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Food for a chess game’s thought


Human Rights Reader 319

[#: Although conceptually this may be incorrect, this is what La Via Campesina contends].


1. Let me start with a truism: The word ‘politics’ has been manipulated much so that it means everything and means nothing depending on the eye of the beholder. (E. Galeano)


2. Moreover, within any important issue in life, there are always aspects few wish to discuss. Politics is such an issue. In our day and age though there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics’. All issues are political issues. (George Orwell) Human rights (HR) are no exception.


3. Ultimately, it is politics that matters for HR, not so much economics (or culture or geography). Why? Because both economic and HR end results actually reflect political realities.


4. Against us in HR work is the fact that politics becomes endlessly prostituted as it is swayed and affected by the impositions of the market. (S. Kovadloff)   As a result, a politics of hypocrisy and no shame is dooming truth and trust in a system that is oblivious to HR. That is what we are up to.


Politics should, but is not always based on an ideology


When people are ideologically confused, they instinctively turn to long and exhaustive elucidations, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. (George Orwell)


5. If politics is not the expression of an ideology, many think we should rather talk about ‘politiking’ as, then, political decisions go wherever the wind blows mostly revealing a political stance of what I have called the extreme center.


6. For instance, the periodical The Economist has started to talk about ‘True Progressivism’ characterizing it as a new form of ‘radical centrist politics’ that is purportedly needed to tackle inequality without hurting economic growth.* This is utterly deceiving and, in my view, rather foolish talk. It rings more than a bit like the aphorism ‘talking left and walking right’ reminding me of some World Bank talk.

*: On the other hand, liberalism is not a political ideology; it is an ethical sentiment…and a sentiment can exist in various different political parties/ideologies. (A. Malreaux)


7. I think the lesson to be drawn is that the human right’s ideology is just not selling so opponents need to adopt the vocabulary of the left.  At least this is probably true in Europe. (The USA still has candidates hawking the ideas of Thatcher, Reagan and Bush, i.e., to me, the social equivalent of the earth being flat).


8. An ideology becomes a material force to be reckoned with when it seizes the masses. And, mind you, material forces can only be overthrown by other material forces. In this context, to be radical is to grasp issues literally by their root –and in the case of HR activists it means to remove from power the anti-HR forces of status-quo. (Marx)


9. In HR work, our major challenge thus is to face and handle those who are skeptic about HR, because they have gotten stuck in old dogmas and often, at the same time, stubbornly adhere to an obsolete ideology of the right.


In politics, nothing dies definitively so politicians never start from scratch; there are stages, but not rebirths. (A. Gomez)


-You can die but once.

In war. But in politics,

Again and again.  (J. Koenig)

-Over the centuries, dictators and dictatorships have changed names, but the oppression and the repression have only become overtly or covertly accentuated. (Julio Cortazar)


10. A hundred and twenty years before Christ, Cicero, the Roman philosopher and father of politics, used to say that politicians do not always seek justice and equality, because that is not their prime function. He argued that politics is a profession and that, like any other, it has its own interests so that, within, you find those with a greater social conscience and those that simply do not have it. HR are social conscience!


11. In order to lie, politicians have to know the truth. So, their acts often betray their pronouncements and speeches. That is why, sometimes, you know politicians better for what they did not do than for what they did. Nothing new here.


12. Take another favorite: Populist politicians: They do not only use and abuse words, they take control of words. Words become the specific vehicle of their charisma. They feel they are the supreme interpreters of truth and ‘the news agency of their people’. They constantly talk to the public, fueling their passions, shining a light on the path to follow and doing all this without limitations or intermediaries. (E. Krauze)


13. In last instance (and not facetiously), politicians are persons who possess the art of getting the votes of poor people and the funds for their campaigns from the rich –promising to protect the ones from the others. How far this is from HR ideals…


14. Perhaps more worrisome for HR work is the fact that, with counted exceptions, the political class has stopped representing civil society. True. But it is also true (and equally if not more worrisome) that it is not always clear who ‘civil society’ represents. Can we succeed in giving it a unified political direction towards HR? Herein lies the challenge for HR activists.


So where does all this put us?


Like in a chess game, there is thus no better defense than a good attack.


Never forget: Those who want to control others to feel more secure themselves ignore the overwhelming power that they are giving those they want to control.


15. To have the HR framework become mainstream, we need to herald a new era of inclusive, truly participative, direct politics from the grassroots (claim holders) up.


16. It is claim holders who have to denounce the lack of validity of the reigning paradigm for them and propose an alternative one –not for the intelligentsia just to put forward yet one more remedial proposal that may be attractive, because it can be situated in a place not yet tried within the traditional ideological spectrum.  In practice, this means offering a reliable perspective for the future in which claim holders and duty bearers are willing to embark full heartedly. It means imposing a deep ideological renovation.


17. Agreed, for many, this idea is too radical; they fail to understand that the universe of ideas being tossed around has to change profoundly; they fail to see that by naively reducing the complexity of the current social and political situation they foster deeply ingrained fanaticisms; they keep looking for the thousand and one ways and means to delay a confrontation with the sorry state of HR realities.


18. It is all about replacing an antiquated ideology that, for decades, has been promising a paradise that has, clearly, not materialized –ever and nowhere.


19. We are talking about a new ethics rooted in values that unequivocably foster social solidarity –one of the pillars of HR.


20. To change that will require political vision and determination; as ever, the challenge remains, i.e., to make both come true.


21. Bottom line, I do not believe that lasting political settlements can be negotiated by means of what is called ‘an elite bargain’. Elite bargains are, by definition, only for visibility and  ‘grandstanding’; they may be convenient and useful in stopping conflict in the short run, but over the longer term, they inevitably fail. (S. Stewart)
Claudio Schuftan in Ho Chi Minh City


Some material taken from The Economist: 13 October 2012; and Albino Gomez, Lejano Buenos Aires, Editorial Belgrano, Buenos Aires, 1996.



-Hope is not the certainty that something will end up well, but the confidence that something makes sense, without worrying how it pans out. (Vaclav Havel)

-Pasts are set in stone.
The future waits to be cut.
Control tomorrow!  (J. Koenig)


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