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Jean Ziegler: “This World Order is not only murderous: it is absurd.”

Translated Tuesday 18 November 2008, by Jonathan Pierrel

Sworn opponent of world imbalances, in La Haine de l’Occident (Hate for the West), he pleads for a new world social contract based on solidarity and dialogue between the South and the West.

Former United Nations Special representative for the Right to Food, Jean Ziegler is now member of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. His last book, La Haine de l’Occident (Published by Albin Michel) is an indictment of “global capitalism and of the cannibalistic order that it imposes on the planet.”

HUMA: The debate over the nature of the crisis is ongoing. Some consider that it as something more than a crisis of the financial system that needs to be corrected: a multi-dimensional crisis that some even qualify as civilisational. Do you share this opinion?

ZIEGLER: Yes. The jungle capitalism is losing its mask. There is, on one hand, the suffering of American workers: 25 million families evicted from their houses since last March, to which you can add 10,000 tenants evicted each day since September. Thousands of pension funds disappeared into thin air. Unemployment is rising quickly in France. Social budgets are going to be cut. One has to weigh the importance of these disasters. At the same time, we witness an extraordinary event: the masks of neoliberalism have fallen. Theories legitimising current capitalism are shredded into pieces; namely: market self-regulation, the free transfer of capital, services and merchandise, the privatisation of all public sectors, the claim that economic laws are laws of nature, slander against the national State and its normative strength. This ultraliberalism that renders workers powerless is now at bay. The real player, the “invisible hand,” against which we were said to be powerless, has become visible: the predators, the speculators, the oligarchies of the stock market that know only greed, cynicism and an obsessional lust for power. This unmasking opens onto a path of awareness of the actual nature of globalised capitalism and of the cannibalistic order that it imposes on the planet.

HUMA: According to you, have we realised the impact that this crisis has on countries in the South?

ZIEGLER: “When the rich lose weight, the poor starve to death,” goes a saying. Hunger in the world is increasing dramatically. A child under ten dies from starvation every five seconds, and 100,000 people die from hunger or its immediate effects every day. 923 million people – that is, more than one in six – are constantly, seriously under-nourished. This daily hunger massacre is intensifying. At the same time, President Nicolas Sarkozy has massively reduced public development aid. In Africa, projects have been postponed.

The UN has identified eight tragedies to eradicate as a matter of priority. These are the objectives to accomplish by 2015: suppress extreme poverty and hunger; enable all young children to acquire basic schooling; promote sexual equality and women’s autonomy; reduce infant mortality; improve mothers’ health; fight against AIDS; guarantee the safe-guarding of the environment; establish a world pact for development. These objectives’ cost is estimated at 82 billion dollars per year over five years. Since 2000, the West says that there is no money. Yet, last October 12, at the Elysée, 27 countries of the European Union have liberated 1,700 billion euro in three hours and a half for interbank credit and to increase the lower limit of bank’s actual capital by 3 to 5%. To eliminate the eight tragedies that strike third-world countries, only 1% of these 1,700 billion would be sufficient. This world order is not only murderous: it is absurd.”

HUMA: the G20 summit in Washington aims at elaborating solutions to this worldwide crisis. We know it: countries from the South will be the most notable absentees. Doesn’t this exclusion risk increasing this “reasoned hate” from the South for the West that you mention in your last work?

ZIEGLER: Absolutely. “They took off their helmets, but, behind it, their heads remain colonial,” said Régis Debray. The West has suicidial policies. For five hundred years, the whites, who represent only 13% of the world population, have dominated the world through successive oppression systems: the genocide of native Americans with the conquest of America, the triangular slave trade to loot raw material; the deportation of 400 million African people; then, colonial occupation and massacres; and, finally, the globalised capitalism’s world order. Edgar Morin wrote: “The domination of the West is the worst of human history in terms of duration and worldwide influence.” The hate for the West has two sources. First, this mysterious and tremendous memory revival that no one expected. Slavery was abolished one hundred and twenty-five years ago. The last country to do so was Brazil in 1888. Colonialism too, about fifty years ago. Yet, it is only now that people are becoming conscious of this wounded memory, this memory of horrors undergone. It becomes a claim for reparation and a claim for repentance. Think about this extraordinary scene of December 2007 when Nicolas Sarkozy arrived in Algeria to sign several contracts. President Bouteflika tells him beforehand: “First, you must apologize for Sétif,” the massacre of May 8, 1945, when thousands of Algerians, women and children, were executed by the French army when they were only peacefully demonstrating. Nicolas Sarkozy replies that he hasn’t come for the “nostalgia.” Bouteflika retorts: “Memory before business.” And the agreements won’t be signed. There is an irruption of a radically new strength in history: the claim for memory. In Bolivia, in 2006, the democratic election of an Indian to the presidency for the first time in five centuries is the pure fruit of this claim for memory. The second source is the complete refusal of globalised capitalism, capitalism of which the people from the South are the victims. The rebirth of memory and the complete refusal of this last system of oppression are the causes of this reasonable hate.

HUMA: You state in your book that “the people from the Southern hemisphere have decided to hold somebody responsible.” To whom will they address themselves?

ZIEGLER: To the West, of course. But the West remains deaf and blind to the memory claims of the South. Look at the outrageous speech from Sarkozy in Dakar in July 2007, or the failure of the World Conference on Racism in 2001.

HUMA: By considering the West responsible, doesn’t it come down to absolving the governments of countries in the South from their own responsibility?

ZIEGLER: Yes, the horrifying example of the Nigerian regime, which I talk about at length in my book, shows it. Nigeria is ranked number eight in oil production in the world, and number one in Africa. With 147 million inhabitants, it is the most populated country of the continent. Life expectancy is of only forty-seven years. More than 70% of the people live in extreme poverty. Undernourishment is constant. There are no schools, no sanitary services. All this because of the endemic corruption of military dictators that succeeded one another since 1966. The link of trust between the citizens and the State has been broken by corruption and plundering.

But both sides are responsible. Oil companies that exploit the great wealth of the country – Shell, ELF, Exxon, Texaco, Repsol … – actively take part in this process with those generals. Oil companies favour corruption because it helps them. When you negotiate the share of wealth and goods, it is infinitely more favourable to face corrupted people than a democratically-elected government that protects the public interest. I condemn corruption. Generals from Abuja are crooks, but, at the same time, it is proper to see the origin of this scourge and the way those accomplices maintain the crooks into power.

HUMA: You affirm that the capitalistic barbarism shows its true face. What could be the consequences of this?

ZIEGLER: The common consciousness is going to be part of a process of learning and analysis. The social riposte is going to get organised. We are now going through a period favorable to this movement. France certainly is socially unfair, but she is a live democracy. The word is spreading. The freedom of the press is guaranteed. So, the analytical reasoning can start. Relocations, for example, find their origin in social dumping. Against this, workers’ reaction has often been mere resignation: “We can’t help it. The market decides.” There was a very deep alienation of the working classes against this “invisible hand” of the market. Many workers ended up buying the inevitable idea of unemployment, market-place deregulation and flexibility. Meanwhile, over the last ten years, workers’ social protection dwindled away. Now, these lies have collapsed. The invisible hand has eventually become visible: it’s the one of the predators. How will this social riposte organise itself? We don’t know yet, but this is a major issue.

HUMA: Among the emergency actions to take facing the crisis, is it possible to install a regulation of fiscal paradises?

ZIEGLER: They should be entirely eliminated. It’s one of the most urgent measures to take. The banking secret must also be abolished and the pre-eminence of the public sector must be re-established when we deal with public services: reverse privatisation, impose a strict normativity on capital, prohibit relocation and regulate the stock market to prevent speculation. There is no doubt that financial oligarchies that work exclusively with maximisation of profits must be subjected to the normativity of the State. Free-trade is noxious when the State loses its normative strength. Social justice, right to life, a progressive tax system ensuring a redistribution of the national income, the absolute priority of job security to fair distribution of resources and to social democracy - these constitute the country’s interest.

HUMA: Do you think it would be possible to have a common front with the people from the South and the West?

ZIEGLER: I’m positive that this process will result in a new worldwide social contract. The opposite of a self-regulated market is law. Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote in The Social Contract: “Between the weak and the strong, it is freedom which oppresses and law that liberates.” I’m absolutely convinced that the people from the West will understand that the inhumanity inflicted on others will destroy the humanity that lies within themselves. We are endowed with moral imperatives, with identity consciousness. This cannibalistic order of the world, this predator rule, recognisable from the daily hunger massacre, is no longer acceptable for the citizens of the West. It has been proven, with the mobilisation of colossal funds for banks, that there is a huge availability of wealth to mitigate the gross exploitation and the unfathomable misery of so many peoples from the South. A new contract of solidarity and dialogue between the South and the West is going to be established by peopled freed by their alienation.

HUMA: The risks that this crisis wouldn’t deepen the already-existing inequalities or that it wouldn’t be favourable for a reaction are real. But isn’t this showing an exaggerated enthusiasm?

ZIEGLER: I know the argument. The stock market crash of 1928 and the world economic crisis gave birth to fascism in several European countries. But fascism was born from the humiliation of a defeat, Germany’s from the outcome of the First World War, a desire for revenge. The Western winners let it happen, preferring fascism to bolshevism and to revolution, of which the middle-class elite were frightened. The world was still predominantly colonial then. The situation is completely different now. Today’s threat, if the West doesn’t wake up, is the pathological hate of small groups from the South and violent racism developing in the West. But dangers can be averted. In the Talmud of Babylon, there is this mysterious sentence: “The future has a long past.” The west must first welcome the South’s memory resurgence, acknowledge the crimes committed, and practice reparation. And more importantly, it must agree to dismantle the world cannibalistic order, move away from capitalism to civilisation. Barack Obama has come to power in an aggressive empire, an over-armed power proclaiming the military, economic and political hegemony of the planet. Will he be able to dismantle the imperial structures and to inaugurate international policies based on reciprocity, the equality of the peoples — in other words, policies subject to the norms of the international right? I doubt it. The mobilisation of social forces in Europe and in the South and the resistance to jungle capitalism will be essential for a humane civilisation to be born on our planet. But the formidable Afro-American memory resurgence that allowed Obama’s victory to happen already constitutes hope on its own.

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