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EADI/ISS Series | Why do we need Solidarity in Development Studies? by Kees Biekart

EADI/ISS Series | Why do we need Solidarity in Development Studies? by Kees Biekart

The next EADI Development Studies conference is about “Solidarity, Peace and Social Justice”. ...

EADI/ISS Series | Solidarity, Peace, and Social Justice – will these values prevail in times of fundamental threats to democracy? By Jürgen Wiemann

In today’s world of constantly rising inequality, increasingly authoritarian governments and anti-immigration sentiments, solidarity, peace and social justice seem to be more out of reach than ever. In a joint series by the EADI and ISS in preparation for the 2020 General Conference “Solidarity, Peace and Social Justice”, Jürgen Wiemann, EADI vice president, reflects on the possibilities we have to preserve these values.


Widening gaps

Solidarity, peace and social justice – the title for the 2020 EADI/ISS General Conference – are foundations and goals for a good society, a functioning democracy and for a global system that guarantees peace and facilitates international cooperation. Yet, our world seems to be moving in the opposite direction. Peace is no longer guaranteed when the global order established after the Second World War is not only attacked from outside but – even more disturbing – undermined from within; solidarity is waning with rising levels of immigration to Europe and the US, provoking resentment by those who already feel left behind; finally, social justice has become a utopian goal in a world of constantly rising inequalities.

The widening gap between incomes and wealth of the rich and the squeezed middle class is already perceived as a threat to democracy in Western countries. With political will, income inequality could be alleviated by progressive taxation. What may be even more relevant is the cultural alienation between the old middle class threatened by the negative consequences of globalisation, and the new middle class of professionals, academics and managers who benefit from globalisation and modernisation in general. Educated people see their incomes rise with a widening range of job opportunities through the internet and international job markets. They feel enriched by other cultures and exotic dishes and tend to acclaim openness and immigration. Their cosmopolitan tastes and lifestyles let them look down upon ordinary, less educated people who see their skills devalued by new technologies and new modes of production and distribution until their jobs are finally replaced by machines or outsourced to low-wage countries.

The widening economic and cultural divide between the old and the new middle class brings authoritarian populists to the fore who emphasise the resentment and anger of those left behind, reaffirming their perception of unfair treatment and even neglect by the elites and the media. Obviously, the populists do not have a plan to alleviate the economic distress of their constituency. On the contrary, their role is to defend the existing inequalities by exploiting the widespread resentment against the threats from globalisation. However, economic nationalism will not alleviate the plight of their electorate but will jeopardise jobs and compress incomes of the old middle class even further.

Whatever the medium and long-term economic effects of the nationalist policy agenda will be, it threatens to undermine the post-war global order from within. This would have dire consequences not only for the world economy, but also for international cooperation and global governance. It opens the door for other authoritarian governments to pursue their illiberal agenda and what they perceive as national interest without respect for their neighbours’ interests and the rest of the world.

From the end of history to the end of Western hegemony

After the Second World War, a global order was erected in order to prevent another world war and enhance peaceful international cooperation through trade, foreign direct investment and development cooperation. It was based on a set of values and principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Charter. An array of international organisations was founded to implement the principles of peaceful international cooperation.

Trade liberalization and market access to the United States helped the war-damaged economies of Germany, Japan and the rest of Western Europe to recover faster than had been expected at the end of the war. Since the 1960s, a handful of smaller South East Asian countries implemented a development strategy of export-oriented industrialisation which let them catch up with the West within one generation, in terms of both income and technological capacity. Their success was celebrated as East Asian Miracle. In those days already, American and European industries felt the pressure from labour-intensive industries in South East Asia and Japan. Yet, in the 1970s, Western economies were more affected by two oil shocks and the ensuing stagflation. On both sides of the Atlantic the answer to that challenge was to stimulate economic growth through unleashing market forces, i.e. the neoliberal agenda.

That was the beginning of globalisation unchained, with China embracing capitalism in 1978 and copying the East Asian model of export-oriented industrialisation on a large scale. For two decades, economists and international financial institutes like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund took the rapid rise of China, India and other Asian emerging markets as proof of the effectiveness of the Washington Consensus that prescribes trade liberalisation for goods, services and capital. Millions of Chinese, Koreans, Indians, Indonesians etc. have been lifted out of poverty in one generation.

The complementary stress for the industrialised countries resulting from increasing imports of ever more sophisticated products from East Asia – job losses, abandoned industries, declining communities and regions – was vindicated by economists as necessary industrial restructuring that would eventually make everybody better off.  Today, we realise that this was an unfounded promise: the incomes of the old middle class have stagnated since decades while the rich have enjoyed increasing incomes and wealth. The middle-class squeeze was especially strong in the US and the UK, two countries whose governments had embraced neoliberal economic policies earlier and with more consequence than continental Europe. In both countries, populists have either taken over the government or gained a decisive influence on its course, undermining the European Union and the post war global order.

Responding to Environmental Threats

These trends do not forebode well for international cooperation and global governance which is more urgent than ever when it comes to responding to the challenges of climate change, extinction of species, overexploitation and excessive pollution of the oceans and other global or regional ecological disasters. A growing world population aspiring to the lifestyles of the middle classes in the West, is already trespassing several planetary boundaries. However, authoritarian populists routinely question scientific evidence and threaten media coverage of scientific research that aims at preparing the public for the required changes in lifestyles, for increasing taxation of carbon dioxide and for sharing responsibility for the global commons with other countries.

Optimists believe that human ingenuity and creativity will produce technological solutions to the global challenges. However, there is a risk that the avalanche of new technologies, especially artificial intelligence, will not only replace manual labour, but also jeopardise a wide range of professional jobs so that the fabric of industrial societies will be undermined faster than policies can be developed to contain their impact. There are more disturbing aspects associated with revolutionary new technologies, such as the manipulation of public opinion through social media, the possibility of totalitarian governments to control and suppress any opposition with new surveillance technologies, and new forms of warfare, cyberwar and fully autonomous weapon systems, may threaten peace and security. One can only hope for creative policies and agreements both on the national and the global level for containing the disruptive consequences of all these new technologies.

Conclusion: The challenge for the development community

The current erosion of the global order in general and the European Union in particular, is alarming, especially for those committed to development research and cooperation. It is our interest to work for improving the climate for effective international cooperation and a fair sharing of responsibilities for managing the various challenges between rich and poor countries and rich and poor in each country. The recent challenges to political stability and economic prosperity need to be comprehended by the community of development scholars, development policy makers and practitioners in order to focus their teaching and research and to adjust development cooperation to the changing environment.

At this critical moment in history, the development community must make up its mind: Quite a few scholars and activists have been, with good reasons, critical of globalisation and neoliberal policies that aggravate inequalities everywhere and threaten the global commons. Yet, we should reject the fundamental questioning of the old global order and economic globalisation that is gaining ground in the West. Authoritarian populists are not concerned about the problems of developing countries. Their dream of the good old times when White Supremacy justified uninhibited exploitation of developing countries and their natural resources allowing for relatively comfortable lifestyles even for the middle classes in the West, is opposed to any effort at improving the living conditions in the Global South while respecting the ecological limits to growth. Therefore, we will have to defend the principles and institutions of the global order against the assault from the authoritarian international in order to keep the door open for the reforms and improvements necessary in every country and in the global arena for achieving the SDGs before 2030.


This is the first article in a series launched by the EADI (European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes) and the ISS in preparation for the 2020 EADI/ISS General Conference “Solidarity, Peace and Social Justice”. It was also published on the EADI blog.


Image Credit: EarthDayPicture


About the author:

JrgenWiemann_web_EADI_folder

Jürgen Wiemann is economist, EADI Vice President and chair of the Subcommittee of the EXCO on Conferences. From 1999 to 2011, he had been the German delegate to EADI’s Executive Committee. Before his retirement in 2011, he had been deputy director of the German Development Institute (DIE) and advisor on trade (policy) and development (cooperation) to the German Ministry for development .

The Hague Peace Projects: practicing peace and justice by Helen Hintjens

How can peace and justice be embodied? How can we move from thinking about societal problems to taking concrete action to bring about change? The Hague Peace Projects, a program bringing together diaspora communities in The Hague to think and act together to build peace, shows us how these principles can be brought to life.


Art assumes many roles beyond acting as a canvas for self-expression, from creating greater consciousness of societal problems to serving as a platform for activism. It is a central element of The Hague Peace Projects (THPP), a program that promotes dialogue and campaigns for change through a variety of means. The project, which engages diaspora communities to advocate for peace, can inspire others to become involved in this or similar local initiatives to embody the change they aspire to.

On a (peace) mission

Located in The Hague, known as the City of Peace and Justice, THPP is one of several programs working with diaspora communities to involve them in contributing to positive change in their home countries and across Europe. The project’s main goals are to work toward a world in which conflict between humans, groups of people and countries are not solved by violence, but “through dialogue, respect for human rights, and honest cooperation between equals” (THPP).

THPP was established in 2015 by Jakob de Jonge, himself an artist. The project seeks to help find peaceful solutions to (armed) conflicts. It brings together diaspora from conflict zones that live in The Netherlands, facilitating their collaboration toward finding realistic solutions to local conflicts. The project is based on the belief that diaspora communities know best what causes conflict in their home regions and how such conflicts can be addressed in a non-violent manner. Through dialogue, social media, blogs and public events of all kinds, THPP contributes to diasporic dialogues. THPP also views art as a medium of communication for peace.

Change through action

Jakob explains that he was inspired by his friend Sylvestre Bwira, a Congolese human rights defender, to start this project. Jakob defines THPP as “both a think-tank and a do-tank” spreading “creativity and hope”. THPP’s approach echoes the goals of ISS, which increasingly places emphasis on the importance of scholar activism in bringing about change. Both organisations wish to be “critical but constructive”, grounded in “grassroots communities”, and reaching out to influence “platforms of power”.

THPP is reliant on volunteers, who in turn feel themselves part of a movement for social justice and peace. Having worked with THPP on several projects related to the African Great Lakes region, I put a few questions to Jakob:

Can you tell BLISS readers how art connects with advocacy through The Hague Peace Projects?

As a ‘socially engaged’ artist, it felt weird working alone in a studio. I wanted to connect with people as much as possible, so I decided to engage people through my art. Through visual art I try to present the disturbing mix of horror and beauty that we see in the world. What inspires me is the hope that things can be different if you genuinely desire it to be. Art is also a way to uncover a glimpse of optimism, in the belief that ideas come to life through visualisation, as with THPP’s exhibition The Survivors, in 2016, inspired by a Syrian boy’s drawings. Idealistic as it may seem, THPP is all about transforming reality, however slowly.

What THPP activities have touched you most deeply?

What moves me and keeps me going are the everyday life stories of colleagues I work with. THPP is based on working groups of diaspora members (mostly refugees) from different conflict regions around the world. Each working group establishes its own space for ongoing dialogue between conflicting communities. This creates basic trust between those who might otherwise fear to connect with others in daily life. This trust becomes fertile ground for all sorts of relevant peacebuilding activities.

Two things have especially moved me: First, many colleagues in the THPP working groups have a history of severe suffering. Team members have personally paid a high price for being seen as a member of a certain social group, or for speaking out for the rights of others. They have been tortured, detained, lost their families, witnessed unspeakable crimes and finally, have had to flee abroad. They often lost everything.

Coming from Sudan, the DRC, Bangladesh, Uganda, Syria, Burundi, Turkey, Sri Lanka and elsewhere, it strikes me how resilient, hopeful and committed to change they remain. The people I work with strive for positive outcomes, even when these are hard to imagine. It moves me very much when you see a person’s attitude change over time, from fearful, emotional and easily triggered, to more relaxed, open and creative.

Similarly, publicly commemorating the murder of Bangladeshi writer and free thinker Avijit Roy, as we have done annually since 2016 remains a very special moment. It is a powerful reminder you can never really silence someone through violence. Seeing friendships develop between Turks and Kurds, seeing Dutch Somalis getting together for something positive like Somali poetry, rather than the usual stigmatising divisions, or just dancing together at THPP office with people of every background, including Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. There have just been too many beautiful moments!

After three years, how do you reflect on working in the City of Peace and Justice?

I collaborate well and on many levels with The Hague Municipality. We fully support their mission of striving to be a City of Peace and Justice. In fact, that is how we chose our name. “The Hague” gives many people around the world hope that their tormentors may eventually end up in prison in Scheveningen!

At the same time I believe much more can be done to make the City of Peace and Justice more than a mission statement. The idea is very powerful and creates a kind of responsibility to be different from other cities. The challenge is to show what peace and justice look like in reality, not only internationally, but for all the city’s inhabitants, and across all layers of policy.

How can interested parties become involved?

We are a 99% volunteer organisation and rely heavily on volunteers for goodwill and to take initiative. We always need qualified and motivated people to join our network, so if you are interested, please send an email and your CV to info@thehaguepeace.org.


Main Photo: The Hague Peace Projects

20160917_190837Dr Helen Hintjens is Assistant Professor in Development and Social Justice at the ISS, working in the field of migration. Like Jakob, she graduated with a BA in Fine Art from the Royal Academy of Art (KABK) in The Hague. From 2015 to 2017, she collaborated with THPP to organise three African Great Lakes Diaspora conferences that were held at the ISS. The first conference report is on the THPP’s website; the second conference produced the Declaration and Plan of Action on the role of diaspora media in peacebuilding in the Great Lakes Region. The third conference on women, men and peacebuilding, will be reported on soon. Watch this space!