Door Marja Bijl op 23 november 2015

Small stories, big values. Making social justice work in the 21st century

PvdA vicevoorzitter Marja Bijl was op 19 en 20 november aanwezig op een conferentie van de Progressive Alliance, het wereldwijde netwerk van progressieve partijen waar de PvdA deel van uitmaakt. De conferentie over sociale rechtvaardigheid en gelijke kansen vond plaats in Rabat en werd mede georganiseerd door de USFP, via het netwerk van de Progressive Alliance verbonden aan de PvdA. Lees hieronder de speech die Marja er uitsprak.

Dear friends,

Less than a month ago I was sitting on a small bench in the sun in the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon. I was talking to a woman who was telling me about her life and about her son who was nine years old.  A minute later the little boy jumped into my arms, his mother started laughing. They were not just a mother and a son. They were refugees from Syria.

The mother told me about the difficulties of living with a handicapped son in a refugee camp. She told me about her wish to return to Syria and to be reunited with her mother who –also as a refugee, is living in Turkey. She also told me about the lack of medical treatment for her son, the bad conditions in the tent they are living in and about the small community of friends she has got around her.

We met in the context of the previous Progressive Alliance meeting in Beirut. I -again- wish to express my gratitude to our friends of the Progressive Socialist Party of Lebanon for the organization of such an excellent meeting and work visit.

Why am I telling you this? I am telling you this because all too often we start with the analysis of the challenges ahead, the big problems in the world we need to solve as social-democrats. And of course we need to do this. But my pledge today is: please, let’s not forget about the little stories, the stories of the people.

Real people that matter to us progressives. Real people that can be our allies in changing the world. Real people that ask for our help.

And as last week the atrocities in Beirut and Paris were unfolding, the little boy and his mother were among the people I was thinking of, these atrocities were like the realities they had fled from, two years before I met them in the camp in Lebanon.

Friends, these last two days here in Rabat we addressed the topic of social justice and equal opportunities for all. We have listened to speeches and comments of many distinguished friends and comrades and I will, for sure, take useful analyses and solutions home with me. Of course we already knew this, but these days we heard over and over again how inequality is the major threat for democracy, social justice and global balance. It is up to us progressives to choose for the other route; solidarity and inclusive coherent societies instead of the neoliberal paradigm. We have also showed here that there is an alternative, as, so was mentioned, social justice is at the heart of our concerns. It is our collective responsibility to act together using innovative measures.

Now, let’s go back to the mother and her son in Beirut. What does social justice mean to them? It won’t mean anything to them if they just remain words. It started to mean something for them when the UNHCR, after two years, decided to resettle them in Germany, where the son will get the medical treatment he so desperately needs.

According to the UNHCR the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people worldwide has, for the first time in the post-World War II era, exceeded 50 million people. The causes are known and are intensely reported to us every day: wars, conflict and persecution as well poverty.

The European Union as well is confronted with a growing number of refugees, posing new challenges to our societies. Many of our party members are committed to protecting refugees and helping out where necessary. Gathering sleeping bags, offering home cooked meals and sometimes even a bed.

But we need to do more. We are the progressive political parties that must offer structural answers to make the world a safer place, a place where people can lead a life in dignity, without the need to leave their homes and communities.

I know this is big and not in immediate reach. I know it won’t be easy to make progress, and I know there will be barriers. But we must work together to bring the world of our ideals more near.

I am convinced it all starts with politics based on values. Not just any values, but our values of solidarity, equal opportunities, gender equality and social justice.

This is not only fundamental for our national agendas, but also for our international policies. We live in a world, where refugees, companies, planes, investments and workers cross borders. We live in a world where Daesh poses a threat to people in Syria, Beirut, Tripoli and Paris. We live in a world where a mother from Syria, living in a camp in Beirut will find a new future for her and her son in Germany.

This time needs an ambitious foreign policy based on our values. What does it mean? Let me highlight a few elements that in my view should be part of a value based foreign policy.

First of all, a value based foreign policy can only be successful in case all instruments, varying from aid and trade to diplomacy and defence, are used in a coherent way.

Secondly, it means that the protection of refugees should be our number one priority, with special attention to gender, LGBT and children. Countries or parties that are not willing to take responsibility or are refusing to help, should be pressured. Binding agreements should be the fundament for sharing responsibilities.

Thirdly, to prevent a refugee crisis now and in the future, we must offer perspective to countries where refugees come from. By promoting peace and security, by tackling the international climate crisis and by fighting poverty.

Fourthly, it means we should continue our fight for decent work. Decent work with a living wage is a universal condition for basic social security, empowerment and development and thus a crucial ingredient for fighting poverty and creating equal opportunities.

Fifthly, we have to acknowledge that there can only be sustainable stability if case countries have the chance to develop into democratic states where corruption has no place, where the rights of minorities are respected, where gender equality is bound by law, where the judiciary is independent and where governing elites are held accountable.

And last but not least, it means that we will promote and fight for human rights in all our international contacts, even if it’s difficult or when it has a price.

I realize this is a long list of demands. But I am asking you anyway. Let’s put our values first and let’s work together.

The life of the mother and her son who fled from Syria will change. The son will get his medical treatment. They will get a house. And hopefully the grandmother from Turkey can join them one day. And maybe, maybe, one day they can go back to the country they love so much, a country that hopefully by then will be a democracy, free of oppression. Let this be a small story of success that inspires us to do more and make the world a better place.

Let me finish by sincerely expressing my gratitude to our host and the Progressive Alliance for the organization of this inspiring conference.

Thank you.

Marja Bijl

Marja Bijl

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