Surviving Blindness

Article published on Sept. 10, 2004
community published
Article published on Sept. 10, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

For all its huge oil reserves, Russia has a huge number of dead on its hands: the West must realise how much more exposed it is today than it was yesterday.

Europe must see and understand

By pure chance, I happened to be reading Blindness during the hostage-taking and the ensuing massacre that took place in North Ossetia; naturally, I was prompted to draw a parallel between real life events and the articulate musings of Nobel Prize Winner José Saramago. In his singular tale, a plague of blindness strikes an entire country, whose population reacts by quarantining the blind in enormous mental asylums. Thus abandoned, the blind must decide whether to organize community life according to the rules of equality and justice or whether to abandon themselves to the law of the jungle. To start with, everybody pretends not to see the depravity of others in the hope that they too will escape judgement for their own misdeeds, even though eyes are not essential to seeing and understanding. In the end, self-interest tips the scales in favour of a tyrannical regime on a mammoth scale.

Europe should not stick its nose in too far; it is a good idea to allow Putin a bit of breathing space while the first stages of the massacre in Ossetia become clear, but it might be better if it did ask a few questions and insisted on being given accurate information by its self-declared strategic allies if it really did want to preserve its fragile and arduously acquired Western conscience. It should not just resign itself to a laconic press conference and Putins announcement that there would be no public investigation to establish who is to blame for the tragedy.

No excesses, no crusades

Europe is certainly not free of sin in this upside-down world, but for several decades, it has been attempting to atone, bit by bit, by building a political model of transparency, justice, and mediation that has nothing to do with the excesses and crusades of the Russian state in Chechnya over the past nine years, nor with those of the Bush administration, whose three-year old obsession with Iraq remains without UN backing.

While the EU has reserved 213 000 Euros for structural aid over the period 2000-2006, the Russian Federation has no significant cohesion programme in place; while the ECHO programme (of which 8% goes to the CIS countries) and the Euromed cooperation agreement are proof of Europes wish to intervene in the international arena with instruments other than the bravado of the supposedly iron-fisted Putin and Bush, the North American administration effectively photocopies a tenth of the Euromed programme and calls it the Greater Middle East Plan.

Europe knows that the root cause of epidemics and armed conflict is the economic marginalisation of a certain number of states around the globe. Chechnya is one such country. Lets not forget that the EU and its member states devote about 55% of their official aid budgets to development. It is costing Europe much laudable but futile effort to build a political model that is incompatible with the Manichean polarization of the world by Putin, Bush and the terrorists. The European model is home to annual conferences with Latin America and the Cotonou Agreement. Irresponsible partners who put pressure on the terrorists by locking away their relatives, as Putin did in Ossetia, or those who spend their time devising unacceptable juridical limbos in Guantanamo, dont fit in.

Europe must not turn a blind eye

International terrorism follows a logic of its own, as the recent tragedy testifies. But if it has its (short) sights set on any part of the globe in particular, it is not the US, Russia or China (future role-model for many a developing country) that it is aiming at, but Europe. A few days ago, Putin led a deliberate cover-up operation in an attempt to conceal the fact that terrorists were behind the two plane crashes that had occurred over the past twenty-four-hour period. Despite this fact, his popularity ratings with the Russian electorate remained intact. In Spain, on the other hand, Aznar attempted to delay the release of the information linking Al Qaeda to the terrorist atttacks that took place in Madrid on 11th May, and his party met with a crushing defeat in the elections. In European economic circles, manoeuvring of the type carried out by the Russian President in order to close in on and eventually take control of Yukos would be inconceivable. And the day Europe allows itself to be presided by a ruling dynasty, as is currently the case in the US, will be the day Europe loses the distinction of being the established democracy that it is today. If Europe becomes less vigilant and turns a blind eye to the dubious activities of its so-called partners, there will be no model capable of putting out the fires of terrorism, and the distance the old continent has covered in the past fifty years will have been covered in vain.

In the novel, the community is hit by the worst things imaginable when the only sighted person (who has been quarantined by mistake) gives in to the blind peoples demands to abandon her dignity. That very same quality, dignity, is intrinsic to the European model. In this respect, the Dutch EU Presidencys call for an explanation for the events in North Ossetia is encouraging. However, if Europe does not stick to its own rules, it will forsake its dignity and lose the opportunity of becoming a world power. Its only freedom will be that of chosing between one type of tyranny, the tyranny of the strongest, and another, the tyranny of the most desperate. It has been proven that neither is a guarantee of security.