and human rights work, and that a treaty would be premature. 

Issue three is systemic fault lines: this is the exemplification of what is wrong with a mono-economic culture. The dominating principle is neoliberalism, the extremist form of capitalism that puts profit ahead of law, regulation or - heaven forbid - the well being of people or the environment. 

Issue four is the multilateral system: it’s good that the working group has convened, but it’s not so good that the ways in which negotiations occur is to avoid acknowledging the power dynamics. Look at who the sponsoring states are, then at who is in opposition, and put money on who will prevail? The reason for this lies in the first three issues. Keeping people ignorant of what is happening enables governments and states - which have a primary responsibility for protecting human rights - to subvert legal obligations and consequently to protect the neoliberal economic system which can only survive if regulation based on human rights norms are not enforced. The multilateral system reflects this power imbalance and nothing changes. 

It does not take genius to see the implications of this for the other issues in our new Manifesto. In particular, the militarisation and consequent arms transfers to ‘protect’ areas where there are natural resources that feed the neoliberal system and hence must be available to the companies who would extract them.

Organising intelligently: communication is key in all issues that are dealt with in the multilateral system. The biggest obstacle is knowledge and the media is crucial. Most people see the big picture as too overwhelming to address. They are either too engaged in their own plight - distracting themselves from that of others - to engage in trying to make change on this or any other issue. In the TNCs there is greater responsibility on the States that are the main opponents to the treaty. These are the industrialised “democracies” where we have access to elected representatives and media - if we choose to use them.   

So now revert to the ‘how’. Imagine a system that works: civil society, including trade unions, academic institutions and NGOs (including those which are not usually involved in issues of International corporations or human rights) recognise the link to their issue and engage. There is advocacy and lobbying of elected officials, work on the media to make sure more and more people are aware of what is being done, and being done in their name. We must demand the state actually does what international law (all the human rights conventions, arms trade treaty, the Charter of the UN) demands.  

The concept of due diligence is such that states should be regulating the conduct of companies registered in their territories. A treaty would give the state more leverage in controlling the activities of these non-state actors and would therefore facilitate the state meeting its obligations under international law. At present, there is a plethora of complicated regulations that severely inhibit the states engagement. I personally know of one case where a state was fairly sure that violations of human rights were being perpetrated by a particular transnational extractive company in DRC, and would have wanted to take action, but there were so many sub- contractors that it would have taken 200 lawyers over a year to work through them all, and even then there would have been little hope of attribution, something which is untenable. In these circumstances the power of the TNC becomes greater than that of the State. That cannot be what people want. Unelected, non-transparent, unaccountable bodies can act with impunity. It’s not what many TNCs themselves want, as witnessed by those that try to comply with the UN Guiding Principles on business and human rights.  

Lawyers need to engage using international human rights law. Academic institutions need to engage using the research already available that violations of social and economic rights when combined with the gendered dynamics of political economy, lead inexorably to conflict.

Changing the position of the powerful states is a function of democracy. It would make the multilateral system closer to its purpose under the UN Charter.  By engaging on the issue of the TNC treaty we would all be putting into action the elements of the WILPF Manifesto for the 21st century and proving it can work. 

No one ever said this is easy. Mobilising and encouraging people to be engaged in issues they do not see as interesting, in places that are remote, in negotiations which seem interminable and hence irrelevant is not for the faint hearted, but it is what we must do.   

Our conference was full of belief in change, not naïve, not merely aspirational but solid, committed and entirely possible. When women from Syria, Libya, Iraq, DRC, -and of all places Palestine—(you name the place which inspires hand wringing and helplessness and there were women from there showing anything but ), embrace that belief, and drive it forward as a way of dealing with their daily experience, then we have something!  

Our Manifesto states the what, the how, and the consequence if we make it happen. If we do want sustainable peace then we know what we have to do to get it—the TNC treaty is merely one part of the jigsaw. 

 Read more articles from WILPF's Centenary Conference in 50.50's series Women's Power to Stop War. 

 

 

 

Sideboxes Related stories:  This is what a feminist foreign policy looks like Women's power to stop war: Hubris or hope? There are more of us who want peace than want the killing to continue World disarmament? Start by disarming masculinity Speaking truth to power at the UN Scrapping Trident: the holistic approach Where your conscience can take you: North Korea Mairead Maguire: walking for peace between North and South Korea Why we need a feminist foreign policy to stop war Challenging militarized masculinities Violence is not inevitable: It is a choice Libya: "Rejoicing at our bloody democracy" A new narrative on human rights, security and prosperity The masculinisation of complexity Creating peace: a manifesto for the 21st century Debating the long and the short-term view of sexual violence in war An alternative history of peacemaking: a century of disarmament efforts Peace and reunification in Korea: in our life time Topics:  Conflict Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Catégories: les flux rss

Manic Pixies and Cool Girls: on female solidarity and the male gaze

Open Democracy News Analysis - 28. Août 2015 - 20:04

Pop culture tropes of ‘the girl who isn’t like other girls’ might seem subversive but they reinforce old sexist ideas that women are frivolous and exist for the male gaze.

 ‘I’m not like other girls. I’m more like one of the guys’. This is my voice. This is me speaking, before I discovered feminism. My hair changes colour every couple of weeks. I prefer writing and reading to applying fake tan, watching Zoella, or spending hours getting ready.  I’m different, dammit. I’m not like other girls. How many of us are guilty of uttering those words? The poisonous phrase that immediately degrades other women, whilst elevating and separating us from them.

Who are these ‘other girls’ that we’re so keen to distance ourselves from? Many women might have a couple of the tastes or characteristics we associate with stereotypical femininity, but no woman is in and of herself a stereotype. There’s no such thing uniform ‘femaleness’. The idea that femininity is characterised by weakness or triviality is a patriarchal construct, and ties into the misogynistic belief that women are somehow lesser than their male counterparts.

As women, we grow up in a world where we are already ‘other’. The man, as Simone de Beauvoir wrote in the key feminist text The Second Sex, “represents both the positive and the neutral, as indicated by the common use of man to designate human beings in general”. Maleness is considered standard in politics, finance, science, sport, and tech. Many music genres are dominated by men. Men are rarely relegated to the status of ‘sexual object’ and don’t have to use their sexuality as a tool to gain traction within various industries.

Pop culture doesn’t often help, mainly due to the fact that the majority of writers, producers, and directors are male. In films, men make up the bulk of action heroes, police officers, gangsters, spies, and ‘neutral’ characters. In games, men are much more likely to be the hero of the story and not a non-playable character with a limited, sexualized function. Men can fulfil a variety of roles, often without being stereotyped or forced to be part of a romantic narrative that’s crowbarred into the story. Women are too often tokenized, still the exception rather than the rule. There is no need to deny the individuality of women and ‘other’ them further by insisting on our difference.

Desperately not wanting to be ‘like other girls’ shows how sneakily patriarchal values can be internalized. It’s a form of sexism that we slip into as easily as a cosy, well-worn coat. In the most part, we don’t attempt to distance ourselves from other women due to a sense of gender dysphoria. We do it because we’ve realised that the prescribed idea of homogenous womanhood doesn’t look like us, and we don’t know how best to articulate this.

The ‘Only Girl’ and other isolating female tropes

The ‘Only Girl’ is very common in popular culture. She’s Evey in V for Vendetta, Marla in Fight Club, and Clarice in Silence of the Lambs. She’s important to the male-dominated plot, but it’s not her story. She represents another way that pop culture ‘others’ women, inserting them into stories as props to facilitate male character development, to be love interests, or to represent ‘all women’.

The stories available to us are crucial in terms of how we navigate the world around us, particularly when we’re young and trying to form an identity separate from our parents and friends. Consuming media that presents women as the ‘Only Girl Surrounded By Boys’, contributes to the I’m Not Like Other Girls or ‘Megan Fox aka Wendy from Peter Pan’ syndrome.

The latter term was coined by Molly Lambert, who describes it as “the delusion that you can become an official part of the boys' club if you are its strictest enforcer, its most useful prole. That if you follow the rules exactly you can become the Official Woman”. Being the ‘official woman’ or the honorary boys club member often leads to other women being barred from joining the club.

In order to be the exception to the rule and the only woman in the club, you may be compelled to exclude other women to maintain your place. This can manifest itself in the spouting of ‘ironic’ sexist language, ‘rating’ other women because you’re one of the guys, or complaining about how needy and trivial the majority of the female species is. This behaviour is a kind of internalized oppression. It’s a survival tactic for women who realise that they are part of a marginalized group, and take on the discriminatory values of the dominant group to prove their exceptionality.

The ‘Only Girl’ comes in other shapes and forms. She’s also available in models such as the ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ and the 'Cool Girl’. The term ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ was first coined by critic Nathan Rabin in his review of the 2005 film Elizabethtown, when he described the character played by Kirsten Dunst. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is quirky and interesting. She’s not like other girls. She helps the sensitive, moody male protagonist figure out how to enjoy life and fulfil his potential. Unfortunately, as cute and oddball as Zooey Deschanel’s character in (500) Days of Summer might seem, she and other MPDGs like her are completely devoid of an interior life. As Laurie Penny writes in her excellent essay for New Statesman, “instead of a personality, she has eccentricities, a vaguely-offbeat favourite band, a funky fringe”.

Zooey Deschanel has, fairly or not, come to be used as a shorthand for Manic Pixie Dream Girls. Photo via Wikicommons.It’s important here to mention that MPDGs are characters written by men. They might be vaguely quirky or subversive in terms of their music taste or dress sense, but they’re still seen through the lens of the male gaze. The normal power structure of man as subject, woman as object is still in place here because a male writer has created a shallow, cut-out woman, and she’s a muse rather than a fleshed-out character.

The term ‘Cool Girl’ was popularized by Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl. The Cool Girl, according to protagonist Amy, means being the “hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding”.

In the Guardian, Bim Adewunmi argues that the Cool Girl trope, just like the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, doesn’t describe a whole person. “She is a collection of attributes, a list of someone's favourite things. Womanhood is a broad church; call us legion, for we are many. The real issue is that we are still being boxed into narrow definitions of what we can be.” Although Gone Girl has a female author, the ‘Cool Girl’ described is a part that Amy Dunne plays to put the men in her life at ease. She is as unreal as the MPDG, but unlike many Manic Pixies, Amy’s performance unravels within the story and reveals the lie that is her ‘Cool Girl’ persona.

The decline of sisterhood?

It sounds a bit cheesy to talk about ‘sisterhood’ in 2015, and the notion that all women should be friends and love one another is both cringeworthy and unrealistic. However, the concept of solidarity remains important when it comes to fighting patriarchy.

In the 1970s, Conservatives were pretty frightened of female solidarity because they figured it could result in the mobilization of half the human race.

Unfortunately, despite the current mainstream status of feminism, we don’t seem to be very close to mobilizing half of humanity. This could be because we’ve become increasingly individualistic, particularly in Western nations. Thatcherism might be a distant memory to many of us, but her ethos of individualism and free market capitalism has forever altered the political landscape in Britain. She hacked away at the post-war consensus, dug chunks out of the welfare state, and promoted the idea that people should care about themselves and their family units at the expense of all others.

Thatcher is a striking example of a woman who rose above the glass ceiling, but kept it in place for others. She was a pioneer, but not a feminist. She climbed up the ladder, only to set it on fire afterwards so her female peers could not clamber up. In eleven years, she avoided female-friendly policies, promoted only one woman to her cabinet, and demonstrated an “utter lack of interest in childcare provision or positive action”.

Have capitalism and individualism co-opted feminism and made it more about ‘equality for me’ than ‘equality for everyone’? The ‘I’m alright Jack’ Thatcherite approach might allow some women (mostly white, wealthy, straight and cisgender) to get to the top and imagine sexism as something that happens to other people, but it does nothing for women who suffer most at the hands of the patriarchy. If your feminism doesn’t include women of colour, working class women, disabled women, trans women, queer women, and sex workers, it isn’t a feminism worth having. 

Taylor Swift recently described herself as a feminist, and yet the sum of her feminism appears to be inviting a white parade of shiny famous friends onstage with her. It’s the perfect meeting of feminism and capitalism. As Dayna Evans wrote for Gawker: “Swift isn’t here to help women—she’s here to make bank. Seeing her on stage cavorting with World Cup winners and supermodels was not a win for feminism, but a win for Taylor Swift. Her plan—to be as famous and as rich as she can possibly be—is working, and by using other women as tools of her self-promotion, she is distilling feminism for her own benefit.”

When Nicki Minaj called out the VMAs for failing to properly recognize and celebrate black artists, Swift accused Minaj of ‘pitting women against each other’. This is ‘individualistic feminism’ at its most obvious, even while dressing it up in the language of solidarity. Swift failed to listen to a woman of colour’s experience of racism (basic intersectionality), and imagined that Minaj’s concerns were directed at her (‘it’s all about me’).

If we are committed to combating the patriarchy in all its forms, we need to address the bits that we internalize. This means giving up the idea that we’re ‘not like other girls’ or ‘more like one of the guys’. All women are individuals, so there really is enough difference and quirk to go around. It means seeing through idealistic female tropes in pop culture, largely created by men. It means really supporting other women and adopting a feminism that’s inclusive and intersectional, and not merely championing friends or fellow wealthy, white women a la Taylor Swift.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Misogyny and homophobia: patriarchy, gender policing, and the male gaze Reddit, Ellen Pao, and the false neutrality of ‘free speech’ Women everywhere have their movement limited by the male gaze Game of trolls: on pop culture and the public voice of women Women everywhere have their movement limited by the male gaze Can conversations about women in pop move beyond a binary of agency or exploitation? Laurie Penny on Unspeakable Things Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Catégories: les flux rss

Manic Pixies and Cool Girls: on female solidarity and the male gaze

Open Democracy News Analysis - 28. Août 2015 - 20:04

Pop culture tropes of ‘the girl who isn’t like other girls’ might seem subversive but they reinforce old sexist ideas that women are frivolous and exist for the male gaze.

 ‘I’m not like other girls. I’m more like one of the guys’. This is my voice. This is me speaking, before I discovered feminism. My hair changes colour every couple of weeks. I prefer writing and reading to applying fake tan, watching Zoella, or spending hours getting ready.  I’m different, dammit. I’m not like other girls. How many of us are guilty of uttering those words? The poisonous phrase that immediately degrades other women, whilst elevating and separating us from them.

Who are these ‘other girls’ that we’re so keen to distance ourselves from? Many women might have a couple of the tastes or characteristics we associate with stereotypical femininity, but no woman is in and of herself a stereotype. There’s no such thing uniform ‘femaleness’. The idea that femininity is characterised by weakness or triviality is a patriarchal construct, and ties into the misogynistic belief that women are somehow lesser than their male counterparts.

As women, we grow up in a world where we are already ‘other’. The man, as Simone de Beauvoir wrote in the key feminist text The Second Sex, “represents both the positive and the neutral, as indicated by the common use of man to designate human beings in general”. Maleness is considered standard in politics, finance, science, sport, and tech. Many music genres are dominated by men. Men are rarely relegated to the status of ‘sexual object’ and don’t have to use their sexuality as a tool to gain traction within various industries.

Pop culture doesn’t often help, mainly due to the fact that the majority of writers, producers, and directors are male. In films, men make up the bulk of action heroes, police officers, gangsters, spies, and ‘neutral’ characters. In games, men are much more likely to be the hero of the story and not a non-playable character with a limited, sexualized function. Men can fulfil a variety of roles, often without being stereotyped or forced to be part of a romantic narrative that’s crowbarred into the story. Women are too often tokenized, still the exception rather than the rule. There is no need to deny the individuality of women and ‘other’ them further by insisting on our difference.

Desperately not wanting to be ‘like other girls’ shows how sneakily patriarchal values can be internalized. It’s a form of sexism that we slip into as easily as a cosy, well-worn coat. In the most part, we don’t attempt to distance ourselves from other women due to a sense of gender dysphoria. We do it because we’ve realised that the prescribed idea of homogenous womanhood doesn’t look like us, and we don’t know how best to articulate this.

The ‘Only Girl’ and other isolating female tropes

The ‘Only Girl’ is very common in popular culture. She’s Evey in V for Vendetta, Marla in Fight Club, and Clarice in Silence of the Lambs. She’s important to the male-dominated plot, but it’s not her story. She represents another way that pop culture ‘others’ women, inserting them into stories as props to facilitate male character development, to be love interests, or to represent ‘all women’.

The stories available to us are crucial in terms of how we navigate the world around us, particularly when we’re young and trying to form an identity separate from our parents and friends. Consuming media that presents women as the ‘Only Girl Surrounded By Boys’, contributes to the I’m Not Like Other Girls or ‘Megan Fox aka Wendy from Peter Pan’ syndrome.

The latter term was coined by Molly Lambert, who describes it as “the delusion that you can become an official part of the boys' club if you are its strictest enforcer, its most useful prole. That if you follow the rules exactly you can become the Official Woman”. Being the ‘official woman’ or the honorary boys club member often leads to other women being barred from joining the club.

In order to be the exception to the rule and the only woman in the club, you may be compelled to exclude other women to maintain your place. This can manifest itself in the spouting of ‘ironic’ sexist language, ‘rating’ other women because you’re one of the guys, or complaining about how needy and trivial the majority of the female species is. This behaviour is a kind of internalized oppression. It’s a survival tactic for women who realise that they are part of a marginalized group, and take on the discriminatory values of the dominant group to prove their exceptionality.

The ‘Only Girl’ comes in other shapes and forms. She’s also available in models such as the ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ and the 'Cool Girl’. The term ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ was first coined by critic Nathan Rabin in his review of the 2005 film Elizabethtown, when he described the character played by Kirsten Dunst. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is quirky and interesting. She’s not like other girls. She helps the sensitive, moody male protagonist figure out how to enjoy life and fulfil his potential. Unfortunately, as cute and oddball as Zooey Deschanel’s character in (500) Days of Summer might seem, she and other MPDGs like her are completely devoid of an interior life. As Laurie Penny writes in her excellent essay for New Statesman, “instead of a personality, she has eccentricities, a vaguely-offbeat favourite band, a funky fringe”.

Zooey Deschanel has, fairly or not, come to be used as a shorthand for Manic Pixie Dream Girls. Photo via Wikicommons.It’s important here to mention that MPDGs are characters written by men. They might be vaguely quirky or subversive in terms of their music taste or dress sense, but they’re still seen through the lens of the male gaze. The normal power structure of man as subject, woman as object is still in place here because a male writer has created a shallow, cut-out woman, and she’s a muse rather than a fleshed-out character.

The term ‘Cool Girl’ was popularized by Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl. The Cool Girl, according to protagonist Amy, means being the “hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding”.

In the Guardian, Bim Adewunmi argues that the Cool Girl trope, just like the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, doesn’t describe a whole person. “She is a collection of attributes, a list of someone's favourite things. Womanhood is a broad church; call us legion, for we are many. The real issue is that we are still being boxed into narrow definitions of what we can be.” Although Gone Girl has a female author, the ‘Cool Girl’ described is a part that Amy Dunne plays to put the men in her life at ease. She is as unreal as the MPDG, but unlike many Manic Pixies, Amy’s performance unravels within the story and reveals the lie that is her ‘Cool Girl’ persona.

The decline of sisterhood?

It sounds a bit cheesy to talk about ‘sisterhood’ in 2015, and the notion that all women should be friends and love one another is both cringeworthy and unrealistic. However, the concept of solidarity remains important when it comes to fighting patriarchy.

In the 1970s, Conservatives were pretty frightened of female solidarity because they figured it could result in the mobilization of half the human race.

Unfortunately, despite the current mainstream status of feminism, we don’t seem to be very close to mobilizing half of humanity. This could be because we’ve become increasingly individualistic, particularly in Western nations. Thatcherism might be a distant memory to many of us, but her ethos of individualism and free market capitalism has forever altered the political landscape in Britain. She hacked away at the post-war consensus, dug chunks out of the welfare state, and promoted the idea that people should care about themselves and their family units at the expense of all others.

Thatcher is a striking example of a woman who rose above the glass ceiling, but kept it in place for others. She was a pioneer, but not a feminist. She climbed up the ladder, only to set it on fire afterwards so her female peers could not clamber up. In eleven years, she avoided female-friendly policies, promoted only one woman to her cabinet, and demonstrated an “utter lack of interest in childcare provision or positive action”.

Have capitalism and individualism co-opted feminism and made it more about ‘equality for me’ than ‘equality for everyone’? The ‘I’m alright Jack’ Thatcherite approach might allow some women (mostly white, wealthy, straight and cisgender) to get to the top and imagine sexism as something that happens to other people, but it does nothing for women who suffer most at the hands of the patriarchy. If your feminism doesn’t include women of colour, working class women, disabled women, trans women, queer women, and sex workers, it isn’t a feminism worth having. 

Taylor Swift recently described herself as a feminist, and yet the sum of her feminism appears to be inviting a white parade of shiny famous friends onstage with her. It’s the perfect meeting of feminism and capitalism. As Dayna Evans wrote for Gawker: “Swift isn’t here to help women—she’s here to make bank. Seeing her on stage cavorting with World Cup winners and supermodels was not a win for feminism, but a win for Taylor Swift. Her plan—to be as famous and as rich as she can possibly be—is working, and by using other women as tools of her self-promotion, she is distilling feminism for her own benefit.”

When Nicki Minaj called out the VMAs for failing to properly recognize and celebrate black artists, Swift accused Minaj of ‘pitting women against each other’. This is ‘individualistic feminism’ at its most obvious, even while dressing it up in the language of solidarity. Swift failed to listen to a woman of colour’s experience of racism (basic intersectionality), and imagined that Minaj’s concerns were directed at her (‘it’s all about me’).

If we are committed to combating the patriarchy in all its forms, we need to address the bits that we internalize. This means giving up the idea that we’re ‘not like other girls’ or ‘more like one of the guys’. All women are individuals, so there really is enough difference and quirk to go around. It means seeing through idealistic female tropes in pop culture, largely created by men. It means really supporting other women and adopting a feminism that’s inclusive and intersectional, and not merely championing friends or fellow wealthy, white women a la Taylor Swift.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Misogyny and homophobia: patriarchy, gender policing, and the male gaze Reddit, Ellen Pao, and the false neutrality of ‘free speech’ Women everywhere have their movement limited by the male gaze Game of trolls: on pop culture and the public voice of women Women everywhere have their movement limited by the male gaze Can conversations about women in pop move beyond a binary of agency or exploitation? Laurie Penny on Unspeakable Things Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Catégories: les flux rss

Haveit: Kosovo’s conscience disguised in performance art

Open Democracy News Analysis - 28. Août 2015 - 19:02

Haveit, a Kosovan art collective consisting of four young women, use their performances to explore gender and social issues.

On May 18, 2011, Diana Kastrati, a 27-year old student on her way to university, was shot dead in Prishtina, Kosovo’s capital, at about 10 am. The perpetrator was Adnan Jashari, her ex-husband of 10 years.

A few days later, four friends from Prishtina were sitting in Tingle Tangle, an art café hidden in a courtyard of residential buildings in the city centre.  They enraged by the tragic murder. “We have to do something,” one of them proposed. And on March 20, 2011, they participated in the march for Diana Kastrati organized by the Kosova Women’s network. Disguised as brides wearing black clothes and a white veil on their heads, they held a sign with the following message: “every marriage ends in violence.” This was the start of the art collective the four girls formed: Haveit.

Haveit consists of Hana and Vesa Qena, and Lola and Alketa Sylaj. The two pairs of sisters live in Prishtina and are all in their mid-twenties. Alketa explained that the four chose to call their artistic project Haveit, because it fits to the theme of their performance protests. Artistically, they vehemently rebel against the problems of their society. “What we do is art out of necessity,” Lola said.

The four members of Haveit. Photo via: http://www.facebook.com/Haveit

Against nationalism and women’s oppression

They illustrated, for example, the Kosovan struggle with power and water shortages by washing hand towels in the fountain of the Mother Teresa square, the main pedestrian street in Prishtina, in July 2013. This performance was called There Is No Water, But There Are Fountains. The four criticized nationalism – in abundance everywhere in the Balkans – by replacing the graffiti “traitors have merited the bullet” in the city centre with “what color is your flag when it burns?” in July 2014. With a performance called Tager*, Haveit also fought against the Kanun, the fundamental text of women’s oppression in Kosovo. They poured flour on the book and spread it with a rolling pin on this year’s International Women’s Day.

All four artists studied art at the University of Prishtina, but they found the conservative environment at the university restrictive. “Our professors didn’t want us to produce new things. They only wanted us to copy old things,” Alketa said. But this disappointment did not discourage the four. Haveit’s decision to do art performances was quite groundbreaking: it made them understand that what they want is not only to make art for art exhibitions. They wanted to be more obtrusive, in order to reach people who aren’t the usual art admirers.

Haveit’s performances are not modelled on any other artist, three of the members explained ot me in an interview (Hana Qena was absent as she was in Tirana, Albania’s capital, that day). Kosovan society serves as inspiration for them: their performances continue to address the problems of Kosovan society that originally inspired them to begin making performance art.

And Kosovo’s society is predominantly conservative; not to the effect that political disagreement with the known cleavages between right and left – for example church (right) versus state (left) – are decisive. Kosovo is conservative in a traditional sense, which means that there is a cleavage between those who protect tradition – for instance no heritage rights for women – and those who challenge it.

Haveit stencilling 'What colour is your flag when it burns?'. Photo via: http://www.facebook.com/Haveit

“Mom and Dad are frightened that we will end up like Don Quixote”

The parents of the Sylaj sisters, for example, don’t take their daughters art seriously. At the same time, their parents don’t put obstacles in Lola’s and Alketa’s way. “Mom and Dad are frightened that we will end up like Don Quixote,” they said. Don Quixote lives in a dream world, in which he is a knight and stumbles from defeat to defeat. Transferred to Haveit’s performances, this could mean that Kosovo’s traditional conservative society is so omnipotent, that the four are fighting a battle without the slightest chance of winning.

Lola, Alketa, Vesa and Hana are well aware of the texture of conservatism in their society, and the difficulty of their undertaking. So they define the main objective of their artistic efforts as “helping to create a space for critical discussion of the problems of our society,” as Vesa Qena explained. And they partly succeeded: after they performed There Is No Water, But There Are Fountains in July 2013, politicians increasingly began to finally address the plight of water outages, Alketa explained. Shpend Ahmeti became mayor of Prishtina in December 2013. One of his key promises of his election campaign was the fixing-up of the city’s water pipes. If he keeps this promise, there will be no more water cuts in Kosovo’s capital from December 2015 on.

Haveit’s most provocative performance was when Vesa kissed Lola and Alketa kissed Hana on Prishtina’s main pedestrian street on Valentine’s Day 2013. That kiss went viral on Facebook – shared in Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania. “It made ordinary people speak about a stigmatised topic in our society,” Vesa said. A local survey realised in December 2012 showed that 62 per cent of those interviewed considered homosexuality as a threat to society. Not all Kosovans hailed this breach of taboo. Some postulated the conspiracy theory that Serbia paid the young women for the “propaganda of homosexuality.” Others insulted them: “you’ll never get married” (in Kosovar society this is really an insult for women). And others wrote death threats to the four.

Haveit performance. Photo via: http://www.facebook.com/Haveit

Modesty and financial autarky

I asked Haveit where they currently see room for improvement, and they said that they could do more performances. So far their performances in Kosovo have been limited to Prishtina. But one of their future projects will take their art to other Kosovan cities and maybe villages. This is crucial to that extend that Kosovo consists not only of Prishtina and the society problems the four criticize apply to the whole country.

When asked about their biggest success, the young women were silent for a few seconds and thought about it. “Honestly speaking, we had neither big successes nor big defeats yet. We also have no big expectations regarding our performances, therefore most of our experiences were good,” they agreed. And if they were to name one success, Lola said: “We are still working together and are still planning to work together.” Besides this modesty, something else is also considerable in Haveit’s work: everything they do is self-made – from the financial matters to the organisational structure.

In the coming September, Haveit will be very busy. They are going to participate at the City of Women feminist festival in Ljubljana, Slovenia, at the Biennale in Milano, Italy with the performance Tager* and at the Hapu festival, an event for art in public space, in Prishtina. Furthermore, one cannot be sure whether this is all they are planning to do. “Haveit also means surprise,” Vesa Qena said with a smile.

For more information, visit Haveit’s Facebook page

Sideboxes Related stories:  Unidentified Serbian war criminals, and Albanian mass graves, exposed in new documentary Are photos of ‘badass protester girls’ really so badass? Slavenka Drakulić: violence, memory, and the nation Feminism is for all: exposing gendered limitations of the Albanian male Albanian male feminists: do they exist? Re-telling stories: Alice Munro’s portraits of Albanian hearts Feminism is funny Gendered legacies of Communist Albania: a paradox of progress Wartime rape is no longer kept under wraps in Kosovo Women of Kosovo: a mirage of freedom and equality Haki Stërmilli’s 'If I Were a Boy': the first Albanian feminist manifesto The texture of patriarchy in Kosovo Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Catégories: les flux rss

Haveit: Kosovo’s conscience disguised in performance art

Open Democracy News Analysis - 28. Août 2015 - 19:02

Haveit, a Kosovan art collective consisting of four young women, use their performances to explore gender and social issues.

On May 18, 2011, Diana Kastrati, a 27-year old student on her way to university, was shot dead in Prishtina, Kosovo’s capital, at about 10 am. The perpetrator was Adnan Jashari, her ex-husband of 10 years.

A few days later, four friends from Prishtina were sitting in Tingle Tangle, an art café hidden in a courtyard of residential buildings in the city centre.  They enraged by the tragic murder. “We have to do something,” one of them proposed. And on March 20, 2011, they participated in the march for Diana Kastrati organized by the Kosova Women’s network. Disguised as brides wearing black clothes and a white veil on their heads, they held a sign with the following message: “every marriage ends in violence.” This was the start of the art collective the four girls formed: Haveit.

Haveit consists of Hana and Vesa Qena, and Lola and Alketa Sylaj. The two pairs of sisters live in Prishtina and are all in their mid-twenties. Alketa explained that the four chose to call their artistic project Haveit, because it fits to the theme of their performance protests. Artistically, they vehemently rebel against the problems of their society. “What we do is art out of necessity,” Lola said.

The four members of Haveit. Photo via: http://www.facebook.com/Haveit

Against nationalism and women’s oppression

They illustrated, for example, the Kosovan struggle with power and water shortages by washing hand towels in the fountain of the Mother Teresa square, the main pedestrian street in Prishtina, in July 2013. This performance was called There Is No Water, But There Are Fountains. The four criticized nationalism – in abundance everywhere in the Balkans – by replacing the graffiti “traitors have merited the bullet” in the city centre with “what color is your flag when it burns?” in July 2014. With a performance called Tager*, Haveit also fought against the Kanun, the fundamental text of women’s oppression in Kosovo. They poured flour on the book and spread it with a rolling pin on this year’s International Women’s Day.

All four artists studied art at the University of Prishtina, but they found the conservative environment at the university restrictive. “Our professors didn’t want us to produce new things. They only wanted us to copy old things,” Alketa said. But this disappointment did not discourage the four. Haveit’s decision to do art performances was quite groundbreaking: it made them understand that what they want is not only to make art for art exhibitions. They wanted to be more obtrusive, in order to reach people who aren’t the usual art admirers.

Haveit’s performances are not modelled on any other artist, three of the members explained ot me in an interview (Hana Qena was absent as she was in Tirana, Albania’s capital, that day). Kosovan society serves as inspiration for them: their performances continue to address the problems of Kosovan society that originally inspired them to begin making performance art.

And Kosovo’s society is predominantly conservative; not to the effect that political disagreement with the known cleavages between right and left – for example church (right) versus state (left) – are decisive. Kosovo is conservative in a traditional sense, which means that there is a cleavage between those who protect tradition – for instance no heritage rights for women – and those who challenge it.

Haveit stencilling 'What colour is your flag when it burns?'. Photo via: http://www.facebook.com/Haveit

“Mom and Dad are frightened that we will end up like Don Quixote”

The parents of the Sylaj sisters, for example, don’t take their daughters art seriously. At the same time, their parents don’t put obstacles in Lola’s and Alketa’s way. “Mom and Dad are frightened that we will end up like Don Quixote,” they said. Don Quixote lives in a dream world, in which he is a knight and stumbles from defeat to defeat. Transferred to Haveit’s performances, this could mean that Kosovo’s traditional conservative society is so omnipotent, that the four are fighting a battle without the slightest chance of winning.

Lola, Alketa, Vesa and Hana are well aware of the texture of conservatism in their society, and the difficulty of their undertaking. So they define the main objective of their artistic efforts as “helping to create a space for critical discussion of the problems of our society,” as Vesa Qena explained. And they partly succeeded: after they performed There Is No Water, But There Are Fountains in July 2013, politicians increasingly began to finally address the plight of water outages, Alketa explained. Shpend Ahmeti became mayor of Prishtina in December 2013. One of his key promises of his election campaign was the fixing-up of the city’s water pipes. If he keeps this promise, there will be no more water cuts in Kosovo’s capital from December 2015 on.

Haveit’s most provocative performance was when Vesa kissed Lola and Alketa kissed Hana on Prishtina’s main pedestrian street on Valentine’s Day 2013. That kiss went viral on Facebook – shared in Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania. “It made ordinary people speak about a stigmatised topic in our society,” Vesa said. A local survey realised in December 2012 showed that 62 per cent of those interviewed considered homosexuality as a threat to society. Not all Kosovans hailed this breach of taboo. Some postulated the conspiracy theory that Serbia paid the young women for the “propaganda of homosexuality.” Others insulted them: “you’ll never get married” (in Kosovar society this is really an insult for women). And others wrote death threats to the four.

Haveit performance. Photo via: http://www.facebook.com/Haveit

Modesty and financial autarky

I asked Haveit where they currently see room for improvement, and they said that they could do more performances. So far their performances in Kosovo have been limited to Prishtina. But one of their future projects will take their art to other Kosovan cities and maybe villages. This is crucial to that extend that Kosovo consists not only of Prishtina and the society problems the four criticize apply to the whole country.

When asked about their biggest success, the young women were silent for a few seconds and thought about it. “Honestly speaking, we had neither big successes nor big defeats yet. We also have no big expectations regarding our performances, therefore most of our experiences were good,” they agreed. And if they were to name one success, Lola said: “We are still working together and are still planning to work together.” Besides this modesty, something else is also considerable in Haveit’s work: everything they do is self-made – from the financial matters to the organisational structure.

In the coming September, Haveit will be very busy. They are going to participate at the City of Women feminist festival in Ljubljana, Slovenia, at the Biennale in Milano, Italy with the performance Tager* and at the Hapu festival, an event for art in public space, in Prishtina. Furthermore, one cannot be sure whether this is all they are planning to do. “Haveit also means surprise,” Vesa Qena said with a smile.

For more information, visit Haveit’s Facebook page

Sideboxes Related stories:  Unidentified Serbian war criminals, and Albanian mass graves, exposed in new documentary Are photos of ‘badass protester girls’ really so badass? Slavenka Drakulić: violence, memory, and the nation Feminism is for all: exposing gendered limitations of the Albanian male Albanian male feminists: do they exist? Re-telling stories: Alice Munro’s portraits of Albanian hearts Feminism is funny Gendered legacies of Communist Albania: a paradox of progress Wartime rape is no longer kept under wraps in Kosovo Women of Kosovo: a mirage of freedom and equality Haki Stërmilli’s 'If I Were a Boy': the first Albanian feminist manifesto The texture of patriarchy in Kosovo Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Catégories: les flux rss

Bombs in Bangkok: how will Thailand’s military junta react?

Open Democracy News Analysis - 28. Août 2015 - 19:00

Regardless of the perpetrator's motivation, it is certain that Thailand’s military rulers will use the Bangkok bombing to further delay democratic elections.  

Site of the Erawan Shrine bombing, Bangkok. Lillian Suwanrumpha/Demotix. All rights reserved.More than a week after Bangkok was rocked by what the Prime Minister called “the worst incident that has ever happened in Thailand”, in which at least 22 people lost their lives and scores were injured after a remotely detonated 3kg pipe bomb went off at a popular Hindu shrine, the country’s authorities are getting nowhere close to solving the whys and whos behind the attack. Caught between sprawling governmental corruption, lack of “CSI technology”, broken CCTV cameras, the absence of any claim of responsibility for the bombing, and armed with only a blurry image of a yellow-shirted male suspect lingering around the Erawan shrine, the Royal Thai Police (RTP) have little to go on. These inherent ambiguities raise significant obstacles to unravelling the implications of the attack, which means that until the RTP uncovers more clues analysts should tread carefully.

Bombings and terrorist attacks have a long history in Thailand, a country that has for decades dealt with two main sources of violence: a bloody separatist insurgency in the Malay-Muslim southernmost Pattani province, and political upheavals stemming from innumerable coups and decades of military rule. What is different about this attack though is the fact that it targeted Bangkok, a city that had so far remained almost unscathed from the strings of attacks rocking the country’s restive deep south. There, at least 50 improvised explosive devices were detonated or defused in May of this year and several pipe bombs were used in 2015. This year’s biggest attack had been a car bomb that wounded seven people when it went off in April on the island of Koh Samui. In Bangkok, no casualties were recorded when two pipe bombs exploded outside a luxury shopping mall in early February, in this year’s previously most significant attack in the Thai capital.

According to analysts, the 17 August bombing could have been perpetrated either by anti-government radicals, Muslim extremists fighting for autonomy, renegade elements from the country’s powerful military or even by outside actors (such as ISIS, Al Qaeda, Turkey’s ultranationalist Grey Wolves, or regional groups such as Jemaah Islamiyah). However, judging from the scarce information available there are serious issues with almost every theory.

The fact that no outside actor has claimed responsibility, coupled with Thailand’s lack of appeal for international terrorists, and the modus operandi used (the lack of suicide bombers) largely disqualify the involvement of jihadi organizations. The Malay separatists from the south, who have been waging a low-level insurgency against the government for more than 50 years, have never strayed away from their immediate region for fear of eliciting a heavy-handed government response. The so-called Red Shirts (supporters of ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her equally ousted brother Thaksin) would stand to win nothing from targeting civilians and would have sought to attack government buildings instead. There’s equally scant evidence that the military was involved.

Soldiers on the streets during the May 2014 coup. punloph/Flickr. Some rights reserved.Whatever the nature of the attacker, the short-term effects will be the same: the Thai military junta, in power since last year’s coup, will continue down the same road of eroding the country’s democratic liberties in the name of ensuring stability and security. The claims of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former army general who came to power in May 2014 after ousting the democratically elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra, to restore Thailand’s democracy will become even murkier.

The ruling junta has already pushed back the date for democratic elections repeatedly, ostensibly to give it more time to prepare for a constitutional referendum or work towards greater stability before holding an election. However, it is more likely that the delay is to give the junta enough time to eliminate the Shinawatra family from politics completely and ban the leaders of Yingluck's Pheu Thai Party from running for office. Prime Minister Prayuth — under the controversial Article 44 — retains absolute power over the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the government, giving him unchecked power while internal reforms are underway. According to a new law enacted just days before the Bangkok bombings, protesting in front of Thailand’s Parliament could land you a one-year trip to jail.

Complicating everything is the fact that the country's revered monarch, H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej is old and frail. The present King, reigning since 1946, enjoys tremendous moral authority on all sides, and has used his influence in the past to bring order out of the chaos. However, the heir apparent, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, enjoys no such universal respect, and the monarchy may lose its influence when the King passes away. The Thai military-controlled government is highly motivated to remain in control when that transition occurs, adding one more element to the complicated equation of Thai politics.

Thailand is also under the lens of the international community, after the US State Department issued a scathing report on the country’s human trafficking record. Alongside 23 other countries, Thailand is listed as a ‘Tier 3’ violator in the same company as North Korea, Iran, Libya and other regimes often viewed as far more anti-democratic than Thailand. The State Department report suggests that Thailand's labour abuses are persistent and ignored by the government, and specifically highlights workers’ rights violations in Thailand's seafood industry.

Such abuses have been widely documented, with a recent Associated Press series tracking the supply chain of US retailers to Thai processors selling seafood provided by fishing boats manned by slave labour. The State Department now has 90 days at its disposal to decide whether to enact sanctions. Predictably, Prayuth and his government protested the report’s “uninformed” assessment, and denounced it in an embassy statement from Washington that highlighted progress in the Thai effort to address human trafficking.

The European Union has equally been critical of Bangkok. In April, the European Commission put Thailand on a formal notice for its insufficient reforms in tackling illegal fishing — just one step away short of imposing a ban on all Thai fisheries imports to the Union. The country could lose between €575 and €730 million were a ban imposed.

Redshirt protest, September 2010. Ratchaprasong/Flickr. Some rights reserved.Prayuth’s government has galvanized inter-community tensions and has put Thailand’s economy in a fragile situation, two ingredients that could plunge the country even deeper into chaos. Irrespective of the nature of the Bangkok terrorist attack, all the challenges facing Thai society, whether upticks in violence or dwindling economic fortunes, will be met by the junta with more repression — give a man a hammer and all the problems will be treated like nails. As such, it takes a special kind of naivety to assume that Thailand’s junta intends to pass the baton to a democratic government, and if anything, the Bangkok bombing provides more reasons for Prayuth to delay elections even further. Without stronger involvement from western leaders, expect more human rights abuses coming from the ‘Land of Smiles’.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Arrested democracy: why Thailand needs a new social contract Assessing civil resistance: social movements' instrumentalisation of nonviolent tactics in Thailand and beyond Eight years of Thai madness: make sense, not war Country or region:  Thailand Topics:  Civil society Conflict Democracy and government Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Catégories: les flux rss

Bombs in Bangkok: how will Thailand’s military junta react?

Open Democracy News Analysis - 28. Août 2015 - 19:00

Regardless of the perpetrator's motivation, it is certain that Thailand’s military rulers will use the Bangkok bombing to further delay democratic elections.  

Site of the Erawan Shrine bombing, Bangkok. Lillian Suwanrumpha/Demotix. All rights reserved.More than a week after Bangkok was rocked by what the Prime Minister called “the worst incident that has ever happened in Thailand”, in which at least 22 people lost their lives and scores were injured after a remotely detonated 3kg pipe bomb went off at a popular Hindu shrine, the country’s authorities are getting nowhere close to solving the whys and whos behind the attack. Caught between sprawling governmental corruption, lack of “CSI technology”, broken CCTV cameras, the absence of any claim of responsibility for the bombing, and armed with only a blurry image of a yellow-shirted male suspect lingering around the Erawan shrine, the Royal Thai Police (RTP) have little to go on. These inherent ambiguities raise significant obstacles to unravelling the implications of the attack, which means that until the RTP uncovers more clues analysts should tread carefully.

Bombings and terrorist attacks have a long history in Thailand, a country that has for decades dealt with two main sources of violence: a bloody separatist insurgency in the Malay-Muslim southernmost Pattani province, and political upheavals stemming from innumerable coups and decades of military rule. What is different about this attack though is the fact that it targeted Bangkok, a city that had so far remained almost unscathed from the strings of attacks rocking the country’s restive deep south. There, at least 50 improvised explosive devices were detonated or defused in May of this year and several pipe bombs were used in 2015. This year’s biggest attack had been a car bomb that wounded seven people when it went off in April on the island of Koh Samui. In Bangkok, no casualties were recorded when two pipe bombs exploded outside a luxury shopping mall in early February, in this year’s previously most significant attack in the Thai capital.

According to analysts, the 17 August bombing could have been perpetrated either by anti-government radicals, Muslim extremists fighting for autonomy, renegade elements from the country’s powerful military or even by outside actors (such as ISIS, Al Qaeda, Turkey’s ultranationalist Grey Wolves, or regional groups such as Jemaah Islamiyah). However, judging from the scarce information available there are serious issues with almost every theory.

The fact that no outside actor has claimed responsibility, coupled with Thailand’s lack of appeal for international terrorists, and the modus operandi used (the lack of suicide bombers) largely disqualify the involvement of jihadi organizations. The Malay separatists from the south, who have been waging a low-level insurgency against the government for more than 50 years, have never strayed away from their immediate region for fear of eliciting a heavy-handed government response. The so-called Red Shirts (supporters of ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her equally ousted brother Thaksin) would stand to win nothing from targeting civilians and would have sought to attack government buildings instead. There’s equally scant evidence that the military was involved.

Soldiers on the streets during the May 2014 coup. punloph/Flickr. Some rights reserved.Whatever the nature of the attacker, the short-term effects will be the same: the Thai military junta, in power since last year’s coup, will continue down the same road of eroding the country’s democratic liberties in the name of ensuring stability and security. The claims of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former army general who came to power in May 2014 after ousting the democratically elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra, to restore Thailand’s democracy will become even murkier.

The ruling junta has already pushed back the date for democratic elections repeatedly, ostensibly to give it more time to prepare for a constitutional referendum or work towards greater stability before holding an election. However, it is more likely that the delay is to give the junta enough time to eliminate the Shinawatra family from politics completely and ban the leaders of Yingluck's Pheu Thai Party from running for office. Prime Minister Prayuth — under the controversial Article 44 — retains absolute power over the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the government, giving him unchecked power while internal reforms are underway. According to a new law enacted just days before the Bangkok bombings, protesting in front of Thailand’s Parliament could land you a one-year trip to jail.

Complicating everything is the fact that the country's revered monarch, H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej is old and frail. The present King, reigning since 1946, enjoys tremendous moral authority on all sides, and has used his influence in the past to bring order out of the chaos. However, the heir apparent, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, enjoys no such universal respect, and the monarchy may lose its influence when the King passes away. The Thai military-controlled government is highly motivated to remain in control when that transition occurs, adding one more element to the complicated equation of Thai politics.

Thailand is also under the lens of the international community, after the US State Department issued a scathing report on the country’s human trafficking record. Alongside 23 other countries, Thailand is listed as a ‘Tier 3’ violator in the same company as North Korea, Iran, Libya and other regimes often viewed as far more anti-democratic than Thailand. The State Department report suggests that Thailand's labour abuses are persistent and ignored by the government, and specifically highlights workers’ rights violations in Thailand's seafood industry.

Such abuses have been widely documented, with a recent Associated Press series tracking the supply chain of US retailers to Thai processors selling seafood provided by fishing boats manned by slave labour. The State Department now has 90 days at its disposal to decide whether to enact sanctions. Predictably, Prayuth and his government protested the report’s “uninformed” assessment, and denounced it in an embassy statement from Washington that highlighted progress in the Thai effort to address human trafficking.

The European Union has equally been critical of Bangkok. In April, the European Commission put Thailand on a formal notice for its insufficient reforms in tackling illegal fishing — just one step away short of imposing a ban on all Thai fisheries imports to the Union. The country could lose between €575 and €730 million were a ban imposed.

Redshirt protest, September 2010. Ratchaprasong/Flickr. Some rights reserved.Prayuth’s government has galvanized inter-community tensions and has put Thailand’s economy in a fragile situation, two ingredients that could plunge the country even deeper into chaos. Irrespective of the nature of the Bangkok terrorist attack, all the challenges facing Thai society, whether upticks in violence or dwindling economic fortunes, will be met by the junta with more repression — give a man a hammer and all the problems will be treated like nails. As such, it takes a special kind of naivety to assume that Thailand’s junta intends to pass the baton to a democratic government, and if anything, the Bangkok bombing provides more reasons for Prayuth to delay elections even further. Without stronger involvement from western leaders, expect more human rights abuses coming from the ‘Land of Smiles’.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Arrested democracy: why Thailand needs a new social contract Assessing civil resistance: social movements' instrumentalisation of nonviolent tactics in Thailand and beyond Eight years of Thai madness: make sense, not war Country or region:  Thailand Topics:  Civil society Conflict Democracy and government Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Catégories: les flux rss

The BBC charter renewal, seen through a Nordic lens

Open Democracy News Analysis - 28. Août 2015 - 13:27

The ex-Director General of the Danish Broadcasting Corporation compares the British and Nordic debates about the future of public service media. 

Image: Flickr/ Johnny Micheletto

The BBC is unique. It is the oldest and largest Public Service Media (PSM) organisation. No other media company has radio and television programmes with a comparable global reach. The British approach to handling the paradox of a publicly-owned and state-regulated media institution, while allowing a relatively high degree of editorial independence from parliament and government intervention, is the envy of many less fortunate societies. 

In spite of being so unique the BBC enjoys a general, yet questionable, reputation as ‘the mother of Public Service Media’. It is a source of inspiration, not only regarding its programming and management but also in terms of its governance and the way public, political control is exercised. For this reason, observers in many countries - both those in favour of radical change and those who fear it - are following the current British charter renewal process with bated breath.   

There can be few other places in the world where the British charter renewal process attracts greater interest than the five Nordic countries, where observers resemble the fans of competing teams at a premier league football match. Some have high hopes for a new BBC charter that will pave the way for a revised – albeit significantly diminished – remit for public media. Other fans are concerned that a radical overhaul of the BBC will legitimize similar reforms back home. The reason for looking west across the North Sea is not so much a search for inspiration from the substance of the renewal process itself than for potential support of an ideological, cultural or political nature. 

Opponents in the debate on the future of public media in the Nordic countries are divided along lines very similar to the UK. Commercial media and the printed press expect to benefit from a reduced PSM role. Incidentally, they also tend to follow a PSM-critical line in their journalistic news coverage. They join forces with centre-right political parties working to attenuate the role of the public sector to give the market more breathing space. The other side consists primarily of centre left-wing political parties that historically played a leading role in building the Nordic welfare societies. They have few allies, and most of these are to be found among media academics. 

Parallels to the British charter renewal process can also be found in commissions and public hearings in the Nordic region. Four Nordic countries are either conducting or contemplating some kind of PSM/media policy review. The topics are very similar to those tabled by the Tory government, although the agendas are somewhat more open. The only significant difference from the UK charter debate is the question of PSM governance and regulation, which is seldom raised in the Nordic region. The turmoil surrounding the BBC Board and Trust is viewed from afar with some astonishment. 

The opinion of those in favour of radical reform can be grouped under the following three main headings:

  1. The whole raison d'être of PSM, especially its size and remit, should be reconsidered in the light of the increasing diversity of media market – both on the supply and demand side. 
  2. The traditional universality in PSM programming harks back to the days of national media monopolies. PSM should focus on content areas not catered for by the ‘free market”.
  3. Flat rate – and compulsory – licence fee funding has become an anachronism in a media market characterized by individual, on-demand use. The licence fee should be replaced by some form of subscription, perhaps in combination with revenue from taxation. 

Although these elements of reform have been debated for years, they are now being presented with renewed strength as unavoidable consequences of the evolving digital, multi-media environment. This gives their supporters – both in the UK and in the Nordic countries - the advantage of a proactive image. By contrast, the supporters of PSM institutions lack the rhetorical strength of being on the offensive. They might be right in arguing that the societal role of PSM in a digital environment is more important than ever, and that the speed of change in media habits and user behaviour is somewhat exaggerated. From a communicative point of view, however, such a defensive stance is not hugely convincing at a time when everybody seems to be experiencing the winds of change. 

While there are numerous similarities between the British and the Nordic debate on PSM, then, there are also significant differences. The most obvious relates to population - market size and the role of PSM in promoting or defending cultural identities. Compared with the UK, the Nordic countries are small, with populations of between 5 and 8 million each (in the case of Iceland only 300,000). The role ascribed to the BBC of ‘Bringing the UK to the world’ is reversed in the mission of the Nordic PSMs. One of their main tasks is to sustain national cultural identities and languages at home in the face of competition from a very open international media market. Nordic viewers are “exposed” to a great deal of international content, both on a limited number of channels from domestic broadcasters and from numerous non-domestic channels and platforms. Furthermore, most major independent production companies in each of the Nordic countries are affiliates of global players. For this reason, national PSM companies are widely regarded as an indispensable part of a national, cultural ‘defence’ system with roots in a special Nordic tradition of adult education. 

This defence of cultural identity goes a long way to explaining why the political climate vis a vis Nordic PSM institutions is more favourable than in the UK. Most PSM agreements with Nordic governments (similar to the BBC charter) build on broad alliances extending beyond the governing coalition in power. Furthermore, the political cultures in the Nordic region with their multi-party systems and a tradition of coalition governments have certain corporatist traits. During election campaigns, political parties may choose to differentiate themselves in their media policy by suggesting radical interventions. Nevertheless, even they want to be part of a broad political consensus. Parties in opposition are usually willing to make the necessary compromises to influence solutions that may outlive the next change of government.

On balance, it is fair to say that there are more similarities than differences between the UK and the Nordic countries when it comes to PSM models and the reform debate - more so than just about any other region in the world. The initial scepticism, expressed above concerning the BBC being “the mother of all public broadcasters” is based on the fact that very few countries outside north-western Europe have PSM institutions and a culture of PSM governance that are similar to the BBC. The letter of the law and the regulatory mechanisms might be inspired by – or even copied from - the British system. The underlying reality, however, is usually very different. Put very simply, PSM systems outside north-western Europe are generally characterised by at least one or more of the following four traits: low market share /reach; a program schedule that focuses more on entertainment than on information and education; lack of trust in news coverage because of tight government control and chronic political intervention; insufficient funding. 

What accounts for this regional difference in PSM systems? Why is the North Western region of Europe so special? Geographical proximity does not provide the answer. Neither do similarities in economic and market conditions in the media sector. We have to understand media systems and the way PSM is handled in a broad societal context rather than that of a media market. The most plausible explanation for the similarities between PSM in North Western Europe is that Public Service Broadcasting here was developed as an integral part of the collectively financed welfare societies of the industrial era. Until recently, it has been synonymous with ‘mass-media’, delivering the same content at exactly the same time to all citizens, funded collectively by the licence fee. 

This postulated link between media and its societal foundations doesn’t just explain the strength of PSMs in North Western Europe thus far. In coming years it will also become a formidable challenge to Public Service Media. We are currently witnessing a gradual shift from the collective mass culture of industrial society towards a more individualized knowledge society. There is a concomitant shift from ‘citizens in a society’ to ‘individual consumers in a market’. This runs parallel to a shift in the way media content is distributed; from mainstream broadcasting to multi-platform, on-demand delivery catering to individual interests and needs.

Some will welcome this shift and see it as liberation from the hegemony of a century of collective state-controlled media. Others will see PSM as one of the few bulwarks capable of sustaining national culture and enhancing social and cultural cohesion in a globalized, trans-national world.

On the face of it, the British charter renewal process and its close parallels in the Nordic countries are merely dealing with questions of the future of Public Service Media seen as part of a media market. Further down the road, matters will not be that simple. Answers cannot be found within the usual framework of PSM and its media environment. The scope is far broader, requiring reflection on the core values of our cultures and the kind of societies we want our grandchildren to be part of.

If you want to keep OurBeeb debating the BBC, please chip in what you can afford.

Sideboxes Related stories:  The BBC and its poetry Britain’s creative kickstarter: the BBC Red alert for the BBC: a response to Enders Analysis Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Catégories: les flux rss

The BBC charter renewal, seen through a Nordic lens

Open Democracy News Analysis - 28. Août 2015 - 13:27

The ex-Director General of the Danish Broadcasting Corporation compares the British and Nordic debates about the future of public service media. 

Image: Flickr/ Johnny Micheletto

The BBC is unique. It is the oldest and largest Public Service Media (PSM) organisation. No other media company has radio and television programmes with a comparable global reach. The British approach to handling the paradox of a publicly-owned and state-regulated media institution, while allowing a relatively high degree of editorial independence from parliament and government intervention, is the envy of many less fortunate societies. 

In spite of being so unique the BBC enjoys a general, yet questionable, reputation as ‘the mother of Public Service Media’. It is a source of inspiration, not only regarding its programming and management but also in terms of its governance and the way public, political control is exercised. For this reason, observers in many countries - both those in favour of radical change and those who fear it - are following the current British charter renewal process with bated breath.   

There can be few other places in the world where the British charter renewal process attracts greater interest than the five Nordic countries, where observers resemble the fans of competing teams at a premier league football match. Some have high hopes for a new BBC charter that will pave the way for a revised – albeit significantly diminished – remit for public media. Other fans are concerned that a radical overhaul of the BBC will legitimize similar reforms back home. The reason for looking west across the North Sea is not so much a search for inspiration from the substance of the renewal process itself than for potential support of an ideological, cultural or political nature. 

Opponents in the debate on the future of public media in the Nordic countries are divided along lines very similar to the UK. Commercial media and the printed press expect to benefit from a reduced PSM role. Incidentally, they also tend to follow a PSM-critical line in their journalistic news coverage. They join forces with centre-right political parties working to attenuate the role of the public sector to give the market more breathing space. The other side consists primarily of centre left-wing political parties that historically played a leading role in building the Nordic welfare societies. They have few allies, and most of these are to be found among media academics. 

Parallels to the British charter renewal process can also be found in commissions and public hearings in the Nordic region. Four Nordic countries are either conducting or contemplating some kind of PSM/media policy review. The topics are very similar to those tabled by the Tory government, although the agendas are somewhat more open. The only significant difference from the UK charter debate is the question of PSM governance and regulation, which is seldom raised in the Nordic region. The turmoil surrounding the BBC Board and Trust is viewed from afar with some astonishment. 

The opinion of those in favour of radical reform can be grouped under the following three main headings:

  1. The whole raison d'être of PSM, especially its size and remit, should be reconsidered in the light of the increasing diversity of media market – both on the supply and demand side. 
  2. The traditional universality in PSM programming harks back to the days of national media monopolies. PSM should focus on content areas not catered for by the ‘free market”.
  3. Flat rate – and compulsory – licence fee funding has become an anachronism in a media market characterized by individual, on-demand use. The licence fee should be replaced by some form of subscription, perhaps in combination with revenue from taxation. 

Although these elements of reform have been debated for years, they are now being presented with renewed strength as unavoidable consequences of the evolving digital, multi-media environment. This gives their supporters – both in the UK and in the Nordic countries - the advantage of a proactive image. By contrast, the supporters of PSM institutions lack the rhetorical strength of being on the offensive. They might be right in arguing that the societal role of PSM in a digital environment is more important than ever, and that the speed of change in media habits and user behaviour is somewhat exaggerated. From a communicative point of view, however, such a defensive stance is not hugely convincing at a time when everybody seems to be experiencing the winds of change. 

While there are numerous similarities between the British and the Nordic debate on PSM, then, there are also significant differences. The most obvious relates to population - market size and the role of PSM in promoting or defending cultural identities. Compared with the UK, the Nordic countries are small, with populations of between 5 and 8 million each (in the case of Iceland only 300,000). The role ascribed to the BBC of ‘Bringing the UK to the world’ is reversed in the mission of the Nordic PSMs. One of their main tasks is to sustain national cultural identities and languages at home in the face of competition from a very open international media market. Nordic viewers are “exposed” to a great deal of international content, both on a limited number of channels from domestic broadcasters and from numerous non-domestic channels and platforms. Furthermore, most major independent production companies in each of the Nordic countries are affiliates of global players. For this reason, national PSM companies are widely regarded as an indispensable part of a national, cultural ‘defence’ system with roots in a special Nordic tradition of adult education. 

This defence of cultural identity goes a long way to explaining why the political climate vis a vis Nordic PSM institutions is more favourable than in the UK. Most PSM agreements with Nordic governments (similar to the BBC charter) build on broad alliances extending beyond the governing coalition in power. Furthermore, the political cultures in the Nordic region with their multi-party systems and a tradition of coalition governments have certain corporatist traits. During election campaigns, political parties may choose to differentiate themselves in their media policy by suggesting radical interventions. Nevertheless, even they want to be part of a broad political consensus. Parties in opposition are usually willing to make the necessary compromises to influence solutions that may outlive the next change of government.

On balance, it is fair to say that there are more similarities than differences between the UK and the Nordic countries when it comes to PSM models and the reform debate - more so than just about any other region in the world. The initial scepticism, expressed above concerning the BBC being “the mother of all public broadcasters” is based on the fact that very few countries outside north-western Europe have PSM institutions and a culture of PSM governance that are similar to the BBC. The letter of the law and the regulatory mechanisms might be inspired by – or even copied from - the British system. The underlying reality, however, is usually very different. Put very simply, PSM systems outside north-western Europe are generally characterised by at least one or more of the following four traits: low market share /reach; a program schedule that focuses more on entertainment than on information and education; lack of trust in news coverage because of tight government control and chronic political intervention; insufficient funding. 

What accounts for this regional difference in PSM systems? Why is the North Western region of Europe so special? Geographical proximity does not provide the answer. Neither do similarities in economic and market conditions in the media sector. We have to understand media systems and the way PSM is handled in a broad societal context rather than that of a media market. The most plausible explanation for the similarities between PSM in North Western Europe is that Public Service Broadcasting here was developed as an integral part of the collectively financed welfare societies of the industrial era. Until recently, it has been synonymous with ‘mass-media’, delivering the same content at exactly the same time to all citizens, funded collectively by the licence fee. 

This postulated link between media and its societal foundations doesn’t just explain the strength of PSMs in North Western Europe thus far. In coming years it will also become a formidable challenge to Public Service Media. We are currently witnessing a gradual shift from the collective mass culture of industrial society towards a more individualized knowledge society. There is a concomitant shift from ‘citizens in a society’ to ‘individual consumers in a market’. This runs parallel to a shift in the way media content is distributed; from mainstream broadcasting to multi-platform, on-demand delivery catering to individual interests and needs.

Some will welcome this shift and see it as liberation from the hegemony of a century of collective state-controlled media. Others will see PSM as one of the few bulwarks capable of sustaining national culture and enhancing social and cultural cohesion in a globalized, trans-national world.

On the face of it, the British charter renewal process and its close parallels in the Nordic countries are merely dealing with questions of the future of Public Service Media seen as part of a media market. Further down the road, matters will not be that simple. Answers cannot be found within the usual framework of PSM and its media environment. The scope is far broader, requiring reflection on the core values of our cultures and the kind of societies we want our grandchildren to be part of.

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Sideboxes Related stories:  The BBC and its poetry Britain’s creative kickstarter: the BBC Red alert for the BBC: a response to Enders Analysis Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
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The stench of hypocrisy: a migrant's story

Open Democracy News Analysis - 28. Août 2015 - 13:20

I have been a migrant. I have lived, legally and illegally, in nine different countries. In 1993, I first tried to escape Romania.

Craiova, Romania. Flickr/Marcel Ionescu. All rights reserved.I have been a migrant. I have lived, legally and illegally, in nine different countries. In 1993 I was trying to escape Romania. I was studying engineering at that time in Craiova. Being a Roma in Romania in 1993 was not easy: we faced pogroms and strident anti-Gypsyism. But that was just one of the reasons. I was also trying to escape from the huge rats I saw every evening, the garbage and dirt of the city, the political instability, my violent and alcoholic father, and the uncertainty of the future.

I had a visa for Germany. Germany being notorious for its “love” of Roma (at that time neo-Nazis in Germany were attacking migrant camps with molotov cocktails), the UK seemed a better option. Because my father worked for the Romanian railways, I could get a free return ticket each year to any place in Europe. I decided to try to cross to the UK from Oostende, in Belgium. I had heard that some Romanians managed to do that.

I reached Oostende late in the evening. Compared to Romania, Belgium looked like a fairy-tale. Even the railway station was amazing. Clean and beautiful buildings, people dressed up elegantly, expensive cars and luxurious restaurants. I waited in the railway station for night to come. A barbed wire fence separated the station from the ferry dock. I planned to jump over during the night and to climb into one of the many trucks that were lined up for the ferry to the UK.

I watched the railway station cleaners with envy. They were dressed in clean name-brand sport clothes. They seemed happy and their job looked easy. They fed me – I must have looked completely destitute. That was the first time I ate falafel. Two Moroccans, one Tunisian, and one Libyan. When they left, they bought me a can of Fanta and tried to give me some money, but I refused.

I did not manage to cross that night. Cold, dogs and nasty truck drivers were too big obstacles for me. I returned to Romania. Over the next year, the friendship of a group of Palestinian students in Romania helped me to survive. I tutored them. One of them, Suheil, was always there for me. He often bought food for me and he shared whatever he received from home with me. He eventually married a really nice Romanian girl. Many people treated her as a whore for loving a Palestinian - one of the kindest people I knew. I used to joke with her that she would have been treated better if she was Roma.

Eventually I succeeded in leaving Romania and spent many years abroad. But I moved back to Romania and have been back for many years now. During the last decade, I often worked with refugees and migrants. I spent time in refugee camps. Not just visited them, but actually spent time there. There is a specific smell to a refugee camp. When it’s hot, the smell is a mix of rotten garbage and sweat; when it’s cold and humid, it smells of smoke and dirty damp clothes. Smells I also grew up with.

I’ve seen hundreds of thousands of people living in refugee camps, slums, shacks. Syrians in Lebanon; Serbs and Roma from Kosovo in Macedonia and Montenegro; Africans, Bangladeshis, Bosnians and Roma in Italy; Iraqis, Syrians and Kurds in Turkey; Rohingyas in Thailand. Slums in India, Cambodia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and ghettoes in Eastern and Western Europe.

Since this year started, 137,000 people have already crossed the Mediterranean Sea. It is very probable that more than 4,000 have died trying to cross. A good part of those are children. Desperate people trying to run away from conflicts and abject poverty.

In June this year I took part in a high-level discussion at the Romanian Presidency that touched on the “refugee crisis”. The President’s Councillor was adamant that Romania should refuse any quota for refugees as they would be a “danger for Romanian society”.

Political elites across Europe voice similar positions. It stinks thousands of times worse than the most awful and crowded camps. It stinks of indifference, cowardice and hypocrisy.

The majority of the refugees are children: children who had the bad luck to be born outside of the walls of Fortress Europe. At the moment, these children get more help from those radical groups we (rightly) despise than from us: the kind, generous, civilized Europeans. We simply build bigger and better walls, while lamenting about the “criminals” that bring these children to our borders.

We seem to forget that it was us, the Europeans, who created the migrant-sending states on the principle of Divide and Rule, throwing together people with a history of hatred for each other in the same nations. We supported insane despots, played the role of masters in a disgusting Game of Thrones, sold weapons, including chemical ones, and did whatever we could to maintain the flow of cheap oil and whatever other goods we needed to be comfortable. We had no regard for the consequences of these decisions in the countries we created.

Conferences and speeches at luxurious receptions will not solve much. The European approach seems to consist of talking about courage and preaching about what others should do. This is not courage – it is sociopathy.

There are tens of millions of Europeans who could easily host and help a family of refugees in their homes. I am ready to host a family. I am not rich, but I will not become poor by doing this.

More than 3.4 million Europeans have savings of over 1,000,000 EUR. There are also tens of thousands, if not more, businesses that could adopt a family. Tens of thousands of NGOs, charities and churches.  Thousands of intergovernmental organisation bureaucrats who make a good living out of nice words and reports could finally gain some legitimacy by enacting the generous agendas of their institutions.

We can help. We can help enough to solve most of the problems. We could show that we are indeed a moral Europe, that we care and that our words about human rights and the value of democratic societies are not empty ones. At the same time, we would repair our broken relations with the Arab world and get back into the driving seat for making this world a better one.

It will require courage. It will not be simple. Politicians will need to make it easier for us to “adopt” these families. They will need to become serious about solving the root causes of the conflicts in these countries. But it would be worth it. Surely, if nothing else, it would ease the stench of hypocrisy that follows the speeches of most European political elites.

If you enjoyed this article then please consider liking Can Europe Make it? on Facebook and following us on Twitter @oD_Europe

Sideboxes Related stories:  Why Roma migrate No accountability – the case of the Roma social inclusion in Europe Country or region:  Romania Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
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The stench of hypocrisy: a migrant's story

Open Democracy News Analysis - 28. Août 2015 - 13:20

I have been a migrant. I have lived, legally and illegally, in nine different countries. In 1993, I first tried to escape Romania.

Craiova, Romania. Flickr/Marcel Ionescu. All rights reserved.I have been a migrant. I have lived, legally and illegally, in nine different countries. In 1993 I was trying to escape Romania. I was studying engineering at that time in Craiova. Being a Roma in Romania in 1993 was not easy: we faced pogroms and strident anti-Gypsyism. But that was just one of the reasons. I was also trying to escape from the huge rats I saw every evening, the garbage and dirt of the city, the political instability, my violent and alcoholic father, and the uncertainty of the future.

I had a visa for Germany. Germany being notorious for its “love” of Roma (at that time neo-Nazis in Germany were attacking migrant camps with molotov cocktails), the UK seemed a better option. Because my father worked for the Romanian railways, I could get a free return ticket each year to any place in Europe. I decided to try to cross to the UK from Oostende, in Belgium. I had heard that some Romanians managed to do that.

I reached Oostende late in the evening. Compared to Romania, Belgium looked like a fairy-tale. Even the railway station was amazing. Clean and beautiful buildings, people dressed up elegantly, expensive cars and luxurious restaurants. I waited in the railway station for night to come. A barbed wire fence separated the station from the ferry dock. I planned to jump over during the night and to climb into one of the many trucks that were lined up for the ferry to the UK.

I watched the railway station cleaners with envy. They were dressed in clean name-brand sport clothes. They seemed happy and their job looked easy. They fed me – I must have looked completely destitute. That was the first time I ate falafel. Two Moroccans, one Tunisian, and one Libyan. When they left, they bought me a can of Fanta and tried to give me some money, but I refused.

I did not manage to cross that night. Cold, dogs and nasty truck drivers were too big obstacles for me. I returned to Romania. Over the next year, the friendship of a group of Palestinian students in Romania helped me to survive. I tutored them. One of them, Suheil, was always there for me. He often bought food for me and he shared whatever he received from home with me. He eventually married a really nice Romanian girl. Many people treated her as a whore for loving a Palestinian - one of the kindest people I knew. I used to joke with her that she would have been treated better if she was Roma.

Eventually I succeeded in leaving Romania and spent many years abroad. But I moved back to Romania and have been back for many years now. During the last decade, I often worked with refugees and migrants. I spent time in refugee camps. Not just visited them, but actually spent time there. There is a specific smell to a refugee camp. When it’s hot, the smell is a mix of rotten garbage and sweat; when it’s cold and humid, it smells of smoke and dirty damp clothes. Smells I also grew up with.

I’ve seen hundreds of thousands of people living in refugee camps, slums, shacks. Syrians in Lebanon; Serbs and Roma from Kosovo in Macedonia and Montenegro; Africans, Bangladeshis, Bosnians and Roma in Italy; Iraqis, Syrians and Kurds in Turkey; Rohingyas in Thailand. Slums in India, Cambodia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and ghettoes in Eastern and Western Europe.

Since this year started, 137,000 people have already crossed the Mediterranean Sea. It is very probable that more than 4,000 have died trying to cross. A good part of those are children. Desperate people trying to run away from conflicts and abject poverty.

In June this year I took part in a high-level discussion at the Romanian Presidency that touched on the “refugee crisis”. The President’s Councillor was adamant that Romania should refuse any quota for refugees as they would be a “danger for Romanian society”.

Political elites across Europe voice similar positions. It stinks thousands of times worse than the most awful and crowded camps. It stinks of indifference, cowardice and hypocrisy.

The majority of the refugees are children: children who had the bad luck to be born outside of the walls of Fortress Europe. At the moment, these children get more help from those radical groups we (rightly) despise than from us: the kind, generous, civilized Europeans. We simply build bigger and better walls, while lamenting about the “criminals” that bring these children to our borders.

We seem to forget that it was us, the Europeans, who created the migrant-sending states on the principle of Divide and Rule, throwing together people with a history of hatred for each other in the same nations. We supported insane despots, played the role of masters in a disgusting Game of Thrones, sold weapons, including chemical ones, and did whatever we could to maintain the flow of cheap oil and whatever other goods we needed to be comfortable. We had no regard for the consequences of these decisions in the countries we created.

Conferences and speeches at luxurious receptions will not solve much. The European approach seems to consist of talking about courage and preaching about what others should do. This is not courage – it is sociopathy.

There are tens of millions of Europeans who could easily host and help a family of refugees in their homes. I am ready to host a family. I am not rich, but I will not become poor by doing this.

More than 3.4 million Europeans have savings of over 1,000,000 EUR. There are also tens of thousands, if not more, businesses that could adopt a family. Tens of thousands of NGOs, charities and churches.  Thousands of intergovernmental organisation bureaucrats who make a good living out of nice words and reports could finally gain some legitimacy by enacting the generous agendas of their institutions.

We can help. We can help enough to solve most of the problems. We could show that we are indeed a moral Europe, that we care and that our words about human rights and the value of democratic societies are empty. At the same time, we would repair our broken relations with the Arab world and get back into the driving seat for making this world a better one.

It will require courage. It will not be simple. Politicians will need to make it easier for us to “adopt” these families. They will need to become serious about solving the root causes of the conflicts in these countries. But it would be worth it. Surely, if nothing else, it would ease the stench of hypocrisy that follows the speeches of most European political elites.

If you enjoyed this article then please consider liking Can Europe Make it? on Facebook and following us on Twitter @oD_Europe

Sideboxes Related stories:  Why Roma migrate No accountability – the case of the Roma social inclusion in Europe Country or region:  Romania Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Catégories: les flux rss

Brazil´s Worker´s Party narrative: lost in the neoliberal labyrinth

Open Democracy News Analysis - 28. Août 2015 - 9:19

Since 2014, Dilma Roussef’s government has adopted a strategy of polarisation between “left” and “right”. Nevertheless, there is a huge gap between the administration’s “progressive” rhetoric and its neoliberal policies. Español. Português.

Protests in Sao Paulo, Brazil, March 2015. Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Towards the end of 2008, the up market Galería Oeste in São Paulo was selling plush teddies of Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva for US$20,000. The presidential effigy had become a fashionable lucky mascot. You could love it or hate it. You could mistreat it with feigned contempt but never lose respect for it. Artist Raul Mourão’s “Lula Teddy” project highlighted the president’s main achievement, namely to unify emotionally one of the world’s most unequal countries. Before Lula, the only unifying factor among Brazilians, at any rate according to the sardonic wisdom of bar chat, was the singer Chico Buarque. A few years after the PT (Worker's Party) landed in government, unanimity had become Lula: the homespun president who managed to please and compensate both rich and poor alike. Despite corruption cases such as the vote-buying Mensalão scandal, only 11% of Brazilians thought, back in 2008, that the president’s administration was bad. Lula was an icon, an almost untouchable myth. "He was a perfect product of mass marketing", Raul Mourão said at the time.

Seven years later, the Lula Teddy has transmuted into a huge inflatable doll in prison garb paraded in demonstrations calling for Dilma Roussef ’s impeachment. On August 16, an enormous doll bearing the number 13-171 presided over a demonstration in Brasilia: 13 being the PT’s number in the electronic voting system and 171 the article of the penal code dealing with racketeering. The latter number is also slang for someone who is not to be trusted. From a lucky mascot to a satirical dummy.

Lula, who a few months ago was in the running as a candidate in the 2018 presidential election, is not unaffected by the PT’s collapse in support. He too is in the spotlight for his suspected activities as an international lobbyist on behalf of the construction giant Odebrecht which is currently mired in a corruption scandal. According to a recent opinion poll, Lula would lose the election against any of three possible candidates of the conservative PSDB (Brazilian Social Democratic Party) - Aécio Neves, Geraldo Alckmin and José Serra. Dilma Roussef’s situation is unprecedented: her approval rating is barely 8%. How are we to explain the collapse of the PT which, in alliance with the PMDB (Brazilian Democratic Movement Party), won the elections in October 2014?

The economic crisis and the Petrobras and Oderbrecht corruption cases (both involving the PT and the government) partly explain Dilma’s unpopularity. Large-scale events - the World Cup and the Olympics - whose legacy is doubtful and that favour the establishment at the expense of the public – partly account for the decline. But there is more, much more. Congress, chaired by evangelist Eduardo Cunha (PMDB), has become almost ungovernable. Cunha has gone from being a faithful ally of the PT to a declared enemy manoeuvring on behalf of conservative causes. Although he has just been denounced for corruption and may fall soon, Cunha has Congress in his pocket.  Some member parties of the PT alliance have broken away. The Marxist Left (which founded the PT) has also separated. Traditional peoples’ movements are now criticising Dilma, although they continue to side with her in demonstrations. The disaffected groups who took to the streets in June are hardly involved in the protests either for or against that are currently taking place. Meanwhile, the conservative, neoliberal roller-coaster rumbles on in Congress.

And Dilma is embracing the neoliberal Agenda Brasil, which is examining partial charging for public health care and the idea of redefining native reserves as “productive land”. An anti-terrorist law has been passed that can lead to protesters and “netizens” being imprisoned. Labour rights have been cut in the name of austerity. LGBT programs have been halted.

How has the self-proclaimed "country of the future” come to this pass? How has a party like the PT handed the political agenda to the right?

A consensual dichotomy

Some analysts are talking about the “venezuelization” of Brazil as a way of describing the current political polarisation. At first sight, the narrative of powerful media, conservative opposition and the PT itself reinforces the polarization thesis. On the one hand, people wrapped in Brazilian flags take to the streets shouting #VemPraRua and demanding Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment; on the other hand, unions, the social movements and leftwing citizens demonstrate against the impeachment, as they did on August 20. Nevertheless, the reality is infinitely more complex yet simpler.

Polarisation is a skilfully crafted narrative construction. The great consensual dichotomy, the return to left-right antagonism, to the people-elite, is the PT’s last shot. It is a useful political fiction fed by both the right and the PT. Despite Dilma’s conservative drift, the right keeps on broadcasting the story that the PT is planning to stage “a Communist coup”. The PT identifies as “putschist” or “neoliberal” anyone opposing its government, and describes everyone taking to the streets against Dilma as "coxinha" (slang for "posh"), "undemocratic" or “fascist.

As the two sides of the same coin clash, the system survives. And while the consensual dichotomy, ironically termed fla-flu (referring to a soccer match between Flamengo and Fluminense), is exacerbated, any hint of a third way dies before birth (much as Marina Silva’s odds at the last elections). The word that best defines the PT in its 2015 version is governismo (governism). Anthropologist Salvador Schavelzon defines governism as "a kind of cynical reasoning that fails to recognise nuances and acknowledge criticism or dissent and tends to associate any kind of dissent with the right and with neoliberalism. Governism diluted the outraged masses that took to the streets in 2013 for many different reasons, and constructed polarised masses with concrete guidelines and centralised organisations. Governism has replaced the ideology that built the PT from below and to the left. Governism fuels the consensual dichotomy that divides the people of Brazil and paralyses its politics.

And here we come to the first great paradox: the PT is now voicing the same aggressive narrative that brought Lula electoral defeat up to 2002. Both Lula and Dilma won the presidency by softening their leftist image. The marketing wizard Duda Mendonça transformed a trade-unionist into a tie-wearing conciliator who smiled to the tune of Lulinha, paz e amor. Dilma won the elections in 2010 with the cosmeticized image of the Granma Who Is No Longer A Guerrilla, and appealing to God in her campaign. Marketing disguised the reality and altered it at the same time. And now, when Dilma y Lula have been transformed into the decaffeinated, capitalist-friendly image that marketing designed, the PT falls back on the leftist narrative of its prehistoric past. The problem is that, like the marketing that produced Lulinha, paz e amor, this progressive narrative which invokes the class struggle and the periphery, is partly false. The PT narrative, in Dilma’s neoliberal labyrinth, is quite plainly fake. Dilma’s politics are almost diametrically opposed to the left. Giuseppe Cocco, sociology professor at the Universidad Federal de Río de Janeiro (UFRJ), states bluntly that the PT is the worst kind of right, “neocolonial and corrupt”. The austerity measures imposed by Economy Minister Joaquim Levy are no different to the prescriptions of the Troika.

Meanwhile, governism strives to find rightist elements in the pro-impeachment protests: pictures of demonstrators asking for a military coup or the death of Dilma. And in so doing it stigmatises as undemocratic coxinhas the hundreds of thousands who flocked to the streets against Dilma. At the same time, it embellishes its own narrative. One of the slogans chanted at the August 20 demonstration organised by popular movements against Dilma’s impeachment, was Não Vai Ter Golpe (There Will Not Be A Coup). Não Vai Ter Golpe, Não passarão (They Shall Not Pass), and América Latina antiimperialista (Anti-imperialist Latin America). At the same time, without any guilt complex, Dilma unfolds the red carpet in Brasilia for Angela Merkel and German capitalism.

Reality is more complex and simpler at the same time. A study by researchers Pablo Ortellado, Esther Solano and Lucia Nader on the August 16 demonstration in São Paulo has had a powerful impact. Based on street interviews, the study reveals that the demonstrations calling for the impeachment of Dilma, which were organised by conservative groups like the Movement Free Brazil (Movimento Brasil Livre - MPL), Revolted Online (Revoltados Online) and ComeToTheStreet (VemPraRua) was in fact more anti-systemic than anti-PT. The protests were not specifically right-wing. Politicians and conservative parties, such as the PSDB, were not spared. And here is the big surprise: a large majority of the demonstrators were in favour of public education (98%) and universal health care (97%), as opposed to the organisers. "They call for some policies that are to the left of Dilma," says Paul Ortellado.

Despite a certain amount of schizophrenia and political confusion – demonstrators also wanted harsher punishment for crimes, it is fair to say that a part of the June 2013 unrest was the work of conservative groups, and was aimed at Dilma. Governism has placed street protest in the hands of the right. And the mass media are making hay with it. A large portion of the left, as anthropologist Rosana Pinheiro-Machado maintains, is still taken by the emotional blackmail that defines criticism of the PT is “a gift to the right”. And governism keeps on flaunting the spectre of a coup. “What are the odds of a coup occurring – asks social scientist Marcelo Castañeda –  if the government enjoys the support of the PMDB, of media monopolist Rede Globo and the main private companies in the country? If there has been a coup, it was the PT’s, especially from June 2013, when it killed off the possibility of building leftwing alternatives by instigating repression instead of dialogue”. 

The June vacuum

According to philosopher Marcos Nobre, the events of June 2013 signified a revolt against what he calls pemedebismo. It is precisely the alliance between the PT and the PMDB, concealed for public consumption by PT marketing, that define the limits of Lulism, of June 2013, and of any possibility of change. Lula governed by embracing a vale tudo (everything goes) attitude, signing territorial agreements with colonels, landed elites, multinational soya producers, and heirs of the dictatorship. And especially with the PMDB. It is no coincidence that Katia Abreu, a soya entrepreneur, is Dilma’s Agriculture Minister.

Elsewhere, in 2008, Lula strengthened his alliance with Sérgio Cabral (then governor of Río de Janeiro State) and Eduardo Pães (mayor of Río de Janeiro), both of the PMDB, and both defenders of milicianos (paramilitaries). The pemedebismo block handed over the Río Olympics to Oderbrecht and other major corporations. And it reinforced governism as the sole modus operandi in Brasilia. This PT-PMDB alliance, in Giuseppe Cocco’s words, “destroys the struggle of the street sweepers in Río, generates slave labour in the Olympic construction sites, and cares more about the interests of multinational telecommunications and automotive companies than about workers’ rights”. Journalist Raúl Zibechi also denounces the Brazilian government's inability to understand the demands of June 2013, "the need to go beyond inclusion through consumption, to the obtainment of full rights." The PT, which is now Brazil’s most despised party, prefers to fabricate an antagonistic fable in which Eduardo Cunha, who a few months ago was pictured shaking hands with Dilma, appears as the conservative devil, and "the conservative wave", which mostly coincides with the policies of the PT, is to blame for all the problems.

At the 2014 elections, when the consensual dichotomy between Dilma Rousseff and Aécio Neves was given its final touches, a meme began circulating of a sole candidate, Dilma Aécio, with a face melded from both candidates. Some activists ironically referred to the PTSDB as the great unity party. It is no coincidence that some members of the PT are now demanding a great non partisan agreement and that the president of Itau Bank should support Dilma. The first months of Dilma’s government prove that there would be hardly any difference between a PT and a PSDB government. There would just be a few symbolic variances, but no radically different narrative. Salvador Schavelzon, in El fin del relato progresista (The end of the progressive narrative), opens fire against the governments of the “Latin American left”, that espouse "the ideology of consumption, consensus development, exploitation of natural resources, and the political agenda of the religious sectors…”. If we add corruption to this withered narrative of progressive politics, a feature that the right has managed to turn into a legacy of the left, the symbolic downfall will be complete, thus opening the possibility of a new neocon cycle in the region.

This is why the Brazilian left, which criticises the government while abandoning the streets and calling for demonstrations against impeachment, faces a dual challenge. On the one hand, it needs to organise a popular front, with and without the PT, which will appeal to grassroots movements but also to the indignados who support progressive policies while participating in demonstrations organised by the right, a front capable of building a viable alternative paradigm of government without governism. On the other hand, the left must generate a counter-narrative to Dilma’s (admittedly unlikely) fall, or to the PT’s (very likely) defeat at the 2018 elections. The opposition will explain that defeat by associating the left with corruption and the disaster of Lulism. It does not matter that Dilma has been practicing the most rampant variety of neoliberalism. Never mind that the PT has not dealt in the last 12 years with issues such as abortion or land reform. Opponents will sell the PT’s fall as proof of the impracticality of “utopias”, of progressive politics and of the idea of social equality.

In 2015 there is no room for coveted presidential teddies. Nor is there room for the #TodosConChicoBuarque (#AllWithChicoBuarque) block. Many will cease listening to his music, on the grounds that he is a Communist. The only national consensus will be the artificial one of government without the people, so as to ensure that the system survives and that nothing changes. This is why the left and/or disaffected progressive citizens should confront Dilma’s political demise by constructing an alternative narrative: that of yet another Latin American president who fell or lost because she sold out to neoliberalism and to multinational corporations. Dilma would then be to Brazil what Fernando de la Rúa was to Argentina or Lucio Gutiérrez to Ecuador: a president who betrayed her principles. In this way, the downfall of the PT would at least serve as a means of safeguarding the ideals on which it was founded.

Country or region:  Brazil Topics:  Civil society Democracy and government Equality Ideas International politics Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
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Brazil´s worker´s party narrative: lost in the neoliberal labyrinth

Open Democracy News Analysis - 28. Août 2015 - 9:19

Since 2014, Dilma Roussef’s government has adopted a strategy of polarisation between “left” and “right”. Nevertheless, there is a huge gap between the administration’s “progressive” rhetoric and its neoliberal policies. Español. Português.

Protests in Sao Paulo, Brazil, March 2015. Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Towards the end of 2008, the up market Galería Oeste in São Paulo was selling plush teddies of Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva for US$20,000. The presidential effigy had become a fashionable lucky mascot. You could love it or hate it. You could mistreat it with feigned contempt but never lose respect for it. Artist Raul Mourão’s “Lula Teddy” project highlighted the president’s main achievement, namely to unify emotionally one of the world’s most unequal countries. Before Lula, the only unifying factor among Brazilians, at any rate according to the sardonic wisdom of bar chat, was the singer Chico Buarque. A few years after the PT (Worker's Party) landed in government, unanimity had become Lula: the homespun president who managed to please and compensate both rich and poor alike. Despite corruption cases such as the vote-buying Mensalão scandal, only 11% of Brazilians thought, back in 2008, that the president’s administration was bad. Lula was an icon, an almost untouchable myth. "He was a perfect product of mass marketing", Raul Mourão said at the time.

Seven years later, the Lula Teddy has transmuted into a huge inflatable doll in prison garb paraded in demonstrations calling for Dilma Roussef ’s impeachment. On August 16, an enormous doll bearing the number 13-171 presided over a demonstration in Brasilia: 13 being the PT’s number in the electronic voting system and 171 the article of the penal code dealing with racketeering. The latter number is also slang for someone who is not to be trusted. From a lucky mascot to a satirical dummy.

Lula, who a few months ago was in the running as a candidate in the 2018 presidential election, is not unaffected by the PT’s collapse in support. He too is in the spotlight for his suspected activities as an international lobbyist on behalf of the construction giant Odebrecht which is currently mired in a corruption scandal. According to a recent opinion poll, Lula would lose the election against any of three possible candidates of the conservative PSDB (Brazilian Social Democratic Party) - Aécio Neves, Geraldo Alckmin and José Serra. Dilma Roussef’s situation is unprecedented: her approval rating is barely 8%. How are we to explain the collapse of the PT which, in alliance with the PMDB (Brazilian Democratic Movement Party), won the elections in October 2014?

The economic crisis and the Petrobras and Oderbrecht corruption cases (both involving the PT and the government) partly explain Dilma’s unpopularity. Large-scale events - the World Cup and the Olympics - whose legacy is doubtful and that favour the establishment at the expense of the public – partly account for the decline. But there is more, much more. Congress, chaired by evangelist Eduardo Cunha (PMDB), has become almost ungovernable. Cunha has gone from being a faithful ally of the PT to a declared enemy manoeuvring on behalf of conservative causes. Although he has just been denounced for corruption and may fall soon, Cunha has Congress in his pocket.  Some member parties of the PT alliance have broken away. The Marxist Left (which founded the PT) has also separated. Traditional peoples’ movements are now criticising Dilma, although they continue to side with her in demonstrations. The disaffected groups who took to the streets in June are hardly involved in the protests either for or against that are currently taking place. Meanwhile, the conservative, neoliberal roller-coaster rumbles on in Congress.

And Dilma is embracing the neoliberal Agenda Brasil, which is examining partial charging for public health care and the idea of redefining native reserves as “productive land”. An anti-terrorist law has been passed that can lead to protesters and “netizens” being imprisoned. Labour rights have been cut in the name of austerity. LGBT programs have been halted.

How has the self-proclaimed "country of the future” come to this pass? How has a party like the PT handed the political agenda to the right?

A consensual dichotomy

Some analysts are talking about the “venezuelization” of Brazil as a way of describing the current political polarisation. At first sight, the narrative of powerful media, conservative opposition and the PT itself reinforces the polarization thesis. On the one hand, people wrapped in Brazilian flags take to the streets shouting #VemPraRua and demanding Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment; on the other hand, unions, the social movements and leftwing citizens demonstrate against the impeachment, as they did on August 20. Nevertheless, the reality is infinitely more complex yet simpler.

Polarisation is a skilfully crafted narrative construction. The great consensual dichotomy, the return to left-right antagonism, to the people-elite, is the PT’s last shot. It is a useful political fiction fed by both the right and the PT. Despite Dilma’s conservative drift, the right keeps on broadcasting the story that the PT is planning to stage “a Communist coup”. The PT identifies as “putschist” or “neoliberal” anyone opposing its government, and describes everyone taking to the streets against Dilma as "coxinha" (slang for "posh"), "undemocratic" or “fascist.

As the two sides of the same coin clash, the system survives. And while the consensual dichotomy, ironically termed fla-flu (referring to a soccer match between Flamengo and Fluminense), is exacerbated, any hint of a third way dies before birth (much as Marina Silva’s odds at the last elections). The word that best defines the PT in its 2015 version is governismo (governism). Anthropologist Salvador Schavelzon defines governism as "a kind of cynical reasoning that fails to recognise nuances and acknowledge criticism or dissent and tends to associate any kind of dissent with the right and with neoliberalism. Governism diluted the outraged masses that took to the streets in 2013 for many different reasons, and constructed polarised masses with concrete guidelines and centralised organisations. Governism has replaced the ideology that built the PT from below and to the left. Governism fuels the consensual dichotomy that divides the people of Brazil and paralyses its politics.

And here we come to the first great paradox: the PT is now voicing the same aggressive narrative that brought Lula electoral defeat up to 2002. Both Lula and Dilma won the presidency by softening their leftist image. The marketing wizard Duda Mendonça transformed a trade-unionist into a tie-wearing conciliator who smiled to the tune of Lulinha, paz e amor. Dilma won the elections in 2010 with the cosmeticized image of the Granma Who Is No Longer A Guerrilla, and appealing to God in her campaign. Marketing disguised the reality and altered it at the same time. And now, when Dilma y Lula have been transformed into the decaffeinated, capitalist-friendly image that marketing designed, the PT falls back on the leftist narrative of its prehistoric past. The problem is that, like the marketing that produced Lulinha, paz e amor, this progressive narrative which invokes the class struggle and the periphery, is partly false. The PT narrative, in Dilma’s neoliberal labyrinth, is quite plainly fake. Dilma’s politics are almost diametrically opposed to the left. Giuseppe Cocco, sociology professor at the Universidad Federal de Río de Janeiro (UFRJ), states bluntly that the PT is the worst kind of right, “neocolonial and corrupt”. The austerity measures imposed by Economy Minister Joaquim Levy are no different to the prescriptions of the Troika.

Meanwhile, governism strives to find rightist elements in the pro-impeachment protests: pictures of demonstrators asking for a military coup or the death of Dilma. And in so doing it stigmatises as undemocratic coxinhas the hundreds of thousands who flocked to the streets against Dilma. At the same time, it embellishes its own narrative. One of the slogans chanted at the August 20 demonstration organised by popular movements against Dilma’s impeachment, was Não Vai Ter Golpe (There Will Not Be A Coup). Não Vai Ter Golpe, Não passarão (They Shall Not Pass), and América Latina antiimperialista (Anti-imperialist Latin America). At the same time, without any guilt complex, Dilma unfolds the red carpet in Brasilia for Angela Merkel and German capitalism.

Reality is more complex and simpler at the same time. A study by researchers Pablo Ortellado, Esther Solano and Lucia Nader on the August 16 demonstration in São Paulo has had a powerful impact. Based on street interviews, the study reveals that the demonstrations calling for the impeachment of Dilma, which were organised by conservative groups like the Movement Free Brazil (Movimento Brasil Livre - MPL), Revolted Online (Revoltados Online) and ComeToTheStreet (VemPraRua) was in fact more anti-systemic than anti-PT. The protests were not specifically right-wing. Politicians and conservative parties, such as the PSDB, were not spared. And here is the big surprise: a large majority of the demonstrators were in favour of public education (98%) and universal health care (97%), as opposed to the organisers. "They call for some policies that are to the left of Dilma," says Paul Ortellado.

Despite a certain amount of schizophrenia and political confusion – demonstrators also wanted harsher punishment for crimes, it is fair to say that a part of the June 2013 unrest was the work of conservative groups, and was aimed at Dilma. Governism has placed street protest in the hands of the right. And the mass media are making hay with it. A large portion of the left, as anthropologist Rosana Pinheiro-Machado maintains, is still taken by the emotional blackmail that defines criticism of the PT is “a gift to the right”. And governism keeps on flaunting the spectre of a coup. “What are the odds of a coup occurring – asks social scientist Marcelo Castañeda –  if the government enjoys the support of the PMDB, of media monopolist Rede Globo and the main private companies in the country? If there has been a coup, it was the PT’s, especially from June 2013, when it killed off the possibility of building leftwing alternatives by instigating repression instead of dialogue”. 

The June vacuum

According to philosopher Marcos Nobre, the events of June 2013 signified a revolt against what he calls pemedebismo. It is precisely the alliance between the PT and the PMDB, concealed for public consumption by PT marketing, that define the limits of Lulism, of June 2013, and of any possibility of change. Lula governed by embracing a vale tudo (everything goes) attitude, signing territorial agreements with colonels, landed elites, multinational soya producers, and heirs of the dictatorship. And especially with the PMDB. It is no coincidence that Katia Abreu, a soya entrepreneur, is Dilma’s Agriculture Minister.

Elsewhere, in 2008, Lula strengthened his alliance with Sérgio Cabral (then governor of Río de Janeiro State) and Eduardo Pães (mayor of Río de Janeiro), both of the PMDB, and both defenders of milicianos (paramilitaries). The pemedebismo block handed over the Río Olympics to Oderbrecht and other major corporations. And it reinforced governism as the sole modus operandi in Brasilia. This PT-PMDB alliance, in Giuseppe Cocco’s words, “destroys the struggle of the street sweepers in Río, generates slave labour in the Olympic construction sites, and cares more about the interests of multinational telecommunications and automotive companies than about workers’ rights”. Journalist Raúl Zibechi also denounces the Brazilian government's inability to understand the demands of June 2013, "the need to go beyond inclusion through consumption, to the obtainment of full rights." The PT, which is now Brazil’s most despised party, prefers to fabricate an antagonistic fable in which Eduardo Cunha, who a few months ago was pictured shaking hands with Dilma, appears as the conservative devil, and "the conservative wave", which mostly coincides with the policies of the PT, is to blame for all the problems.

At the 2014 elections, when the consensual dichotomy between Dilma Rousseff and Aécio Neves was given its final touches, a meme began circulating of a sole candidate, Dilma Aécio, with a face melded from both candidates. Some activists ironically referred to the PTSDB as the great unity party. It is no coincidence that some members of the PT are now demanding a great non partisan agreement and that the president of Itau Bank should support Dilma. The first months of Dilma’s government prove that there would be hardly any difference between a PT and a PSDB government. There would just be a few symbolic variances, but no radically different narrative. Salvador Schavelzon, in El fin del relato progresista (The end of the progressive narrative), opens fire against the governments of the “Latin American left”, that espouse "the ideology of consumption, consensus development, exploitation of natural resources, and the political agenda of the religious sectors…”. If we add corruption to this withered narrative of progressive politics, a feature that the right has managed to turn into a legacy of the left, the symbolic downfall will be complete, thus opening the possibility of a new neocon cycle in the region.

This is why the Brazilian left, which criticises the government while abandoning the streets and calling for demonstrations against impeachment, faces a dual challenge. On the one hand, it needs to organise a popular front, with and without the PT, which will appeal to grassroots movements but also to the indignados who support progressive policies while participating in demonstrations organised by the right, a front capable of building a viable alternative paradigm of government without governism. On the other hand, the left must generate a counter-narrative to Dilma’s (admittedly unlikely) fall, or to the PT’s (very likely) defeat at the 2018 elections. The opposition will explain that defeat by associating the left with corruption and the disaster of Lulism. It does not matter that Dilma has been practicing the most rampant variety of neoliberalism. Never mind that the PT has not dealt in the last 12 years with issues such as abortion or land reform. Opponents will sell the PT’s fall as proof of the impracticality of “utopias”, of progressive politics and of the idea of social equality.

In 2015 there is no room for coveted presidential teddies. Nor is there room for the #TodosConChicoBuarque (#AllWithChicoBuarque) block. Many will cease listening to his music, on the grounds that he is a Communist. The only national consensus will be the artificial one of government without the people, so as to ensure that the system survives and that nothing changes. This is why the left and/or disaffected progressive citizens should confront Dilma’s political demise by constructing an alternative narrative: that of yet another Latin American president who fell or lost because she sold out to neoliberalism and to multinational corporations. Dilma would then be to Brazil what Fernando de la Rúa was to Argentina or Lucio Gutiérrez to Ecuador: a president who betrayed her principles. In this way, the downfall of the PT would at least serve as a means of safeguarding the ideals on which it was founded.

Country or region:  Brazil Topics:  Civil society Democracy and government Equality Ideas International politics Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
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