Tag Archives: Capitalism

Again the Mediterranean: Greek democracy and ISIS terrorism will change the 21st century of Europe and farther?


“Events my dear boy, events”. This is what Harold Macmillan, the British Prime Minister, had said when was asked by a journalist what is most likely to blow governments off course.
Events are what they are: events. But the context, the path that lead to them and the reactions that follow, make them fundamental shocks that impact the future of our lives, sometimes not only in the countries where they happen (like 9/11) or just random facts. Last ten days there have been two events that could have an impact much further than their short time and space range: the Greek referendum and the Tunisian attack. Let’s try to put them in perspective.
Many things have been said before the Greek referendum on the new proposal to “save” Greece, made by the ECB AND the IMF (even if many times we forget about it, the IMF is deciding on the future of European countries as much as the European Central Bank). There have been many attempts to jeopardize the referendum, trying to politically kill the Syriza party, after its “dangerous” victory in the last elections, as well as the democratic renaissance of a small country of few millions of people who invented democracy more than two millennia ago. Even not so much veiled threats and blackmails, like the one by Ms Merkel, the European substantial leader, who said “if the Euro falls Europe falls” (ironically she was not so wrong as the European Union until now has been a monetary union but the end of that could represent its renaissance).

Besides all that has been said the population of Greece demonstrated that even in mature democracies in crisis, like the European ones, we can give back power to the people, to empower the citizens, who has the right to decide on their future, instead of a bunch of technocrats and bankers, representing private interests of few European and world groups. Greece used the referendum as the tool to give back to people the sovereignty, a tool that, even on difficult things, should be used more as a democratic element in modern representative democracies in crisis of legitimacy. And it is not a case that Greece give us the example: we have to go always back to the original inventors if we want to retake that invention and give it vital lymph again. As Italians did for the Renaissance, going back to the Roman classics, also to remake the European integration and improve our poor modern democracies, we have to go back to the Greek classics. Greece demonstrated that the people can decide on their future, and not only on general things but also on technical decisions. Today everyone can get information through internet, and this give more power to the people who can express themselves on different things (like the referendum text, that gave the exact names of the documents so all who wanted could go to read them). And the referendum showed also another important element for the future of Europe and in general the international system: nation sovereignty is still the principal form of modern societies, and the integration of nation states needs to pass from the people, not from the technocrats, from the nations not from the banks, from the ideas not from the money. This is the Europe that we want today, not a fake supranational entity but a real confederation of states, made by all the national entity that compose it.

But in the Greek case there is even more than this, there is a fight between the old style welfare state, the third way between total capitalism and total communism that Europe had conquered with difficulties, and the modern capitalism. As Žižek masterly explained in its recent article (1) the real question today in Europe is the fact that global capitalism cannot afford a return to the old welfare state. And Syriza is a danger for this. A danger or a salvation, if we follow Varoufakis programmatic declaration: “If this means that it is we, the suitably erratic Marxists, who must try to save European capitalism from itself, so be it”. Future will say but for now we can celebrate as democracy and people’s voice are back to Europe, and they came back to remain.

Besides the Greek case there has been another event in the last few days in the Mediterranean that could represent another shift in the future of Europe and the Mediterranean (including the Middle East/ME): last attack at the Tunisia resort of Sousse ten days ago could represent the lethal hit to the Tunisian democracy. Unfortunately more terrorist attacks will follow probably, as there is a type of “state” now that finance these acts of “political-identitarian” mass killings, and this state is not Iran, the big devil, who the West accuses often to support terrorism (while in reality it supports self-determination and anti-discrimination Shia movements, that have been repressed for long time, in particular by the Sunni monarchies). There is a state now, the Islamic (or we should say Islamist) State that will not see its end soon, on the contrary it will probably expand more and sooner or later it will have to socialize with the other sovereign actors, nation states, of the region (unless some war will annihilate it, but this war is not on the horizon). Tunisia demonstrated again that even if the current international terrorism wants to destroy its experiment with democracy (that is quite dangerous for both the Islamists and the world powers, as it is not following the diktats of the international capitalism, including banks, international markets and finance, exactly like Greece) the right path is the path of the government “of the people, by the people and for the people”. That is why Tunisian democracy will not die, because it is coming from the people and it goes back to them, even if the ISIS, and probably many other regional or global powers, wants it to fail.

The probable escalation of future ISIS attacks will have strong consequences for Europe and the ME like 9-11 had, both internationally and internally, for the US. Specifically the ISIS violent escalation, could have three main consequences during the first half of this century, in Europe, the ME and also inside Islam.
Europe evidently will have to deal with it not only military, but culturally, socially and economically, engaging with the south coast of the Mediterranean that after the events of the Arab Spring and Western wars (direct of proxy) ended the post-Ottoman order of the region. Europe in particular will have to decide if it wants to remain a fortress with lack of visionary politics of integration (substituted by a superficial multilateralism that make society ghettoized and open to the problems of radicalization of conflicts) or to improve its process of integration, in particular for the thousands of refugees that are knocking at its doors. Will Europe close or open itself to the world? If it doesn’t want to end in the arms of a never ending Cold War with Russia, Europe has to embrace Africa, as Mahbubani says (2), rediscovering its Mediterranean identity and making of it a real “Sea between lands” (from the Latin Mediterraneus) passing from fortress to square, and becoming a real democratic space that lives up to its values of diversity and tolerance creating a new experiment of melting pot, with equal possibilities for all, on the US style.

The ME will have to solve its problems of poverty and backwardness respect to the rest of the world, and this unfortunately will not come without more conflicts and suffering. Not that the ME didn’t suffer until now, with colonialism, occupations and dictatorships sustained by the West, but this century could be even worst. Hopefully will be the last one of great suffering, as it has been the 20th century for Europe. There will not be another world war for the ME, as the world is too big, too interdependent and too dangerous today to be involved in a total war, but to avoid regional wars, we will need to create among the regional powers, in primis Turkey, Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, that order ended in the last few years. And the democratization will arrive to the ME too, facilitating hopefully the creation of a regional unity, a sort of confederation similar to the one that Europe started to build after the WWII (even if is still trying to complete it today). In particular if the West will leave the ME to work on itself without much interference. Finally Islam will have to reform, like Christianity did, following its own path but doing it in order to integrate itself in the modern world, where globalization doesn’t allow intolerances or lack of fundamental human rights for the future “planetary citizens”.
We will not see all of this but that’s why we have to help to build it.

(1) http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/07/Slavoj-Zizek-greece-chance-europe-awaken

(2) http://europesworld.org/2013/10/01/if-it-stays-on-that-course-europe-will-become-geopolitically-irrelevant/

Obama and Bergoglio: the project for a new American century (to not be confused with PNAC) starting with Cuba


The rapprochement between US and Cuba could have much stronger consequences than what we can think today.

After 13 years since Bush’s Axis of Evil North Korea remained the only “evil” in the world (at least until Kim Jong-un will be alive in a way or another): Iraq, Syria and Libya are failed states in the chaos of Middle East, Iran is tamed and Cuba is back in business. The last Obama’s action in foreign policy did what Carter could not do in his time even if he tried hard, as the times were not ripe yet (1). Obama realized finally the long overdue détente with Cuba, after starting the one with Iran last year. The ‘war on terror’ that started with ‘old style’ American wars can be said to be evolved with ‘new style’ American alliances, making the US living up again to its values and trying to integrate states that in a globalized world cannot be left out. The US can still lead the world but only with the example, the soft power, not with the coercion of the hard power, and not alone anymore. Obama will probably be remembered as the first President to start this new strategy.

As George Friedman, together with other geopolitical strategists, argues (2), America is the continent out of the two big land masses of the Planet Earth that have the advantage of having access to the two oceans, and this give to the countries of North America the leverage that no other country in the world, neither China, have: the possibility of trade with the big land mass, “Eurafricasia”, on both sides, the Eastern and the Western one. The world economy will be guided mostly by who has the control of the trade and so of the seas, and the US is the first candidate in this (followed by Mexico, that according to Friedman will also become an important force on the geopolitical stage). Therefore the Western Hemisphere, or if you want the Americas (as Obama said: ‘todos somos Americanos’) will be the crucial continent in the future world if will be able to become united. Otherwise China, if able to united at least economically the Eurasian continent, with its population and its ability to project long visionary policies because of not having the burden of dealing with government changes, will represent the future leader.

After almost two centuries since the declaration of the Monroe Doctrine, it is time for the US to not only avoid a foreign power to extend its influence in the Hemisphere (like they did with the Soviet Union in Cuba) but also to avoid its impositions on the continent (as it did in the past with the support to authoritarian regimes) and instead allow its natural integration through dialogue and cooperation. Cuba could be one of the most important countries for this strategy, as it was for the strategy of isolating the Communist menace: this small country, with 11 million inhabitants, plays a fundamental role in the geopolitical bridge between North and South America and also in the collective imagination of America and the entire world. It is the country of Che Guevara myth and Castro strength, the country that stood against the capitalist giant, resisted with an alternative development to capitalism and could survive for almost six decades without failing or imploding as even the Soviet Union did. To reintegrate a country like Cuba it means much more than just a rapprochement, it means the possibility of reintegrate all the countries of the Western Hemisphere in the US economic might, with a new approach based on dialogue and soft power.

Nevertheless we could not understand deeply the consequences of this act, that after 55 years transforms two enemies if not in friends yet at least in non-enemies anymore, if we don’t analyze the role of the Pope Francis and of the Catholic Church in this new American integration and consequent influence in the construction of a new world order. As Pope John Paul II was crucial in the process of undermining the grip on the stronghold of Soviet world, Eastern Europe, helping the implosion of Soviet Union, Pope Francis could be crucial to include the Latin America ‘third way’ of social state in a new America, that would become a continent of prosperity for the XXI century. Pope Francis is the pope of the poor and the marginalized, the religious version of the Cuban revolutionary ideals and therefore Cuba accepted his intercession in order to avoid to abandon itself completely in the hands of the “Empire”. Pope Francis is the pope that could allow the US to talk again also with the countries of ALBA, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua) that are proposing an alternative development to the one of Western capitalism. If “Eurafricasia”, at least in its Western side, is experiencing a new relation with Islam, struggling at its interior between the crimes of the religious terrorism and the potentialities of political Islam, the Americas could experience a new dawn, with Christian values as the ethical glue for a new economic and political development, more just and equal for all, and a new converged leadership, more shared and inclusive for the rest of the world.

New and evolved forms of capitalism and democracy is what the West needs today, we are not at the end of history for the world but at the beginning of it. Future will say but if Middle Eastern people are feeling humiliation, Europeans fear and Asians hope, as an interesting book of Moisi argues (3), Americans could feel soon a new trust and optimism in their possibilities, a trust that will be fundamental for their future evolution and the one of the world. This century, instead of an Asian one as many are expecting, could be a new American century, but in the real term of America, the whole Western Hemisphere, and in the real values of America, the ones of justice, pluralism and tolerance.

1) Carter played a role behind the scene in this rapprochement between the US and Cuba, being the only ex President of the US to have visited Cuba twice, last time 3 years ago (See: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/2011/0330/In-rare-visit-with-Castro-Jimmy-Carter-attempts-to-restart-US-Cuba-relations)

2) George Friedman, The Next 100 Years. A Forecast for the 21st Century, Doubleday, 2009

3) Dominique Moisi, The Geopolitics of Emotion: How Cultures of Fear, Humiliation, and Hope are Reshaping the World, Anchor, 2010.

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


“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