Boaventura de Sousa Santos

Ten suggestions for Brazilian President-Elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva

Dear President Lula,

When I visited you (Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva) in prison on August 30, 2018, in the brief time that the visit lasted, I experienced a whirlwind of ideas and emotions that remain as vivid today as they were then. A short time before, we had been together at the World Social Forum in Salvador da Bahia. In the penthouse of the hotel where you were staying, we exchanged ideas with Brazilian politician Jacques Wagner about your imprisonment. You still had some hope that the judicial system would suspend the persecutory vertigo that had descended upon you. I, perhaps because I am a legal sociologist, was convinced that this would not happen, but I did not insist. At one point, I had the feeling that you and I were actually thinking and fearing the same thing. A short time later, they were arresting you with the same arrogant and compulsive indifference with which they had been treating you up to that point. Judge Sergio Moro, who had links with the U.S. (it is too late to be naive), had accomplished the first part of his mission by putting you behind bars. The second part would be to keep you locked up and isolated until “his” candidate (Jair Bolsonaro) was elected, one who would give Moro a platform to get to the presidency of the republic later on. This is the third phase of the mission, still underway.

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When I entered the premises of Brazil’s federal police, I felt a chill when I read the plaque marking that President Lula da Silva had inaugurated those facilities 11 years earlier as part of his vast program to upgrade the federal police and criminal investigation system in the country. A whirlwind of questions assaulted me. Had the plaque remained there out of oblivion? Out of cruelty? Or to show that the spell had turned against the sorcerer? That a bona fide president had handed the gold to the bandit?

I was accompanied by a pleasant young federal police officer who turned to me and said, “We read your books a lot.” I was shocked. If my books were read and the message understood, neither Lula nor I would be there. I babbled something to this effect, and the answer was instantaneous: “We are following orders.” Suddenly, the Nazi legal theorist Carl Schmitt came to my mind. To be a sovereign is to have the prerogative to declare that something is legal even if is not, and to impose your will bureaucratically with the normality of functional obedience and the consequent trivialization of state terror.

This is how I arrived at your cell, and surely you did not even suspect the storm that was going on inside me. Upon seeing you, I calmed down. I was faced with dignity and humanity that gave me hope for mankind. Everything was normal within the totalitarian abnormality that had enclosed you there: The windows, the gym apparatus, the books, and the television. Our conversation was as normal as everything around us, including your lawyers and Gleisi Hoffmann, who was then the general secretary of the Workers’ Party. We talked about the situation in Latin America, the new (old) aggressiveness of the empire, and the judicial system that had converted into an ersatz military coup.

When the door closed behind me, the weight of the illegal will of a state held hostage by criminals armed with legal manipulations fell back on me once again. I braced myself between revolt and anger and the well-behaved performance expected of a public intellectual who on his way out has to make statements to the press. I did everything, but what I truly felt was that I had left behind Brazil’s freedom and dignity imprisoned so that the empire and the elites in its service could fulfill their objectives of guaranteeing access to Brazil’s immense natural resources, privatization of social security, and unconditional alignment with the geopolitics of rivalry with China.

The serenity and dignity with which you faced a year of confinement is proof that empires, especially decadent ones, often miscalculate, precisely because they only think in the short term. The immense and growing national and international solidarity, which would make you the most famous political prisoner in the world, showed that the Brazilian people were beginning to believe that at least part of what was destroyed in the short term might be rebuilt in the medium and long term. Your imprisonment was the price of the credibility of this conviction; your subsequent freedom was proof that the conviction has become reality.

I am writing to you today first to congratulate you on your victory in the October 30 election. It is an extraordinary achievement without precedent in the history of democracy. I often say that sociologists are good at predicting the past, not the future, but this time I was not wrong. That does not make me feel any more certain about what I must tell you today. Take these considerations as an expression of my best wishes for you personally and for the office you are about to take on as the president of Brazil.

1. It would be a serious mistake to think that with your victory in Brazil’s presidential election everything is back to normal in the country. First, the normal situation prior to former President Jair Bolsonaro was very precarious for the most vulnerable populations, even if it was less so than it is now. Second, Bolsonaro inflicted such damage on Brazilian society that is difficult to repair. He has produced a civilizational regression by rekindling the embers of violence typical of a society that was subjected to European colonialism: the idolatry of individual property and the consequent social exclusion, racism, and sexism; the privatization of the state so that the rule of law coexists with the rule of illegality; and an excluding of religion this time in the form of neo-Pentecostal evangelism. The colonial divide is reactivated in the pattern of friend/enemy, us/them polarization, typical of the extreme right. With this, Bolsonaro has created a radical rupture that makes educational and democratic mediation difficult. Recovery will take years.

2. If the previous note points to the medium term, the truth is that your presidency will be dominated by the short term. Bolsonaro has brought back hunger, broken the state financially, deindustrialized the country, let hundreds of thousands of COVID victims die needlessly, and promised to put an end to the Amazon. The emergency camp is the one in which you move best and in which I am sure you will be most successful. Just two caveats. You will no doubt return to the policies you have successfully spearheaded, but mind you, the conditions are now vastly different and more adverse. On the other hand, everything has to be done without expecting political gratitude from the social classes benefiting from the emergency measures. The impersonal way of benefiting, which is proper to the state, makes people see their personal merit or right in the benefits, and not the merit or benevolence of those who make them possible. There is only one way of showing that such measures result neither from personal merit nor from the benevolence of donors but are rather the product of political alternatives: ensuring education for citizenship.

3. One of the most harmful aspects of the backlash brought about by Bolsonaro is the anti-rights ideology ingrained in the social fabric, targeting previously marginalized social groups (poor, Black, Indigenous, Roma, and LGBTQI+ people). Holding on firmly to a policy of social, economic, and cultural rights as a guarantee of ample dignity in a very unequal society should be the basic principle of democratic governments today.

4. The international context is dominated by three mega-threats: recurring pandemics, ecological collapse, and a possible third world war. Each of these threats is global in scope, but political solutions remain predominantly limited to the national scale. Brazilian diplomacy has traditionally been exemplary in the search for agreements, whether regional (Latin American cooperation) or global (BRICS). We live in a time of interregnum between a unipolar world dominated by the United States that has not yet fully disappeared and a multipolar world that has not yet been fully born. The interregnum is seen, for example, in the deceleration of globalization and the return of protectionism, the partial replacement of free trade with trade by friendly partners. All states remain formally independent, but only a few are sovereign. And among the latter, not even the countries of the European Union are to be counted. You left the government when China was the great partner of the United States and return when China is the great rival of the United States. You have always been a supporter of the multipolar world and China cannot but be today a partner of Brazil. Given the growing cold war between the United States and China, I predict that the honeymoon period between U.S. President Joe Biden and yourself will not last long.

5. You today have a world credibility that enables you to be an effective mediator in a world mined by increasingly tense conflicts. You can be a mediator in the Russia/Ukraine conflict, two countries whose people urgently need peace, at a time when the countries of the European Union have embraced the U.S. version of the conflict without a Plan B; they have therefore condemned themselves to the same fate as the U.S.-dominated unipolar world. You will also be a credible mediator in the case of Venezuela’s isolation and in bringing the shameful embargo against Cuba to an end. To accomplish all this, you must have the internal front pacified, and here lies the greatest difficulty.

6. You will have to live with the permanent threat of destabilization. This is the mark of the extreme right. It is a global movement that corresponds to the inability of neoliberal capitalism to coexist in the next period in a minimal democratic way. Although global, it takes on specific characteristics in each country. The general aim is to convert cultural or ethnic diversity into political or religious polarization. In Brazil, as in India, there is the risk of attributing to such polarization the character of a religious war, be it between Catholics and Evangelicals, or between fundamentalist Christians and religions of African origin (Brazil), or between Hindus and Muslims (India). In religious wars, conciliation is almost impossible. The extreme right creates a parallel reality immune to any confrontation with the actual reality. On that basis, it can justify the cruelest violence. Its main objective is to prevent you, President Lula, from peacefully finishing your term.

7. You currently have the support of the United States in your favor. It is well known that all U.S. foreign policy is determined by domestic political reasons. President Biden knows that, by defending you, he is defending himself against former President Trump, his possible rival in 2024. It so happens that the United States today is the most fractured society in the world, where the democratic game coexists with a plutocratic far right strong enough to make about 25 percent of the U.S. population still believe that Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election was the result of an electoral fraud. This far right is willing to do anything. Their aggressiveness is demonstrated by the attempt by one of their followers to kidnap and torture Nancy Pelosi, leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives. Furthermore, right after the attack, a battery of fake news was put into circulation to justify the act—something that can very well happen in Brazil as well. So, today the United States is a dual country: the official country that promises to defend Brazilian democracy, and the unofficial country that promises to subvert it in order to rehearse what it wants to achieve in the United States. Let us remember that the extreme right started as the official policy of the country. Hyper-conservative evangelicalism started as an American project (see the Rockefeller report of 1969) to combat “the insurrectionary potential” of liberation theology. And let it be said, in fairness, that for a long time its main ally was former Pope John Paul II.

8. Since 2014, Brazil has been living through a continued coup process, the elites’ response to the progress that the popular classes achieved with your governments. That coup process did not end with your victory. It only changed rhythm and tactics. Throughout these years and especially in the last electoral period we have witnessed multiple illegalities and even political crimes committed with an almost naturalized impunity. Besides the many committed by the head of the government, we have seen, for example, senior members of the armed forces and security forces calling for a coup d’état and publicly siding with a presidential candidate while in office. Such behavior should be punished by the judiciary or by compulsory retirement. Any idea of amnesty, no matter how noble its motives may be, will be a trap in the path of your presidency. The consequences could be fatal.

9. It is well known that you do not place a high priority on characterizing your politics as being left or right. Curiously, shortly before being elected president of Colombia, Gustavo Petro stated that the important distinction for him was not between left and right, but between politics of life and politics of death. The politics of life today in Brazil is sincere ecological politics, the continuation and deepening of policies of racial and sexual justice, labor rights, investment in public health care and education, respect for the demarcated lands of Indigenous peoples, and the enactment of pending demarcations. A gradual but firm transition is needed from agrarian monoculture and natural resource extractivism to a diversified economy that allows respect for different socioeconomic logics and virtuous articulations between the capitalist economy and the peasant, family, cooperative, social-solidarity, Indigenous, riverine, and quilombola economies that have so much vitality in Brazil.

10. The state of grace is short. It does not even last 100 days (see President Gabriel Boric in Chile). You have to do everything not to lose the people that elected you. Symbolic politics is fundamental in the early days. One suggestion: immediately reinstate the national conferences (built on bottom-up participatory democracy) to give an unequivocal sign that there is another, more democratic, and more participative way of doing politics.

Author Bio: Boaventura de Sousa Santos is the emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Coimbra in Portugal. His most recent book is Decolonizing the University: The Challenge of Deep Cognitive Justice.

Why the West's power is contracting but not necessarily declining

What Westerners call the West or Western civilization is a geopolitical space that emerged in the 16th century and expanded continuously until the 20th century. On the eve of World War I, about 90 percent of the globe was Western or Western-dominated: Europe, Russia, the Americas, Africa, Oceania, and much of Asia (with the partial exceptions of Japan and China). From then on, the West began to contract: first with the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the emergence of the Soviet bloc, and then, from mid-century onward, with the decolonization movements. Terrestrial space, and soon after, extraterrestrial space, became fields of intense disputes.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Meanwhile, what Westerners understood by the West was changing. It began as Christianity and colonialism, then changed to capitalism and imperialism, and then metamorphosed into democracy, human rights, decolonization, self-determination, and “rules-based international relations”—it was made clear that the rules would be established by the West and would only be followed when they served its interests—and finally into globalization.

By the middle of the last century, the West had shrunk so much that several newly independent countries made the decision to align themselves neither with the West nor with the bloc that had emerged as its rival, the Soviet bloc. This led to the emergence, from 1955-1961, of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). With the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1991, the West seemed to go through a time of enthusiastic expansion. It was around this time that former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev expressed his desire for Russia to join the “common home” of Europe, with the support of then-U.S. President George H. W. Bush, a desire reaffirmed by Vladimir Putin when he took power in 2000. It was a short historical period, and recent events show that the “size” of the West has since shrunk drastically. In the wake of the Ukraine war, the West decided, on its own initiative, that only those countries applying sanctions against Russia would be considered part of the pro-Western camp. These countries comprise about 21 percent of the UN member countries, which constitute only 16 percent of the world’s population.

Questions

Is contraction decline? One might think that the contraction of the West works in its favor because it allows it to focus on more realistic goals with greater intensity. A careful reading of the strategists of the hegemonic country of the West, the United States, shows, that on the contrary, without apparently realizing the flagrant contraction, they show unlimited ambition. With the same ease with which they foresee being able to reduce Russia (one of the largest nuclear power in the world) to a vassal state or bring it to ruin, they foresee neutralizing China (which is on its way to becoming the first world economy) and soon provoking a war in Taiwan, (like the one in Ukraine) to achieve that purpose. On the other hand, the history of empires shows that contraction goes hand in hand with decline, and that decline is irreversible and entails much human suffering.

At the current stage, the manifestations of weakness are running parallel to those of strength, which makes analysis very difficult. Two contrasting examples help understand this point more clearly: The United States is the largest military power in the world (even though it has not won any wars since 1945) with military bases in at least 80 countries. An extreme case of domination is its presence in Ghana where, according to agreements made in 2018, the United States uses the Accra airport without any control or inspection, U.S. soldiers do not even need a passport to enter the country, and enjoy extraterritorial immunity, meaning that if they commit any crime, no matter how serious, they cannot be tried by Ghana’s courts. On the other hand, the thousands of sanctions on Russia are, for now, doing more damage in the Western world than in the geopolitical space being defined by the West as the non-Western world. The currencies of those countries that seem to be winning the war are depreciating the most. The looming inflation and recession led JP Morgan Chase & Co. CEO Jamie Dimon to say that a “hurricane” is approaching.

Is contraction a loss of internal cohesion? Contraction can mean more cohesion, and this is quite visible. The leadership of the European Union, i.e., the European Commission, has in the last 20 years been much more aligned with the U.S. than the countries that make up the EU. We saw this with the neoliberal shift and with the enthusiastic support shown by former President of the European Commission, José Manuel Durão Barroso, for the invasion of Iraq, and we are seeing it now with the current commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who seems to be operating as the U.S. undersecretary of defense. The truth is that this cohesion, if it is effective in producing policies, can be disastrous in managing their consequences. Europe is a geopolitical space that since the 16th century has lived off the resources of other countries that it directly or indirectly dominates and on whom it imposes unequal exchange. None of this is, however, possible when the United States or its allies are its partners. Moreover, cohesion is made up of inconsistencies, as seen in the conflicting narratives about Russia. After all, is Russia the country with a lower GDP than many countries in Europe? Or is it a force that wants to invade Europe, and serves as a global threat that can only be stopped with the help of investments provided by the United States for arms and security to Ukraine—already around $10 billion—a distant country of which little will remain if the war continues for a long time?

Does the contraction occur for internal or external reasons? The literature on the decline and end of empires shows that, besides a few exceptional cases in which empires were destroyed by external forces—such as the Aztec and Inca empires with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors—internal factors generally dominate in bringing about contraction, even though decline can be precipitated by external factors. It is difficult to distinguish the internal from the external, and the specific identification is always more ideological than anything else. For example, in 1964 the well-known American conservative philosopher James Burnham published a book titled Suicide of the West. According to him, liberalism, then dominant in the United States, was the ideology behind this decline. For the liberals of the time, liberalism was, on the contrary, an ideology that would enable a new, more peaceful, and just world hegemony for the West. Today, liberalism is dead in the United States (neoliberalism dominates, which is its opposite) and even the old-school conservatives have been totally overtaken by the neoconservatives. That is why former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (for many, a war criminal) upset the anti-Russia proselytes by calling for peace negotiations while talking about the Ukraine conflict during a conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos in May. Be that as it may, the Ukraine war is the great accelerator of the West’s contraction. While the West wants to use its power and influence to isolate China, a new generation of nonaligned countries is emerging. Organizations like BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and the Eurasian Economic Forum are, among others, the new faces of the non-Western states.

What comes next? We don’t know yet. It is as difficult to imagine the West occupying a subordinate space in the world context as it is to imagine it in an equal and peaceful relationship with other geopolitical spaces. We only know that for those leading the Western states, either of these hypotheses is either impossible or, if possible, apocalyptic. Therefore, the number of international meetings has multiplied in recent months—from the World Economic Forum meeting that took place in May in Davos to the most recent Bilderberg Meeting in June. Not surprisingly, in the latter meeting, of the 14 themes discussed, seven were directly related to the West’s rivals.

Author Bio: Boaventura de Sousa Santos is the emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Coimbra in Portugal. His most recent book is Decolonizing the University: The Challenge of Deep Cognitive Justice.

Why is Europe not demanding peace?

The North Atlantic media is entangled in an unprecedented information war. It is characterized by a relentless erosion of the distinction between facts and the manipulation of emotions and perceptions, between conjectures and unassailable truths. I saw this kind of information war in the United States firsthand during the last years of the war on Vietnam and in the lead-up to the war on Iraq—both wars driven by political hoaxes that led to numerous war crimes.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Manipulation of the news around Russia’s war on Ukraine is aimed to prevent public opinion from seeking a lasting peace for both Ukraine and the region. The aim of this information war is to prolong the war to serve the interests of those who wish to promote it. How does one know what constitutes facts and what constitutes lies, and how can one learn to explain events without being accused of justification?

Causes Leading to War

To demonize your enemies, you must first dehumanize them. They must be defined as having acted criminally and without provocation. I have unconditionally condemned the illegal invasion of Ukraine, but I am nonetheless still interested in how we got to this point. Stephen Cohen’s 2019 book War With Russia? provides a thorough analysis of the relations between the United States and Russia since the end of the Soviet Union and the dynamics of these relations with respect to Ukraine since 2013. Cohen considers the conflict in Ukraine as a “proxy war,” but one that involved “too many American and Russian trainers, minders, and possibly fighters.” He reminds us of the war in Georgia (2008) and in Syria (2011). “The risk of a direct conflict” between the United States and Russia “continues to grow in Ukraine,” Cohen wrote in his book in 2019.

Democracies and Autocracies

The United States government sees the world divided into democracies and autocracies. Governments that are deemed by Washington to be hostile to it are defined as autocracies. For its Summit for Democracy, which took place in December 2021, the United States, for example, did not invite Bolivia, even though the country had recently gone through the election process; meanwhile, the U.S. invited Pakistan, the Philippines, and Ukraine, even though the U.S. government said it had misgivings about these states (in the case of Ukraine, only a few months earlier, the Pandora Papers revealed the depth of corruption among Ukraine’s elite, which included President Volodymyr Zelenskyy). Because Ukraine represents the struggle of “democracy” against Russian “autocracy,” Zelenskyy was invited to the summit. The concept of “democracy” is robbed of much of its political content and weaponized for purposes of promoting changes of government that are beneficial to the United States’ global interests.

Real and Manufactured Threats to Justify War

While Russian President Vladimir Putin’s exaggerated claims of the threat of Nazism in Ukraine that he is using to try to justify his illegal invasion of Ukraine are not true, the far-right paramilitary elements and their recruitment of foreign fighters that have pervaded Ukraine are worth examining. It is not unthinkable that the arming and financing by Europe and the United States of democracy-minded Ukrainian forces, even if this aid is not directed at known far-right extremist militias in Ukraine, could still bleed over. There is a risk that far-right extremists could gain a foothold, and one that is not merely confined to Ukraine. In a 1998 interview with L’Obs, previously known as Le Nouvel Observateur, Zbigniew Brzeziński, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, said that in 1979, the U.S. “knowingly increased the probability” of the USSR invading Afghanistan, in the hopes of giving the former Soviet Union “its Vietnam war.” Similarly, in February 2022, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told MSNBC that she hoped that the United States would do to Russia in Ukraine what it had done to Russia in Afghanistan.

The NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said that this war “may last for a long time, for many months, for even years,” which should have set off alarm bells among Europe’s political leaders. The consequences of a second Vietnam-style war by Russia could be disastrous for both Ukraine and Europe. Russia, which is part of Europe, will not be a threat to Europe unless Europe becomes a huge U.S. military base. Therefore, the expansion of NATO is the real threat facing Europe.

Double Standards for International Pact Membership

Turned into a mere sounding board for U.S. strategic choices, the European Union is advocating Ukraine’s right to join NATO as being the legitimate expression of universal values (and European values, but no less universal for that reason). At the same time, the United States has stepped up integration with Ukraine, as was seen in the November 2021 U.S.-Ukraine Charter on Strategic Partnership. One wonders whether Europe’s leaders are aware that the recognition of Ukraine’s right to join a military pact like NATO is being denied to other countries by the United States.

Even if European leaders are aware that the U.S. is denying other countries this right, it will make no difference, given the state of militaristic stupor in which they find themselves. Thus, for example, when the tiny Solomon Islands in the Pacific Ocean approved a preliminary security deal with China, in 2021, the U.S. responded immediately and with alarm by sending senior security officials to the region to stop the intensification of security competition in the Pacific.

The Truth Comes Too Late

The information war is always based on a mixture of selective truths, half-truths, and blatant lies (called false flags), organized with the purpose of justifying the military actions of those promoting it. I have no doubt that an information war is now being waged by both the Russian side and the U.S./Ukrainian side, even if, given the level of censorship that is being imposed on people worldwide consuming this information, we still know less about what is happening on the Russian side. Sooner or later the truth will emerge, the tragedy being that it will inevitably be too late. In this troubled beginning of a new century, we do have one advantage: the world has lost its innocence.

WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange, for example, is paying a heavy price for having helped in the truth-finding process. To those who have not given up thinking for themselves, I recommend the chapter entitled “Lying in Politics,” in Hannah Arendt’s 1972 book Crises of the Republic. With this brilliant reflection on the Pentagon Papers, Arendt offers exhaustive data on the Vietnam War (including many war crimes and many lies), gathered at the initiative of Robert McNamara, one of the main actors responsible for that war, who also served as secretary of defense under two presidents during that period.

Silence

When armed conflicts take place in Africa or in the Middle East, Europe’s leaders are the first to call for a cessation of hostilities and to declare the urgent need for peace negotiations. Why is it then that when a war occurs in Europe, the drums of war beat incessantly, and not a single leader calls for them to be silenced and for the voice of peace to be heard?

Author Bio: Boaventura de Sousa Santos is the emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Coimbra in Portugal. His most recent book is Decolonizing the University: The Challenge of Deep Cognitive Justice.

Europe is sleepwalking into another world war

More than 100 years after World War I, Europe’s leaders are sleepwalking toward a new all-out war. In 1914, the European governments believed that the war would last three weeks; it lasted four years and resulted in more than 20 million deaths. The same nonchalance is visible with the war in Ukraine. The dominant view is that the aggressor should be left broken and humbled. Then, the defeated power was Germany. Some dissenting voices, such as John Maynard Keynes, felt that the humbling of Germany would be a disaster. Their warnings went unheeded. Twenty-one years later, Europe was back at war, which lasted six years and killed 70 million people. History neither repeats itself nor seems to teach us anything, but it does illustrate similarities and differences.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

The hundred years before 1914 offered Europe relative peace. What wars took place were of a short-lived nature. The reason for this was the Congress of Vienna (1814-15), which brought together the victors and the vanquished from the Napoleonic wars to create a lasting peace. The chair of the conference was Klemens von Metternich, who made sure that the defeated power (France) paid for its actions with territorial losses but that it signed the treaty along with Austria, England, Prussia, and Russia to secure peace with dignity.

Negotiation or Total Defeat

While the Napoleonic wars took place between European powers, today’s war is between a European (Russia) and a non-European (United States) power. It is a proxy war, with both sides using a third country (Ukraine) to achieve geostrategic goals that go well beyond the country in question and the continent to which it belongs. Russia is at war with Ukraine because it is a war with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which is commanded by the United States. NATO has been at the service of U.S. geostrategic interests. Once a steadfast champion of the self-determination of peoples, Russia is now illegally sacrificing these same principles to assert its own security concerns, after failing to have them recognized through peaceful means, and out of an undisguised imperial nostalgia. For its part, since the end of the first cold war, the U.S. has striven to deepen Russia’s defeat, a defeat which in fact was probably more self-inflicted than brought about by any superiority on the part of its opponent.

From NATO’s perspective, the goal of the war in Ukraine is to inflict an unconditional defeat on Russia, preferably one that leads to regime change in Moscow. The duration of the war depends on that goal. Where is Russia’s incentive to end the war when British Prime Minister Boris Johnson permits himself to say that sanctions against Russia will continue, no matter what Russia’s position is now? Would it be sufficient for Russian President Vladimir Putin to be ousted (as was the case with Napoleon in 1815), or is the truth of the matter that the NATO countries insist on the ousting of Russia itself so that China’s expansion can be halted? There was also regime change in the 1918 humbling of Germany, but it all ended up leading to Hitler and an even more devastating war. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s political greatness could be construed as being either in recognition of the brave patriot who defends his country from the invader to the last drop of blood or in recognition of the brave patriot who, faced with the imminence of so many innocent deaths and the asymmetry in military strength, successfully enlists the support of his allies to negotiate fiercely to secure a dignified peace. The fact that the former construction is now the prevalent one probably has little to do with President Zelenskyy’s personal preferences.

Where Is Europe?

During the two world wars of the 20th century, Europe was the self-proclaimed center of the world. That is why we call the two wars world wars. About 4 million of Europe’s troops were in fact African and Asian. Many thousands of non-European deaths were the price paid by the inhabitants of remote colonies of the countries involved, sacrificed in a war that did not concern them.

Now, Europe is but a small corner of the world, which the war in Ukraine will render even smaller. For centuries, Europe was merely the western tip of Eurasia, the huge landmass that stretched from China to the Iberian Peninsula and witnessed the exchange of knowledge, products, scientific innovations, and cultures. Much of what was later attributed to European exceptionalism (from the scientific revolution of the 16th century to the industrial revolution in the 19th century) cannot be understood, nor would it have been possible, without those centuries-old exchanges. The war in Ukraine—especially if it goes on for too long—runs the risk not only of amputating one of Europe’s historic powers (Russia), but also of isolating it from the rest of the world, notably from China.

The world is far bigger than what you get to see through European or North American lenses. Seeing through these lenses, Europeans have never felt so strong, so close to their larger partner, so sure of standing on the right side of history, with the whole planet being run by the rules of the “liberal order,” a world finally feeling strong enough to go forth sometime soon and conquer—or at least neutralize—China, after having destroyed China’s main partner, Russia.

Seeing through non-European lenses, on the other hand, Europe and the U.S. stand haughtily all but alone, probably capable of winning one battle, but on their way to certain defeat in the war of history. More than half of the world’s population lives in countries that have decided not to join the sanctions against Russia. Many of the United Nations member states that voted (rightly) against the illegal invasion of Ukraine did so based on their historical experience, which consisted of being invaded, not by Russia, but rather by the U.S., England, France, or Israel. Their decision was not dictated by ignorance, but by precaution. How can they trust countries that created SWIFT—a financial transfer system aimed at protecting economic transactions against political interference—only to end up removing from that system a country on political grounds? Countries that arrogate to themselves the power to confiscate the financial and gold reserves of sovereign nations like Afghanistan, Venezuela, and now Russia? Countries that trumpet freedom of expression as a sacrosanct universal value, but resort to censorship the moment they are exposed by it? Countries that are supposed to cherish democracy and yet have no qualms about staging a coup whenever an election goes against their interests? Countries in whose eyes the “dictator” Nicolás Maduro becomes a trading partner overnight because the circumstances have changed? The world is no longer a place of innocence—if it ever was.

Author Bio: Boaventura de Sousa Santos is the emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Coimbra in Portugal. His most recent book is Decolonizing the University: The Challenge of Deep Cognitive Justice.

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