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Late May in Almaty Kazakhstan, a crowd of international participants form 50 different countries is pouring in to the Ritz Carlton for a 3 day intellectual feast. This is the 2019 Eurasian Media Forum and the audience, at least those who have been here before, are not to be easily surprised by what the event may have to offer. The forum has been prominent and unique in hosting debates between representatives of a wide spectrum of opinion and conduct, but the panel discussion most expected this year was definitely the one opening the final day

with veteran British political dissident and intellectual George Galloway and alt-right influencer and Trumpist Steve Bannon discussing “Crisis of Confidence. Global Power Balance” together with Benita Ferraro-Waldener former secretary of state and minister of foreign affairs of Austria, former EU commissioner and president of Euro-American foundation; Russian journalist and Deputy editor of TAS, Mikhail Gusman; German Foreign affairs expert Jeremias Kettner; The First Lady of Armenia and editor in Chief of Armenia Times Anna Hakubian; and Mark Siegel, former deputy assistant to the Us President Jimmy Carter.

Bannon had arrived to Kazakhstan from a tour of Europe where he aimed to influence European right wing leaders and nationalist-populist movements, and affect the EU elections.

Moderator Stephen Cole started the discussion by asking: “Is the legacy of consensus builders being replaced by populist risk takers? Is there a crisis of international law and crisis solving?’’ And “ What is the global balance of power in 2019?” 

Bannon started with a disclaimer that he does not represent the Trump administration but he thinks Trump has a clear plan for the “Post war, rules-based order, which he explained as a series of commercial relationships, capital markets, trade arrangements, and an America security guarantee* from North West Europe along the Persian Gulf to the South China Sea up to the North West Pacific.” He continued to state that - to the benefit of the working class of the world - a restructuring of  this rules-based order is going on around individual states in the Westfalian system, starting from Donald Trumps presidency to Brexit and the victory of “the populist-nationalist sovereign movement” in the EU parliamentary elections. 

Cole then asked Mark Siegel if liberals agree with French President Macron’s statement that Trump is “dismantling the precious liberal rule based international order”? 

“There is a crisis in the way traditional parties and governments view some of the issues that the populists have raised,” answered Siegel. “There are reasons that people are concerned about immigration, and it’s not just racism or antisemitism, but also economic reasons which should be addressed and not dismissed. Where ethnopopulists succeed is more to break down than build up.

Jeremias Kettner stated that many of the globally pressing problems we face today are too complex to be solved by any group of countries alone, and multilateralism is needed. A strong Europe would be an important player to work on solutions to hopefully lead to a better world.

Galloway started by saying that “I was not happy that Donald Trump was elected as the President of the United States, but I was happy that Hillary Clinton wasn’t, because the rules-based order she represented was far from rules-based.” He continued by saying that  “A big sweep is going on against what is called liberalism and an era is coming to an end. Our people, of whatever colour and where they came from and however they pray, are asserting themselves and the elites’ day is done.”

Benita Ferraro-Waldener, to the question from ‘Cole that how she views the relation between Europe and America, quoted ‘Anthonio Gram that “The old is dying and the new is not yet born” and that we are in a transformation phase where a new geopolitical, geotechnological and geoeconomical order is being born and she and the EU are of course in favour of a rules-based order. She then quoted Mogarini that “there is now the risk of the rules of jungle prevailing.” “Reform is needed,” she said; but rules are necessary and she hopes for a second referendum for Brexit so that the UK would stay in the EU.

On Americas relationship with China Steve Bannon said that “The elite in Wall-street and elsewhere have been running a scam of financing China’s CCP that’s built up this Frankenstein monster created to gut the working class of the world,” but a revolution is going on and the economic war against the working class people is over.

Benita said that of course a potential Russia threat is easier to understand for Europe than China as china is far away, but Europe was not naïve. She agreed that there are problems with China, but EU’s solution proposal is different. “China has not fulfilled all and intellectual property and state subsidy questions, but EU has a different approach with peace and that the EU has to have unity and stronger leaders with more effective ways, and that the EU should be “tough and clear” on China, but no to go into a trade war.

Galloway’s take on China and the possibility of a clod war was that Trade wars are good for the elite. He thought China is fully entitled as a sovereign country to pursue its own policies and interests as so is the united states, but both should do so with the knowledge that the fearsome potential of trade war becoming a real war is a present and clear danger to everyone. 

“Now, the United States is not going to go to war with China;” Said Galloway, “that would be exceedingly foolish, but the united Staes is steaming towards a war with Iran, and I am here to tell them as someone who warned them about the consequences of war with Iraq, that a war against Iran would be 10 times, 15 times more destabilising than the war with Iraq was.”

To a question by Cole that if Galloway thinks there is serious issue in terms of a collision course between Iran and the United States, Galloway answered: “It’s an extremely dangerous situation. Thanks to the destruction of Baghdad, Iran is much more powerful. A war with Iran, would be the biggest mistake in History. It will literally open the gates of hell. Iran is a young country, a big country and will under attack be a united country. It has military capacity of great strategic importance. If the united states or its proxies attack Iran, the oil fields of all America’s friends in the Persian Gulf will be on fire within the hour. The Straight of Hormuz will be blocked with a day, and the wheels of industry everywhere in the world will cease to turn. So I caution against it, I hope that Pres. Trump can reign in the the mustachio old buffoon, John Bolton before it’s too late and before the world is dragged into a bigger disaster than the war on Iraq was.” 

Bannon agreed with Galloway on Iran. “I was on a destroyer in the Persian Gulf in 1979 off of iran during the hostage situation and I know how difficult and horrible that is.”

At this point Cole asked Siegel if in his opinion Trump’s war against Iran was at the behest of Saudi Arabia. “The president's son in law (Jared Kushner) is very close to the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, so people speculate that. But it wasn’t a surprise that trump ripped the Iran Nuclear agreement as he and Bibi Netanyahu where against it since his presidential campaign.”

A good portion of the panel’s discussion was focused on nationalism, populism and globalism. On globalisation Bannon said that he believed that globalisation is nothing more than to find the cheapest source of labour for the elite, and despite what many assume, it can be undone. Bannon stated that the US does not want to be an imperial power and is looking for allies in the “judeo-christian west,” among others.

“People understand that the highest amount of control they can have is at the national level, not in some amorphous transnational level. You see a rise in nationalism and that is positive. A Europe of nations would be stronger.” Bannon continued.

Siegel disagreed and said that the populist movement is not uniting people but is designed to divide people into “us” and “them”, as what happened in the united states.

“The Trump administration is allergic to multilateralism, and wants to walk away form international law, said Siegel. “On Monday for instance Trump is going to pardon war criminals, and there is the same situation with the Iran agreement; “he just rip it up!”

Siegel believed that there was no decision making process in the white house, and Trump made decisions by “whim” and “tweet”.

Galloway took his time to express his support for Brexit. “Brexit was a revolt of the working class, he said, “and in the last 3 years all the elite have tried to reck Brexit, but we will have a stunning victory. It’s not that Brexit is a sufficient condition to make a better Britain, but a necessary one. The more I listen to Benita, the more I recall the late and great railway man’s words, Bob Crow “If my auntie had balls she’d be my uncle.” If, if, if, if, says Benita, if we do this and this and that, things would be better. Well it’s too little and too late.” Galloway continued. “At the same time that you are investing in agencies to fight terrorism and instead of aligning with Russia to crush terrorism in Syria, the EU governments were arming and financing terrorism.” 

To these Benita responded, that those decisions were taken by foreign ministers of countries including Britain, and not the EU and also that a member of the audience was right to say that “Brexitiers cheated people and the young people did not vote for it.”

In response to a question from the audience about Trumps chances in the 2020 elections, Bannon responded that it will not be easy. “The rust belt of the United States is going to decide the results of the next elections, but I believed that Trump will win.” 

In response to a question from and Israeli member of the audience that had any of the panelists had a good suggestion to build trust between Israel and the Palestinians, Galloway answered that: “Only a recognition of the historic injustice - in the lifetime of many people that are still alive - that has been visited upon the Palestinian people, a recognition of their nationhood, a recognition of their right to exist as people, a recognition of the right of the Palestinian refugees that number 10 million, of their legal and moral rights to return to their homelands, would lead to peace. Until there is justice for the Palestinian people, there will be no peace.”

To this Siegel commented that: “This return to the homeland means that there would be no Jewish state in Israel!” To which Galloway said: “I thought you were against ethnostates?”

Siegel: “The whole world is talking about occupation of the West Bank, no one is talking about 10 million muslims in Kashmir occupied by India, and 3 million muslims in concentration camps in China, this is selective application of international standards and human rights and its absurd!”

This made galloway exclaim that: “My goodness you have changed! You see what lies beneath the liberal. You’ve been railing against ethnoreligious states and now you are supporting one?”

The debate can be seen in its entirety here.

This debate and similar ones are the hallmarks of the uniqueness and value proposition of the Eurasian Media Forum. No other event in the western world would have the guts or the wisdom to tackle same issues with a truly diverse repertoire of opinion leaders.

Eurasian Media Forum which was arranged for the 16th time this May in Almaty, Kazakhstan has been the place where East meets West and a wide range of opinions and ideas clash in a civilised and friendly environment. The forum brought together more than 7500 participants from around the globe and 600 international experts.

In addition to the participants of the above mentioned panel, among other prominent speakers of this years forum were Tomas Henrik Ilves, the 4th President of Estonia, Armen Sarkisian, President of Armenia and Evan Rogers, UK’s permanent representative to the EU (2013 - 2017). 

This year’s Eurasian Media Forum was once again a package of intriguing and thought provoking speeches, debates and encounters. One specific encounter which occurred off the forum stage however, supersedes all and passes the threshold to become weird, surprising and even ridiculous. Galloway and his wife are awaken by noise of someone trying to open the door to their hotel room at night. Astonished and worried, his wife piles up chairs behind the door and they call the hotel security. It is hard to recognise the man trying to break in through the spy-hole in the door as he is keeping his head down. Violent twitching of the handle turn into shoulder bumps up until the security arrives. This is when his face becomes visible and to the surprise of Galloway, the intruder turns out to be the former head of the CIA James Woolsey, (who was also speaking in the Forum) Shouting to the security taking him away: “I am Ambassador Woolsey!” Read the full story here.

Now, Galloway is indeed an outspoken critic of the western elitocracy and organised security apparatus of the western gang of “The Five Eyes”, but for the former head of the CIA to try to break into his room in the middle of the night so amateurishly is outright ridiculous and absurd. Was Woolsey lost and looking for his own room or did he intent to intimidate Galloway and his wife in their private room, we may never find out.

Bannon’s mention of the “American Security guarantee” is perplexingly reminiscent of the Mafia business model, where mafiosos would ask businesses to pay protection money, and if not paid would “let harm happen” to them, as a lesson to others. Trump himself has often brought this issue up with Nato members, Japan and South Korea among others, that they should pay more for the US security guarantee, when at the same time the perceived threats are mostly a reaction to or outcome of the US global militarism and bullying.


Alexis Kouros - HT

Photos: EMF