Avanti popolo

get 'em bankersI think I’m gonna lay low tomorrow, sneak into the library, lock the study door and draw the blinds. In the US, public demonstrations and rallies are nothing out of ordinary. However, this particular one is different – tomorrow, on April 11, there are rallies scheduled to take place all over the United States against… the bankers. That’s right, the bankers. And take a look at the rhetoric: “We must break up the banks and never again let them get so big that they distort our politics and take down the economy.” Or: “Dismantle the power of the financial elite and make policies that keep a new crop from springing up. We want our economy and politics restored for the public.” For someone who grew up in the USSR this thing has déjà vu written all over it.

This used to be the country of Gordon “The Greed is Good” Gekko. This used to be the country that celebrated a person’s right to strike it rich and then enjoy it without having to excuse himself. Of course, America has a long tradition of individual crucifications of former star bankers such as Michael Milken or Nick Leeson, but those were considered simply bad apples in an otherwise good, if not entirely moral, lot. Not this time.

The US has a long history of rallies and popular dissent against racial oppression, but the differences of class (which have always been an important part of public consciousness in Europe, particularly in France) have been viewed as something quite natural and, above all, justified. After all your success is up to you in America and the traditional wisdom has always been that if you ended up on top then you’ve apparently earned it.

It will be interesting to see how many people will actually show up tomorrow. I’m sure that for most of the people who do it will be more of an occasion for venting their anger “against those who got us into this mess yadda-yadda” rather than asking for a genuine change in society – so one shouldn’t really read too much into it. But the mere fact that this thing is taking place is already telling. James Kwak finished his post on baselinescenario.com with a line “And don’t forget your pitchfork. (Just kidding.)”. I wonder how long will it remain just a joke, as many people seem to be kidding along the similar lines recently:

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8 thoughts on “Avanti popolo

  1. You may want to reconsider Gone With the Wind for educational purposes, as far as I remember there were quite evocative KKK scenes towards the end. 🙂 But maybe this really is the time temporarily to refrain from black humour. As you probably saw there is an Estonian brand of something similar going on. I am not qualified to judge what is best for the state budget, so I’ll try and keep my mouth shut about that, but quite separately from that: why does the venerable PM suggest that the REASON for freezing the penson system is that it was a big hoax in the first place? He cannot really believe that. Do they positively want lots of people getting grumpy and litigious (or worse)? Am I missing something?

  2. Thank you, that was good, somehow didn’t think of checking that blog yesterday. Yes, Ansip’s handling of the bronze soldier case was very similar, but I still was gobsmacked to the point of disbelief this time, considering Ansip’s own experience in finance and his party background.

    I hope by going to stay far away from politics you mean politics as in party politics, not quietism or something.

  3. Yes, I meant party politics – but is there really any other kind of politics in Estonia, apart from a few particular events once in blue moon, like what we had in last presidential elections?

    But Ansip truly seems to know his “Mein Kampf” – whatever the problem it is best solved by first constructing a scapegoat and then dealing with it decisively. Makes me sick. Which also reminds me of a line I read somewhere: If given the choice, would you rather have socialism or national socialism?

  4. To be direct, I am very thrown by this and your Mein Kampf references do not seem too big an exaggeration. However, let me be an optimist devil’s advocate for a moment, it doesn’t happen too often.

    Talking about socialism, please note the behaviour of Estonia’s Social Democrats (capitals for party as opposed to worldview) on this occasion, different from the bronze soldier affair; the delfi comments even talk about conspiracy between evil capitalists and that party, however, my anecdotal dinner party evidence suggests there hasn’t been that much coincidental political agreement among my different friends for I don’t remember how long. Everything is not said and done yet.

    The “other” politics starts among other things with your own blog and Daniel’s, we don’t need presidential elections for that, this IS public sphere. As for other public sphere events, even I am, in a small way, involved with the 1 May discussions project. This is a long topic, but that project could not happen in any country. The individual-collective and private-public relations take interesting shapes at this place (population 1 340 000, important to be correct), not all of them hopeless at all.

  5. I am rather suspicious over how useful could this whole May 1st thing be – not the least because I seem to remember that, at least initially, there was a stated aim of coming up with 1 million ideas. Now how dumb is that?

    However, even if we drop this grand and utterly silly target, I don’t believe that what Estonia (or any other country for that matter) needs is a new and brilliant idea that would suddenly create the nation anew (or whatever is the correct translation of what Kalevipoeg is supposed to do once he returns), rather than people actually being able to critically think and assess the ideas that are around right now, and many of those that have been around for ages.

    It may well be that this is eventually one of the outcomes of the present action, in which case it is all good. However, it wasn’t the aim when I last checked http://www.minueesti.ee.

  6. Oh, I hope “million ideas” is just a catchword, not a performance target. Even if the whole thing is just a framework bringing together people interested in the same topics who wouldn’t otherwise meet, it is already of some use, plus the morale boost aspect. In any case, to my mind it is a good sign that people in Estonia organise that type of citizen initiatives, that is what I wanted to say.

  7. My problem with this project was that it had a stated aim of producing new and good ideas (be it a million or one) through mobilizing as many people as possible.

    If it’s a form of social interaction, people feeling empowered, building consensus or boosting their morale – no problem. However, when it comes to thinking I really don’t believe that it would be possible to convert quantity straight into quality. Of course, competent feedback is always useful but – and this is certainly taking the argument to the extreme – you can have a million monkeys thinking and it won’t amount to a single thought of Plato, or a line of Shakespeare, if that’s more of a your cup of tea.

    But anyway, I wish you luck with your panel and hope it works out fine. Honestly.

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