Saturday, August 4, 2001

The paradoxes of Europe
Reeta Sharma

THE paradoxes of Europe befuddle me. On the one hand, you can see nature in all its pristine glory, while on the other hand, human misery is acute. The beauty of nature is all pervasive in England, Germany, France, Austria, Spain, Holland and Switzerland. Even in the height of summer, the mountains are green everywhere and the colours of wild flowers are simply unbelievable. The pastures and meadows have a brilliant green tinge to them — a sight we are not used to. It is so beautiful and colourful that one has to rub one’s eyes again and again to believe that the scene unfolding before oneself is actually not a picture postcard. However, beneath this beauty lies a volcano of Europe’s growing social and economic tensions. Materialism, greed, racial aspirations and problems of affluence lurk around every corner.

Recently, I happened to see the protests at Genoa against the G-8 Summit. Thousands of people marched on the roads of the city protesting against the economic and industrial policies of the richest nations. The protest turned violent and the Italian police went after the protesters in the most brutal fashion. They shot some people at a pointblank range; kicked, abused and mercilessly beat up others and, at one stage, did not even spare the injured. Women, who tried to protect their children from the police onslaught, had blows from canes and rifle butts rained on them. I saw a mass of humanity writhing in pain lying on Genoa roads suffering attack after attack unleashed by the Italian police. If you had been a witness to this brutality, you would have thought that the Indian police was compassionate in comparison.


The increase in brutality in the West can be witnessed in other parts of Europe as well. In Bradford, England, citizens of Pakistani origin surpassed all records of violence. Guns, rods, petrol bombs and missiles of various hues were used indiscriminately. No help was rendered to people trapped inside blazing buildings. The Whites were stabbed, shot, assaulted and roasted alive. The Whites, too, retaliated in a similar manner. In Germany, the growth of neo-Nazi parties has been phenomenal and racism is rampant.

The G-8 Summit comprised the UK, the USA, France, Germany, Japan, Italy and Canada. Because of its past strengths, Russia too is included. The Summit at Genoa drew protesters not only from these rich countries but even from the Third World countries. It has been a ding-dong battle between the rich nations and the protesters ever since the Seattle meeting in 1999. The protests were initially peaceful but with the swelling of their ranks, a number of radical outfits have also joined the ranks.

The protests are primarily against the economic policies being followed by the richest of the rich countries. They are also about protecting the environment, preserving cultural heritage, restricting drug experiments and for steps to alleviate the plight of the poorest of the poor in the world. They point out that it is unfair that at least a quarter of the world’s population should have to survive on less than a dollar a day and that basic healthcare and standards of life should be denied to them. According to them, globalisation coldly advocates rewarding the rich and the talented at the cost of the poor and the unskilled. moreover, indigenous methods are being replaced by technology. It is, therefore, no wonder that farmers from France or Switzerland were on Genoa roads protesting an agenda which threatens to wipe them out.

Chaos seems to reign supreme all round. People are being pushed into adopting a lifestyle which is in sync with technological methods of the day. However, the G-8 was not very bothered. A few crumbs were thrown to pacify the protesters like money for AIDS research or promises of "building a better tomorrow." Rock Star Bono was one of the protesters and he is in favour of writing off Third World debts. Pope John Paul II, too, has lent subtle support to the critics of globalisation.

One of the ways suggested to get out of the impasse is widening the membership. According to Klaus Schwab, Chairman, World Economic Forum, G-8 should be replaced with a G-20 in which nations like India, China, Brazil, South Africa etc can be represented and the deliberations should cover a wide range of economic issues.

But will G-8 ever accept such a formulation? Unlikely. The single-minded pursuit of material comforts and higher standards of life have blinded these leaders to the living conditions of their unfortunate brethren. Indeed, their response to legitimate demands is in the form of brutality which was unleashed on the roads in Genoa. The animal instinct of self preservation appears to dominate. Who wants to think about the nurturing of the human aspects in us?