For Steve Bannon the days of the political elites in Europe are over. “In Europe by Sunday night early morning it’ll become clear when the Populist Nationalist Sovereignity movement takes charges and starts the much needed restructuring of the rules-based order into the benefit of the middle-class and working class people throughout the world.”
The former Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor to US President Trump spoke on Friday May 24th at the XVI Eurasian Media Forum in Almaty, Kazakhstan, during a panel discussion entitled: Crisis of Trust – Global Power Balance. Wearing hiking shoes and frayed khaki pants, Bannon affirmed that the political elites had “gutted” the working class people for decades. “People around the world are saying ‘We’ve had enough.’”
When asked about the trade spat between the US and China he stated that China had no real leveraging power to negotiate with the US. “Companies like ZTE and Huawei, we can take them out of business in 30 days.”
Before flying to the the Central Asian country, Bannon met with right-wing and populist leaders in Europe with the goal of forming a unified nationalist European movement. “I see the rise of nationalism as something positive,” he said. “It unites people.”
An immediate refutation came from Mark Siegel, Head of NYU’s Center for Global Affairs. ”Nationalism is not meant to unite, it’s meant to divide. It’s an ideology of us versus them. How can that be positive?” He went on to explain that there are valid reasons why people are concerned about immigration but that it all comes down to “economical factors.” He stressed that it is unproductive to use fears triggered by xenophobia and racism for the purpose of boosting popularity among voters.
For Mr. Siegel it is difficult to articulate a meaningful statement about current US Foreign Affairs policy because “there is none.” He criticized President Trump for pulling out from many international agreements, including the nuclear deal with Iran, which required large amounts of time and effort by several countries. “He just ripped it up,” Siegel said, and added that he’s not surprised that these days many countries fear entering into any kind of negotiation with the US when there is a high risk that the President “will just walk away.”
Former British politician and hardliner Brexiteer, George Galloway, blamed the EU institutions for much of the problems faced by the working class in England. “Why would someone in the rust-belt of England vote for the status quo? The EU club and its elites are done.” But he remained vague, seemed almost at a loss, when it came to specify what EU legislation had affected the UK. “I’m a working class person, more or less like Steve Bannon. We’re tired of the elites.” He seemed to enjoy giving the same line as an answer, which he repeated several times, saying that the EU doesn’t care if the “workers’ lunch is stolen by China.”
Benita Ferrero-Waldner, a former EU Commissioner, conceded that reforms were indeed necessary within the EU institutions, namely: a qualified majority instead of a unanimity vote, and a smaller Commission, but she was firm when refuting Galloway’s argument stating that, “It was the UK policy not the EU policy that had made the people in the rust-belt worse off.”
Among the participants the opinion was divided regarding Bannon’s presence in the Eurasian Media Forum. Some applauded Kazakhstan’s long-standing will to create spaces for debate, as well as the Forum’s organizers’ vision for bringing speakers from both sides of the political spectrum, hoping to bridge differences and foster dialogue. But others expressed mixed feelings, even concern. “It’s offering him a platform to amplify his populist ideas,” said a German journalist who preferred to remain anonymous. “It’s a very noble initiative by the leaders of Kazakhstan to have a forum like this and try to fight the forces of polarization. But if one side is already convinced of its ideas and does not even try to listen, what do you accomplish? It’s a very fine line.”
The Eurasian Media Forum was first held in Almaty in 2002, in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D.C., and over the course of its sixteen editions it has hosted more than 7,000 participants from over 60 countries, a formidable success for the Forum’s organizers. This year, Kazakhstan Minister of Information and Social Development, Dauren Abayev, read President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s address to the attendants. President Tokayev’s words expressed that one of the threats the world faces is unauthorized access to digital data and the waves of disinformation which have proved a destructive influence on electoral processes. “I am committed to a fair and democratic election,” read Mr. Abayev, “and I therefore welcome the representatives of the mass media to the elections that will take place on the 9th of June.”
Throughout the three day event journalists from the world over posed tough questions to the panelists but at no time was the weight of silence felt as uncomfortable as when Eurasianet correspondent, Joanna Lillis, brought up the fact that the authorities had been blocking internet access to users. ”What is the point of holding a conference on the media without discussing this,” Willis asked.
One of the panelists, Alexander Aksyutits, Head of Salem Social Media, failed to see any problem because “everybody knows about the use of VPN’s,” while Natalia Antelava, CEO of Coda Story in Georgia, thought it was an important question and wished to see some of the local journalists say more “about the situation in Kazakhstan.”
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Алматыда өткен #ЕуразияМедиафорумы'нда Eurasianet журналисті Джоанна Лиллис Қазақстандағы интернетті бұғаттау мәселесін көтерді. Спикерлердің бірі оған #VPN пайдалануды ұсынды. … Журналист #Eurasianet Джоанна Лиллис на Евразийском медиафоруме в Алматы подняла вопрос систематических блокировок сети в Казахстане – стране с несвободной прессой, где Интернет под жестким контролем. Один из спикеров в ответ предложил пользоваться VPN'ом.
During another session entitled Consumption Crisis, an unflattering light was cast over Europe in terms of environmental protection when Jazmín Acuña, Editor of El Surtidor in Paraguay, mentioned that El Chaco region is under great pressure from farmers who want to expand their grasslands to export meat to Europe. “The threat is two-fold,” said Acuña. “Europe wants to buy not only the meat but also the wood from the felled trees.” She went on to explain that the situation in El Chaco has entered a perverse cycle because the products are being presented to European importers as having followed the necessary regulations but in truth the regulations related to sustainability in Paraguay are “from a different era” and are in urgent need of revision.
During the Eurasian Media Forum several Masterclasses were offered by experts in the field covering topics such as Environmental Journalism, Film Production, Mobile Journalism (MoJo), among many others.