From big to small countries: “make democracy work better” in a globalized world?

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From city states in the ancient Greece (the poleis from where the name politics comes) to the Empires in Europe, Asia and America that lasted for many centuries, and then to the Nation States of today, the political entities in our planet seems to have followed cycles of expansion (from small to big size) and reduction (from big again to smaller). We are not back to city states today but if we judge from the trends of fragmentation of nation states around the world it seems that we are not far away from it anymore in some way. Is this breaking up of territories and populations good or bad for democracy? Is it a normal consequence of ending not only of colonialism but also of dictatorships? I tend to believe that small can be good for democracy and development if is not isolated, but on the contrary more interconnected and interdependent with the rest of the world.

From the end of Soviet Union and Yugoslavia a couple of decades ago to the desire of independence and autonomy in many regions of the ex-colonies (Aceh, South Sudan, Kashmir, Kurdistan etc.) or even in our ‘western’ democracies (like next referendum for independence in Scotland) human populations are striving for their self-determination, self-government and self-development. And this seems actually not only rightful for a more free and democratic future but also useful for a better wellbeing of human communities. Besides the “imperial overstretch” (1) and all the problems of managing big territories and populations, it seems clear to many analysts that carrying out economic development of smaller states or even city states (like Singapore, Monaco, Hong Kong or Macau) is easier than thinking to do it in bigger states (look to India, Indonesia or Russia, even if big size doesn’t necessarily mean difficult growth as China show us). So can we say that last century ideas of Leopold Kohr (‘The breakdown of nations’, 1957) Jane Jacobs (‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities’, 1961) E. F. Schumacher (‘Small is beautiful’, 1973) or John Friedman (‘Empowerment: The Politics of Alternative Development’, 1992) are still very much actual and important to build our sustainable economies? Or in reality in the era of globalization small sizes are not adapt anymore and will be wiped out by the big giants? The importance of European integration has been supported in recent years also because of this concept that alone no European state could compete with the big countries of the world. In reality we know that ‘smaller’ is more manageable and if it is able to find a niche and increase the interdependence and integration with “the rest”, the smaller size of a village respect to an ‘alpha city’ or of a city-state respect to a continent-state doesn’t necessarily means to succumb to the great powers in the planetarization of markets. The examples of economies of the scale of Asian tigers or European countries outside EU is there to demonstrate it.

But besides the positive effects on economy we also know that human beings living in human scale communities are able to create a more participatory democracy in their territory (think only to the Swiss villages that can decide directly for many policies affecting their communities) and so our societies could think to facilitate such environments and systems if they strive for more democratic and sustainable futures. The great political scientist Robert Putnam (2) argued that to make democracy work we need a high level of ‘social capital’, the famous concept based on a civic engagement through associations of active citizens who care about the “public thing” and so become able to control the controller (the politicians and their policies). But is today possible the existence of a social capital in a globalized world? Should we build it in our cities and our communities, in order to “think globally and act locally” or do we need to create it in the global village, in the international settings, to allow us to “think and act both globally and locally” at the same time?

It is difficult to say it but one thing is certain: in a ‘liquid society’ like the one we are living now nation states cannot stay attached only to the status quo of their national sovereignty and national interest. They need to open to integration and decentralization (international organizations and local institutions) at the same time if they want to survive transforming themselves and rebirthing in a new era of political entities. The task is not easy and is the challenge for the future of our communities: to find the balance in complexity between local and global, small and big, communal and world scale. And to “make democracy work better” we need to look for harmony and equilibrium between small and connected at the same time: small is more and more useful but isolated is more and more dangerous, in all senses (3).

(1) The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, Paul Kennedy, 1987
(2) Making democracy work, Robert Putnam, 1993

(3) Just as example look at the two probable extremes of the spectrum between connected and isolated: EU and ISIS.

Money in politics, is there a way to deal with it between extremes?

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“We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.” –Louis D. Brandeis

I just finished my summer program at Carter Center few days ago, where I was working as research assistant on how to improve democracy in Latin America. In particular I studied the relation between media, money and political campaign according to the electoral laws in eleven countries. Perfection doesn’t exist unfortunately in the mix of these elements to help create real democratic regimes, but we all understand that “Equal time rule”, “Network neutrality” and “Fairness doctrine” (recently eliminated in the US) are important tools to guarantee the so called “par condicio” (in Latin words “equal treatment”) in the use of media during campaign. At the same time the relation between money and politics is a delicate issue given that both public and private funds are potential improvements and potential limits to democratic systems. Public financing and party subsides (that should aim to equality and pluralism) tend to create corruption (as the disastrous Italian example shows) while private funds (that should aim to meritocracy and popular support) tend to create extremely powerful lobbies and so the problem of unbalanced lobbying (like in America) and the corruption of the crony capitalism (all around the world).

The point is that democracy is always struggling to find the right equilibrium between these two possibilities of financing its politics. Both the Italian and American examples demonstrate how more often democracies chose the extreme solutions that are not very much beneficial to the functioning of their systems. Italy for example now is choosing to eliminate the public funds after having them dominating the public policy through corrupted parties since the born of the Italian Republic (as a too angry and embittered population cannot accept any more the idea of public support to politicians). While in the US public funds can be received only if the candidate refuse the private ones (the last two Presidents opted for the private funding as it was much more than the public) and this system gives money too much power in influencing politics of the government (often blocked because of lobby power) with the risk of creating the “tyranny of the wealthy” instead of the “tyranny of the majority”. Actually, as an interesting recent study by Princeton University Prof Martin Gilens and Northwestern University Prof Benjamin I Page argues (1) in the US economic elites and interest groups representing business have an enormous influence in policy, respect to average citizens and mass-based interest groups. This is not exactly healthy for a democracy, being in reality more comparable to an oligarchy.

But there are countries that have in their laws norms that require a strict and limited use of funding in politics, and from these best practices we can learn to improve our democracies around the world, like in the case of Italy and the US. The problem is that as usual laws are not sufficient to guarantee a real democratic functioning of the party system (otherwise Latin American countries like Brazil, Colombia or Mexico, that have very good electoral laws would have uncontested political campaign and level of democracies higher than what in reality have). Constitutions and electoral laws can help to control the power of money in politics, however we need strong political, judicial and social systems in order to guarantee that laws are applied and used in a proper manner.

Besides this the issue of the role of money in politics has an equal opposite and broader question that is related to it: the one of the role of government in the economy of a country. As a matter of fact if the money doesn’t have to influence too much politics than politics has to regulate money or otherwise it will become sooner or later conditioned by it. But in our capitalist democracies the role of government in the regulation of money is not very much accepted (and actually created the level of inequality and the power of the banks that we have today).  A couple of interesting recent books (A commercial republic, O’Connor, Capital in the twenty-first century, Piketty, and Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism, Harvey (2)) show how today capitalism is at a crossroads with this dilemma: how much a democracy needs to control the inequality created by capital for its own survival? Again as Italian poet Manzoni said: “Ai posteri l’ardua sentenza” (posterity will judge) but in the meantime we need creative, constructive and concrete solutions to cure our sick capitalist democracies before is too late.

(1) http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21602250-when-it-comes-setting-policy-views-businesses-and-rich-seem-count?fsrc=scn%2Ftw%2Fte%2Fpe%2Fed%2Fonedollaronevote, http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-echochambers-27074746
(2) http://www.kansaspress.ku.edu/ococom.html
http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674430006
http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/books/seventeen-contradictions-and-the-end-of-capitalism-by-david-harvey/2013385.article

After Gaza: A Changed Status Quo

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From a dear friend, student at Princeton University, an interesting analysis on new possible scenarios for negotiations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after the third Gaza war:

 

As the war in Gaza appears to wind to a close, it may be time to take a retrospective look at the conflict and what, if anything, has changed as a result of it.

 

The first, and possibly most important, consequence of the war is a diplomatic rift between the United States and Israel. While publicly, the US government consistently affirms Israel’s “right to defend itself,” and Israel considers the US to be its most important ally, the situation behind the scenes is clearly different. US Secretary of State John Kerry was caught on camera sarcastically calling the Israeli invasion a “hell of a pinpoint operation,” referencing the heavy number of civilian casualties, while Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu told President Obama to “never second-guess me” when it came to Hamas in a phone conversation. The lowest point in the relationship came with the rejection of John Kerry’s week-long ceasefire proposal by Israel’s security cabinet. The proposal, which called for a week-long ceasefire, before discussion began on a wide-range of topics (including the Israeli blockade, the transfer of funds to Gaza, and Israel’s “security concerns”) was blasted by Israeli media and government personalities as a “prize for terror.”What Israeli officials were most upset about was not what was included in the proposal, but rather what was not: explicit mentions of the demilitarization of Hamas or the destruction of tunnels from the Gaza Strip. The proposal never promised anything to either party, only that a ceasefire would precede negotiations, but nevertheless Kerry was vilified in the Israeli media with State Department officials baffled at the level of hostility. Israel’s ambassador to Washington said that the criticism of Kerry was unwarranted but the damage was already done. Interestingly enough, current negotiations in Cairo will inevitably discuss all of these issues as part of a long-term truce agreement.

 

The second consequence is changing attitudes towards the Palestinian unity government. While Hamas scored statements of support by Turkey, Qatar and Iran, during the fighting, what is far more important is the postwar power dynamic between Palestinian factions. In the first days of the war, the Palestinian unity government appeared impotent and irrelevant to respond to the Israeli invasions. But now, the major Palestinian factions: Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad are all representing one delegation in Cairo and have united behind one set of demands. Prior to the fighting, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu called for the dismantling of the Palestinian Authority’s unity government. Now Netanyahu is starting to realize that PA President Mahmoud Abbas was his best possible partner for peace. How the PA emerges from the truce negotiations will have significant consequences for Palestinian unity, especially if the PA reestablishes a security presence in Gaza, as some are suggesting. Hamas has come out on top so far, thanks to perceptions that it is the only group resisting the Israeli occupation of Palestine, but international support for Abbas and his moderate faction could tip the scales.

 

Finally, while war is tragic, it can create the conditions for peace. Negotiations spectacularly failed between the PA and Israel earlier this year (as detailed in this excellent New Republic piece). But this current conflict has brought Palestinian and Israeli negotiators back to a table with one another. If the ceasefire stands and if international political will can hold, the framework for a long-term agreement on Gaza can be worked out. Even if not implemented immediately, it can be used in future negotiations as a step to resolving the status of Gaza, something not even discussion during the Kerry Initiative. While I don’t believe we are closer to peace now than we were earlier this year, I do believe leaders on both sides have realized that the situation is untenable. The status quo is dead and, one way or another, things will change.

From democracy to tyranny: is Israel, our “Western democratic” product in the Middle East, going downhill the Agamben “state of exception” or the Plato Tyranny regime?

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“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” (Nelson Mandela)

There are many conflicts and cases of extreme violence today around the planet, causing suffering and destruction for innocent civilians, many in Middle East and Africa, but also in Asia and Latin America. However the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems to cause more resentment and popular uprising in the world, both the European-Atlantic one and the ‘Eastern’ Hemisphere one, respect to the other places. There is a reason among many: Israel is a democracy (actually praising itself to be the only one in the Middle East) that at the beginning of XXI century is becoming more and more radical and extreme in its lawlessness political practice, starting to commit something not far from a genocide, after applying occupation, reduction in imprisonment and apartheid, to a population residing in its land, that has been neglected since 66 years its right of existence.

At the same time in the world population the Jews are beginning to protest to Israeli ‘policy’ since the beginning of last war on Gaza. Even if Likud keeps being supported by majority of Israeli Jews, the Jews around the world are starting to rebel against the way the Israeli government is dealing the conflict with Hamas (also because of the growing planetary sympathy for Palestinian cause). This could represent a sign of healthy and maturity in a democracy, in particular for Israel, that consider itself the state of the Jews, it seems right that all the Jews in the world, not only in Israel, are entitled to comment, criticize and call accountable the Israeli government. Nevertheless Israel keeps its extreme policies without feeling threatened in its legitimacy by the criticisms of Jews population and, on the contrary, believing that the support of its local constituency entitle it to go on with its final goal, that is to chase sooner or later the people from Gaza, and in general the people from Palestine (actually what is remained of it, with Gaza and West Bank) whatever it takes. This is clearly shown by attacking not only the elected representatives in Gaza and its civilian population but also the culture and the identity of Palestinians (from the schools to the recent bombing of mosques and the Islamic University, accused to be sites of fabricating weapons).

From what is coming the radicalization of Israeli right government? Could be just a fear of losing control by the Israeli population with the clear recent possibility of a Palestinian state (like in authoritarian countries such as China and Thailand, where many middle-class people feeling threatened by the rising demands of the poor, support authoritarian governments that protect their class interests). Or there could be other reasons. But whatever reasons are there to which extreme and how far right a government that calls itself democratic can go before to enter in the sphere of autocracy? Israel clearly shows actions of apartheid, imprisonment, mass murdering and expulsion of population from Gaza and West Bank. (1) Is this a legitimate goal and policy for a democracy, even if it claims is for its legitimate defense? Or is it a symptom of a “permanent state of exception”, as my compatriot Giorgio Agamben would say, and so not anymore a real democracy? Is Israel still a democracy or is going downhill on the path to tyranny as Plato would have said? (2)

A “permanent state of exception” is a state in which the government, all powerful, operates outside the laws, and “a modern totalitarianism can be defined as the establishment, by means of the state of exception, of a legal civil war that allows for the physical elimination not only of political adversaries but of entire categories of citizens who for some reason cannot be integrated into the political system” (3). We could speak about crisis in the functioning of modern democracies, and so also Israel, when the so called “national interests” applied by governments are distant from the requests of their constituencies, because they lack real channels to shift government policies apart from during the elections. Or we could say that Israeli people are more and more distant from democratic values because of the immigration from former Soviet Union and the increasing number of national-religious Jews that are waiting for the Messiah and so are on far right and extreme positions. We could also argue that the UN, the only possible representative of international community, is already an institution out of history being a reflection of post WWII, and today is accepting helpless the policies of a state of exception as it is not able to even declare it as a ‘state of exception’, being its schools bombed and his places passing from places of protection to places of risk. Whatever is the reason though the “permanent state of exception” of Israel seems clear with its recent actions, carried out in particular in the last 10 years. And the third Gaza war seems to set forth the death of this already moribund democracy, which is becoming more a dysfunctional democracy and so almost a kind of tyranny (being in a permanent state of exception).

But the worst isn’t even this for the future of Israel democracy. The worst could be represented by the fact that to maintain the support from the population a tyranny has only one way: use the education, the media and the political rhetoric to do a brain washing to its people, making them believe that the things the autocratic government is doing are for its own good and that the others are the evil. Israeli state needed since its foundation for example to rely heavily on the advocacy and lobby to foster his cause around the world, but today the Israeli government is using this tool more and more evidently to retain its legitimacy even inside his state and among the Jews in the world, instead of thinking to shift or change policies towards more moderate ones in order to recuperate support. So finally the newest democracy product of the “West” could become not only a form of tyranny in the future but a form of “marketing product”, a state based on marketing itself with money, media and lobbies (first of all the most powerful of the lobbies in the world probably, AIPAC in the US). And it would base its legitimacy not on constructive and sustainable policies but on “delegitimizing the delegitimisers”, the ones they consider their enemy, as an interesting recent article from The Economist points out (4). It is the so called “logic of the oppressor” at its extreme potential, that allow for example Mr Netanyahu in his last farce, the press conference after the Gaza war, to say for example that every civilian loss in the last war was “a tragedy of Hamas’ making.” (5) This manipulation of reality trough the use of the media is a typical technique borrowed from autocracies by modern democracies (in Italy we are very expert on this with the capsizing of the truth on every issue by the media magnate and long time Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi).

So is this the future of democracy that is waiting for Israel and for us in the “Western” world? Is a polarized world trying to gain public support to its part, selling its product, manipulating reality trough the subjugation of media and stigmatizing the others that oppose us our future? It seems to me that this kind of future would be even more scaring of the Big Brother. Because if everyone will be not only controlled but brainwashed and taught to create divisions and hate, in order to gain support against the opposition, instead to care, in order to gain compromise with it, that would be the biggest loss of our civilization of democracy.  And there are indicators of this kind of polarization also in Europe and in the US, with a strong wall to wall between populist/nationalist and reformist/democrats in Europe or Democrats and Republicans (Tea Party in particular) in the US since the election of Obama. So we need to start to work against this kind of approach now, without any further delay, and we need to build laws, systems and educative paths that will allow democracies to flourish and evolve, and not to go backwards, citizens to be really active and empowered citizens, and political system to step up on democracy and not go back to tyrannies, especially in a world going dangerously towards crony capitalism and private funding of party politics like our ‘Western’ world.

 

Notes

(1) Actually this attitude of Israel is currently facilitating a reunification of the Palestinian parties (Al Fatah, Hamas and Palestinian National Authority) and their visions. In fact in the West Bank there is another civilian disobedience movements and Intifada starting now, like the first Intifada, where Palestinian people seems unifying again in some way, realizing that they will have to struggle for their freedom, as a peace process with Likud, and Israel for that matter, is not going to be possible.
(2) According to Plato the government of humans is made of five type of regimes that progressively degenerate starting from Aristocracy, Timocracy (similar to plutocracy, where wealthy citizens govern), Oligarchy, Democracy and finally Tyranny. As Plato says the tyrannical man is the worst form of man, because he is consumed by lawless desires to do many bad actions, like mass murdering, close to complete lawlessness, as the idea of moderation does not exist in him.
(3) Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception, 2005, pag 2
(4) http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21610312-pummelling-gaza-has-cost-israel-sympathy-not-just-europe-also-among-americans
(5)http://guardianlv.com/2014/08/israel-prime-minister-netanyahu-tragedy-of-gaza-the-fault-of-hamas/

Israel existence after 66 years: from a legitimate goal badly realized to the need of reconciliation.

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“An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind”, said Mahatma Gandhi. And the world has been blind already so many times and for so long periods in its history that it unfortunately got accustomed. Nevertheless, sooner or later, humankind miraculously always recuperates its sight. Is it time for the Middle East to do so? May be, but we need a cultural revolution for that.

 
The conflicts that we have lived since the beginning of our history until the modern times, from the wars that characterized the Empires of the past (Europe docet) to the wars that have destroyed the Middle East since generations, demonstrated that human beings have still a strong instinct of revenge. The ‘eye for an eye’ vision (stumped in the Bible as a symbol of justice later becoming more a symbol of hatred) creates an escalation that cannot be stop, as the eye that has been taken away cry for revenge in a never ending violent cycle. It is unfortunately a logic and natural law, until we stop this cycle. This vision also creates the belief that we are the only ones to be victimized and that justice is something that can be made only from one side, ours, forgetting about the suffering of the others. So following the ‘eye for an eye’ concept finally our legitimate goals lose their legitimacy, as from being rights become in reality impositions.

 

The Zionism had its legitimate goal since the beginning of its foundation: to find a place for the Jews and liberate them from the anti-Semitic discrimination and persecutions lived for millennia in their diaspora. We could argue that there are other groups, like Romani people, that have also been discriminated and persecuted during all their history and have never been interested in the ownership of a land. But this is another discourse that has to deal with the identity of every culture and so we are not going to analyze it here. The birth of an Israel state, not only for the Shoa, had its reason and legitimacy. But the way in which Israel put that right in practice made it less defendable. The point is that when you want to defend your right to leave in peace, freedom and justice you have to think that this right ends where the same right starts for the others. You cannot claim the need of a state or a land without respecting the same need of the others, in particular if the others were living on that land before you. If you do that you have only one solution: occupy with force. And when you occupy a land with force you have three possibilities with the local populations: wipe them out (like we did with Indian Americans) put them in reserves (as we did with Australian Aboriginals) or chase them away (as we are doing with Arab Palestinians). All these cases, and many more, happened with the use of force and violence but the difference is that the last one is currently happening under the eyes of the international community. And history will call us all more and more accountable of the things happening around the world nowadays, because the international community is every day more and more informed and cannot say “I didn’t know”.

 
Mahatma Gandhi also said: “as the means so the end; the means may be likened to a seed, the end to a tree”. So if you claim peace waging wars you will never have peace, this is another logic and natural law. We saw that too in our humankind history. Since the beginning of its existence Israel has been seeking to defend itself from the attack of the neighboring Arab states using counter or preventives attacks. It was his right as it was risking its survival, but how Israel actually born? It born with a unilateral imposition because the people living in Palestine and the Arab leaders never accepted the UN Partition Plan Resolution 181 to create from the Mandatory Palestine two independent Arab and Jews states. One million Palestinian were forced out of their homes and every year Palestinians remember the foundation of Israel as the Nakba, the ‘Great Catastrophe’. So when you impose something unilaterally with force, as Ben Gurion did in 1948, the result that you get is a contrary reaction based also on force. Again it is a logic and natural law, and we human beings are natural beings, as we follow the Golden rule that is derived from the third Newton’s law of motion: “when one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction on the first body”. This is what is happening in Palestine since almost 66 years (apart that is not exactly ‘equal in magnitude’).

 
Israel, with the approval of the UN, occupied a land violating the principle of national self-determination of the people 66 years ago and the result was that Israelis had their state but at the expenses of the Arabs and also at their own expenses, as Jews in Israel are leaving since then in fear all their life. Which kind of life is that? Is the life that Zionism legitimate looked for the Jews? It doesn’t seem so to me. It seems more that Israel went far from its original survival need with the wars, the settlements in occupied territories and recently the invasions of Gaza. And also with the construction of walls that made the Palestinians living in prison (besides than in refugee camps). As we know if you want to defend yourself you can build walls, and in the short term they may have a positive effect on your defense, but if you don’t address the root causes at the base of the attacks against you finally news fences are just going to call for more attacks. Also because the Israelis Gaza and West Bank barriers are not like the Great Wall of China or the Berlin wall, that were built to avoid invasions and migrations. The walls build by Israel are there to avoid the attack of people that have been displaced from their land since almost 70 years and are looking for their freedom and rights, having lived their lives for generations without them.  Besides that these walls have the effect to keep those people in a trap and under siege. For example Gaza has only one little exit in the south with Egypt and the government of Egypt today, with General El-Sisi, is not exactly interested in defending or welcoming friends of Muslim Brotherhood as the Palestinians. So what do you expect from people being displaced, killed and put in trap if not fight for their survival with the tools that they have, from the rocks to the rockets?

 
If Israel wants to have a brighter future instead of keep living in misery and fear needs to have a cultural revolution. A cultural revolution based on humanitarian values and universal justice, stopping to look at his small garden, that is actually very far from the paradisiac promised land they dreamed for millenia, and glance up towards the world, embracing the brothers of others faiths and looking for a pacific cohabitation in the ‘sacred land of all’. And the Arabs have to do the same: Palestinian state has the right to come into existence after so many decades but if Hamas keep defending that rights with rockets and calling for the disappearance of Jews state they are not going far for the settlement of disputes in Middle East. Cultural revolutions needs a long time but they can start as soon as we want, we just need a small gesture, that require however an enormous shift in our and other’s mind, a small gesture that Madiba Mandela was able to do already in his tormented land twenty years ago. It is called ‘reconciliation’.

 
Reconciliation is based on apologize and forgive, two actions that have the same root, they come from the humanistic principle of “I care” and they can replace the hatred principle of “I don’t mind”, that is at the base of revenge (as Don Milani, a Florentine educator, proposed in his educational revolution). If we care we will be able to apologize for the suffering inflicted on both sizes and so we will be able also to forgive as everybody is guilty in a war. If we want to look for peace instead of eternal war we need this cultural shift, in Middle East as everywhere. We need to emphatically embrace the suffering of the others and put ourselves in their shoes to understand their needs and legitimate goals. Is very difficult to do it in an area in conflict since generations, with total lack of empathy between the two parts, but is the only solution. An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind but a hand shake for a hand shake could make the whole world less afraid and more trustful. It seems impossible but we can do it, it just take a little courage from the people. And a lot of courage from their leaders, who may risk to become martyrs as Rabin or Sadat (like Martin Luther King and Gandhi too). As a matter of fact this is what we miss today in Middle East: great leaders that appeal to the real core principles of the Abrahamic religions, the humanistic principles of love and compassion. But Palestinians and Israelis can push their leaders to do so if they want, instead of voting and supporting radical and extreme parties. That is why the cultural revolution is urgently needed, hopefully trough the education of new generations.

 
As Mandela when he was in prison felt empowered by the message of self-mastery of the famous Invictus poem also today those people in the prisons of their fears might be empowered repeating this to themselves and to the others: “I am the master of my faith, I am the captain of my soul”. Let’s hope and pray for a free and peaceful Holy Land one day.

 

PS See here two interesting articles of Haaretz, the Israel’s oldest daily newspaper (since 1918): http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.603451
http://www.haaretz.com/blogs/a-special-place-in-hell/.premium-1.603542

Second Amendment: is the time arrived for constitutional reforms also in the US?

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(This poster is one of the superficial propaganda made in this polarized period to support the right to bear arms)

 

Second amendment (as ratified by the States and authenticated by Thomas Jefferson, then-Secretary of State): A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

 

Does it make sense to keep one law, even if from the founding fathers, that became obsolete being his deviated application quite dangerous after more than two centuries?

There are plenty of studies explaining how high gun ownership make countries less safe (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/18/gun-ownership-gun-deaths-study) and the US is probably the least safe country among the rich democracies of the ‘West’. Mass shooting here in the States are on the rise every year and as an interesting article few months ago on The Week clearly exposed (http://theweek.com/article/index/256692/ban-the-second-amendment) the argument for the second amendment today would be difficult to justify. But the tragedies created from the ‘sacred’ right to carry arms against a possible “Nazi government” (that actually would be much better equipped with drones and other weapons respect to few rifles of the people, that the reason of the existence of a militia is already unrealistic) are not pushing the majority of the American citizens to reflect on possibilities to change their Constitution, as other modern democracies did already several times.

 

The Constitution, as well as the Bill of Rights, are considered the base of American culture and change them would mean to change American identity, something so sacred that nobody can even think about it (see on this the recent article on http://www.theglobalist.com/need-u-s-constitutional-reform). But globalization is strong, even if its deep effects are slow, and sooner or later human beings all over the planet will have learned from  different perspectives that different cultures bring with them. This in the smallest village of Africa as in the culture of the ‘land of the free’.

 

Actually since a couple of years there is a ferment among some scholars and activists calling for a Second Constitutional Convention of the United States. Article V of the Constitution describes several ways in which the constitution itself could be changed, and three-fourths or 38 of the 50 states would be needed to ratify any change. But even if the US Constitution is “not a living document. It’s dead, dead, dead” as the only Italian American Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Antonino Scalia, said recently, I doubt that any change in the second Amendment could happen in the next decades, given also the fact that southern states would never ratify it. As a matter of fact the southern states are radicalizing their position recently on the issue: Georgia for example since the first of July, with the new ‘Georgia Safe Carry Protection Act’, allow to carry guns to many new places like bars, parts of airports, government buildings, schools and even churches. And even if in the north eastern states of the US things seemed to start to change, in particular after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut in 2012 (the biggest mass shooting in a school in the US) and after the ex NYC mayor Bloomberg supported new guns control associations like Everytown for Gun Safety and Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the reality is that fifteen months have passed since gun legislation stalled on Capitol Hill and nothing moved until now.

 

And even if stricter laws doesn’t guarantee lower violence (as a recent research seems to demonstrate: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13504851.2013.854294#.U8RiSLHxfpf ) one thing is sure: as Obama said, America has to think sooner or later on how to solve this problems, being the only country where this kind of things happen daily. But if the powerful NRA (with all its money for lobbying in DC) keeps training millions of children every year (making the country not safer but the opposite: http://abcnews.go.com/US/teaching-kids-shoot-guns-make-safer/story?id=23916846) together with the ‘normality of violence’ everywhere in the US (from millions of video-games to millions of movies and TV shows) and the increase of spying attitude in every corner (from the social media end of privacy to the NSA ‘big brother’) the future of this country doesn’t seem very safe for innocent people who wants to live a normal and happy life. So how we protect the American dream, the simple desire of living a real free life, free not only from government invasions but also from violence and fears? How do we remain loyal to the unalienable rights at the base of the Constitution of this wonderful country: life, liberty and pursuit of happiness? Because a fearful and mistrustful society of all armed against each other doesn’t seem very compatible with neither one of these high human values.

 

This was actually the reason of creating a militia, to protect these rights of the people, the reason behind the right of the people (not the right of the individuals) as a whole to keep and bear arms: to guarantee the security of a free state. Nevertheless today the deviation of this right became the nightmare for “old immigrants” (Americans) and “modern ones” likewise, for all who come here to have a better and more free life. So who is betraying the funding fathers, who suggest to rethink and may be modify what they wrote, even in the sacred Bills of Rights, in order to respect what they really meant or who call it a sacrilege? And what if the Constitution would have in some way being misinterpreted with the time?

In fact, as an interesting recent book suggests (1) even a period instead of a comma in the Declaration of Independence seems to have changed the entire idea of the importance of the government in the life of the people in the United States. So why not the idea that the right to keep and bear arms is individual and not of the people as a whole,  for a well regulated militia, that could have deviated completely the intentions of the founding fathers?

As the Italian poet said: Ai posteri l’ardua sentenza (Posterity will judge)

 

(1) “Our declaration. A reading of the Declaration of Independence in defense of equality”. Danielle Allen, A Liveright book, 2014(http://books.wwnorton.com/books/Our-Declaration/) http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/03/us/politics/a-period-is-questioned-in-the-declaration-of-independence.html?_r=2

(For some more data on gun violence: http://billmoyers.com/2013/05/03/gun-violence-since-newtown/)

(Picture: one of the superficial analysis made in this polarized period to support the right to bear arms)

Are democracies and autocracies around the world experiencing a rapprochement in terms of length of governments?

jokowi modi

Indonesian and Indian most populated democracies, Russian and Chinese widest autocracies, European and American oldest democracies: is the ‘shadow of the future’ making them more similar in terms of duration of government?

I have been working as researcher at the Carter Center in Atlanta for almost two months now, during my summer program, on issues regarding democracy in Latin America, and in specific about the electoral reforms in 11 Latin American countries. But besides Latin America other continents new experiments with democracy are also worth to be analyzed, in particular in the Asian continent. In Asia there are the two biggest democracies of the world, India and Indonesia, but also two of the three biggest countries of the planet, Russia and China. So it worth to have some periodic reflections on democracy looking not only to the so called “Western” hemisphere but also to the “Eastern” one (even if as I wrote in the page “Geographical and mental maps” all is relative and we should start to call the “emerged land surface” with different words to overcome our ethnocentrism, so let’s call them “American hemisphere” and “Asian hemisphere”).

 

To briefly analyze some recent news about the two biggest world democracies we have to say first of all that there have been elections recently in both of them. India voted between April and May this year with the largest-ever election (more than 800 million people eligible to vote with a turnout of 2/3). The first party was the Bharatiya Janata Party, the right-wing and Hindu nationalist party, social conservative and economic neoliberal, with Narendra Modi nominated as the new Prime Minister (after ten years of Manmohan Singh with the Indian National Congress, the other traditional big party in India). Indonesia few days ago, the 9th of July, went to vote for its third presidential election since the birth of democracy with the fall of Suharto in 1998. Joko Widodo, the ‘young’ ex-mayor of Jakarta, seems to have won, even if his opponent, the ex-general Prabowo Subianto, declared also victory. If the results will be confirmed in few weeks (the count is long for such a big population living in 17 thousand islands!) the Indonesian Democratic Party, the party of the ex-Indonesian president Megawati Sukarnoputri, will go back to power after ten years of government of the Democratic Party of Indonesia (with Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono). So the democratic need for the turnover will be guaranteed.

 

But here more than the turnover I want to take a look at the duration of the governments in these two democracies and in general in the democracies around the world. Democratic governments have always had the problem of not enough long  policies, because of short duration of governments, or not enough efficient policies, because of the need of being reelected. But taking these two countries and many others as example it seems that all over the planet big or old democracies and big or old autocracies appear to get closer to each other with respect to the duration of their leaders (and may be not only in that). In fact if in China the president, that is also the secretary of the communist party, last 10 years, in democratic countries like India, Indonesia, but also the US and in many European countries(1), more and more in the last decades the Presidents or Prime Ministers managed to win two or three mandates, lasting also at least a decade (or 8 year in the case of the US). And after that usually there is the alternation of power with the opposite party. This might be a contingency but it could also mean that democracies and autocracies likewise might see the importance of political stability, in particular in the continuous changing world of our globalization era, knowing that to have effective policies with lasting outcomes we need more than just 4 or 5 years. Differently from each other obviously the democracies have after a period the change of the party in power while the autocracies change the person but not the party (like in China) or just shift the leadership between presidency and head of government (like in Russia). But still the similarity in a ‘stability need’ could be a real presence. Obviously in democracies you still have to respond to your constituencies but the people seem to understand this need of longer governments and seem to give a second support and chance to their leaders. The biggest risk for the democracies though, in the case when the governments manage to remain in power around a decade, is if the leaders push for indefinite reelections and so indefinite governments. In this case, in particular if there is not an efficient system of check and balances that guarantee a real democratic competition, the risk is to get closer to autocracies than remain real democracies. This is what seems to happen actually in countries like Venezuela or Nicaragua for example, that created recently the possibility of infinite reelection and don’t have a system that guarantee free and fair elections and an inclusive democratic system.

 

Let’s see what the future will bring us but for the time being this is the reflection we can do regarding the length of governments around the world. Besides the fact that Asian democracies may be new but appear already quite strong, if we consider that they seems to overcome two of the major risks of other fledgling democracies: sectarianism and totalitarianism. The first is related with the desire of mixing religion and politics, as happened in some of the Arab countries after revolutions. In this sense both India and Indonesia give some example of more maturity: India, even if has the Hindu nationalist party in power now, has no state religion and has in the constitution the division between state and religion. And Indonesia, even if is the biggest Muslim country in the world, never had the idea of Islamic parties in the government, as the constitution guarantee the freedom of religion (with six official faiths) and also the division between state and religion. The second risk, totalitarianism, starts often with the desire to mix the need for strong and stable governments with the craving for despotic or political-military leadership (like the desire of caudillismo in some Latin American countries is showing). And also here India and Indonesia have better scores, even if Indonesia still struggle on this, being Subianto an ex general. But if Jokowi will bring home the victory Indonesia will have given a good record of a quite healthy system, just 15 years since the beginning of his democratization process.

 

So for now we can say W India and Indonesia. At least their example is giving us hope for the future of democracy in the world. And may be could also help old democracies to renew their identity with new perspectives, in particular on how to deal and manage campaigns, money and media (but we will talk about this in future posts).

 

(1) Just to cite few examples: Angela Merkel is German chancellor since 2005, Silvio Berlusconi has been Italian Prime Minister since 2001 to 2011 (with an interruption between 2006 and 2008), Jacques Chirac was president of France since 1995 to 2007 and Mitterand since 1981 to 1995, Gonzalez was Spanish Prime Minister between 1982 and 1996 and Jean-Claude Juncker has been the longest-serving head of government of any European Union country, being Prime Minister of Luxembourg since 1995 to 2013.

Leaders also for democracies: an analysis of Dean Williams’ concept of ‘real leadership’

theodore-roosevelt

What is leadership? If you look up in a dictionary, you will find that the first meaning is simply “the action of leading a group of people or an organization”. Then you will have explanation of different styles, synonyms, derivatives, etc. But this is the core meaning according to the common knowledge. In reality leadership is much more than that. There are many forms, shades and styles of leadership: from the most evil to the most noble. The differences often depend on who is making the measurement and when the measurement is made. There was a time when the vast majority of the German people believed Hitler was their great leader and there was a time when the Western world shunned Mandela. So the identification of leaders, both in autocracies and democracies, is relative to time and space. But in the general terms of today, leadership is often measured by its success in ‘improving the condition of its adherents’. This is what leadership can be considered nowadays. However, to go deeper in the analysis of what leadership entails, I will take into account the definition of two types of leadership given by Dr. Dean Williams, Professor at Harvard University: “real Leadership” and “counterfeit Leadership”(1) . The ‘real leadership’ is the leadership that is based on facing the challenges lived by a group of people, be it a family, a club, a company, a village or a nation, in an efficient and effective manner. The “counterfeit leadership” is when the leader just try to sidestep the sometimes harsh truth of reality to make his success easier. So a ‘real leader’ is not one who says “follow me and all shall be well”, but one who first of all inform the members of the group that they are facing a certain ‘challenge’ that needs to be addressed. The challenge of maintaining the sustainability of the success achieved or the challenge of find the success that the group is not able to achieve yet; the challenge of facing a critical condition that risks destroying the group or the challenge that has already destroyed or weakened the group who now needs now to revive; the challenge of facing disturbances from internal or external elements or the challenge to rebuild the group after a manmade or natural disaster. Adopting this “reality challenges” is the first step that the leader can help to do. After that it is easier to determine who to follow and how to lead when an occasion calls on to do so.

 

 

There is a of course a flow in considering the success of a leadership often merely in term of achieving economic development for a community. Take Singapore for example, the pet case of Dean Williams. He points out that Lee Kuan Yew, long time Prime Minister of Singapore, has brought his country from a “third world” status into one of the most prosperous “first world” nations. Therefore this is his main success and he had to be a great visionary to do so, someone who had been thinking of the future of his people long before he got into power. But is it really so? Is it just about economic development the real leadership? Or in reality was Lee Kuan Yew able to shift the values, habits and practices of his people? We have to analyze history and geography to understand better. Most countries in Southeast Asia gained their independence after  World War II and of course their memory, their ‘geography of pain’, was about colonization, oppression and deprivation. Autocratic leaders in this region were the product of post colonization: Soekarno, General Aung San, Ho Chi Minh and many others of their contemporaries. So the leaders during that era had been shaped by their vision of independence, the pride of nationhood for their people and their strong ideology. Most of these leaders were great achievers, even if often they were not equipped to maintain their achievements, but became great leaders because all of them had given back the pride to their countries. So in the case of Singapore we can say that Lee Kuan Yew attained the title “father of the nation”, not only because he had achieved great economic benefits for his people, but also for building the overseas pride of Chinese in Singapore, who were once regarded as second class migrant citizens no matter how rich they had become. But besides this, leaders, as every human being, have phases and times: to stay great they have to know how long they should stay in power and when to step down. Williams names this capacity as ‘adaptive leadership’, that is a required quality for a ‘real leader’ as he plays the role of providing checks and balances in maintaining power. Lee Kuan Yew for example stepped down at the right time and this also made him a real leader. All the real leaders with such clear view in the “driving seat”, like him or Deng Xiaoping (Lee Kuan Yew had been a mentor to Deng, who later modernized China and turned it into what is today not by chance) can only lead in a particular phase and time frame: they are not supermen who can stay in power forever. Other younger leaders who are more in tune with the current reality and the conditions of the new situation have to be allowed to take over and leaders who failed to do this are not ‘real leaders’, and will definitely succumb to failure, being relegated from “hero” to “villain”, like Mugabe and Soeharto, or Mubarak and Gheddafi.

 

 

So to conclude the point to make in understanding “Real” and “Counterfeit” leadership, in the terms of Dr. Williams, is the need to have a guidance, when one is called to make a crucial decision, based on informed challenges. And this happens in both autocracies and democracies. Take the example of Berlusconi and Renzi in Italy. The first ruled the country for many years saying that there were no problems, he didn’t see any economic crisis, never, and he just kept selling the dream of the “Neverland” to dumb Italians that didn’t want to hear about any problem. The second, a mayor of a town in constant troubles like Florence, said on the opposite: “either we change Italy and we go out of the crisis or is our end”. He pushed for the institutional reforms and the change of mentality of Italians, saying that they had to start to pay taxes and stop corruption, fight for meritocracy and not for keeping the positions of power by the elders, and work on their values and faith for their future and not playing ‘poor me’ in front of the challenges. This is a clear example of real versus counterfeit leadership. Or take the current presidential candidates for next week elections in Indonesia, one of the largest democracy in the world. The two contestants are excellent example of opposite leadership styles too: one, Prabowo Subianto, has born in a family of traditional leaders and was raised to be a leader; the other, Joko Widodo, is a grassroots leader. The first says on every occasion: “follow me, I will save this country and lead it to prosperity”, without specifying what is the danger that the country is facing and how he wants to save it. His sale pitch is: “trust me, I know how to do this”. The other instead tells the people what exactly is wrong with the country, what the problems are and how serious they are, and the need for the people to work hard to solve them.

 

So applying the ‘Real’ and ‘Counterfeit’ guidance of Dr Williams it becomes easy to determine, which one is the real leader and which is the fake one. And this guidance is applicable also in everyday life, whether one is a leader or a follower. One faces leadership challenges constantly as an ordinary person: how to lead one’s family without resorting to threat and force that makes everyone unhappy, how to make a rebellious son or daughter sees the logic of learning from older people who has faced similar situation etc. Leadership is always about facing challenges to achieve progress. And the first thing to do in order to face them is to know them. This is one of the most powerful truisms to behold.

(1) Dean Williams, Real Leadership: Helping People and Organizations Face Their Toughest Challenges (Berrett-Koehler, 2005)

An unfamiliar political geography of a 'democratic and modern' world from the perspective of a Florentine man living in Virginia