The 'Good Guys' Chastise the G8 'Villains'

ROSTOCK, Germany - "You shouldn't have any doubts, the good guys are us," says Patrick, 20, dressed in jeans, t-shirt, and a sport jacket, with a flamboyant pink Mohawk haircut, as he reads a pamphlet on development aid for Africa.

Patrick is participating at the "Alternative G8" summit, organised by non-governmental organisations and leftist anti-globalisation groups, in this German port city on the Baltic Sea, some 300 kilometres northwest of Berlin.

Rostock is just 20 km from Heiligendamm, the seaside resort where the heads of government of the eight most industrialised countries and the five strongest emerging developing nations have come together to debate global issues at the official G8 summit.

Patrick and the other participants at the alternative summit are not only sure that they are the "good guys", they also know who the "bad" ones are: the G8 leaders, and U.S. President George W. Bush first of all.

One thing Patrick and his good guys share with the ones 20 km away, they are discussing the very same issues -- with different outcomes, of course.

Take climate change. At the alternative summit, the subject is titled "Climate Justice: How?" One of the participants is Sunita Narain, an internationally renowned environmental activist from India. She says, "Climate change and global warming are an international debt, which industrialised nations have accumulated towards developing countries, but we all must pay. We must make this clear to the G8 states."

Such a conclusion would be unthinkable in Heiligendamm, least of all from the U.S. government, which has been so far hostile to any international binding agreement setting precise caps on greenhouse gases emissions in the industrialised world.

And then there is James Marsh, from South Africa. He does not expect any new assistance from the official G8 summit towards Africa, after all the promises they have made in the past and, he says, failed to fulfil.

"We must win the support of the public at large, with arguments and facts, and this alternative summit is a good way to do it," he says.

Ina, a German student from Berlin, expects that such alternative summits come out with concrete political measures, as she puts it, "to transform the world. It is not enough to criticise the present state of affairs, we must also develop strategies to convince politicians to act as we want them to."

"To be against something is easy," she says. "But we must also act, which is much more difficult." One thing she knows: The industrialised world must end the subsidies to their farmers, and open their markets to agricultural products from the developing world. "Otherwise, we will continue destroying their economies."

Other subjects Narain, Marsh, Patrick and the other participants in the alternative summit are debating include the overexploitation of the seas through European industrial fishing, international migration, and wars, but also "the commercialisation of education and the future of labour."

The Rostock alternative summit is only one of several such meetings, taking place parallel to the official G8 summit. A junior summit was held late in May, with young students from the G8 countries playing the roles of their elder representatives -- and came out with proposals that would fit well with those advanced by Patrick and the "good guys" from Rostock.

Another summit, of 200 young people, ages 13 to 17, from all over the world, organised by UNICEF, the UN children's fund, took place in Wismar, a small city some 50 km south of Heiligendamm. Again, it was an opportunity for youths to express their views on the same themes the G8 leaders are discussing at the official summit.

And yet another summit, this time of the world's seven most representative religions, is under way this week in Cologne, some 600 km south of Berlin, under the umbrella of the World Council of Churches.

As in the other alternative summits, the churches' representatives said in a communiquAf(c) "The extent of extreme poverty in the world... (is) scandalous." In the declaration, the churches' leaders denounced the G8 states as representatives of "an economic model that gives priority to growth regardless of the social and economic consequences."

This has resulted in a widening gap between rich and poor, said the document issued on behalf of Christian, Islamic, Jewish, Buddhist, Shinto and other religions.

Some 4,000 guests from abroad and more than 100,000 German participants are attending the Jun. 6-10 congress, Germany's most significant religious, ecumenical event. The council, inaugurated in 1949, and known in German as "Der Kirchentag" (The Church's day), is held every two years.

The council's two-page final statement, on "Collective Responsibility for Global Poverty Alleviation", was immediately forwarded to the G8 summit meeting in Heiligendamm.

But it is doubtful that the heads of government of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the United States will listen to the alternative summits' demands. For one thing, they are not listening much to each other, to judge from the general lack of consensus on an agenda they have known about for several months.

The dissent in the G8 debates includes whether and how much to limit greenhouse gas emissions to forestall climate change, making G8 development aid for Africa more efficient, and regulating speculative hedge funds to avoid instability on the international financial markets.

According to several sources, including German government officials and NGOs, several G8 countries are opposed to a summit final declaration that would quantify precisely how much new aid the richest countries of the world are ready to allocate for African aid.

"In some G8 delegations reigns the feeling that enough promises have been made to Africa," a source said. "Some G8 countries do not want to make new aid pledges," added the source, noting "donor fatigue" dominating the G8 debates on new aid for Africa.

According to Oliver Buston, the Europe director of the aid organisation DATA (Debt, AIDS, Africa, Trade), "There seem to be many people blocking progress." Another DATA spokesperson, Kathy McKiernan, said this time it was not the U.S. government playing the bad guy, but Canada and Italy, which were "way behind on what they need to do."

Buston also said the discussions with most of the G8 leaders had been "quite strong" but that talks with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in particular, had been "frustrating."

The world famous Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour was also critical of Germany -- and of Canada. "This summit won't work if Germany doesn't set an example," N'Dour told journalists in Heiligendamm. "Following our meetings, Italy and Japan aren't going to block (a new aid package for Africa.) But we're worried about Canada. It would be terrible if they blocked a G8 agreement," the artist said.

If they do, as Patrick with the pink Mohawk would say, they would clearly be the bad guys.

(c) 2007 Inter Press Service

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