Things change

Carmela Gross, HYENA, BANDO series, 2016
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By BRANKO MILANOVIĆ*

The ideologies we live in are like the air we breathe. We take them for granted. We are not aware of them

In the summer of 1975, I worked as a tour guide in Dubrovnik (I started working very young). Dubrovnik is, as many know, a beautiful city in the Adriatic, on the Croatian coast, which along the Middle Ages it was a very active port, with many contacts with the world. Veneza was your competitor and would finally end up winning Dubrovnik. In the end, the republics of Veneza e Dubrovnik (Ragusa) were abolished by Napoleon, in 1797-1806.

The existence of Dubrovnik as an independent republic, surrounded on all sides by the mighty ottoman empire, it was a kind of miracle. The Ottomans perhaps considered it a useful Hong Kong of the time and never thought of conquering it. Dubrovnik he was always proud of his freedom. On its red flag is stamped, with golden letters, the word “Libertas".

Sometimes during that summer, on warm, lavender-scented nights, I went to the plays performed in impressive quarters in the castle over the harbor. The pieces were part of the festival of Dubrovnik, which lasted the entire summer. The opening of the festival was always accompanied by the raising of the flag "Libertas".

I didn't think much of it at the time, but the flag ceremony, with its appropriately moving music, seemed to remind me of the staunch resistance of Dubrovnik against foreign invaders. As Yugoslavia in 1975 was a free country, not governed by foreigners and, as was said at the time, without commitments to “imperialists"(United States) or with thehegemonists"(Union Soviet), it seemed normal to me that the flag should be hoisted and applauded “freedom".

About ten years later, in a conversation with a friend who was at the same festival, and when communism was already crumbling, he told me that he was very excited to see the flag of freedom waved every year, for him it presaged the end of communism and the beginning of democracia. I never thought about it at the time and, without telling him, I thought I had worked through that feeling. ex post (1985 was very different from 1975) or simply attributed to others, even if they were the thoughts of a small minority.

A few years ago, when I visited destination for the first time, after the civil wars, I had dinner with a Croatian friend whom I hadn't seen for twenty years and with whom I worked in 1975. At one point in the conversation, he mentioned that the flag of “Libertas” always made her think of Croatia's independence and freedom, and she thought that feeling was shared by all who were present and witnessed the raising of the flag.

I realized that thought never occurred to me. But this third interpretation of the same event made me think, as in a kurosawa, that we all live in our ideological worlds and imagine that everyone else inhabits these same worlds.

Until things change.

Something similar is happening now in the States States with the ideological impact of the movement Black Lives Matter. Many people believed that the racial inequality in the United States it was really important. But this was seen as a secondary issue, which needed a solution, but which did not end with the idea of States States as a land of opportunity and progress for all. As a result of this movement, there are people who had never thought about racial injustice and other types of injustice and who suddenly see these problems as something systemic.

They cannot be fixed by “putting black faces in important places”, as he scornfully and aptly put it. Cornel West.

To solve this problem, it is necessary to rethink the essential aspects of capitalist societies. Furthermore, the movement BLM, by rescuing the entire history of colonialism and black oppression, directed our attention to the things we thought were long forgotten and “settled”: the reign of the King Leopold No. Congo, British complicity in the slave trade, American and Brazilian slavery that lasted until the second half of the XNUMXth century. These issues are very likely to resurface in other countries: França, The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain (España), Russia. As we have just seen, the statues of Cristovao Columbo.

We are facing a huge ideological shift. Until a few weeks ago, we were witnessing the same events – racial discrimination and police brutality are not exactly new - but with completely different ideological lenses. As in the example of the flag of Libertas, the event, the fact, was the same: their interpretation was different.

The ideologies we live in are like the air we breathe. We take them for granted. We are not aware of them. I was not aware of my own ideology in 1975. My friends were not aware of the ideology that permeated the World Bank and the IMF, in the last two decades of the XNUMXth century. O neoliberalism (that name was not used at the time) was so obvious, its lessons and recommendations were so clear and seemed so common that the requirements were met for the best possible ideology: the one that a person defends and applies without even realizing it. But that, too, is crumbling.

When people ask me what it was like to work on Banco World, during the height of neoliberalism, generally think that we were somehow forced to believe in neoliberalism as a panacea. Nothing further. Ideology was something light and invisible to many, they never felt its weight. Even today, I'm sure many friends who applied it were not aware of it.

In the early 1990s, an influential person who would never consider himself “neoliberal”, was strongly opposed to any study of inequality. The important thing was not inequality, on the contrary, it was necessary to create more inequality in order to increase growth. Another influential person (in this case, Larry Summers) became famous for writing in an internal note that polluting substances had to be sent to the Africa, because the value of human life there is much lower than in rich countries. Even if Summers, later defending himself by saying it was a joke, is a good example of the spirit of the times.

Another person who even now vigorously defends his condition neoliberal created a new way to solve a problem by creating a new market. Never having heard anything about the commercialization of everything is a basic feature of neoliberalism. In their world there weren't even Polanyi, nor fictitious goods.

As religious believers, the neoliberalism it was for many economists the quintessence of common sense and reason. When describing the Consent from Washington, John Williamson wrote that “it is the common core of wisdom that all serious economists adopt”. Now that neoliberalism, under the shocks of 2007 and 2020, is all but dead, it's easy to see how wrong they were. But while it lasted, people lived in their ideological worlds. The ideology was embraced by “all serious economists” and everyone seemed to agree. And it also felt like it would last forever. As it seemed to me, in 1975.

*Branko Milanović is a visiting professor at graduate center da City University of New York. Author, among other books, of capitalism without rivals (Still).

Originally published on the portal Letters Free.

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