Thursday, June 10, 2010

Nostalgia for the servant in old Brazilian diplomacy

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

The philosopher F. Hegel in his Phenomenology of Spirit analyzed the dialectic of master and servant in detail. The lord becomes all the more the master when the servant internalizes the master, which further deepens his servant status. Paulo Freire identified the same dialectic in the oppressed-oppressor relationship in his classic Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Frei Betto said humorously: "In the head of every oppressed person is a virtual plaque that says: inn of the oppressor." That is, the oppressed hosts the oppressor within himself and it is exactly this that makes him oppressed. Liberation occurs when the oppressed detaches from the oppressor and then a new story begins in which there is no oppressed or oppressor but free citizens.

I am writing this with regard to our trade press, the newspapers in Rio, São Paulo and Porto Alegre, with reference to the Lula government's foreign policy in its effort to mediate with the Turkish government to reach a peaceful agreement with Iran on the enrichment of uranium for non-military purposes. Reading the views expressed by these newspapers, either in editorials or by their writers, some of them ambassadors of the old guard, hostages of the Cold War era, in the friend-enemy logic is simply shocking. O Globo speaks of "diplomatic suicide" (5/24) to name just one almost gentle title. They could well put under their newspapers' mastheads "Branch of the Empire", since their voice is more an echo of the voice of the imperial master than journalism that reports objectively and opines honestly. Others, like the Jornal do Brasil, have followed a line of objectivity, providing key data for readers to make their assessment.

The views reveal people yearning for this internalized imperial master, who behave as his succubi. They will not admit that Lula's Brazil has gained global importance and become an important political player as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon repeated recently in Brazil. They want to see it in its place: at the colonial periphery, in line with the imperial boss, like a trained mongrel. I can imagine how much the owners of these newspapers suffer, having to accept that Brazil will never be what they would like it to be: an aggregated state such as Hawaii or Puerto Rico. As it will not be possible, the way to heed the voice of the internalized master is to slander, ridicule and disparage even in an unpatriotic way the initiative and figure of the President. He is well recognized throughout the world as an exceptional speaker, with great skill in negotiations and gifted with a special force of persuasion.

The Brazilian people hate subservience to the powerful and value, sometimes naively, foreigners and other peoples. They are proud of their president. He is one of them, a survivor of the great tribulation, whom the elite, considered by Darcy Ribeiro to be the most reactionary in the world, will never accept because they think his place is not in the presidency, but in the factory, producing for them. But history wanted him to be president and appear as a character of great charisma, uniting in his being tenderness for the poor and the strength with which he upholds their positions.

We are witnessing the clash of two paradigms of diplomacy: one ancient, imperial, intimidating, with the use of ideological, economic and possibly military truculence, a diplomacy that is the enemy of peace and life, one which has never brought lasting results. And another, of the twenty-first century, that realizes that we live in a new phase of history, the collective history of the people who are obliged to live together harmoniously on a small planet, with scarce resources and half devastated. For this new situation the tireless diplomacy of dialogue is required, win-win negotiation, successes beyond the differences. Lula has understood this planetary phase. He has become the protagonist of the new, of the strategy that can effectively prevent the greatest plague that has ever existed: war that only destroys and kills. Now, either we follow this new diplomacy, or we devour each other. Either Hillary or Lula.

Our trade press is obtuse in the face of this new development. That is why it hates Lula's diplomacy.

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