Dialogue of Civilizations in the Times of Global Transformations

Vladimir Yakunin, Founding President of the World Public Forum Dialogue of Civilizations

Article by the Founding President of the World Public Forum “Dialogue of Civilizations” Vladimir Yakunin

The events that have evolved over the past 25-30 years have yet to be thoroughly analyzed but even today it seems quite apparent that the world, on the whole, has entered another large-scale, social-political and economic transformation. Such a conclusion was tabled at the last few conferences of the World Public Forum “Dialogue of Civilizations.” It was precisely at such a Forum that is held annually on the Greek Island of Rhodes that we came to such a conclusion back in 2005 about mounting tensions and the inevitability of an economic crisis. However, about the same time, just before the onset of the global financial-economic crisis, the Davos Forum boastfully announced coming remarkable economic prospects.

As I view it, lying at the basis of the events taking place in Russia – events of which we are both witnesses and participants – there is a maturing feeling of all-embracing injustice. This injustice or unfairness concerns the life we are leading; this injustice pertains to the arbitrariness of official functionaries; this also holds true of the unfairness concerning the blatant disregard on the part of the oligarchic elite of business circles for their country and their people; and, of course, this concerns the impermissible property inequality that we are witnessing.

Yet we are but a part of the deep-running worldwide social-economic transformation that is picking up steam. And the political catastrophe following the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the whole socialist camp acted as the trigger that launched this process. The visible signs of this process are seen in the violent destruction of Yugoslavia and in the supposedly “peaceful” collapse of several other European countries, as well as in the systemic crisis of the Western world – something which today is conceded by all experts and political scientists; a systemic crisis that was brought about by the last global financial-economic crisis.

In his works, the eminent Indian futurologist and one of the founders of the WPF “Dialogue of Civilizations,”  Jagdish Kapur, pointed out that the world of consumption, created on the basis of neo-liberal theory technologies has led to the degradation of western society and to snowballing extreme social-economic inequality. All this may inevitably lead to a catastrophic “clash of civilizations.”

Judge for yourself. Beginning with 2008 the leaders of the most advanced countries, including Russia, repeatedly met at G7, G8 and G20 format conferences in an effort to elaborate systemic measures for overcoming the crisis. However, as a result of all this, the second wave of the crisis which we had predicted back in 2008, swept over the world evermore powerfully. There is good reason here to ask: why?

For the simple reason that in that period no one had tabled a critical analysis of that social-economic formation which grew out of the foundations of the once free market capitalism. Essentially, as a result of the last transformation, that world of the so-called “golden billions” turned into a typically imperialist alliance of states, into a world of heartless consumerism whose wellbeing is based on the merciless exploitation of the rest of the whole world.

What is more, that transformation “courteously” tabled the post-industrialist world theory. “Do as we do, strive to become a post-industrialist information society – that is the road to prosperity.” Herein lies the essence of all the advice given by international financial institutions and western politicians over the past 25-30 years. Many countries of the developing world followed this advice, but what this actually led to is very reliably described by Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz in his recently published book “Freefall. America, Free Markets and the Sinking of the World Economy.”

Loss of sovereignty, shameless plundering by transnational corporations, poverty, disease and war – this is the list of the results of “democratization” of many countries. However, it would be absolutely unobjective to deny the fact that having gained access to progressive scientific-technical achievements, having attracted foreign investments and acquiring knowledge from the West, several countries with the so-called “developing economies” have made a colossal spurt forward in developing their economies and social spheres: Singapore, Brazil, India. And the Republic of South Africa today is hot on their heels. I have intentionally not included China in this list since it has chosen and is implementing its own path of transformation, and the same holds true of Russia.

But compared to Africa with its multi-million population and rich natural resources, but which is suffering from hunger in the 21st century, I think that you will agree with me in that all this is nevertheless an exception.

The peripheral regions of the world are doomed to toil in the sphere of production, supply, and even crediting the so-called “developed countries” which, in practice, are beneficiaries and guardians of their post-production and financed capitalism. Democracy that is combined with that which is no longer even a method of production, but rather a method of  speculation has totally discredited itself: the slogans about a free market, a free man and free society that are being spewed out everywhere by propaganda outlets are, in reality, nothing but a cover for “liberating” man from his rights for a dignified existence; it serves as a pretext for depriving him of his social and medical guarantees, and in the event of armed interventions, this is used for “justifying” even loss of life.

Such a model of society of armament protected consumption has stopped functioning. It has not only outlived itself; but in using obsolete meanings of progress, endlessly fanning up of financial, moral and cultural bubbles, it speaks of the cyclic nature of world crises and cynically tries to justify the right of certain individuals to lead a life of luxury at the expense of the catastrophic lifestyle of all the rest. This model does not work. The very foundations of society are undergoing transformation, and the dialogue of civilizations has been viewing these transformations of the past decade as a case history of malady of mankind. And the diagnosis of this malady is by no means encouraging for there is no panacea. Yet there is an understanding that what lies ahead implies protracted and steadfast treatment in each specific region, using special means that are suitable in each concrete case.

Indications and signs of the above-mentioned global transformation can be seen in the events taking place in the post-Soviet space and the so-called “Arab spring,’ the “Occupy Wall Street” movement and similar protests and unrest in Europe.

We, in Russia, (just as in any other country of the world), judging by everything, are to deal with two types of transformations. Just like in 2008, we face two crises – our own internal, structural crisis connected with the situation inherited from the USSR and the world crisis that has hit hard upon the projects of countries “smoothly growing into” the world capitalist economy.

In one case, as a result of the current crisis, we see a changing global structure of interrelations that is traditionally described as a capitalistic world system, a world society, in which there is competition between globalization and traditionalism. In the other case, at the national level – whether there are or are not elements of “glocalization,” i.e., a local (endogenic) reaction to the stages of developing capitalism preceding the crisis.

Proceeding from this premise, it is possible to understand the temptation of many experts to add their own personal touch of color to the emerging picture of transformations. There arise concepts of a complex society, a post-industrial or post-global world and so on; moreover, these concepts are being actively discussed. To be sure, this is quite remarkable – but on one condition, theories must be verified and confirmed by practice. Otherwise, at times, one gets the impression that these are attempts, to put it mildly, to manipulate the conscience of the local elites in the interests of the subsequent financial or other external governance, or even direct control over local societies. Behind the fuss around ‘the great transformations” there will be certain forces which by all means attempt to make use of this possibility. Our Chinese colleague from the “realm of research” has pointed out that quite recently scientific-research centers of China were recommended not to use in their writings such a term as “post-crisis world” so that, as it is so often said, “not to magnify the essence” and not to add confusion in the minds of the scientific elite. I believe that this is quite a transparent response to those circumstances and forces which are trying to promote a rapid succession of “seasonal revolutions.” We have witnessed how this unfolded in the Middle East in 2011; the distance from the “Arab spring” to the “Arab winter” proved to be quite short. That is why the task of understanding and fathoming real processes remains the most important one facing our intellectual community.

The “worldwide network” – Internet has become a principally new factor affecting these transformations. Today when man can no longer imagine himself outside “the web” and when information instantaneously travels from one continent to another, there have appeared obvious indications of an intentional and selfish utilization of this resource. Under the pretext of universal freedom and democracy, unlimited right to have access to information, the uprisings in Egypt and Algeria were transmitted practically on-line and this essentially provoked people to go out into the streets.

In Libya the whole world actually became an accomplice in the killing of an elderly man who was at one time Colonel Gaddafi. And in exactly the same manner, without any international juridical foundations whatsoever, the leader of another sovereign state Saddam Hussein was hanged. At first, that country was falsely accused of possessing weapons of mass destruction, after which the unwanted political regime was wiped out. But what is most astonishing here is that not a single official behind that grandiose lie was held accountable for the infamous hoax or for the death of thousands of their own and other peoples.

I must confess that Saddam Hussein was also not that much to my liking (but according to our Russian tradition, no ill words are to be uttered about the deceased), however, this can in no way serve as the grounds for simply killing an unpleasant or even “obnoxious” neighbor. This is inhuman. It is not the Christian way to act!
The situation in Syria is explosive. There are threats of direct aggression against Iran.

And on its part, Iran is threatening Israel.

Of course, it would be folly to argue that the events in Northern Africa were initiated only by the information impact of Internet. In these countries, over the course of decades, one could witness the formation and active steps taken by political systems which led to a most blatant property and social inequality between the ruling elite and all the rest of the population.

However, it was precisely with these elites that the heads of states and governments of the USA and other western countries were “friends”; they embraced each other and signed agreements on economic and military cooperation.

So, what had changed all of a sudden?

The conclusion to be drawn here is self-evident, and in my opinion, it consists of two parts.

First, one must admit that the western, and primarily, American institutions of social and political studies that possess an excellent research base and a powerful intellectual resource potential had realized, in good time, “the point of no return” had arrived in the development of social tensions in these countries. And then following the well-known principle of so-called “national interests” which dominates their policy, they decided to resort to the technology of a “targeted hit” which implies sacrificing a great deal but not losing everything.

Second, having come face-to-face with a systemic crisis in the USA itself, a crisis that has swerved out of control of the financial system, the Americans, especially on the threshold of elections and with the unemployment rate hopping above 8%, must, by hook or by crook, shift the point of tensions to another place. The ways and means of attaining these goals are only too well known – a triumphant but not very blood-spilling war, destabilization and conflicts further away from the borders of the USA and Europe, shaping and molding the scarecrow of a threat (read: enemy) for general public consumption (such  scarecrow candidates, as is known, are always close at hand).

Whether accidentally or not, but the crisis of the world social system is accompanied by a cold-blooded destruction of ancient centers and monuments of Ecumene – the cradles of the whole earthly civilization, and this includes the museums in Iraq and Libya, manuscripts in Egypt and architectural monuments of Carthage in Tunisia, to say nothing already of the destruction of the Orthodox Holy places in Serbia and Pristina.

It these tendencies are not stopped, then a dead end along any path of transformation may lead the world to a global catastrophe with the self-destruction of mankind.

In the opinion of the members of the WPF “Dialogue of Civilizations,” the way out of this blind alley can be found only in recognizing the equal right of civilizations to existence and development, the right to preserve their cultural and spiritual identities.

It is not a compulsive unification and standardization employing the yardstick of “general human values” of only the Anglo-Saxon model, but a dialogue among civilizations that can open the road to the development and cooperation in the interests of each and every person.