World Public Forum 2008 – An evaluation
by Come Carpentier de Gourdon on 22 Nov 2008 0 Comment

The sixth World Public Forum “Dialogue of Civilizations” held in Rhodes in the second week of October 2008, convened as all the previous ones under the joint auspices of the Glory of Russia Foundation and Kapur Surya Foundation, acquired added relevance from the troublous global context in which it was taking place. The planetary economy was undergoing a heart attack at that very time and all stock markets and financial institutions were in acute turmoil. Hence financial, economic and financial considerations could not fail to dominate the discussion and overshadow all other issues, despite the almost bewildering wealth of talent and information available from the hundreds of invited participants who had come from every continent and from several dozen countries.

Economists therefore tended to get the lion’s share of attention, inevitably in some cases to the detriment of the outstanding scholars and inspirational trailblazers who represented the competing areas of politics and international relations, arts and culture, humanitarian matters, environmental and other scientific problems and philosophy in general, all reflecting diverse facets of the human condition and the state of its planetary home.

The host country, Russia, expectedly occupied a central role, but that reality also revealed that in most such international gatherings it is the USA, as leader of the dominant “West,” that is the fulcrum of debates; thus the necessity of bi-polarity, absent real multi-polarity which is still a project, was made apparent. Only by highlighting the Russian and “Eastern” and Southern view on many issues could the subjectivity or, in many cases, the patent unfairness of the so-called “international community” consensus - in fact the “fiat” verdict of the American establishment, more or less enthusiastically supported by its satellite nations - be exposed. In contrast, the power, variety, and originality of intellectual, scientific, cultural  and artistic life and activity in Russia was displayed to great advantage, belying the common outside view that the Federation is mainly a frigid repository of oil, gas and strategic minerals lorded over by oligarchs and the KGG.

That the current economic crisis is mainly caused by the corrupt, irresponsible speculative financial and monetary stratagems perfected by the Anglo-American banking system with the willing or forced consent of governments in the USA and Britain, not to mention Japan and the leading Western European nations, came as no surprise to the rather well informed participants. There were some brilliant analyses or even dissections of the processes that led to the disaster by experts from very different backgrounds, such as Helga Zepp Larouche from Germany, wife of the now venerable but always  feisty “enfant terrible” of US politics whose dire predictions about the consequences of US political and economic systems have often been proved right, Lyndon Larouche; the senior French economic pundit Jacques Sapir from the IHESS and a bevy of distinguished Russian (Vladimir Popov, Alexander Ageev, Vladimir Potokov), Chinese (Xu Wen Hong), American and European practitioners of what has come to be rightly known as a conjectural science.

Russia, as one of the most egregious victims of capitalism gone wild in the last two decades, has understandably accumulated valuable and costly experience about of the nature of the beast, while China has been trying to preserve itself from its most noxious effect, even though Beijing still tries to have the best of both the socialist and liberal worlds, yet has not avoided suffering from some of their combined worst maladies.

The Chinese delegates were predictably sanguine about the ability of their country to protect itself from a potentially fatal downturn, but many foreign observers were much less confidant, pointing to the Asian colossus’s critical dependence on exports to the USA and Europe and to the PRC’s huge holdings of US sovereign debt instruments which may well turn out to be worthless, either in case of a default by the USA or of the only alternative, to wit, hyperinflation of the American currency. As a matter of fact, China is already suffering from an epidemic of factory closures leading to a job hemorrhage as a result of the worldwide collapse of credit and consumption.

It is worth noting in any event that a reduction in China’s annual growth rate from the recent 11% rate to less than 8% would have relatively catastrophic effects, as would be the case if India’s were reduced by 3% of 4% percentage points. Contrary to Washington, however, Beijing can pump hundreds of billions of its currency reserves into the domestic economy to keep it humming, while maintaining control over the value of its Renmibi Yuan; on the other hand, the USA can only add to its astronomical foreign debt as long as outside lenders will permit.

Among economists, the senior Russian financial expert Mikhail Khazin in particular pointed to parallels between the current American financial meltdown and credit freeze with the Russian collapse of 1998, which was likewise induced by a massive emission of speculative, esoteric debt instruments that poisoned the entire economy. However, in this case the septicemia is global as US financial markets in his words “for years…were sucking the resources out of the entire world” and created artificial domestic prosperity by printing currency and spreading it in American households in order to boost consumption, thereby eating the resources of future generations so that private debt in the country is now much larger than the national economy as a whole. The grim result of this situation is that the US will lose about one-third of its businesses and GDP in the coming months and years, thus sinking into full-fledged depression.

Some speakers at Rhodes were refreshingly candid, being markedly free from the heavy restraints on real dissidence which overshadow ideological discussions in the West. A few pointed out that the nature of the US-led global system required it to create and feed wars and also nurture and “synthetically” instigate terrorism in order to muster the resources needed for its survival, while dividing its allies, satellites and rivals in order to rule them. Recent examples in Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Sudan and Georgia (and on US soil itself on 11 September 2001) provided clear illustrations of the “modus operandi,” but these notorious tactics are now falling short of their goals as the instigator is terminally ill.

Such autopsies are almost impossible in Euro-American public fora, where any allusions to those unpalatable truths are quickly drowned in floods of pious rhetoric about the West’s commitment to freedom, justice and human rights, just as analyses of the shell game that underpins the global banking mechanisms are dismissed as conspiracy theories. Yet there is little doubt that the Federal Reserve of the USA is a private institution, mainly dedicated to the benefit of its shareholders, which plays a “check kiting game” with the US Treasury, just as commercial banks do among themselves, in order to suck up the private savings of citizens into the coffers of the financial elites.

These stratagems have led to a situation in which the Bush government is injecting at its sole discretion and without any supervision, untold hundreds of billions into the banks and financial institutions, in which its chief officials were groomed and selected and to which goes their loyalty. The so-called rescue or bailout package is becoming increasingly opaque, arbitrary, and probably illegal, to the extent that the Bloomberg Financial Services organization is now suing the Treasury to force it to clarify the use it is making of some $ 2 trillion worth of public funds which are meant to “save” major banks and corporations.

The world economy is now subordinated to this “Ponzi scheme” which Nathan Meyer Rothschild alluded to in his time by stating: “Give me the control of the credit of a nation and I care not who makes the laws…The great body of people, mentally incapable of comprehending the tremendous advantage that capital derives from the system will bear its burdens without complaint, and perhaps without even suspecting that the system is inimical to their interests”.

Ruminations over the ominous economic situation in the USA led many to try to predict the character and effects of future US leadership. Though the American Presidential elections had not yet taken place, few saw a strong possibility for a McCain victory, so palpable was the anger of the US electorate and the country’s desperate need for a radical change of leadership.

In Rhodes, however, there was only measured elation about the expected Obama presidency which was not regarded with great trust by people too accustomed to American arbitrariness and arrogance to expect a great change in the “providential nation’s” attitude. Russia and China gave the impression that they were hunkering down for self-protection against prospective new US political and economic, if not military, offensives to which the Kremlin opposes a national - and collective Eurasian - security policy recently articulated by President Medvedev and which some outside observers have dubbed as ‘Russia’s Monroe Doctrine”.

Khazin’s view that Obama would most likely be made a scapegoat for the country’s ills which he would not be able to cure, only differed in degrees from the widely held belief that Obama is a gifted individual, selected and trained by the ruling oligarchy to carry out their mandate under the cosmetic appearance of revolutionary change, thus co-opting many of the dissidents into a system which he, on the surface, appears committed to challenge. This cynical view is supported by the unrivalled amount of financial and institutional support the Harvard-trained candidate has mustered from Wall Street, big business and the industrial and technological leadership of the country, including household names such as Warren Buffett, George Soros and the Silicon Valley kings.

The strikingly ironic or apocalyptic (depending on the point of view) allusions embedded in the new President’s name (Barack Hussein Obama echoing three shibboleths and scarecrows of US foreign policy in the last two decades, to wit Iraq, (Saddam) Hussein and Osama) have come to everyone’s mind, but only Muslims and people somewhat familiar with Islam noticed that Barack is the name of the Prophet’s faithful charger.

It is also worth noting incidentally that prior to joining Columbia and Harvard, Obama was a student at Armand Hammer’s Occidental College in California, whose mission is to train the supra-national elite of leaders of the future. Hence those countries which are in Washington’s crosshairs as challengers and rivals such as Russia, China and even India, not to mention smaller but non-compliant nations like Iran, Syria, Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela, must be prepared for a continuation of the traditional US power politics even if greater attempts are made at diplomacy in Washington and if the first Afro-American President is instinctively driven to try conciliatory gestures.

The question that arises is that if Obama is indeed a manufactured phenomenon on the US political scene, then who are the manufacturers and puppeteers? For it stands to reason that the imperial Shylock is not about to let control slip out of his hands and that he has planned strategies to keep securing his pounds of flesh and perpetuate his supremacy in various guises.

In the sea of criticism of the Bush regime and Neo-conservative political and economic theories, the few Republican Americans who had come to Rhodes stood as an island of defiance, or rather estrangement, and seemed oddly disconnected from the wider zeitgeist. They were unenthusiastic about John McCain as a Presidential candidate, as most of their fellow Christian Conservatives; but they appeared terrified of Obama’s victory which they darkly hinted at as being a prelude to Armageddon. They seemed stuck in their own oversimplified Biblical world in which preventing abortion, preserving God’s place in the Constitution, capitalism in society, and the right to bear arms for citizens sufficed to ensure a nation’s compliance with the Divine Writ.

No wonder that such blinkered perspectives lead such a “Born Again” leadership to commit barbaric crimes and accumulate stupid blunders with a clear conscience, undisturbed by any inconvenient intrusion of reality. This self-styled Evangelical vision of the world for many betrays an odd kind of superstition consonant with Bush’s evil genie, Carl Rove’s famed statement to the effect that the Bush administration could design reality as it wished and force the rest of the world to live with it.

However, Protestant conservatives owe much of their appeal among American masses to the simple fact that they are the only ones to still oppose the politically correct ultra-liberal diktats of the self-styled intellectual and financial elites which make economically “progressive” opinions inseparable from a blind support to such faddish causes as homosexual marriage or the ban of any religious reference from the public arena. The very day that Barack Obama was elected by an overwhelming majority of Californians, the same state democratically adopted Proposition 8 which aimed to delegalize homosexual unions.

To the distress of fashionable Liberals, many people who want reform for social justice do not want to support marriages that would have been described in olden days as “anti-physical” and patently contrary to biological realities. It is indeed thought-provoking that many of those who claim to champion an ecological vision of life and society deny the existence of natural law in human affairs, although the Conservative notion that preventing homosexual marriage should be the main concern of a government is obviously off-target. “God, guns and gays” are well known hobby horses of the Christian Right and these simplistic pet-subjects have robbed its spiritual claims of much of their genuine validity.

Any dialogue between various religions tends to be overshadowed by the issue of conversions and the misgivings they arouse, especially in the "less developed" continents of Asia and Africa, but also in Latin America, and even in the countries of the former Soviet Union. The traditionally indifferent attitude of Orthodox Churches to other creeds can provide a welcome respite to all others from the often aggressive proselytization practiced by Protestants (especially Evangelicals) and Roman Catholics. There was a widespread sentiment in favour of respecting and not simply tolerating non-monotheistic faiths, which made some "Abrahamic" clerics uncomfortable as all three Semitic religions see themselves as invested with the Mission to reveal the True God to all mankind, and do not encourage their followers to recognize "pagan" or "idolatrous" beliefs.

Likewise, Israeli writer Israel Shamir's call for a united nation of Palestine for all its citizens, irrespective of religion and liberated from the ideological militancy of Zionism, was heard in hushed silence, but followed by enthusiastic applause as it provided a welcome change from the fire-breathing philippic earlier proffered by the representative of the European Jewish Council and predictably directed against Iran, Hamas, Syria and Russia in that order. Indeed Shamir's apology on behalf of his country's and community's aggressiveness and thirst for power and control was music to many ears.

All in all, at Rhodes, some of the world's fine minds were not afraid to go where few in the supposedly free West dare to tread.

The author is Convener, Editorial Board, World Affairs Journal

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