By Upul Wickramasinghe –
At present, concepts of ‘Global Parliament’ and ‘world citizen’ are frequent themes in many academic discussions of West and Europe that there are instances of such topics go beyond mere academic discussions and enter the practical political arena as well. Considerable economic support and involvement of the renowned ‘intellectuals’ are also visible in this regard. This text is a political analysis of the session of the ‘Model Global Parliament’ held at Canberra, in Australia recently (27th of July) with the presence of political leaders, university lecturers and university students representing several countries.
It is a common trend in recent history to consider the world as a ‘Global Village’ instead of a collection of individual countries. Advancement of the information technology enables the communication possible across the globe in matter of seconds, and therefore edifice the understanding of socio-cultural aspects of other nations despite of their geographical locality. This created optimism to seek out long term solutions for the economic, social and political issues of the people of so called ‘developing’ countries through international collaboration. However, the question arises ‘are those hopes have been realistic so far?’
On the other hand, climate changes and their plausible harmful effects on humans is an issue of utmost importance since 1980s among many including the renown ‘developed’ countries. Identifying the issues such as global warming as a result of greenhouse effect, increase of sea levels as global issues and addressing those in a global level are the main focus of such discussions. Therefore it was also emphasized in such conferences that we need to act beyond the national level and reach the world level, establish and enable international institutions and structures regarding this. Concepts of ‘Global Parliament’ and ‘world citizen’ emerge under such circumstances.
Former senator Bob Brown, the former leader of the Australian Green Party and his party play the key political role in promoting the idea of a Global Parliament in Australia. Addressing the National Press Club at Canberra in 2011 he proposed a ‘Global Parliament’ or a ‘United Nations Global People’s Assembly’ based on the idea of ‘One person, one value, one vote’.* He further added that issues with international importance such as nuclear weapon proliferation, financial management and destruction of eco-systems should be attended and taken necessary steps immediately through this association. Moreover he mentioned that 85% of the property of the world is being used by the wealthy people who are only about 10% of the world population. In addition, he also said that it is possible to attend the needs of those who suffer from food scarcity and the ones with lower education levels by spending only one tenth of the money spent on military.
Martha Nussbaum, one of the popular intellectuals of modern days that draw attention to on the concept of ‘World Citizen’ and its significance, lay emphasis on building a citizen whose empathetic imagination transcends beyond the national boundaries to a universal level, and condemns all types of discrimination. She accentuate the capability of education possess in such regard. Quoting Ghanaian thinker Anthony Appiah’s views, she further adds that all humans should be treated as our neighbours and some severe issues among us can be sorted out only by considering them as issues common to entire human species instead of treating them as mere problems in each individual country or region.
As concepts ‘Global Parliament’ and ‘World Citizen’ are considered important undoubtedly. Accepting all human beings have equal rights and actively participating in politics to grant those are without a doubt extremely radical political steps. In fact, that is the original idea of a classless society or of a communist social system. However, the problem is what issues prevent it. United Nations Organization, the most important international Institute among the current political institute, was founded in order to search for solutions for the catastrophe caused by WWII and prevent such disasters happening again. 193 countries of the world have its current membership. Also its programmes run covering each and every field namely, UNDP, UNEP, UNHCR, UNICEF and UNESCO. So why do we still need a ‘Global Parliament’? It suggests that above mentioned institutes have failed to find the solutions for the global issues. Indeed it is true. UNO has failed to give solutions for problems including thousands of casualties due to war, war crimes and human rights violations that took place or still have being taken place, millions of deaths or depression around the world due to economic inequalities. Generally speaking, although it has shown success to a certain level regarding some areas, it is evident that UNO has failed to address the global issues.
Then the question arises; why UNO’s efforts have been so ineffective? In my opinion, the agenda of UNO is being arranged by a few of the world most powerful nations including USA whose aims and motives are being formed according to the needs of capitalistic society. USA’s invasions to Iraq and Afghanistan alone can demonstrate that. At present, petroleum oil and its resources have a high political value as well as their economic value. USA is the biggest consumer of the world mineral oil and Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Venezuela are her suppliers. In the capitalistic system, survival depends on the success in competition.
This competition is common to each individual as well as to nations. Inevitable result of competition among nations for economic and geopolitical profit is war. The motive of Iraq invasion for US was capturing oil resource which is important as a strategic resource in the competition among the world powers including China, Germany and Russia. It is evident that Iraq’s manufacturing bio chemical weapons was a simple excuse to legitimize the attack since such bio chemical weapons have not been found so far. Even if the hypothesis was true, what authority does USA hold to attack Iraq? Who has granted such authority? What moral right allow USA to attack another country which is manufacturing bio chemical weapons while USA itself owns enough bio chemical weapons and nuclear weapons enough to blow the entire world several times? In truth at present we should raise such questions. Attack on Afghanistan has more weight on geopolitical authority of the region than on strategic resources since it is adjoining Russia and China and on the other hand next to Pakistan and Iran, which are the main competitors of USA.
In the context of this text, the most important factor is the behavior of UNO. Prior to the attack on Iraq, a proposal was forwarded to the security council of UN. Although the proposal was turned down, USA invaded Iraq as she wished. UNO or the international community failed to do anything against it. Another such, yet less popular incident is UNO’s failure in year 2009, regarding the civilian deaths and injuries in the final phase of the civil war in Sri Lanka. Stephen Ratner, a specialist member of Darusman committee appointed by the UN Secretary said that UNO lost its attention from the situation in Sri Lanka due to the contemporary power transfer in USA (from Bush to Obama) and the clashes in Gaza region between Israel and Palestine when the author asked the question in person. Also, due to the support of China and Russia for the Sri Lankan government due to its geopolitical profit in the competition between powerful countries, UNO is incapable of taking actions against current human rights violation happening in Sri Lanka. So, before moving on to new structures such as ‘Global Parliament’ we need to consider why the current structures fail and how to avoid such failures in new structures.
On the other hand Why 85% of world property being used by the rich who are 10% of the world population? like Mr. Bob Brown inquires. Why does 90% of world population enjoy only 15% of the total wealth? Why people die in famine or suffer from mal-nutrition while having a supply of food twice as big as the food demand of the world? This questionnaire is very lengthy. It is seen that different people give different answers to these questions. For some it is a personal burden from birth for those who suffer and betterment of their lives is their own quest. For some basically nation and political leaders are responsible for that. In my opinion, although the people and their political leaders are responsible for this fate to some extent, the capitalistic social economic order is the main reason because the economical polarization is necessary for the survival of the capitalist economy. Surplus, the foundation of capitalistic economic system builds through economic polarization. ‘Developed countries’ such as USA destroy bundles of food in order to maintain a certain price range while people and children die in millions from starvation in some African countries. Thousands of people work without even the minimal facilities and die from the collapses of the garment factories in countries like Bangladesh as results of competitive investments for cheap labour of multinational companies. There are more examples for maintaining such economic disparity by the capitalist system which is its inherent quality essential for its survival.
Main topic of discussion by Global Parliament is climate change and environmental pollution and the latter is mainly caused by the over-consuming life style of people. In other words, market influence people to have endless needs and they end up consuming more products and resources than they truly need. This is also an essential quality in capitalism since earning profit is needed to stay in business in the middle of competition. Profit rises when the number of consumers rises. Over utilization of resources directly result in both degrading resources and environmental pollution. Therefore to preserve environment or to minimize the destruction caused by the climate change, it is needed to redirect public into a different consumption pattern or to a simple life style. However, this cannot be expected in capitalism since it is a direct threat to the survival of capitalism itself.
Thus in conclusion, ‘Global Parliament’ or ‘World Citizen’ are important as concepts yet impossible to achieve in reality in the current capitalistic political system. It can be a reality only in a political struggle against the current economic, social and political discrimination. All workshops, discussions and dialogues without such struggle are waste of time and effort because they only send people who seek answers into other directions instead of actually letting them confront those problems. This sort of liberal action only blunts radical political potentials of the people especially of the youth and it indirectly sustains the capitalistic political system.
I would quote a political joke written by Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek in this occasion.
There is an old joke from the defunct German Democratic Republic. A German worker gets a job in Siberia. Aware that his mail will be intercepted and read by censors, he tells his friends:
“Let’s establish a code: if a letter you receive from me is written in ordinary blue ink, it is true; if it is written in red ink, it is false.”
After a month, his friends receive the first letter, written in blue ink:
“Everything is wonderful here: stores are full, food is abundant, apartments are large and properly heated, movie theatres show films from the West, there are many beautiful girls eager to have affairs – the only thing unavailable is red ink.”
Thus, at present, it is imperative that the intellectuals raise the correct questions.
This is the link to the Bob Brown’s speech at National Press Club, Canberra, 29th June 2011;
*Translated by: Anjanee Sewvandika Wijewardane