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Expanding People's Spaces In The Globalising Economy
Global Dialogue, September 5-9, 1998, Helsinki, Finland

Network Cultures' international team has been invited to attend and participate actively in an important international conference called : " Expanding People's Spaces in the Globalising Economy "..

In the invitation to it, IGGRI and the Finnish NGO KEPA wrote :
" Many people are experiencing the negative effects of the globalisation process which is why diverse struggles and movements, locally rooted, are resisting the forces of free trade. (...) We, the citizens of the world, can make a difference by employing creative solutions, and building networks that extend both to and beyond the halls of power and fame. (...) We want to answer a few basic questions. How is the globalisation process affecting the livelihoods of people at the local, national and global levels ? How is it affecting our environment, livelihoods, social security, political rights and cultural diversity/identity ? What can we do and what are we doing ?

The two inviting NGOs were IGGRI and KEPA. IGGRI (The International Group on Grass Roots Initiatives) is one of the international actors willing to challenge the current global situation. The IGGRI process, established as a result of the Grassroots Initiatives Strategies programme (GRIS) run by SID (Society for International Development), was registered as a network in 1985. It is a gathering of researcher/activists linking grassroots movements and formal development institutions. IGGRI members have met both in connection with international conferences and during informal gatherings for the past 13 years. The present agenda of IGGRI is to become more proactive, to create new possible scenarios and patterns of organisation as well as finding ways of communicating with international organisations. One of the very active members of IGGRI is our own president Luis Lopezllera Mendez, of Mexico.

KEPA was founded in 1985 as the Service Centre for Development Cooperation. It is the coordinating organisation of 180 Finnish NGOs.


This outstanding Sri Lankan intellectual and social activist, professor at the U.N. University, recalled that the hope existed in the 50 and the 60ies that, between neo-classical theory and the communist ideology, some formula would emerge to build a united and more human world. Unfortunately, this belief, which was largely shared, did not materialize, he said. Yet the irrelevance and irrationality of existing policies started to shock citizens in the 70ies. Some wondered about alternatives. " Marxism and capitalism would soon appear as two twin pilars of " The system " inflicting top-down solutions on people below. Those people suffer or are threatened by material poverty, alienation, dehumanization ", Wignaraja afffirmed. Let us note, in passing, that this speaker thus ignores any distinction between " marxism " as a sociological and economic tool (which can be considered partly valid), and leninistic communism (which most people consider totally abhorent).

The speaker indicated that this is why IGGRI tried to have a better view on people at grass-roots level. IGGRI discovered that :
1. people are efficient and able to overcome difficulties and crises;
2. when organized, they can increase their efficiency. " Growth, humanity, justice are not trade-offs quote ";
3. people's spirituality is central in their ability to resist and be creative.

Punna Wignararaja said that the IGGRI network (of which he was an initiator) saw there was not only a social crisis but also an intellectual crisis : the old paradigm was not acceptable anymore.

Today, he added, the challenge is that the System has its agenda and will do everything to press it upon people. The people react, yet in a diverse, pluralistic way and not according to some elegant alternative, unified model. Can they gather into a counterveiling power ? We need counterveiling powers not just to stimulate participation and empowerment but also, Punna suggested, to achieve " a new social contract ". We need a new social contract, not drawn from a-priori theorizing but nurtured from peoples' practices and ideas. We then may have not a win-loose formula but a win-win game at last.

This introductory speech certainly put some very crucial questions to the audience. Four days of discussion were not too much to come to grips with them.


Susan George is a world reknown radical author, director of the T.I. (Transnational Institute). " Although I am often criticized for pessimism, I feel more hopeful today than before ", she said. Globalization is mostly bad news but the good news is that " the gang who claims to run the world, IMF-WTO-WB, the Davos crowd, are not knowing what they do. Their legitimacy is crumbling and this is offering us a window of opportunity. They panic, not we !

By globalization, Suzan George means not the centuries-old internationalization of finances. What she means is the effort to write a Constitution for the world. This was possible due to the collapse of the USSR ... The Soviet threat had obliged the Western leaders to have a welfare State and to claim they wished to eradicate poverty from the world. Now, this incitement is gone. And so has gone the will to really fight poverty. The main actors and architects are W.T.O., IMF and W.B. Most of the world trade is carried out by transnational companies (T.N.C.s) and therefore those T.N.Cs dictate the rules. The MAI (Multilateral Agreement on Investments) would, if approved, give a Bill of Rights to M.N.C.s and do away with the remnants of national sovereignity. Lobbyists and P.R. experts work to give the impression that there is no alternative to this ideology. They have read Gramsci on intellectual hegemony. Suzan George said.

In a bold effort to synthesize the situation, Suzan George addressed the question : " What do they want ? ". Her answer, rendered here as faithfully as we could note while listening to her breathtaking address, sounded as follows :
1. Competition : this is the rule. The survival of the fittest is the normal state of affairs. If you happen to be ill, not efficient, handicapped, you are out.
2. Privatization : even the services crucial to life (water, transport ...) are to be taken away from public authority. State is to be limited to its judicial and police role.
3. Flexible labour markets : no rights for workers, a replay of 19th century England. Down-sizing, getting rid of employees is the motto.
4. Cultural uniformity : it is easier to produce the same things for everybody in the world. Everybody must be turned into consumers.
5. Totally free investment : profits must be freely repatriated. No accountability, no control ! Companies respond only to (majority) shareholders.

This is a hegemonic, quasi " religious " system : the " dogma " cannot be questionned. Paradise is expected. Growth and M.N.C.s will lead to it some time in the future. The president of Nestlé repeats this mantra " investments create jobs, improve social and environmental standards ". He accuses critics of M.A.I. of expressing " wild critique ".

Today, the situation as seen by Susan George is thus. If you are part of the riches 20% of mankind, you will gain. If not, you will loose. The enormous transfer of wealth from poor to rich is offering no solution to the terrible question about what is to be done with the loosers. 1/3 of mankind will gain. The others ? It is not clear, she said. Should they disappear ? Will they survive ? How ?

" People's space - their espace vital - this is the key issue ", Suzan George hammered with conviction. " We can win this battle. The bastards have gone too far. They are incompetent and they loose their credibility ! ". This was the crux of her powerful and inspiring message.

Suzan George went on by saying that, today, people understand better what is going on. In the 80ies we were a little lost as changes were too fast. Offering some reasons for hope, she said : " We can also win because we have the numbers. 2000 people at Davos is not a very big slice of humanity ! We have the numbers but we need organization. We cannot count on our governments, who are caging in and give up their citizens. International organizations all push for more globalization. We are alone but we are the majority ! "

Suzan George added that we need alliances towards the bottom and the top. The middle classes are now the anxious classes : unemployment is there. She concluded with a few suggestions :
1. Tax M.N.C.s to reduce social distancing.
2. Work in trans-border ways by sector, affinity, trust ... as MNCs do this all the time.
3. Let people never be deceived by deregulation.

Deregulation is a trap-word. We need rules and MNCs know it and want to impose their own rules, e.g. via MAI (Multilateral Agreement on Investment). We must suggest other rules, was the message.

And the speaker added : " Beware, cornered animals are very dangerous ". She compared MNCs with vampires in the old folk legends. Vampires are strong, have long teeth, live in nice castles and live off peoples' blood.
So do MNCs. But there is one weakness in all vampires : if you shed light on them, they shrivel away ! We need light to expose MNCs.


Orlando Fals Borda is the well-known Colombian promotor of P.A.R.(Participatory Action-Research). In his address, he said : " Modernity and development must be deconstructed. They are alien to people, to their cosmology and aspiration, to their wit and humour which constitute a counter-hegemonic force to counterbalance the assault of neo-liberal ideology. We need more than instrumental reason : heart and head must move in tandem to reconstruct our lives. It is in this spirit that Participatory Action-Research was launched (see " Cultures and Development " no. 27/28, March 1997). P.A.R. is a holistic method, Orlando Fals Borda said, based on dignity and a strong determination to understand and to change the situation. Lots of struggles come to the fore today, including cultural struggles. And that is hopeful.


Our friend Majid Rahnema is the author of the " Post-Development Reader " (a useful collection of texts by authors close to our Network) and a respected radical intellectual from Iranian descent he said : " Working on povery, I found it is absurd to qualify countries as 'poor'. Poverty does not exist and is only a reflection of others who consider themselves 'not poor' and 'rich'. He confessed that development had been his big conviction. " My generation perceived our countries as 'poor', not seeing how rich we are " he added. " We ourselves, intellectuals, started : we told our people that richness was not in what they were. I dis-valued them. I talked to them about development and modernity. We neglected peoples' wisdom, ethos ". And he added : " We paved the way for today's globalization. We (the development experts) prepared people to accept it. Development must stop intervening in other peoples' affairs " he concluded. Pondering wisely on the present catastrophe, he asked : " How can we bring back each one of us to their space and explore our richness ? ".


Sulak, our Thai friend and an engaged Buddhist said : " When asked by Mr. Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank, I answered " The economic crisis in Thailand is a heavenly message. Going for help to IMF is un-Buddhist because it promotes globalization. The globalization process is in the same logic as colonialism and development ".

In his softspoken ways, our gentle friend added : " Today, Bangkok is polluted and ugly although it used to be clear and beautiful. We have deviated tragically. But people begin to take to meditation again. We need a holistic spirituallity, a grounded view, to empower people for social struggle and transformation of life. 'The Center for Sustainable Communities' is one such place, the only one of its kind in South-East Asia.


In a first summary, made after the introductory addresses referred to above, Smitu Khotari said that several struggles seem to be fought in this globalizing world. He mentioned ten types of struggle presently in process :
1. Struggle to be heard, resist being neglected.
2. Struggle for justice at home, nation- and internationally.
3. Struggle of human spirit (including value systems, campassion, interdependence, etc.) against looking at human beings as animal with needs.
4. Struggle for diversity v. monoculture and the cloning of life.
5. Struggle of wisdom v. information; we are swamped and Internet will not stop the devaluation of wisdom.
6. Struggle of shared values v. devaluation of nature, relationship, life.
7. Struggle of the cyclical v. the linear.
8. Struggle of generosity v. selfishness; divine sacrifice.
9. Struggle of deepening democracy v. virtual democracy.
10. Struggle of building community v. fragmentation and alienation.

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