Peoples Geography — Reclaiming space

Creating people's geographies

Bad Democracy Award

I’ve just discovered that openDemocracy actually conducts a monthly ‘Bad Democracy’ poll. It is, naturally, democratically determined by reader polling. I happen to think we don’t look enough at successes, highlighting strengths and virtue to help encourage and goad us all along, but I suppose this poll has some merit in highlighting important issues by nominating the perpetrators of democratic abuse. As one would expect, there are many repeat offenders amongst the nominees, but this last month was apparently the first time the G8 had appeared. The “winner” for the previous month of July: the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), with a clear 42% of votes. ‘nuf said.

Bad Democracy Award

July’s vote for the worst abuser of democracy
The Israeli Defence Force 42% of votes

CITATION :: Reasoned debate with its neighbours is not the Israeli army’s strong point. This month, the top brass demonstrably went too far, adding insult to grievous injury. The IDF had the gall to conclude, after the most cursory of investigations, that the explosion that killed eight Palestinian picnickers on Beit Lahia beach in Gaza was caused by a mine left under the sands by Palestinian militants, rather than one of the shells it was blasting at the shore at the time. Add to that a plan to make the IDF a tool officially to annex parts of the West Bank unilaterally and a long record of recklessly bumping off Palestinian children and you start to think Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s daughter has a point when she stands outside the chief-of-staff’s house shouting “murderer”.

August: Group of Eight (G8)

Tom Burgis :: Open Democracy :: 1 September 2006

Asked to choose the month’s worst democrat, openDemocracy’s readers voted for the G8. That’ll be a first, says Tom Burgis.

Guy Taylor has devoted a significant portion of his adult life to making a nuisance of himself at the annual summits of the Group of Eight industrialised nations – the club of the planet’s mightiest powers that has emerged as the winner, by a stretch, of August’s Bad Democracy Award.

For this he has been pummelled, threatened and robbed of countless hours spent plotting mischief from the offices of Globalise Resistance in central London. Why, one might ask, does he bother?



Click here to view this month’s list of Bad Democrats, and cast your vote today


“The G8 is an unaccountable organisation of world leaders that only comes together to maintain the status quo,” he says. “They want to remake the world in their image.”

A hideous thought indeed, especially when one considers just what that image comprises.

The Group was born in 1975, two years after the mass panic of a global oil shock, when the French president thought to invite the leaders of the five other industrialised democracies – the United States, Japan, Italy, West Germany and the United Kingdom – to chew the fat at a fortified chateau near Paris.

Canada jumped on board for the following year’s summit. After the Soviets fell, Russia was afforded a seat at the table, completing the present eight. (There are now mutterings about admitting emissaries from the emerging powers, such as China, India, Brazil, South Africa or Bono.)

Yearly the members’ leaders convene, wrangle and issue proclamations which generally abound with promises to heal the ills of the world and fiery demands that the rogues of the day stop misbehaving.

The G8 has no secretariat, and therefore cannot – strictly speaking – do anything.

But the sway it enjoys and the anger it provokes are reflected in the febrile stage management each host country undertakes when its turn comes to welcome the Masters of the Universe to some scenic corner of itself – and the lengths to which they will go to stifle protest.

The Genoa summit of 2001 is a prime example.

As the summit wound down, the Italian police decided they had had enough of uppity youngsters in bandanas rampaging through the port’s streets.

They vented their frustration by piling into a school where scores of demonstrators had bedded down, and letting rip, leaving the school’s walls spattered with blood.

Then there was the 2004 summit at Sea Island, off the Georgia coast. One delegate remarked that the only comparable security he has seen was in the Green Zone in Baghdad.

But it was the Gleneagles summit in 2005 that took the biscuit for cynicism.

The assembled potentates munched on aubergine caviar and declared the end of hunger, poverty and disease. A year later, the charities keeping tabs on those pious vows report that next to nothing has changed for the Africans whose names were invoked to lend the pantomime of self-interest an aura of altruism.

And so the G8 circus rumbled on to 2006, Russia’s first bash at hosting its erstwhile enemies. The pressure was on the humbled Bear to put on a good show at the Konstantinovsky Palace.

Like a frantic housewife making ready for a particularly daunting dinner party, the security forces swept the streets of St Petersburg.

Vodka was banished, along with the homeless; potential trouble makers were rounded up and, they reported, threatened with rape if they did not agree to leave the city.

Vladimir Putin, the president, who hired a PR firm for the occasion, even ordered that fighter jets should propel themselves through any menacing clouds lest a drop of rain spoil his guests’ visit.

The Kremlin had decreed that the main subject up for discussion would be energy security – probably because it currently possesses a decent amount of both.

Although they remain fixated on keeping their fridges chilling and their Hummers guzzling, the rest of the G8 opted to play the excruciatingly sozzled guest to Putin’s august master-of-ceremonies and brought up the touchiest subject imaginable – Russian democracy.

Point-scoring between the mighty appears to be a major pastime of the G8’s summits. This time round, Putin won by a knock-out.

As George W Bush unwittingly delivered his bread-roll diplomacy to the world (an open mic caught him at his enigmatic best on the Lebanon crisis: “get Hizbollah to stop doing this shit and it’s all over”), Tony “Yo” Blair fawned and fumbled. Jacques Chirac sulked Gallicly.

From Putin, a command performance. Needled by hints from Western sources that he was considering standing for an all-but-dictatorial third term, he stood before the world’s media and politely enquired whether Bush (he of (he of Guantanamo Bay), Blair (he whose pal, Lord Levy, has allegedly been flogging peerages for hard cash) or Dick Cheney (he who shoots his pals in the face on hunting trips), were close enough to the moral high ground to lecture him on good governance.

Click here to read the G8’s letter of congratulation from openDemocracy for winning August’s Bad Democracy award

John Kirton, who advised the Russians on their G8 presidency and heads the University of Toronto’s G8 information centre, says such hypocrisy bedevils the Group’s work.

“They talk about democratic principles, like a free press. OK, Silvio Berlusconi, why don’t you lead off on that one? Or human rights. Why not the man they call ‘the mad executioner of Texas’?”

Kirton believes that the St Petersburg summit may well arrest the recent backsliding in Russian democracy. And he argues that the G8, on balance, is a force for better government.

But let’s not forget why it is that the Group’s summits remain such a lightning-rod for public anger. It’s not jealousy; it is not simply some anarchist urge.

Firing that anger is the knowledge – reaffirmed every twelve months – that the G8 answers to no one. Even the Pope, whom the Group beat into second place in this month’s Bad Democracy poll, has to account for himself more than that.

We mere mortals must make up for what we lack in divine wrath with online polls – though these are not to be sniffed at, given the fate of those who have been garlanded with Bad Democracy laurels.

This month’s gallery of tyrants showcases a filthy rich mining company, a filthy rich communist, a filthy rich media baron, an ayatollah in search of a very large bomb, and two women with blood on their hands – one through wilful ignorance, the other through, at best, negligence.

Click here to register your displeasure. Unless, of course, you live in Rostock, host to next year’s G8 summit, in which case it’s probably time to start getting fitted for a gum shield.

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Timely Reminders

"Those who crusade, not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes perceptibly worse than what it was, before the crusade began. By thinking primarily of evil we tend, however excellent our intentions, to create occasions for evil to manifest itself."
-- Aldous Huxley

"The only war that matters is the war against the imagination. All others are subsumed by it."
-- Diane DiPrima, "Rant", from Pieces of a Song.

"It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there"
-- William Carlos Williams, "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"