By Armen GRIGORYAN
Chairman of the NGO “Democracy for Development”
It is commonlyaccepted that it is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future. Srdja Popovic, one of the foundersand the main organizer of the “Otpor” movement in Serbian, has an interesting story about this. He says - imagine that, in December 2010 you were able to predict what will happenin 2011, and you are invited to appear on TV and tell everything you know about 2011.
You tell that in 2011, Ben Ali, Mubarak and Gaddafi will be down and judged. You add that thousands of people will take to the streets of London, Athens, Madrid and New York and require social justice from their government, stating they are inspired with the Arab revolutions. While still on air you would have been interrupted with a suspected mental disorder.
There are lots of explanations as to why in 2011 the world substantially altered. One of the versions is that this was due to social media and the Internet. Quite often there is a view that new technologies have led to the Arab spring andrallies in various cities around the world. But this approach is quite weak in arguments. In this regard, former U.S. Secretary of State CondoleezzaRice has a very interesting opinion. She thinks that«technology is transforming the way we live every day. But it isn’t the cause of that transformation; it’s just accelerating everything. We’re living in a faster and faster world». In addition, people took to the streets from time immemorial, and the revolutions occurred in the world when there was no technology.
Among the causes of the 2011 crisis was also mentioned the polarization of wealth in virtually all parts of the world. In the societies that experienced crises in recent times,the mentioned problems are present.
Recent UN reports contain more frequent warnings about the growth of inequality in the Arab world. By examining the available statistics,UN Report on Middle East found that the region has seen uneven growth of inequality. For example,from 1980 to 1990 in Egypt the income share of the richest rose from 21% to 28%, and it happened in a situation where a group of wealthy people wasnot largely replenished with new people, even though income share has increased. So, this polarization eventually led to Arab revolutions.
A wave of riots having started at the beginning of the year in the Arab world, by the end of the year went beyond the region. In August, this wave swept up to London and other British cities. Some studies shown that one of its main causes wasa form of economic organization and its consumerist ethos, which went out of control. According to the report of Tullett Prebon’s research center, rioting reflects a deeply flawed economic ethos. The report leads to the conclusion that recklessly borrowed consumption, breakdown of trust in institutions, and severe failings by governments over more than two decades are the main reason for discontent and riots.
In the fall, the wave of protests swept up from Europe to the North America. On September 13, in New York, very close to the famous Wall Street financial district, the “Occupy Wall Street” movement has emerged. The protesters were complaining for social and economic inequality, high rate of unemployment, corruption and similar injustice. For many years, the free market system has weakened the country’s system of democracy. As a result, nearly 35% of thewealth was concentrated in the hands of 1% of the population. The causes of inequality were also the emergence of new monopolies in the economyand the tax policy, forcing Warren Buffett’s secretary to pay higher taxes than the Buffet himself.
This one percent of population, which concentrated in their hands the majority of the country’s wealth, started to make huge influence on political decisions, and those decisions were largely guided by the interests of this small group, to the detriment of the public interest. This was the reason that people in the United States took to the streets todemand for justice and equality.
The polarization of wealth brings a great danger to societies, and any economic model is doomed if it cannot resolve the issue of inequality - whether in a democratic orauthoritarian system of governance.
In the 2000s, Russia, thanks to higher oil prices, managed to secure economic growth, but an inefficient management system did not allow distributing the wealth as evenly as possible. The governing system created by Putin failed to solve the inequality problem. And that became one of the reasons that by the end of the year a wave of protests reached Russia, the country experiencing sharp polarization of wealth. On December 3 a few ones could predict,which transformations will Russiaundergo after the parliamentary elections.
What happened after the parliamentary elections was typical to 2011. The polarization of wealth, the abuse of power, electoral fraud and other problems forced the citizens of Russia to go to the streets and demand political changes that can bring social justice. For the first time since 2000, a system established by Putin is cracking. The well-known blogger, anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny after a short term in prison was released and told reporters: “I went to the jail in one country and went out in a completely different one”. And he stayed in jail for no more than two weeks.
Demonstrations on December 10 and 24 brought the largest number of people in Russia over the past 20 years. The rallying opposition forces demanded for democratization and the rule of law and justice for all members of society.
In general, the 2011 events demonstrated that concentration of the most part of the national wealth in the hands of a small group brings threats for anycountry. Throughout the year, because of polarization of property and incomes, the regimes found themselves in the deep crisis both in authoritative (Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Russia) and in democratic countries (USA, Israel, and UK).
Throughout 2011 the world was discussing the possibility of developing new models of governance as the systems of authoritarian and democratic governanceare in a crisis, and new models are required which will be able to solve not only the problem of inequality but also other issues such as global warming, environmental problems etc. These new models should minimize inequalities. New models should also have the institutions of policy and economic development that would coordinate and effectively distribute the available benefits.
In general, the year 2011 demonstrated that any regime may fall apart in any moment. The regime ruling in Tunisia for 30 years and headed by Ben Ali has fallen in 18 days. And not only in Tunisia. That is why all governments should take into account the 2011 events and try to develop policies that will solve issues of inequality, which then will enable the general public to participate in the governance of their countries.
1. Srdja Popovic: How to topple a dictator www.ted.com/talks/srdja_popovic_how_to_topple_a_dictator.html
2. Foreign Policy Magazine.
3.Stevens, Robert UN report on Middle
East catalogues widening inequality