The SI Council met on 21 and 22 January in Rome, where discussions focused on the Middle East, the former Yugoslavia and the Great Lakes region of Africa, as well as on the International's work and new structures for the coming period.
Addressing the Council meeting at its opening, SI Vice-President Massimo D'Alema, leader of the Italian Democratic Party of the Left, PDS, spoke of the delicate transition today under way in Italy: 'a long complex process, which has involved the institutions of the country and the political system itself, creating a profound crisis in parties and their leadership'. He also stressed the Italian commitment to the Mediterranean region, including the Middle East, to peacemaking in the former Yugoslavia, and to intensifying cooperation with other continents, Africa in particular. 'The fundamental challenge to government in modern societies', D'Alema said, 'is being able to extend the potential for growth and development inherent in globalisation and to curb its negative effect... This is not an easy challenge. Globalisation produces a single world market. It does away with distance, it punishes those who try to isolate themselves. In poorer countries it creates new and intense exploitation. But together with that it also brings the possibility of welfare and growth in consumption where previously this was not possible. It stimulates new expectations and demands for citizenship, for aid and for social protection'.
'We admire your determination in government to modernise the political system, redress the economic situation, join the European single currency in the first wave and combat the mafia', SI President Pierre Mauroy told the meeting's Italian hosts. He then dwelt on some grave political questions with which, he said, 'this moment obliges us to deal'. These were the main themes on the Council's agenda, the Middle East peace process, the implementation of the Dayton peace accords in the former Yugoslavia and the continuing crisis in Zaire, Rwanda and Burundi, as well as equally serious crises elsewhere. He referred to the democratisation movement in the 1970s in southern Europe, continued throughout the 1980s in Latin America, and amplified throughout the 1990s in every continent in the wake of the collapse of communism. But, 'Nothing can ever be taken as won once and for all... We deplore the reversals that are still so numerous today'. He cited current events in Guinea, Belarus or the Central African Republic, among others, and in particular the serious reversals for democratisation in Niger and in Algeria.
'Comrades', Mauroy concluded, 'we must be able both to respond to the urgent demands of the present time and to project ourselves into the century which is approaching. The revolution in technologies is imposing new modes of production. The communications revolution is making communication easier to obtain, but perhaps more difficult to decipher. The revolution in people's mentalities - and particularly equality between men and women - is fortunately challenging our societies and our political formations, which often spearhead this struggle, and our own International itself... It is up to us to use these revolutions as levers in order to foster the values which we claim as our own and which are proving to be more topical than ever before, justifying our struggle to which so many are devoting their lives'.
The mayor of Rome, Francesco Rutelli, attended the opening session and brought greetings from his administration. The city council was honoured to welcome a meeting of the Socialist International, he said, citing the organisation's proud tradition and the dramatic challenges facing it in today's world.
The Council was also welcomed by Italy's national government, in the person of the deputy prime minister, Walter Veltroni. 'The world looks to this tribune', Veltroni said, 'as a forum where the values and strategies to enter the new millennium are developed and debated'. He attributed the recent positive experience of the left in Italy, in joining the present government and in its first months of office, to the willingness to collaborate with other reforming forces and to 'combine the need for rigour with the perspective of social and political reform'. He spoke of the overwhelming duty of the left towards the 'millions of jobless young people, entire generations which might be set aside from the development processes for ever', as well as the great challenge of combatting the huge and unjust gap between rich and poor countries.
Pierre Mauroy then introduced a special guest, José Ramos-Horta of East Timor, joint winner of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize. Ramos-Horta described the invasion of East Timor by Indonesia in 1975 as 'a mere footnote to the Cold War', which had led to slaughter, displacement and the violation of human rights on a vast scale. He thanked the Socialist International for its consistent stance in favour of the right of the East Timorese people to self-determination, freedom, peace and dignity, and said that 'the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and South Africa's transition to democracy give us renewed hope in that they demonstrate that seemingly intractable problems can be resolved if there is political will and vision by all involved'.
The Middle East
At last year's XX Congress of the Socialist International, Fatah, the largest party in the Palestine Liberation Organisation, was admitted as an observer member. SI Vice-President Shimon Peres, leader of the Israel Labour Party, and Yasser Arafat, president of the Palestinian Authority and leader of Fatah, both attended the Council meeting in Rome, where they greeted one another for the first time as comrades and fellow members of the International.
Both Peres and Arafat recalled some great SI leaders, now dead, who had worked so hard for this moment: Yitzhak Rabin, Willy Brandt, Olof Palme, Bruno Kreisky and François Mitterrand. The International's work for rapprochement, dialogue and peace in the Middle East has long been a central commitment of our organisation, furthered in particular through the SI Middle East Committee, SIMEC, which was first chaired by Mário Soares of Portugal, then for many years by Hans-Jürgen Wischnewski of Germany. In Rome, following Wischnewski's retirement, the Council elected a new chair of this important committee, Bjørn Tore Godal, Labour foreign minister of Norway, a member of the government which played such a vital role in bringing about the Oslo peace agreements. Godal, alongside Peres and Arafat, SI Vice-President Costas Simitis, prime minister of Greece, Kamal El Shazly of the National Democratic Party of Egypt, Abderrahman Youssoufi, leader of the Socialist Union of Popular Forces, Morocco, Kamal Abu Jaber, a guest at the meeting, representing Crown Prince Hassan of Jordan, and others from the region and outside, took part in the ensuing debate, which was introduced by Enrico Boselli, secretary general of the Italian Socialists.
The meeting took place just a few days after the conclusion of the long-awaited agreement between the Israeli government and the Palestinians on Israeli redeployment in the West-Bank city of Hebron. Pierre Mauroy hailed the agreement as 'not only a positive sign in itself, but also because it is undeniable proof that no alternative exists to the approach adopted in the Oslo agreements'. All who took part in the Council's discussion endorsed the sentiment that, despite the obstacles, not least the election of a right-wing government in Israel, there was no alternative to continuing dialogue among all the parties in the Middle East.
In the SI Council's subsequent Declaration on the Middle East it congratulated its members, the Israel Labour Party, MAPAM and Fatah, who had been the champions of the peace agreement and of the latest agreement in Hebron, as well as the US government, President Mubarak of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordan, who had mediated between the parties and been instrumental in achieving the Hebron agreement. This last was a 'very important achievement which will lead to the full implementation of the Oslo Agreements in accordance with the principles of the Madrid Conference'. Furthermore, the Council stated 'In this significant moment it is of crucial importance to renew the talks between Israel on the one hand and Syria and Lebanon on the other. These talks should be based on the principle of land for peace and on the Security Council resolutions 242, 338 and 425, which must lead to a peace agreement'.
In the context of the Middle East, the situation in Cyprus was also raised, by Costas Simitis, by Vassos Lyssarides, leader of EDEK, the Socialist Party of Cyprus, , and by Deniz Baykal, leader of the Republican People's Party, CHP, of Turkey. A peaceful and lasting solution to the Cyprus problem, which has serious implications for the whole of the Middle East, Mediterranean and European regions, has long been an aim of the Socialist International.
The International's deep concern about the violation of human rights in Iran, and particularly the rights of the Kurdish people, was also reiterated, following an intervention by Abdullah Hassanzadeh, general secretary of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, PDKI, which joined the SI as an observer party at the XX Congress.
Implementing the Dayton Agreements
As the SI Council met in Rome, the streets of Belgrade were filled, as they had been every day for weeks past, with anti-government protesters calling for the recognition of opposition victories in the municipal elections held last November in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro). The Council welcomed among its special guests a prominent leader of those protests, Vesna Pesic, president of the Civic Alliance of Serbia. She described to the meeting the severe economic crisis, constitutional and social problems in Serbia, in the aftermath of war, and the striking scale of the current popular protests, and called on the SI and all its member parties to support the movement for democratic change. The 'Together' coalition, which had made impressive gains - subsequently denied by the government of Milosevic - in the municipal polls, had united, she said, those opposed to the conservative, xenophobic, former communist ruling party. Their shared goals could be summarised as democratisation, freedom of expression, economic change and a new relationship with the other former Yugoslav republics and the whole region. She described herself as a social democrat, deeply committed to respect for the rights of minorities.
Pesic called for the strongest international pressure on the Serbian government for democratic change. Peace and stability in the Balkans depended on this, she said.
SI Vice-President Felipe González addressed the Council on his visit to Belgrade in December 1996 as head of an OSCE mission to investigate the allegations of fraud in the local elections. Having held talks with all the parties in Belgrade, he was convinced that the original results and important opposition victories must be recognised. He too spoke of the strength of the protest movement and the ever-growing desire for dignity and freedom expressed by the citizens of the FRY.
Piero Fassino, co-chair of the SI Committee for Central and Eastern Europe, SICEE, gave an overview of both the implementation of the Dayton peace agreements in the former Yugoslavia and the situation in south-eastern Europe as a whole. He outlined the objectives on which the Socialist International should concentrate its efforts: firstly, the consolidation of the post-Dayton process in Bosnia; secondly the strengthening of democratic institutions in Croatia and opening up the road to a democratic transition in the FRY; thirdly, furthering dialogue between government and opposition to resolve the current political crises in Albania and Bulgaria, and finally, strengthening the integration strategy of the European Union and other regional cooperation institutions.
The prime minister of Norway, Thorbjørn Jagland, and the Hungarian foreign minister, Laszlo Kovacs, were among the SI leaders who spoke on this issue, as were Dragisa Burzan of the Social Democratic Party of Montenegro, a new Observer party of the International, and another guest from Serbia, Zarko Korac of the Social Democratic Union.
In a resolution the Council reaffirmed the International's commitment to supporting the implementation of the Dayton accords and called for many specific measures to build democratic institutions and to reconstruct a free and dignified life for all the citizens of the republics of the former Yugoslavia, whilst expressing the fullest support for the political parties of progressive and social democratic inspiration throughout the region.
Zaïre, Rwanda and Burundi
A debate on the continuing grave situation in the Great Lakes region of Africa was introduced by the first secretary of the Socialist Party of Senegal, Ousmane Tanor Dieng, a vice-president of the SI. He outlined in some detail the historical origins of the present crisis in the region, stressing the urgent need for international action to help restore stability. Above and beyond the much-needed humanitarian aid, he called for a limited international military intervention and reiterated the International's previous calls for the holding of a peace conference.
Reinforcing this analysis, Laurent Gbagbo, leader of the Ivory Coast Popular Front, FPI, presented to the Council a comprehensive Declaration, which outlined the situation in Zaire, in Rwanda and in Burundi and proposed a number of priorities for the international community: the stepping-up of humanitarian work, support for the establishment of a democratic government in Zaire and for national reconciliation policies in Rwanda and Burundi, and increased assistance for all aspects of reconstruction. The Council adopted this Declaration, which also proposed the visit of an SI fact-finding mission to the region in the near future, and stressed that a global solution should be sought, particularly through the holding of a peace conference involving all the states in the region, to be convened under the aegis of the United Nations and the Organisation of African Unity.
On the second day of the meeting, SI Vice-President Felipe González took the floor to give his thoughts on the work of the new SI Commission which he is to chair - a brief entrusted to him at last year's SI XX Congress. The new Commission will address some of the great political questions of our times, which González summarised in seven main areas: globalisation, the technological revolution, macro-economic policy, the role of the state, social cohesion and the legitimation of political power and authority, international finance, and reform of the United Nations. He also laid stress on questions such as women's equality, the environment and re-skilling the workforce, which, he said, must inform all the discussions. The Commission will also consider the evolving role and continuous development of the International in this period of unprecedented growth.
A number of SI leaders, including our president, Pierre Mauroy, and Oskar Lafontaine, leader of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, prominent party figures from Italy, Mexico, Argentina and Australia, and the president of Socialist International Women, contributed their views to this initial debate on the work of the new Commission.. A small, high-level group, chosen to be geographically representative, and with an emphasis on the participation of women, it will aim, through its programme of meetings in the coming period to be held in different continents, to draw on the views of SI members and other personalities in intellectual and public life.
Decisions, resolutions of the Council
In addition to the new Commission, the Council in Rome agreed on the establishment of the International's regional and thematic committees, and on their chairs and vice-chairs. It also agreed on the membership of the statutory SI Finance and Administration Committee, SIFAC, which Gunnar Stenarv, of the Swedish Social Democratic Party, will continue to chair.
On the recommendation of SIFAC, the Council adopted the International's budget for 1997. In accordance with a mandate from the XX Congress, it also confirmed the status of the Union of Bosnian and Herzegovinian Social Democrats, UBSD, as a new SI Observer party. It agreed to end the SI membership of the Social Democratic Party of Slovenia, SDS.
In addition to the resolutions and declarations already mentioned, on the meeting's main agenda items, resolutions adopted by the Council dealt with the terror and the urgent need for progress towards peace and democracy in Algeria, the continuing serious situations in Burma and in Niger, peace, justice, human rights and the right to self-determination in East Timor, political and institutional life in Nicaragua after the recent elections, and the latest developments regarding the status of Puerto Rico.