As the world grapples with combating the coronavirus or Covid-19 and the number of infected persons and deaths around the world continue to soar, the pandemic has left with serious societal consequences that make human life more difficult. Though most countries in the world have been affected, there are exceptions as well. Vietnam has not seen a single death. The world in the coming years is not going to be the same again as human life styles have started undergoing dramatic change. There is going to be a new normality. Fiji, North Korea and New Zealand also claimed zero fatality, though North Korea’s claims are under suspect. And with this, many old social mores are being rewritten, perception changing and new ones sculpted, though these new norms have not gained universal acceptability. While countries are taking measures to tackle the virus from spreading further, and stimulus packages are being announced to beef up the economies, there are some downslides which often are either being overlooked, if not ignored but definitely less talked about. Humanity world over is getting used to the “new normal”, though the definition of what this means could vary from country to country.
The societal impact of the virus is as damaging as the virus itself, which is why this neglected narrative needs elaboration for public awareness and understanding so that human dignity is respected. There is no denying that the nature of the virus is such that there is a sense of fear among the general populace. Unfortunately, this sense of fear has been stretched a bit too far to the extent of those falling victims of Covid-19 are ostracised in the community and on social media. Also, seen differently, the fear of social ostracism of those falling sick automatically put pressure on them to submit to government regulations. The sense of fear is so much overbearing that people are afraid even to deal with cash as the virus could be transmitted through human touch of bills and coins as there is no way of knowing who has touched them before, though there is no specific research finding to prove this. The fear has prompted some businesses to shift away from hard currency in favour of “touchless” payment options. This practice could accelerate steady flight by consumers away from cash notes and coins to online payment platforms.
Other examples of downslide are related to cremation of dead persons resulting from Covid-19, increase in domestic violence on women during the lockdown period, social boycott of persons suspected of infection of the virus and many more. There was even a case of a family in the Sambalpur district of Odisha where a family head returned from a separate state with great difficulty during the lockdown period only to find his wife not allowing him inside home for fear that he might be carrying the virus and would expose her and her daughters. The wife had to call the police when the man continued to persuade his wife, until he was taken away for quarantine arranged by the state for 14 days. Even home isolation was feared in this case. In normal circumstance, this would look bizarre but this is a different time where fear is all pervading. This is in sharp contrast when doctors, nurses and other paramedical health workers dealing with Covid-19 patients in hospitals voluntarily keep themselves away from the family members for fear of infecting them and prefer home isolation. Even governments have made special arrangements for the medical personnel for temporary stay in special facilities after work to keep them away from their dear ones. Reports of a son in New Delhi unwilling to perform the cremation ritual of his mother, a victim of the Covid-19, make uncomfortable reading. Examples galore are aplenty.
While governments in many countries are announcing measures to support the poorer and deprived section of the society by either cash handouts or other means, there are peoples in the entertainment industry who are either spurned by the society or by the governments. This commentary focuses on what and how the government of Abe Shinzo in Japan did and approached to support the people in the entertainment industry, thereby demonstrating human dignity in this service sector.
After the initial announcement of cash handouts, it transpired that the sex workers were not included in the recipient list of this government support. Following uproar and protest by opposition parties, NGOs and social activist groups, the government agreed to offer financial aid to sex workers, though the amount offered was not enough for them to survive the coronavirus pandemic.
The protagonists for sex workers’ cause argue that sex is unlike any other commodity. It is for some people tied to emotional beliefs about morality and pleasure and power. It is for many others tied to those same things, but it can also be transactional and unsentimental too, just a service. Yet, political and social stigmas limit the recognition of their basic rights as workers. There is an opinion that most labour is exploitative under capitalism. That includes peoples in the entertainment and service industry too.
In some countries, sex workers or entertainers can be registered, which could make them eligible for government schemes. However, in a pandemic situation, their economic and financial situation could be chaotic as they remain at the marginal section of the society, making them deprived from support when they need the most. In such a situation, they often fall back upon on the generosity of past clients and mutual aid from within their communities. Human rights issues are often ignored or not addressed properly. Poverty is the main reason that drives sex workers into this industry and they continue to suffer stigma and social prejudices for life. There is normally no protection in dance bars from owners and exploitation from business owners who are often men. And the sex workers are often scared as they do not want to lose their jobs. Generally, men do visit to enjoy but they are too conservative too when it comes to their personal social life because of status, reputation and social standing.
Sex workers are used to live through a series of crises throughout their lives and will survive the pandemic too as they do not expect support from either the governments or the owners. They are the society’s orphans.
So what are the lives of the sex workers in Japan during the pandemic? As people started avoiding close contact, they suddenly find themselves out of clients and thus of money. With little savings and no other source of income, they look for other jobs but nobody hires them in the middle of an economic crisis, leaving them to live with borrowed money and falling into debt. During this strange time, survival comes first before thinking about their health. Across Japan, sex workers are hit hard by closures and restrictions due to the pandemic.
When the Abe government launched a massive stimulus package worth $989 billion or 108 trillion yen to soften the economic blow, sex workers were not in the mix of cash handouts as was for every household. After some controversy, sex workers became eligible to apply for aid under certain conditions. The move was well received by activists who hailed the government decision as a sign of progress for an industry that has long suffered social stigma. The package offered little reassurance as the rules for eligibility looked opaque and restrictive.
Prostitution, or the exchange of sexual intercourse for money, is criminalized in Japan but other types of sex work are legal. According to Havocscope, a research organisation on the global black market, the sex industry in Japan generates an estimated $24 billion a year. The entertainment industry operates under the guise of many names: “delivery health”, a euphemism for escort services that stop short of intercourse or “fashion health”, which offers services like oral sex in massage parlours. When the Abe government announced the relief package, it excluded those legally in the adult entertainment and sex industries, drawing criticism from activists and opposition members. They called the exclusion as “occupational discrimination”.
Subsequently under pressure from activists the government reversed the proposed plan and included those working legally in the sex industry. New guidelines were drafted, making sex work agencies and employers to receive subsidies for those who have to stay home to care for children during school closures. Sex workers also became eligible to apply for the cash handout that was available for people who lost income due to the coronavirus.
Expectedly the move polarised public opinion in Japan. Though Japan is a modern country, it still remains socially conservative. Some public figures and TV entertainers protested the use of taxpayer money to support sex workers. There were others who defended the night business as people need to work for a living.
Many sex workers found government rules for financial aid and eligibility as confusing and difficult to navigate. It was confusing for them if the handout was only available for those who lost a certain amount of their income, or who were dismissed from their jobs entirely, such as losing agents who liaise between the clients and sex workers. The plan also required applicants to show proof of their salary and lost income, a significant challenge for sex workers who are often paid under the table and whose salaries could fluctuate.
The salary components in this industry are also opaque as sex workers are often reluctant to disclose their full income due to the nature of their work and fear of repercussions. Even if some are within legal bounds, a pervasive sense of shame and stigma means that many are reluctant to identify themselves as sex workers on record. This lack of documentation prevented many from receiving financial aid. If those hid their real income information for tax purposes reveal now, that could have led to its own set of consequences. They are destined to remain society’s neglected orphans.
How to eliminate Learning Poverty
Children learn more and are more likely to stay in school if they are first taught in a language that they speak and understand. Yet, an estimated 37 percent of students in low- and middle-income countries are required to learn in a different language, putting them at a significant disadvantage throughout their school life and limiting their learning potential. According to a new World Bank report Loud and Clear: Effective Language of Instruction Policies for Learning, effective language of instruction (LoI) policies are central to reducing Learning Poverty and improving other learning outcomes, equity, and inclusion.
Instruction unfolds through language – written and spoken – and children learning to read and write is foundational to learning all other academic subjects. The Loud and Clear report puts it simply: too many children are taught in a language they don’t understand, which is one of the most important reasons why many countries have very low learning levels.
Children most impacted by such policies and choices are often disadvantaged in other ways – they are in the bottom 40 percent of the socioeconomic scale and live in more remote areas. They also lack the family resources to address the effects of ineffective language policies on their learning. This contributes to higher dropout rates, repetition rates, higher Learning Poverty, and lower learning overall.
“The devastating impacts of COVID-19 on learning is placing an entire generation at risk,” says Mamta Murthi, World Bank Vice President for Human Development. “Even before the pandemic, many education systems put their students at a disadvantage by requiring children to learn in languages they do not know well – and, in far too many cases, in languages they do not know at all. Teaching children in a language they understand is essential to recover and accelerate learning, improve human capital outcomes, and build back more effective and equitable education systems.”
The new LoI report notes that when children are first taught in a language that they speak and understand, they learn more, are better placed to learn other languages, are able to learn other subjects such as math and science, are more likely to stay in school, and enjoy a school experience appropriate to their culture and local circumstances. Moreover, this lays the strongest foundation for learning in a second language later on in school. As effective LoI policies improve learning and school progression, they reduce country costs per student and, thus, enables more efficient use of public funds to enhance more access and quality of education for all children.
“The language diversity in Sub-Saharan Africa is one of its main features – while the region has 5 official languages, there are 940 minority languages spoken in Western and Central Africa and more than 1,500 in Sub-Saharan Africa, which makes education challenges even more pronounced,” says Ousmane Diagana, World Bank Regional Vice President for Western and Central Africa. “By adopting better language-of-instruction policies, countries will enable children to have a much better start in school and get on the right path to build the human capital they need to sustain long-term productivity and growth of their economies.”
The report explains that while pre-COVID-19, the world had made tremendous progress in getting children to school, the near-universal enrollment in primary education did not lead to near-universal learning. In fact, before the outbreak of the pandemic, 53 percent of children in low- and middle-income countries were living in Learning Poverty, that is, were unable to read and understand an age-appropriate text by age 10. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the figure was closer to 90 percent. Today, the unprecedented twin shocks of extended school closures and deep economic recession associated with the pandemic are threatening to make the crisis even more dire, with early estimates suggesting that Learning Poverty could rise to a record 63 percent. These poor learning outcomes are, in many cases, a reflection of inadequate language of instruction policies.
“The message is loud and clear. Children learn best when taught in a language they understand, and this offers the best foundation for learning in a second language,” stressed Jaime Saavedra, World Bank Global Director for Education. “This deep and unjust learning crisis requires action. Investments in education systems around the world will not yield significant learning improvements if students do not understand the language in which they are taught. Substantial improvements in Learning Poverty are possible by teaching children in the language they speak at home.”
The new World Bank policy approach to language of instruction is guided by 5 principles:
1. Teach children in their first language starting with Early Childhood Education and Care services through at least the first six years of primary schooling.
2. Use a student’s first language for instruction in academic subjects beyond reading and writing.
3. If students are to learn a second language in primary school, introduce it as a foreign language with an initial focus on oral language skills.
4. Continue first language instruction even after a second language becomes the principal language of instruction.
5. Continuously plan, develop, adapt, and improve the implementation of language of instruction policies, in line with country contexts and educational goals.
Of course, these language of instruction policies need to be well integrated within a larger package of policies to ensure alignment with the political commitment and the instructional coherence of the system.
This approach will guide the World Bank’s financing and advisory support for countries to provide high-quality early childhood and basic education to all their students. The World Bank is the largest source of external financing for education in developing countries – in fiscal year 2021, it broke another record and committed $5.5 billion of IBRD and IDA resources in new operations and, in addition, committed $0.8 billion of new grants with GPE financing, across a total of 60 new education projects in 45 countries.
World leaders must fully fund education in emergencies and protracted crises
During June’s UN Security Council High-Level Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict, leaders from across the world stood up to call for expanded support for education in emergencies to protect vulnerable children and youth enduring armed conflicts, climate change-related disasters, forced displacement and protracted crises.
In our collective race to leave no child behind and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in just nine short years, now is the time to translate these universal values and human rights into action.
The will is there. Nations across the globe, UN leaders and other key stakeholders stood up to address the horrific attacks on education happening on a daily basis and called for increased funding for organizations working to ensure crisis-affected children have access to safe, quality education.
Irish President Michael Higgins focused on education, protection and accountability in his address.
“I am sure that we can all agree that it is morally reprehensible that 1 in every 3 children living in countries affected by conflict or disaster is out of school. Schools should be protected, be a safe shelter and space for learning and development,” said Higgins. “Ireland prioritizes access to education in emergencies. We have committed to spend €250 million on global education by 2024. That is why we are launching the Girls Fund to support grassroots groups led by girls, advancing gender equality in their own communities.”
Nicolas de Rivière, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations, highlighted support from France to Education Cannot Wait, as well as the importance of protection for children caught in emergencies.
“The socio-economic consequences of the pandemic and school closures put children at greater risk: inequalities are increasing in all regions of the world. Acts of domestic violence, rape and other forms of sexual violence, and school dropout have increased,” said de Rivière. “School closures increase recruitment by armed groups as well as child labor. Here, as everywhere, girls also have specific vulnerabilities. I am thinking in particular of the risk of early and forced marriage. For its part, France will continue to play an active role and promote the universal endorsement of the Paris Principles and Commitments. In the field, we support projects that guarantee access to education in emergency situations, notably the Education Cannot Wait Fund.”
Children under attack
The number of grave violations against children rose to 19,000 in 2020 according to the UN Secretary-General’s Report on Children in Armed Conflict, released in May 2021. To put this number in context, that’s over 50 girls and boys every day that are killed or maimed, recruited and used as soldiers, abducted, sexually violated, attacked in a school or hospitals, or denied their humanitarian access to things like food and water.
The numbers are staggering. Last year, more than 8,400 children and youth were killed or maimed in ongoing wars in Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. Another 7,000 were recruited and used as fighters, mainly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar, Somalia and Syria. With COVID-19 straining budgets and humanitarian support for child protection, abductions rose by 90 per cent last year, while rape and other forms of sexual violence shot up 70 per cent.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres underscored the need to support the Safe Schools Declaration and the Children in Armed Conflict mandate in his address to the UN Security Council.
“We are also seeing schools and hospitals constantly attacked, looted, destroyed, or used for military purposes, with girls’ education and health facilities targeted disproportionately. As we mark the 25th anniversary of the creation of the Children in Armed Conflict mandate, its continued relevance is sadly clear and it remains a proven tool for protecting the world’s children,” said Guterres.
This is a vast human tragedy playing out across the globe. And despite efforts to support the Safe Schools Declaration, to re-imagine education during the COVID-19 pandemic and to align forces to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we seem to be backsliding on our commitments.
Just imagine being a mother and learning that your daughter will not be coming home from school today. That she was abducted, along with 150 other students at their school in Nigeria. Imagine seeing your son, Sabir, lose his leg after being shot by armed gunmen in South Sudan. Imagine being a Rohingya girl like Janet Ara, who hid in forests, forged rivers and is now seeking a better life and opportunity through an education in the refugee camps of Bangladesh.
Imagine the trauma and terror … now imagine the opportunity.
A wake-up call
If we can come together to give every girl and boy on the planet access to a quality education, we can build a more peaceful, secure, humane and prosperous world.
Before COVID-19 hit, we calculated that at least 75 million children and youth caught in crisis and emergencies were being denied their right to an education. But with schools closed and many children at risk of never returning to the classroom, that number has jumped to around 128 million. That’s more than the total population of the United Kingdom. That’s more than the total populations of Canada, Denmark and Norway combined.
Denying these children their right to a quality education perpetuates cycles of poverty, violence, displacement and chaos.
As the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, Education Cannot Wait (ECW) offers a new approach to break these negative cycles for good.
This means embracing a New Way of Working that brings in actors from across all sectors – national governments, donors, development, humanitarian response and education actors, national and local civil society, the private sector and more – to break down silos and work together to deliver whole-of-child solutions for whole-of-society problems.
In doing so we are bridging the humanitarian-development-peace nexus. Through ground-breaking collective action with partners across the globe, ECW has already launched multi-year resilience programmes and first emergency responses across more than 30 countries and crisis contexts and is on track to do more.
By doing so we can replace the cycle of poverty, violence, displacement and chaos with a cycle of education, empowerment, economic development, peace and new opportunities for future generations.
Delivering on our promise for universal, equitable education
The ECW model has proven to work.
In just a few short years of operation, ECW has already provided 4.6 million crisis-affected girls and boys with access to a quality education. We’ve worked with national governments, donors, UN agencies and NGOs to reach 29.2 million girls and boys with our education in emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Bangladesh, girls like Janet Ara are returning to school, children with disabilities like Yasmina are accessing the support they need to learn, grow and thrive, and organizations like BRAC are receiving the support they need to build back better from the fires.
In Afghanistan, girls like Bibi Nahida are attending school for the first time, remote learning is helping children to continue their education during the pandemic, and female teachers are being recruited to teach biology, science and empower an entire generation of girls.
In Colombia and Ecuador, refugee children fleeing violence, hunger and poverty in Venezuela are being brought into schools, provided with laptops and cellular plans, and the psychosocial support they need to recover from the anxiety and stress of displacement.
Our call to action
An investment in education is an investment in the present and the future.
Recent analysis indicates that the likelihood of violence and conflict drops by 37% when girls and boys have equal access to education. Incomes go up by as much as 10% for each year of additional learning, while an estimated $15 to $30 trillion could be generated if every girl everywhere were able to complete 12 years of education.
We are making important headway with partners across the globe. The amount of humanitarian funding for education increased five times between 2015 and 2019 – and accounted for 5.1% of humanitarian funding in 2019.
Nevertheless, just 43.5% of humanitarian appeals for education were mobilized that same year.
That means girls like Bibi and Janet Ara may be pushed out of school, boys like Sabir might be recruited into armed groups. And children with disabilities like Yasmina will be pushed to the sidelines.
We have the will. Now it’s time to turn that will into action.
Vodka or Cognac: Two Tastes of Global Politics
Cognac makes you a rebellious prankster—Somewhat not practical, but very romantic. Prodigiously hacks it away at anchors of everything that is immobile and static. –Joseph Brodsky
The curious human mind has discovered two radically different ways of making hard liquor of high quality: rectification and distillation. Without going into detailed descriptions of the technologies and equipment involved, we shall note that manufacturers pursue different objectives in each case. Rectification is, in essence, fractional distillation meant to produce ethanol of the highest purity possible from raw materials that will more or less do the trick, while removing the original organoleptic properties—such as colour, taste and aroma—as much as possible. Distillation, on the contrary, seeks to both obtain quality ethanol and preserve the original aroma and taste with utmost care.
Vodka can rightfully be called the queen of rectification. Rectification involves producing refined, purified, neutral ethanol. The organoleptic properties of the original raw materials are totally eliminated—ethanol tastes and smells like ethanol and nothing else. Therefore, it does not make much of a difference what you use to produce vodka, be it wheat, rye, potatoes or sugar beets; if high quality equipment is used and strict compliance with rigid technological standards is ensured, nothing of the original raw material remains in the end product.
Naturally, true connoisseurs of vodka claim that the quality of the drink heavily depends on water quality and the professional secrets of purification. When connoisseurs taste a good vodka, they note the highlights of wheat bread, rye crust, forest moss or even cream and dried fruit. Most likely, these gastronomical subtleties are the work of evil, as it were, since products of rectification should have no additional aromas and flavours. It is only at the later stages of manufacturing that desired organoleptic properties can be artificially added to the diluted ethanol by using various flavourings, which produces a wide range of bitter and sweet infused vodkas, ethanol-based balsams and other derivatives of the classical vodka. Rectification is also used to manufacture absinthe and gin, as well as most liqueurs.
As for distillation, cognac is the rightful claimant for kingship. A true French person, though, would rather like to see Armagnac crowned. A tad cruder than cognac—one distillation instead of two—Armagnac has a richer flavour, reflecting the unique taste properties of the original grapes in a truly comprehensive fashion. Today, distillation is used to manufacture most hard liquors of quality—Scotch whisky, American bourbon, Italian grappa, French calvados, Mexican tequila and Jamaican rum are among the best. Manufacturers preserve the flavour and taste of barley malt, corn, grapes, apples or pears, blue agave and sugar cane, respectively.
Compared to high-quality rectifications, high-quality distillations set higher requirements for the shape and size of the glassware. Vodka can be drunk from a liquor glass, a shot glass, a table glass, and even an aluminium mug. Cognac, however, must only be consumed from tulip-shaped snifters, aptly dubbed “big tulip” and “small tulip” in Russia. Cognac connoisseurs are meticulous when separately evaluating the drink’s aroma, taste and aftertaste, discerning the diverse highlights of milk and bitter chocolate, vanilla, walnuts and hazelnuts (their shells and partitions even!), various fruits and berries (including most exotic ones), field and garden flowers, various types of wood, tobacco leaves, leather—and many, many other things…
Today’s mainstream approaches to matters of global politics may well be likened to the two traditions of alcohol manufacturing. The so-called “realist” approach fits with the vodka tradition of rectification. Realists construct their foreign policy vision by rectifying individual components of the original society. While so engaged, they are not particularly concerned about their material and its features, such as the history of a particular region, its culture, religion and traditions as well as the unique features of its political system. Democracies of the West and autocracies of the East, capitalist and communist regimes, patriarchal monarchies and theocratic republics—all this global hotch-potch is fed into the fractionating column producing <>the power of nations, highly purified from all kinds of admixtures. States are accounted for solely on the basis of power they generate, mostly in military terms. Foreign policy objectives of states seek to maximize power and change the regional or global balance of power to bolster their own security at the expense of others.
The liberal approach, on the contrary, follows in the footsteps of the cognac tradition of distillation. Close attention is paid to the factors that account for the unique features of individual states. From the liberal point of view, these are largely determined by the domestic facet as liberals treat foreign policies of states as a vast assemblage of flavours, highlights and shades of aftertaste processed through the copper alembic of the liberal paradigm rather than pure ethanol as it is. Liberals hold on to the premise that states are well short of being stand-alone actors in international relations, as they are—to different extents—represented by various group interests being in complex interaction with each other. In approaching some foreign policy, liberals will tend to taste the flavours of culture, the highlights of national history, the shades of domestic conflicts and social dynamics, the aromas of regional specifics, and the aftertaste of national biases and stereotypes.
For the last few decades, there have been repeated attempts to combine these two approaches into one comprehensive theory. Such attempts, as one can guess, have not proved particularly successful. Perhaps, a cocktail of vodka and cognac has the right to exist, though Benedict Erofeev, an unquestionable authority on the subject, cites no successful recipe for such a drink. Voracious consumers are unanimous in their opinion that vodka and cognac are even more incompatible than, for instance, vodka and port.
What do rectification and distillation tell us to help us understand the laws of the international system? The realistic picture of the world looks more structured and logically complete. You might remember the adage of the Russian singer Andrey Makarevich who said, “Vodka is a drink as honest as you ever find, never pretending to be something it is not.” Realists produce as simplified and rationalized a picture of global politics as possible, reducing it to a few independent variables which are, in essence, rather comprehensible and non-contradictory.
The liberal approach invites a large number of nuances and shadings, tinges of individual tastes and subjective perceptions into the analysis of world politics. To agree on which vodka is better is not that difficult—after all, any chemical analysis for the presence of fusel oils and other residual admixtures puts everything in its place. To achieve consensus on the best cognac, though, is impossible as a matter of principle. Tastes differ, as they say.
At the same time, liberal approaches to global politics are—far and by—more democratic than these of realists. By resolving a state’s foreign policy into a spectrum of multidirectional group interests, liberals “deconstruct” great powers, thus giving small and middle nations a chance to play a proactive role in global politics. It is not that liberals generally deny the presence of any hierarchy in the international system, but they categorically refuse to accept the rigid hierarchical constructs that offer no alternatives. Realists do not give small and medium-sized states that chance—in their cold and rational world, only a handful of great powers can be proactive, while other nations are a crowd of extras. The only debate allowed within the realist paradigm revolves around the idea who qualifies to be a great power and who fails.
Continuing our hard-liquor analogies, we shall note that the world of realists is unquestionably dominated by the leading global brands, such as Smirnoff, Absolut, Finlandia, Stolichnaya, Russian Standard and others. A small provincial vodka manufacturer cannot break into the major league. Cognacs have a major league of their own, the so-called “big four”, that includes Hennessy, Rémy Martin, Martell and Courvoisier. But even the smallest manufacturer in the most remote village somewhere in the department of Charente is capable of challenging the cognac’s major leaguers, which is the case for many a second-tier brand, whether Hardy, Edgard Leyrat, Denis Charpentier, Frapin, Godet Freres, A.E.Dor, Chabasse, Delamain, Bisquit, Renault, Meukow, Delon, Hine, Louis Royer, Marnier or Ragnaud-Sabourin. Even in the historical homeland of cognac, the richness of the cognac world is not limited to the brands listed, let alone the endless and wonderful “limited edition” brandies on the vast space from Spain and Portugal to Moldova and Armenia!
Realists tend to be pessimistic as they proceed from the premise of persistent nationalism and unfaltering state egotism. Hence, the logical uselessness of any attempts to significantly increase governability of the international system. There can be no cordial trust between states as a matter of principle, and talk about global public goods brings an ironic smile to the faces of realists. They view the norms of international law, activities of international organizations and other attributes of global governance with the same irony.
Rather, liberals are optimists as they believe in progress, moral foundations of humanity, international law and international organizations. Multilateralism is more important for liberals than multipolarity, and global public goods carry greater weight than the global balance of power. Liberals produce a constant stream of ideas about the new world order that would be based on harmonizing the interests of all the participants of the international system instead of the eternal confrontation between great powers.
It would be wrong to claim that all vodka drinkers are grim, unfriendly, introverted people, while cognac drinkers are merry, outgoing and charming bon vivants. But the fact remains: people drink vodka solely to bring themselves into a certain state, with all the idle talk of “tasty vodka” devoid of any empirical foundations. At most, we can talk about “soft” or “harsh” vodka, the latter essentially being an insufficiently rectified product. Conversely, people drink cognac to enjoy the process of its consumption since the drink has a virtually unlimited range of shades of aromas, flavours and aftertastes. The aesthetics of liberals is as superior to the aesthetics of realists as the aesthetics of communicating with cognac is superior to the aesthetics of a dialogue with vodka.
We shall take the liberty of assuming that it is precisely due to its logical integrity that the realist approach has fewer obvious prospects of further development than the liberal approach as it remains more of an outline for a new theory than a theory as such. In general, liberalism is more sensitive to changes in the international environment and to the fluctuations in the “currency basket” of global influence. This is precisely why it is so hard for liberalism to shape into a full-fledged theory.
The structural liberalism of today differs far more from the idealism of Woodrow Wilson than today’s neorealism does from the classical realism professed by Edward Carr, Hans Morgenthau and George Kennan. If the technology of vodka manufacturing has not changed greatly, then a 50-year-old vodka would be no different from a freshly bottled one. Fifty-year-old cognac, however, has very little in common with its young relative of two or three years. The unique organoleptic properties of a young and a mature cognac are virtually impossible to confuse.
Today’s textbooks, university lectures and academic journals on international relations treat political realism in greater detail and more extensively than liberalism. This is understandable. Neophytes explore its tenets easily and naturally, while liberalism requires a somewhat greater intellectual and emotional effort. Vodka is downed in a single gulp while holding one’s breath. Cognac is savoured, drunk in tiny sips so that it can fully reveal its bouquet.
Historically, many leading IR experts of the realist school attempted to supplement their concepts with some elements of liberal (neoliberal) approaches in the course of time. However, very few liberals have defected to the realist camp. As a lover of vodka accumulates life experiences, they sometimes switch to cognac, while a lover of cognac is hardly likely to switch to vodka, at least willingly.
Naturally, the international situation ultimately determines the current balance between the realist and liberal approaches. History shows us that political realism works particularly well in an international system where states do most of communication.
The higher international tensions run, the more Westphalian elements are present in global politics and the louder and more confident the voices of realists can be heard.
When times of international tensions are left behind, when matters of survival and security recede into the background, giving way to issues of development and prosperity, when not only states but societies, too, engage in active communication, the nearly withered liberal paradigm then sprouts leaves and flowers yet again.
You will be hard-pushed to find a confirmed lover of cognac who would refuse a warming shot of vodka upon coming back to their unheated house following a long trek through the cold winter forest. And why indeed would they? At the same time, it would be very odd and plain silly to sit in front of a fireplace, endlessly looking at its dying embers and nursing an unfinished shot of vodka while enjoying the magic sounds of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40.
As the attentive reader must already have guessed, the author of these highly subjective and somewhat rambling notes that stake no claim to gravity is rather a lover of cognac than a vodka enthusiast. Yet, he has to acknowledge the obvious. Recent years have ushered in a historically protracted process of rectification, vodka and political realism in global politics. Under the battering winds of de-globalization, amid the uninviting situation of many regional conflicts and down the heavy thunderclouds of global problems gathering on the horizon, the hand is instinctively reaching for a shot of vodka rather than a snifter of cognac. As was repeatedly the case in the past, survival and security overshadow development and prosperity on the global agenda. For most international actors, the current objective is to warm up a little and restore vitality—not to enjoy a sophisticated drink. Political realism is a convenient and, in a way, adequate reflection of the existing realities.
The time of distillation, cognac and liberalism will come, though. The hot sun of globalization will peek through the clouds of crises as the current conflicts will recede into the past. Non-state actors, as well as small and middle nations, will again play a greater role in international relations. Without clearing the familiar shot glasses from the table, we should try to keep decadent cognac snifters somewhere in the back of our kitchen cabinets. It is only a matter of time before “big tulips” and “small tulips” come in handy.
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