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11 Nov, 2007

Ex-UNESCO Chief: Beware of Becoming “Simple Recipients of Often Biased Information”

Originally Published: 11 Nov 2007

As calls grow for more assertive “people power” movements in places like Myanmar and Pakistan, even louder calls are being heard for a global “people power” movement against the United States government and its “war economy” policies.

Speaking at a global conference in Cordoba, Spain, late last month, Federico Mayor Zaragoza, President of the Foundation for a Culture of Peace and a former Director-General of UNESCO, said genuine democracy will only dawn globally when “a culture of force, imposition and dominion is replaced by a culture of understanding and conciliation.”

Describing the United Nations as having become a “plutocracy” that only represents the interests of the big powers, the Spanish diplomat said that communications technology gives people worldwide the ability to make their voices heard directly.

“Civil society, non-governmental organizations, the peoples of the world are not going to remain silent and impassive as they did in the past,” he said. “The communications media, which distract, daze and often degrade us… may now help not only to educate us and raise our awareness, but also to manifest our dissent and our conformity, our applause and our condemnation.

“Through modern technology the media may become the best means for expressing solidarity and for making the voice of the people heard at a global level. Civil society, in its undeniable leading role in humanitarian aid, now has the possibility not only to make itself heard, but to ensure that others actually listen.”

He said it was important for the world to remember that the UN charter, written in the aftermath of World War II, begins with the words “We, the Peoples…” and not “We, the governments…” or “We, the states….”

Today, he said, “whether we wish to recognize it or not, we are with more or less reluctance headed toward a war economy in which economic power is concentrated in very few hands, and which uses any pretext to achieve colossal proportions.

“The war in Iraq, based on false pretexts, gave a great impetus to the industrial war machine. Now, since the present US Administration cannot extend the number of its ‘enemies’ due once more to the resounding failure of war, it has instead been able to extend the tentacles of its military power, in the midst of the resounding silence of the European Union.”

He added, “The threat of (war with) Iran, the US’s former ally, will cost thousands of lives, victims of the vicious circle of the market economy that perpetuates poverty, and of the economy of war that once again is attempting to resolve the great challenges of mankind by force.

“The United States leads, but the other prosperous countries let it do so. The European Union, which should be a symbol of a culture of peace and democracy in the world, continues to be preoccupied with structural problems that prevent it from fulfilling its mission as a guide and as a watch tower.

“None of these immensely important questions can be resolved arbitrarily by a single country, regardless of its power and capacity for action at the international level.”

Mr Mayor said that thousands of people died at the hands of suicide terrorists on 9-11, but the world turns a blind eye to the thousands more who die every day at the hands of the real weapons of mass destruction – hunger and disease. “No one sees them. They die from indifference, in silence. Invisible and obscured in a world that spends $3,000,000,000 a day on weapons.”

Referring to the ceremonies held by many countries at the tomb of an “Unknown Soldier”, Mr Mayor said the wreaths of flowers placed at these eternal flames are a symbolic tribute to the thousands of lives lost and the immeasurable suffering inflicted upon innumerable families and friends.

“They are visible. But how many civilians have died in the latest episodes of war and confrontation? The soldiers on one side are counted. Those on the other side are estimated. And civilian deaths are ignored. They are invisible.”

Mr Mayor exhorted the global public “to discover the undiscovered, the ignored.”

“We must mobilize the communications media. We must ask many journalists who are well aware of the relationship between the visible and the invisible not only to describe but to write, so that different assessments that appropriately reflect the scope of the situation can be added to the information that describes what has happened.

“Let there be no more silence on a personal, but especially on an institutional level. Universities and scientific communities cannot become accomplices. The key word is involvement, realizing that all of us together can change the course of events.

“Only when the ‘invisible’ are made known to all will those still indivisible citizens be able to express their opinions, to take action, and to become a genuine reality in the community. Indifference and ignorance are the great challenges that we face.

“Let us participate as committed citizens. As a great step toward worldwide democracy, today it is technologically possible to demonstrate from afar, to make our opinions known through Internet and the use of mobile phones. The ‘invisible’ are becoming progressively aware of their power as citizens, so that in a few years they may cease to be invisible.

“And this, together with an increase in women’s role in society and their assuming positions of leadership will facilitate the transition from a culture of force, imposition and dominion to a culture of understanding and conciliation, from formal democracies centered on evasive authoritarian power to genuine democracies.”

“The capacity for collective action will increase and will be joined with the great force of creative capacity. This ‘universal intelligence’ will provide a fantastic and indomitable force, which will defeat the maneuverings that have characterised most of the political stage throughout history.

“It is time for action, to cease to be simple recipients of often biased information, but rather actors who participate, each in his respective area, bearing in mind Burke’s truism that ‘nobody makes a greater mistake than he who does nothing because he could only do a little’.

“Rather than additional studies, diagnoses, recommendations and resolutions, what is needed is action, substantial change based on scientific analysis that will enable military spending to be rapidly reduced and increase funds available to urgently prevent, as a demand of the global conscience that can no longer be postponed, the death of thousands of persons each day from hunger and the lack of access to adequate treatment to ensure their health and their quality of life,” Mr Mayor said.