DiEM appeals for democratic awakening – Il Manifesto

Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 13.28.10.pngby Marco Bascetta, Sandro Mezzadra (Click here for the Il Manifesto site)

Certainly there was no lack of media attention here for Yanis Varoufakis, the ex-finance minister of Greece. With a packed hall and journalists queuing, the press conference opened for the meeting organized at Volksbühne Berlin for the presentation of the DiEM 2025 manifesto (Democracy in Europe Movement in 2025) on Tuesday night. The manifesto aspires to gather around a multi-annual program of democratization of E.U. social movements, political parties, intellectual circles, associations, knowledge workers and artists active on the continental scene.

Varoufakis’s answers were extremely clear and effective, especially on one point that was among the most sensitive: the relationship between this initiative and the positions in several European countries that, in the face of the neoliberal management of the euro crisis, point to a recovery of sovereignty and the national currency. These positions are supported by different forces of the left, both traditional and innovative. Some of the best known names who support similar points of view are Oskar Lafontaine in Germany and Jean-Luc Mélenchon in France. Varoufakis’s position on this point was unequivocal rejection. The core of his initiative is to conduct a re-politization of the European space and institutions, as an antidote against fragmentation trends, insulation and competition.

In a few words, as an antidote to the drift towards a re-release of the ‘30s “post-modern” scenario, a risk against which he has often warned. Only the more or less extreme right can benefit from the national discourse, like the electoral trends in Europe are repeatedly proving.

The day of the presentation of the DiEM at the Volksbühne was divided into long thematic conversations, like a jam session attended by activists and intellectuals, media workers, trade unionists and representatives of innovative municipal experiences, starting with the one in Barcelona. No one represented organizations or groups, but all coming from a plurality of collective experiences. The discussion was prompted by a “cognitive mapping” of the European crisis, and then focused on a more specific analysis of the economic situation and on what the role of DiEM will be in the next few months. The day ended with the actual launch of the manifesto, in a room crowded by hundreds of people, with screens set up outside for those who could not get in.

During the press conference, as well as during “real talk” (the talk show organized by European Alternatives, which he attended Monday night), Varoufakis adopted a markedly “post-ideological” style, almost on the other side of the Ocean liberal. He has certainly not been silent about his militancy on the left, but he turned to “all democrats, liberals, greens and radicals.” Since the issue at the center of European governance, insisted Varoufakis, is a dramatic depletion of democracy, with the total exclusion of citizens — the demos — from decision-making processes.

With this in mind, the experience of the year 2015 in Europe has been enlightening, both for the clash between the Greek government and the troika of creditors and for the so-called “migrant crisis” and its reflections on the relationship among the member countries of the European Union: the deepening of the rift between East and West, in addition to the one between North and South, the cracks more and more conspicuous in the Schengen.

In regards to the movement of refugees and migrants to Europe, Varoufakis expressed once again very clear positions: I{n the face of those fleeing war and poverty, “cost-benefit calculations cannot be done” and Europe cannot escape its duty of coming to terms with its own history. A history that, through colonialism, irreversibly changed the world balance.

The ambition that characterizes the DiEM project is not at all modest. This is not in fact a simple appeal to the defense of democratic forms and procedures. On the contrary, it is the social content of the process that politically substantiates European democracy of which we speak. For this purpose the left, as we know it and even more so after the many defeats suffered in recent years, does not have enough strength. A radical political innovation is needed, able to physically build a democracy that does not exist on a continental scale and that appears radically devoid of legitimacy and content at the country level.

From this point of view, Varoufakis stressed the crucial importance — within a process qualified as “constituent” — of action independent from the movements and social struggles. Not surprisingly, his stay in Berlin began on Sunday with a speech to the Blockupy assembly, the coalition that organized the siege of the Eurotower in Frankfurt on March 18.

A movement for democracy in Europe still has many obstacles in its way, although it’s quite urgent. And it is unavoidable that this embryonic movement is reflected in the still generic and indefinite character of the same claim of democracy on a European scale. This of course reflects the current state of the DiEM project. Yet the richness of the debate that has opened in Berlin, the heterogeneity of participants and languages, tension and even enthusiasm that have characterized it clearly indicate the opening of truly new political possibilities. In the next few months, we will see how effective.