Address by George Papandreou
XXIII Congress of the Socialist International, Athens, 30 June-2 July 2008
Dear Friends, Dear Comrades,
You are in Greece and I am proud to welcome you – the representatives of a movement - which has done more than any other throughout the last century to place the individual at the heart of human progress.
This is the movement that has put the demos into the word democracy.
Demos in Greek means ‘the people’.
This is the movement that has struggled to give voice to the voiceless.
This is the movement that has challenged the myth that the few have a right to control what the majority have, what the majority should think, or what each and every one of us should say.
This is the movement that has challenged the myth that peoples cannot govern themselves because they do not have the knowledge to do so effectively.
This is the movement that knows that oppression of one means oppression of all.
This is the movement that has stood for social change - we have fought for the liberation of all human beings.
Liberation from inequality, from insecurity, from persecution.
Liberation from illiteracy, from extreme poverty, from fundamentalism.
Liberation from torture, terror and war.
These freedoms are our rights.
Freedoms, rights that ensure the actualization of human potential.
That is why we differ from our conservative adversaries.
For us, social welfare is not a burden, but a necessary freedom for development.
For us, human rights are not an obstacle but a necessary freedom to ensure security.
For us, education is not limited to the few and supposedly brightest – most often richest. Education is a necessary freedom to bring out the sparkling talent within each and every one of us.
For us, protecting the environment is no obstacle to economic growth. It is a new opportunity to develop a better quality of life, greater competitiveness, more sustainable economies.
When we have successfully matched our values with the practice of democracy, we have seen progress.
We have seen our peoples become the authors of their own history, rather than the victims of others’ decisions.
We have seen one half of humanity – women – were given voice.
Colonies and subjected races were liberated.
The working man and woman have found security.
But when we have failed, we have seen progress abdicate power to the few, and wealth surrendered to the even fewer.
Today we cannot fail.
Because today, friends, we are at a turning point.
Today’s struggle goes beyond the struggle for social change.
It is a struggle – and we must dare to make this struggle - for the survival of humanity.
Let me be clear.
We face apocalyptic changes in our - and even more so in our children’s lifetimes.
Climate change that brings droughts, desertification or floods.
Unregulated competition in a world market that brings us sky-rocketing food prices.
Unchecked concentration of immense wealth, which in turn brings us greater inequality.
Unbridled dispersion of new technologies that bring us more precise and destructive warfare.
Unchecked powers of governments and corporations, which whittle down our freedoms and rights.
If we do not find the will to overcome these phenomena, they will lead us into an era of unprecedented violence.
The violence of seeing your water resources lost.
The violence of being uprooted from your village to become part of a mass refugee movement in search of a distant future.
A future where one may face again the violence of racism and xenophobia.
The violence of waking up abrubtly in poverty as you cannot find the means to buy the foods necessary for your family.
The violence of losing your job - and not having much hope to find a new one.
The violence of greater and greater inequality.
The violence of conflict over energy resources.
If we fail to act, global warming could shrink the global economy by 20%, leaving hundreds of millions of people at risk of drought, floods, and food shortages, and creating up to 200 million climate refugees.
These figures are daunting, but the cost of inaction is even more frightening.
To put these numbers into perspective: Meeting the basic water, healthcare and education needs of the world’s least developed countries would cost around $80 billion a year.
In 2009, the US has pledged $162 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
When you consider these figures, it is hard to understand where global priorities have gone wrong.
Yes, there is a paradox here!
Humankind is amassing ever greater power, greater wealth, knowledge and possibilities.
Why then is our global society not able to solve these challenges?
We socialists and democrats know deep in our hearts that there is another choice. There is another way. We have viable and better alternatives.
We can solve global warming.
We can find renewable energy resources.
We can make poverty history.
We can educate all our citizens.
We can give all our citizens access to new technologies.
And through them access to the knowledge and skills that will support a new, greener model of development.
We know this because our movement has accomplished this at the national level in many countries.
We know this because this is the core of what we are fighting for.
What is stopping us?
The core paradox is that we are seeing the steady disempowerment of our peoples and this is disenfranchising our citizens.
- the concentration of vast amounts of wealth in the hands of very few, who remain unaccountable
- the capturing of markets by global oligopolies
- a concentration of power of global media that all too often limits enquiry, perpetuates myths, misinforms our citizenry and in the end even stifles freedom of expression
- the capture of our democratic institutions, whether it be justice, government, local government, politicians, culture, education, by big business, media and power, which undermine our democratic institutions.
- Finally the capture even of our parties from big business and media. Which brings with it corruption and bad governance.
I myself have witnessed this in Greece, where politics is more and more alienated from the real issues and concerns of the people, and caters more and more to powerful financial and media interests.
This is disempowerment of our citizens, and this creates alienation and fear.
Our younger generation often sees only two choices:
Apathy or extremism.
Inaction or belief in new messiahs, fundamentalisms, tyrants, or populists.
My Friends, our adversaries have systematically used fear and disinformation to control the world.
We need to consistently use hope and enlightenment to educate and empower our citizens and liberate their potential.
Creative potential, productive potential, but even more the potential to create a new culture of collective cooperation and collective problem solving.
A culture of solidarity and peace.
A political culture of democracy and participation.
No, our historical role is not over: it is more necessary than ever.
But we must put decision-making within reach of the individual.
And, I do not mean, one man and one woman, one vote. We have achieved that and we have seen how that simple tenet of democracy has often been easily abused.
I believe the answer lies in deepening and re-thinking democratic practice, and that we of the socialist family should be at the forefront of this process.
This is why the SI must continue to broaden its base, bringing in vital parts of our society, who will challenge us to think differently, to approach problems from a new perspective.
Women, youth, minorities and migrants.
They challenge the hierarchical and often bureaucratic way we act.
They challenge our vested power and demand that we share it. And we must!
They challenge us when we become complacent, part of an establishment, part of an elite. They challenge us when they see lack of solidarity, meritocracy or transparency.
These groups are often disenfranchised. We must empower them!
They are a source of new oxygen for the health of our parties and the SI.
This is why we also need to look at new, greener development models that liberate people from centralized power grids and dependency on fossil fuels.
I would like to thank and welcome Jeremy Rifkin, who today will offer us a model of development that deepens democracy as it literally gives power to the people.
I recommend that we all listen to him today.
And of course, I would also like to thank both Ricardo Lagos and Goran Persson for the very constructive work they have begun on our Commission for a Sustainable World. And will also listen to them later today.
This is why the SI must continue its work in conflict areas, empowering citizen’s diplomacy.
A new understanding between Israelis and Palestinians, which opens up the prospects for a secure Israel and a viable Palestinian state.
We need to welcome yesterday’s decision for prisoner exchange between the Israeli government and Hezbollah.
This is why we need a new understanding, which empowers Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots to reunify into one federal state, according to UN resolutions, terminating the 35 years of occupation of the island.
I believe we need to send a message of hope and support to both the President of the Republic of Cyprus, Dimitri Christofias, who is meeting with Mr. Talat, the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community, in Cyprus these days.
Let us hope that the wall that has separated the island for too long will soon be torn down.
This is why the SI must continue its work in the Balkans.
We have been instrumental in bringing the new democratic pro-European coalition together in Serbia.
I welcome the Leader of our member party in Serbia, the President of Serbia, Boris Tadic, who is arriving in Athens this afternoon, and his coalition partners, who we welcome as our guests, here in our Congress.
Let us wish them good luck!
This is why we also need to empower the SI by building new alliances.
There are parties, governments and movements around the world that share common values and goals, and could become crucial allies or even members of our SI.
Democratic, progressive forces and friends in India, Brazil, Russia, China, the Arab world, the USA. And, certainly, the hope that Barack Obama has brought – hope for a wind of change that makes us all hope that his country will play a new, positive role for progress and peace in our world. We wish him the best.
In this wider alliance, we must learn from each other so that we deal with these new challenges effectively, both politically and organizationally.
Τhis is why the SI needs to rethink the way we work.
We are a huge organization.
We have huge potential.
We have great knowledge stored in each and every one of our parties, governments, and nations.
We have new and old, in and out of power.
We have the fire of oppositions and the wisdom of governments.
We need to disperse this great experience throughout the world.
If we are to make a dent on global issues, global institutions or our national communities, we need to become an organization which can provide practical political solutions for all our member parties and individual citizens.
In thanking you for the confidence you have shown me – and also thanking all of you who I have been working with, Luis Ayala and all of you - I must admit – I feel that I have more to offer to our organization.
In the last two years, I have been able to understand the pros and cons of our SI movement in greater detail.
I have met with many of you and understand your desire that we move forward.
Best practices, training of leaders, new networks of cooperation in dealing with conflict, greater presence, real relevance.
These, despite the massive work we are doing – and we have done much – there are new and pressing priorities for the new leadership of our movement.
I propose that the new elected Presidium make this a priority. The new Presidium needs to discuss all aspects of the future of our movement.
We must come up with tangible action plans for the necessary changes to deal with the unprecedented issues we all face.
It is my intention to start, immediately, the serious and systematic process to achieve this goal, to make changes and to reform, within a tight time framework.
I of course welcome all your thoughts and proposals on these matters.
These are priorities which I wish to address. Address in close cooperation with all of you.
Ι plan to visit most areas in order to discuss the necessary new ways we organise our movement.
And certainly I plan to include women, migrants and youth in this discussion.
In particular, the younger generation, who are trying to react to the concentration of world power, the hierarchy of our parties and societies, by networking, creating their own means of communication, innovation, and cooperation.
They have much to teach us about new forms of collective action, collective problem-solving, collective communication. And I will make it a priority to learn from them.
For what they are simply saying is that democracy and social justice is an ongoing struggle. If you abandon it, it is undermined.
Democracy – a daily struggle.
I knew this as a young boy when my father was imprisoned and my grandfather died under house arrest. I was in exile in Sweden at that time, during the military junta. I thought we would come back to Greece and bury him alone.
Yet thousands came, hundreds of thousands came to his funeral, despite the fear of dictatorship; they came to shout for democracy.
Democracy is an ongoing struggle.
In tribute to those who have sacrificed so much for democracy and social justice, for the causes of our movement, those who have sacrificed even their lives, I would like to finish my intervention by honouring one of our leaders.
A leader who steadily fought for democracy and social justice in her country, Pakistan.
We welcome Asif Ali Zardari, husband of a woman who was willing to put her life on the line for her country, and for democracy.
Let us pay tribute to Benazir Bhutto with a minute of solemn silence in her memory.
May we remember her for all her struggles, and may her struggles not have been in vain.
My friends, it is time to write a new chapter in our history.
And this new chapter needs to begin now.