Exchange to Change January 2018 E2C January 2018 web - Page 3

EDITO 3 Growing universal Jon Elster once remarked that healthy people are not just ready to act, their readiness to act also partly stems from the illusion that their actions are also effective. Only depressed people seem to see themselves as they really are: “to get it right, one has to sink into a depression”, but then, “of course, the depressed are not very motivated to do anything”. Would this apply to countries too, or even to continents? Take Europe, the self-proclaimed mother of modernity. 69 years ago, our continent hosted the United Nations General Assembly in Paris to proclaim the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The preamble suggests the document’s ambition, as it “proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”. On 10 December 1948, that is, when many of these “peoples and nations” were still to experience decolonization. Europe was clearly not depressed at the time: it was neither inactive, nor marked by a lot of realism and self-awareness. 69 years and one day later, Amnesty International published its report on the fate of “Europe-bound refugees and migrants” in Libya. The report tells the recent (hi)story of the current refugee crisis, it documents different human smuggling routes from Sub-Saharan Africa up to the Mediterranean and, page after page, it brings evidence of European actors’ involvement in practices of slavery, forced prostitution, exploitation, beatings and torture. But again, Europe somehow manages to be busy with other things. It responded to the first CNN images of slavery markets by increasing monitoring mechanisms in detention centres in Libya, though Amnesty’s report unambiguously documents their ineffectiveness. The illusion of control: Europe is anything but depressed. I understand, countries are different from human beings, but not completely. Countries are governed by political leaders who have taken up a mandate to lead and it is part and parcel of their political existence that they exhibit at least a semblance of control. Delusional thinking is an unavoidable component of political psychology. And hence I wonder: how universal can the Declaration of Human Rights still be in the small valley between the mountains of self-delusional ambition and depressive inaction? To be continued, in real time. Tom De Herdt Chair E xchange to change J anuary 2018