Globalization. Global democracy and citizenship
Reference Dialogue: World Youth Festival
The central theme of the second day of the main program of the World Youth Festival was globalization. During the morning session, participants discussed “Global democracy? International governance and institutions,” moderated by the National Preparatory Committees (CNP); and in the afternoon, “Global citizenship: youth participation,” moderated by the European Youth Forum.
Session 1. Global democracy? International governance and institutions
Albert Garrido, a journalist for the newspaper El Periódico de Catalunya and the Sunday supplement, and a professor at Pompeu Fabra University (UPF), discussed global democracy. Democracy is a political system with a delicate balance and is not immune to external threats. In the Western world, the rule of law that allows freedom of expression and the protection of human and social rights more or less guarantees democracy. This is not the case in non-Western countries. Democracy could be defined as an organic system that has elements of resistance in the face of numerous conflicting elements such as economic and political power. A clear case of public power acting against democracy can be found in the United States, where the Patriot Act has reduced certain public freedoms on the basis of security-related arguments. The final goal of all this is to strengthen the reactionary paradigm that goes against democracy and, through the influence of the United States, spread these ideas to the rest of the world. Despite this fact, the United States has a strong democracy and its population has maintained a critical spirit. The prestige of the democratic model prior to the war in Iraq has been damaged by the United States’ use of this concept to justify a war. Especially in Arab countries, where the concept of democracy has suffered a severe setback, democracy has in some cases been discredited as an alternative to current political regimes, which has strengthened fundamentalist and theocratic regimes. Democracy’s main enemies are the intervention of religion in politics, populism and the worship of personalities, corruption, poverty, overpopulation, ideological sectarianism, and xenophobia and racism. Indeed, today’s globalization is based mainly on the economy and tends to reduce the role of governments in the management and control of activities (education, health care, culture, etc.), which are essential to greater equality. However, it is also true that globalization can help regenerate democracy in the rest of the world, as in the case of Turkey, which is experiencing an incipient phenomenon of "democratization," encouraged by the European Union, and which could be an example for the rest of the Arab nations. However, it is important to remember that this is not an easy journey and that it will involve a struggle against powerful global forces that rise up against the democratization of democracy.
Fatima Alloo, a journalist and founder of the Tanzania Media Women Association (TAMWA), discussed democracy on the African continent. Africa, the world’s least developed continent, a place no one wants to emulate, which treats its people with a lack of respect, a territory besieged by war and hunger... a place everyone wants to leave. This is the Western world’s vision of Africa, which is one of the world’s richest lands in natural resources and cultural diversity. But the image that reaches us through the media is one of a dark continent in need of aid and charity, incapable of making decisions for itself. The media offers this image of Africa to the outside world and also within Africa itself. Africans themselves feel poor and pressured by institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Today, exclusion is the main tool for denying Africans their dignity. In the UN, a body with the philosophy of "one country, one vote" and which could be considered a parliament where the world’s problems could be discussed, Africans have found themselves pushed into the background by the world’s richest countries (the G7), as seen during the war in Iraq, when African countries could do nothing more than present a resolution against the bombings. Alloo gave Spain as an example of a government punished for failing to listen to the voice of the people, calling on citizens to win back control over politics and vindicate their rights as citizens of the world, regardless of their home country. "The times are changing. A window of opportunity has opened for justice and peace,” she concluded.
Roberto Pérez del Castillo, Uruguay’s ambassador to the UN, focused his presentation on international institutions. International organizations such as the World Bank (WB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Trade Organization (WTO) have certain operational methods that have been widely criticized. There are frequent calls to close these organizations and create new institutions that would better perform their functions. However, according to Pérez del Castillo, this is not the solution. Rather, we should determine what mistakes have been made and propose changes to these institutions’ policies for the future. Globalization is a process that has not worked for thousands of people, since it has led them to poverty while providing spoils to the rich. We need to ask the question: How can we govern globalization in such a way that benefits everyone to a greater or lesser extent? The first step is to make appropriate use of international organizations to eliminate the tendency—common in recent years—of proposed policies that respond to particular interests (mainly Western banks) and not the needs of developing countries.
IMF: This organization has committed the most serious errors in applying policies on development, economic stabilization, or the restructuring of communist countries into market economies. Its initial goal was to give cash-flow assistance to countries suffering from temporary economic crises, since the market had defects that governments needed to intervene to solve. The organization underwent a radical change in ideology and today the defense of the free market is the fundamental object of the policies proposed: 1) Austerity in government spending, 2) Privatization of public sector companies, and 3) Liberalization. The reasons for this change are the financial interests of Western countries in developing economies. The so-called "one-size-fits-all measures" imposed indiscriminately in all countries and which focus exclusively on economic aspects, without taking into account the social and cultural context and the needs of the population, have been another mistake. The same ideas cannot be applied to such a diverse range of countries, and this has had disastrous results, such as the crisis in Argentina.
WB: The initial goal of the World Bank was the reconstruction of Europe after World War II. It evolved and became an organization that financed the construction of infrastructures all over the world. Its main problem is its endemic dependence on the IMF—it cannot make any investments or create any programs without the prior approval of the Fund. Therefore, its policies are also influenced by the "more market, less state" approach of the International Monetary Fund.
WTO: This organization is dedicated to promoting collaboration frameworks between countries. Its biggest mistake was unequal trade liberalization. The economic barriers to technology sales (an area where developed countries are strongest) have been removed, but areas like agriculture and the textile industry have not been liberalized (areas that form the basis of the economy of developing countries).
The following solutions to this problem have been proposed: renovating the antiquated structures of these organizations and adapting them to today’s needs; democratizing the organizations by requiring greater representation of developing countries and greater participation in the negotiations; greater transparency; external, independent evaluations of the programs; a new ideological vision, especially in the case of the IMF; the inclusion of social factors in program planning; and altering the responsibilities of the IMF so that it prevents crises rather than just applying patches. "There are no easy solutions to the problems of our world. The issues are too complex. Young people have a large share of the responsibility," said Pérez del Castillo.
Ali Lmrabet, a journalist and former editor of Morocco’s now-prohibited weekly Demain Magazine, spoke about democracy in Arab countries. When asked if there was any democratic point of reference for Arab countries today, Lmrabet responded simply: "No, not a single one." There are "republics" among the Arab nations, which are actually feudal, absolutist dictatorships or monarchies. According to Lmrabet, "these people do whatever they want" and justify their actions by saying that they are the descendants of the prophet Muhammad. The current force of globalization in Arab countries can be seen in the live news on the channel Al-Jazeera. From the outside, this new Arab television channel encourages debate within Arab states, which is very important in countries where the freedom of expression is so restricted. The globalization of information has been a very beneficial effect of globalization. The second positive effect was the creation of human-rights organizations that are strong enough to make an impact on the West and pressure governments to support regime change in Arab countries. The third effect of globalization would be the spreading of the idea that “Arab states need to become democratic” among the citizens of Western countries and, more importantly, the citizens of Arab states.
Session 2. Global citizenship: youth participation
During the afternoon session, participants discussed Global citizenship: youth participation. The speakers were Kirsten Hagon, the representative of Australia at the UN General Assembly; Eduard Vallory, former president of the National Youth Council of Catalonia; Alexander Josef, a member of the São Paulo Youth Council in Brazil; and Pau Solanilla, a member of the European Parliament.
Kirsten Hagon, the representative of Australia at the UN General Assembly, commented that youth participation in the UN Assembly has raised diplomats’ awareness. Today, peacekeeping missions also involve activities to care for children who are victims of conflicts. Youth representatives in the UN participate in their countries’ delegations by contributing a youth-oriented vision to the committees. They represent the young people of their countries within the national delegation and also represent the country within the convention of young people represented. Young people can become involved with the UN through many different channels, the most important being: the Internet and the consultative bodies of NGOs.
Eduard Vallory, the former president of the National Youth Council of Catalonia, pointed out that governments’ loss of ability to solve new problems caused people to get organized and provide responses to needs in contexts other than the traditional political parties and unions. NGOs need to accept the fact that their activities are political. Rather than acting as entities focused on resistance in the face of external criticism, they should be project-oriented entities that contribute something to society as a whole. They need to be more than just party-controlled associations that think they represent all young people. They also need to be more than associations of technical experts. The solution to problems lies in participating and proposing solutions.
Alexander Josef, a member of the São Paulo Youth Council in Brazil, noted that in the city of São Paulo youth-participation networks are being created that are completely different from classic, formal means of participation (traditional associational movements). Often, however, these youth-participation initiatives are denied the recognition of the utility of their praxis. People’s perception is that young people don’t do anything and that they do not participate. But they are aware that certain groups of young people from the hip-hop world are involved in strong associational movements. In Brazil, hip-hop has become the revolutionary movement for young people, as May 1968 was for Europe.
Traditional youth organizations are not taking into account the current reality of young people, who are looking to create participation networks. Traditional institutions need to open their minds to globalize this kind of movement, allowing them to create worldwide collaboration and debate networks. They need to leave privileged neighborhoods and make contact with the young people who directly suffer from problems. The challenge is to create this sort of grassroots network and look for solutions by observing the reality of young people.
Finally, Pau Solanilla, a member of the European Parliament, declared that globalization is today an unstoppable process. In this context, youth organizations must look for ways of transforming today’s prevailing economic globalization into another kind of globalization. The lack of citizens’ confidence in today’s political institutions has caused "the cynicism of the citizens to emerge as a result of the cynicism of the politicians." We mustn’t slip into this practice, which leads to inaction, but rather demand that those in power open the institutions to the participation of social movements. Participating is deciding, and deciding is influencing political power. We must create certain agents that influence power and others that manage this power, interregional links between countries, spaces for collaboration, and spaces for the reexamination of international institutions. "Globalization is the history of success for the few," and for others it is a sad world in which happiness only exists in dreams. We cannot demand the destruction of formal political institutions, or leave everything in the hands of social organizations. Rather, we need to build bridges between these two visions of the world in order to define feasible solutions that are appropriate for the problems being dealt with.