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International dialogue at the Alfred Herrhausen Society


I have never believed very much in dialogue with the powerful and after a two-day conference in Berlin I definitely learnt that dialogue is good – but it has nothing to do with good arguments and words but with power.

The Alfred Herrhausen Society for International Dialogue is what they define as a socio-political think-thank and was founded 1992. Each year they organise a conference on a specific theme and invite names and personalities from all over. In the presentation folder it says that; “our commitment is as global as are the business operations of the Deutsche Bank”.

I had been invited to speak and was obviously used as the radical alibi, not in a malevolent way, I sure they see it as giving me a platform. I knew that when I was invited and I have been playing the role of an alibi for years in Sweden. And I told myself that if I can play it in Sweden I could play it abroad as well. You might feel less comfortable because they don’t speak your own language or because a man like Richard Pearl, member of the North American Defence Policy Board, is in many ways more powerful than the Swedish prime minister will ever be but it would be chauvinist of me to think that the “Swedes” are therefore better or nicer.

This year “Europe”, as the European Union and its common market is called was the theme.

I don’t think I have ever spoken in front of such a homogenous audience. Of course there are differences between the persons there – but the differences are so minuscule that they hardly can be seen as fractions or political directions even if they would like to think so.

Apart from the differences they all do an excellent work, they’re really doing what they should be doing. I was impressed by Michael Portillo, British former minister of defence, explaining why he changed his mind on Saddam Hussein when Saddam Hussein had not changed, I was impressed by media telling us that they are totally independent, and untouched by corporate power, also by a Turkish minister forgetting 1,5 million dead Armenians and a European historian forgetting about European colonialism.

I even saw an ABB CEO trying to explain business with North Korea and I heard the most scary and hardcore talk I ever heard live in my entire life delivered by Mr. Pearl. I could make a long list of the atrocities heard at the conference and the most astonishing thing was to hear how certain words where used as if everybody had the same perception of them – and probably most of them had.

Generation was seen as a differentiating mark, “the younger generations” was an expression used often. A class consciousness in the sense that there is an awareness of the existence of classes was absent. For me generations has very little to do with politics, rather with age and statistics, I have probably more in common with a very old working class man when it comes to class background, values and visions than with most of “the younger generation” in that audience.

Both globalisation and European integration are seen as an inevitable stage in human evolution. Like a shining path that you can either walk along or dissent from. The Shining Path is a Peruvian quite sectarian group that looks upon different thinkers as dissidents. I would say that both globalisation and European integration, at least, should be a political process: a set of deliberate, debatable and reversible choices about how to globalise.

When it comes to the war there were three expressions used that marked a political direction. “Europe”, meaning the European Union and its leaders, were given the advice by everybody to accelerate development to a common European Foreign Policy with a common defence. Then and only then can “Europe” be taken seriously, they stated. They seem to ignore the fact that a common European Foreign Policy is not a goal for everybody, and most important that it does not have a value in itself and should be valued for it’s political content and positions and not because it’s common or not.

The peace movement was equally ignored; it was as if it had not existed. And that was what shocked me the most. The peace movement is a movement that opposed the war and existed this spring and whether they like or not I would have thought that they had to take it into account. Our lack of power makes us ignore-able, and that is not a failure of our strength but rather a failure of a democratic system that just goes on even when it is no longer democratic. That permits the powerful to go on with an agenda that a majority disapproves.

Dialogue can only be useful if the powerful feel a threat, and with this system that can have 60-90 percent of populations being against the war in Iraq and the people in power able to ignore that dialogue is a dead end. Believing in dialogue would be to mistrust in our arguments or in our force of presenting them. It’s not our arguments that are failing but the fact that they don’t have to take them into account.

We obviously did not write enough books, participated in enough of their conferences, threw enough stones and did not demonstrate enough. Or maybe we did but one of so many reversible developments is the legitimacy gap wide open, growing, making us believe less and less in them in power, or taking over, or changing government. We do believe in creating alternatives. So that is what we have to go on doing, because when the alternatives are strong enough it will no longer be possible to ignore us.

Basically I learnt two things from the two day conference – that dialogue has nothing to do with words and good arguments and that the powerful in this world still can ignore us. I’m not saying that is in principle good or bad to participate in conferences of that or other kinds. I think that has to be choice from time to time and of course in the end up to the person invited to choose.

I think it can be good to use spaces like that to remind them that we exist, or stress an issue, or simply go against their logic. But we are never allowed to actually think that we could change their minds because of dialogue, as if it was the lack of exchange of ideas that was the blind spot. There are times for chats, discussion and discourse, time now is to find ways so that they can’t ignore us and we won’t do that talking to them but showing them that we are independent from them creating alternatives.

Finally, the third expression in connection with the war… September 11th was mentioned over and over again, and given as an explanation and excuse for so many things. It was September that started the global war we’re facing, the eternal war against terrorism. I had to remind them that 11th does not mean September 11th 2001 for everybody. For me it’s September 11th 1973 when Pinochet carried out his military coup, backed up by the US, and overthrew a democratically elected government. In some months it will be thirty years ago. A Socialist alliance won the elections and governed Chile with participatory democracy. Salvador Allende did create an alternative, strong enough not to be ignored.

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