Gandhi’s stand, that inspired so many, was a moral one

Speech by G. Papandreou

New Delhi, India, 29 January 2007

Address by George A. Papandreou at the Conference “Peace, Nonviolence, Empowerment – Gandhian philosophy in the 21st Century”

“Ms. Chairwoman, Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, Gandhi has inspired my generation at a younger age and, as Francesco Rutelli said, this was something which we thought about as his image loomed large in many instances: how we fight against the Vietnam War, how we fight in my country against the dictatorship – would it be through the use of violence or would it be through the use of non-violence? But I see that his influence is now trickling down to the younger generation, and that is, I think, an optimistic point.

But today, as President of the Socialist International, I feel we have a special debt to Mahatma Gandhi. His views are pertinent for the democratic and socialist movement I represent. Although his views developed in a context of the struggle in South Africa and India, they show an amazing insight into the problems of today’s global economy and society.

He spoke of poverty as dehumanising, loss of dignity and self-respect, loss of human potential. Today poverty remains a major issue for our movement.

He felt that inequality destroyed the sense of community and solidarity between peoples. Today we are in search of both a universal solidarity and a sense of global community.

He believed in full employment and work as means not only to satisfy basic needs but to develop each individual’s necessary self-respect. Today our movement is fighting for decent jobs for all, around the world.

He feared that over-industrialisation and consumerism would destroy the equilibrium between man and nature. Today we have become concerned, alarmed, with climate change and global warming. We are fighting for a new sustainable balance between human beings and nature.

His concept of non-violence was in no way a concept of passivity. On the contrary, it was a way to educate, to empower the citizen and allow him or her to discover new capacities and potential. And he feared that technological progress could marginalise, disenfranchise large parts of the population. Today, while progress has been impressive, so is the new digital divide we are witnessing. Our movement is experimenting with new forms of democratic participation, from direct democracy, making technology serve the citizen, from cheap PCs, to electronic democracy, to online communities, to decentralising political parties.

In a sense, we are embarked on our own Satyagraha. We see active citizen participation, civil society, creating global networks of citizens, as an antidote to global concentration of capital, media concentration, to alienation and marginalisation, to populisms and fundamentalisms.

I, however, would like to dwell on three points I feel are especially important. First is the fact that Gandhi’s stand was a moral one. He changed the framework of the colonial struggle. It was no longer a struggle between Indians and British. It was a struggle between values: on the one hand the oppressor, cruel, authoritarian, violent; on the other the oppressed, humane, democratic, peace loving, proud. This stance has inspired many, and I have been inspired from his wisdom.

From 1997 I worked to revive an ancient Greek tradition, that of the Olympic Truce, a moment of tolerance and peaceful competition in our world. On November 18th in 2003, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously passed a resolution in support of the Olympic Truce. And during the August 2004 Athens Olympics North and South Korea marched under a single banner, a powerful moral victory for culture and athletics.

To Gandhi, this moral world was based on truth. To him, violence arose out of ignorance, non-violence arose out of truth. Truth was to him an emancipating power. Truth therefore becomes intrinsic to peace. And truth for Gandhi is a search a lifelong search. It is an ongoing dialogue. Dialogue, a Greek word, δια and λόγος, means “through logic”.

So Gandhi believes in the power of the mind, not the power of violence, not in the power of terror, not in the domination of military or technological force. He could have told the US that in Iraq he who captures the hearts and minds will be the more powerful, not he who has the military strength.

This brings me to my second point. He understood the premises of a peaceful, multicultural society, a common ethos, a common value system. Europe, as you mentioned, for example, is of a diverse nature: different languages, religions, ethnicities. And a history of wars. Yet today because of the European Union we share basic values. We can communicate. We have discourse. We discuss. And it is based on basic principles, common principles. And our differences have become a source of innovation, rather than of fear and violence.

Is this not what Gandhi saw in a multicultural India? A common ethos which united this vast country and divergent groups? Is this not what our global community today is in search of? A global village which can share common values, yet revel in the beauty of the special identities we all have? I don’t know, but I have been watching Indian television and maybe this whole Shilpa affair may have something to do with this.

During my term as Foreign Minister, I was determined to challenge the image of Turkey as an eternal enemy of Greece. This was not an easy task, but in 1999 I worked with my counterpart, Ismail Cem, to turn a curse into a blessing. Devastating earthquakes hit both sides of the Aegean. We left our differences behind and launched a policy of rapprochement. We initiated meetings between citizens, officials, business groups. Soon Greece and Turkey had signed bilateral agreements after 40 years of isolation to boost trade and tourism.

We signed environmental, cultural, energy, educational, civil emergency agreements. We discussed our history books, as Sonia Gandhi mentioned this morning. Our approach was pragmatic, but it was also a deep belief that non-violent methods could work.

Greece became a champion of Turkey’s candidacy for membership in the European Union. Surely if Turkey espoused the common values, undertook the necessary reforms to democratise its institutions and society, and curbed the power of the military, this would benefit us all, reduce the possibility of violence. In this context, a dialogue of cultures was a reality.

Ismail Cem and I, we represented two rival countries. However, we became, in the Gandhian spirit, close friends in our common cause for peace. This is why two days ago I was asked to place a shovelful of soil over his grave and give him my last respects.

A common ethos, from human rights to tolerance to non-violent resolution of conflict, to the abolition of capital punishment, to democratic practice, to transparency, to fighting racism, to strengthening the rule of law rather than the law of the strong: this is what, as President of the Socialist International, we represent. And I am confronted daily with uniting the many voices of our diverse movement, over 160 parties around the world, into a single expression of solidarity, positive forces that can address very complex global challenges.

We are committed to a global culture of peace. We continue to be active in the Middle East, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Africa, Latin America and Asia. Only a few days from now we will be present in Nepal to support the formation of a democratic coalition government, following years of conflict.

India and Greece have also shared much in history, even from ancient times. We share our democratic traditions. In 1984 my father, Andreas Papandreou, worked with Indira Gandhi and later Rajiv Gandhi to launch the Initiative of the Six, a political alliance that lobbied for nuclear disarmament and peace. Others involved were Olof Palme, Julius Nyerere, Raul Alfonsin, Miguel de la Madrid.

Today I have found a friend and a comrade in Sonia Gandhi. We share the common conviction to work for comprehensive nuclear disarmament.

And this brings me to the third and final point. How is Mahatma Gandhi’s common ethos to come about? He believed in empowering through education. But what could this education be? It means many things. First, it is a humanistic education. I would ask our friends, our outstanding intellectuals that we have with us today: If you were to develop a global curriculum for our citizens of the world, citizens of the world today, who would you teach? What would you teach? Would Gandhi not be one of them? For sure. Mandela, Martin Luther King. Would it be Aristotle, Desmond Tutu or all our Nobel Prizewinners? Would it be Joyce or Coetzee or Kafka, or Arundhati Roy, Dostoyevsky? Who else?

Should we not teach conflict, that is how people can deal with conflict? Should we not teach both our traditions but also our neighbours’ traditions and understand them? Should we not teach now to love to learn, to search, to question, to analyse, to sift through a world of proliferating information?

This education would in fact be deeply anti-dogmatic: no fundamentalisms, no absolutisms, no beaten paths could fit into this education. The search for truth could only be the absolute value, and certainly this is what Gandhi believed in.

Secondly, would this education not be empowering? Would we not need to inform, train all our citizens, so that ignorance could not be weakness, a weakness to be exploited, so that the power of knowledge was not monopolised by the few, so that we had no digital divide?

Thirdly, would knowledge not become our new common wealth, a wealth share by all, a wealth owned by none, a commons, a digital library, a social property, a source of everlasting discovery and creativity, a wealth accessible to all?

Fourthly, would this knowledge not emancipate us? A process with this means that the means of production, now highly dependent on knowledge, on our brains, is ours, self-managed and collectively managed, which frees us rather than exploits us.

And fifthly, would this knowledge not make us wise, wise enough to know our limits, wise enough to work together collectively, wise enough to stem our greed and respect our planet, our environment, understand our responsibility to the generations who will inherit this world from us, wise enough to plan for tomorrow and not only today, to democratically design our future, as we can today, wise enough to empower the poor, as Mohammad Yunus has accomplished, to create social businesses, wise enough to break down the walls of inequality between gender, races, nations, the poor and the rich, wise enough to break down psychological, religious, apartheid, racial walls, but also real walls, whether they are in Palestine or on the US border to Mexico or in Nicosia in Cyprus, wise enough to fight pandemics effectively, such as President Kaunda mentioned, that of AIDS?

Inspired by Gandhi, education is at the forefront of my priorities in the Socialist International. My hope is to create an academy of fellows, an academy of progressive leaders and thinkers from around the world, who can highlight their best practices, relate their own experiences, offer their knowledge in order to empower younger leaders in our global movement.

I very much would like to invite you. I wish that you, the distinguished participants in this congress, would be willing to participate in this exercise.

For in the end, it is Gandhi’s life example, as the life example of so many fighters for peace in this room, to have educated our publics, our peoples, our citizens. This is the new purpose of leadership today, less to rule, more to educate. And in a world where there are no simple recipes, we in leadership positions need to be humble enough, as Gandhi, humble enough to be ready to be educated ourselves, to learn ourselves throughout our life.

So I thank you for this invitation. I thank Sonia Gandhi. I thank India, the largest democracy, which has so much to teach us in today’s world. Thank you very much.”