NEW WORLD ORDER: Gorbachev Forum Looks Beyond Messy Today

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By Ramesh Jaura

BERLIN/MONTPELLIER - "Dangers await only those who do not react to life," he admonished die-hard comrades in the Soviet bloc who were blind to the writing on the wall and ignored that the people's yearning for democratic space was impossible to bridle. Some twenty-five years later, as waves of change pound across Europe's Mediterranean frontiers, he is back in the unofficial political arena warning that gaping cracks in the Old World Order are beyond repair.

"He" is none other than Mikhail Gorbachev, the man who changed the world by triggering "a global political landslide and initiating revolutionary changes" in the now defunct Soviet bloc by deploying 'perestroika', which brought about the end of the Cold War, the breakup of the USSR and his own removal from power.

"If the Russian word 'perestroika' has easily entered the international lexicon, this is due to more than just interest in what is going on in the Soviet Union. Now the whole world needs restructuring, i.e. progressive development, a fundamental change," Gorbachev wrote in 'Perestroika: New Thinking For Our Country and the World'.

At 80, he stands out as one of the giants of 20th century history, but true to his dictum, "If what you have done yesterday still looks big to you, you haven't done much today," he refuses to rest on his laurels that are amply mixed with thorns.

And he is doing an impressive lot; he is driven by a profound commitment to engaging hearts and minds of eminent political figures, experts, journalists and civil society leaders to raise global awareness of the need to herald a new world order.
Such an order must respond to the wishes "of people who for decades were passive and had no voice (but) have now entered the arena of history," Gorbachev told the international conference on 'Policymakers' Responsibility in a Changing World. The Mediterranean: The Waves of Change.'

Founded and headed by him, the New Policy Forum organized of the conference jointly with the Languedoc-Roussillon Region in Montpellier, southern France, on November 24-25, 2011. It gathered some 60 knowledgeable participants from over 30 countries in Europe, Russia, the United States, Latin America and Asia.

Significantly, the conference featured prominently representatives of the Mediterranean region and Arab countries, including members of the opposition political movements and groups actively involved in the recent upheavals in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt that led to the downfall of dictatorial regimes in those countries.

The conference plenary sessions and panels focused on the origins and initial outcomes of the 'Arab Spring', the relationship between Islam and democracy, the strategic implications of ongoing developments and shifts in Northern Africa for the Mediterranean and the Middle East, and the role the 27-nation European Union and the international community at large could play to encourage and promote democratic transition.

The conference provided a platform for discussions on the prospects of a dialogue between the world's great civilizations born in the Mediterranean. These were began at the New Policy Forum's previous gatherings in Granada in Spain and Sofia in Bulgaria. The dialogue will be carried forward at events in 2012, according to the organizers.

Standstill


It appeared as if time had stood still since December 1988 when Gorbachev said in an address to the United Nations General Assembly: "We are witnessing most profound social change. Whether in the East or the South, the West or the North, hundreds of millions of people, new nations and states, new public movements and ideologies have moved to the forefront of history.
"Broad-based and frequently turbulent popular movements have given expression, in a multidimensional and contradictory way, to a longing for independence, democracy and social justice. The idea of democratizing the entire world order has become a powerful socio-political force.

"At the same time, the scientific and technological revolution has turned many economic, food, energy, environmental, information and population problems, which only recently we treated as national or regional ones, into global problems. Thanks to the advances in mass media and means of transportation, the world seems to have become more visible and tangible. International communication has become easier than ever before."

But in fact the time had not stood still. It's just that the wave of change in Eastern Europe had taken long to break the barriers until it reached across Europe's Mediterranean frontiers – and once it did the 'morning after'– first Tunisia in December 2010 ousting longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011, it could not be halted.

Since then, as Gorbachev puts it, tens of thousands of people in the Arab countries are taking to the streets to defy the rulers and the elites that lost touch with the reality, to protest corruption and injustice and to demand a life of dignity and democratic change, an end to the dependence and backwardness to which authoritarian regimes condemned the Arab world.
Arab Waves of Change

It was not surprising therefore that the conference was guided by "the intention to analyze the events (the Arab waves of change) as part of a much more global political landslide which started twenty years ago and was initiated by revolutionary changes in the former Soviet bloc (provoked by Gorbachev's Perestroika) which brought about the end of the Cold war, the breakup of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the previous Old World Order," said Andrei Grachev Chairman of New Policy Forum's Academic Advisory Council.

This was a part of the two-fold "key message of the conference as expressed in the opening and closing statements of President Gorbachev and largely confirmed by the very rich debate," said Grachev.

There was also an "attempt to analyze the evolution – from 'Roots to Fruits' – of exceptional political events and the process underway," which are "unprecedented, since the period of anti-colonial struggles," resulting in "the transformation of the political, social and strategic landscape of the Arab world," Grachev told IDN.

Several conference participants agreed with Grachev that the mass movements are faced with domestic and external danger, the danger that these processes could be hijacked by self-serving, undemocratic forces and that the fruits of the peoples' rush to freedom would be stolen by the forces and parties 'of order' – whether of a military or of extremist Islamic variety.

"When we formulated the agenda of our conference six months ago, choosing the theme of The Waves of Change in the Mediterranean, we mostly had in mind the developments on the South Coast of the Mediterranean Sea," said Gorbachev. "Now, however, we see that the North Coast too is on fire. A crisis, which is not just economic but also political, has hit this area – from Greece to Portugal and Spain, spreading to Italy yesterday and, perhaps, even to France tomorrow."

Indeed, as Gorbachev noted: "The whole of Europe, which only yesterday looked like an oasis of stability and an example to be emulated by others, including the Arab East, is engaged in an agonizing search for a way out of the most severe crisis in the history of the European Union."

Things fall apart . . .


At the same time, the days when U.S. leadership was essential to global stability and development are coming to an end. As Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser wrote in December 2008 in an opinion column for The New York Times on the eve of President Obama assuming office, "For the first time in history almost all of humanity is politically activated, politically conscious and politically interactive. Global activism is generating a surge in the quest for cultural respect and economic opportunity in a world scarred by memories of colonial or imperial domination. This pertains to yet another fundamental change: The 500-year global domination by the Atlantic powers is coming to an end . . ."

Three years later, this analysis is proving both authentic and challenging. But the presence of a weak superpower does not automatically lead to multi-polarity. Nor does it cleanse mind-sets of militarism and violent conflicts. In fact, situation is, as the Irish poet and playwright, William Butler Yeats wrote in 1919 in the aftermath of the First World War: ". . . Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold . . ."

A considerable part of the blame for the unenviable and vulnerable situation in which Europe and the United States have manipulated themselves is that governments abandoned the primacy of politics, says Roberto Savio, founder and President Emeritus of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other-News.info.

"What we need today is a paradigm to diagnose and address the numerous and grave global problems that face all of us but which are experienced differently in the various regions of the world. We need to re-empower political leaders," adds Savio who is also a member of the New Policy Forum's Academic Advisory Council. He has spelt out the global community's "Failures and Prospects Up to 2025" in an erudite paper written in 2007.

The Montpellier conference heard several participants stressing the role of the civil society, which Flavio Lotti, an Italian activist, said had assumed immense importance in view of the rapid erosion in the credibility of institutions of the state.
In Transition

Summing up the two-day long intensive discussions, Gorbachev said: "The world is in transition. Can it be said that this transition has a common vector everywhere? I would say yes. But this common vector is not a direct line. It is affected by the specific conditions, by the history, culture and evolution of different nations and regions.

"Moreover, can it be said that this common vector is from authoritarianism to democracy? Opinions differ. My view is that the overall direction is towards democracy, but not of a 'one kind fits all' variety. The Arab Moslem specificity will manifest itself in such forms as will naturally emerge in this region if others do not impose ‘the only correct solution’ or try to 'slash and burn'."
And yet the conference had thrown up more questions than it had answered. "But correctly formulated questions are very important. They are the beginning of the road that leads to answers," Gorbachev added.

So that in-depth analyses presented in Montpellier find a wider outreach, the New Policy Forum is "inclined to move along the road which will allow us to start producing regular (annual) analytical reports – kind of State of the World, encouraging both the collective reflections on the features of the new emerging reality of the Global world and formulating practical recommendations for the politicians," Andrei Grachev told IDN.

"Yet I would say we are still at the beginning of this road since we need to accumulate more elements of analyses in order to be able to overview the whole world scene," he added, underscoring the widely held view that the world of today is complex, overstressed and changing with unprecedented speed.

And yet, most of the participants – who included former foreign ministers such as Alexander Bessmertnykh (Soviet Union), Hubert Védrine (France) and Kavan Jan (Czech Republic) as well as previous UNESCO Director-General Federico Mayor, one-time Turkish Prime Minister Mezul Yilmaz and former Egyptian Finance Minister Samir Radwan – agreed: "What's needed is an all-out effort to build new foundations of global politics and economics, involving a critical reappraisal of values and a common search for ways towards sustainable development."

A New World Order – based on Global Governance and universal values – that Gorbachev had proposed in the 1980s? A New World Order in which all members of the global community "resolutely discard old stereotypes and motivations nurtured by the Cold War, and give up the habit of seeking each other's weak spots and exploiting them in their own interests?" [Global Perspectives]

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