André Cohen is a guest blogger today. He wrote about the universal citizenship celebration in Paris on May 23 this year. I attended the celebration and felt how important utopia and other similar movements were.
May 23rd, the Universal Citizenship Organization (UCO), a Paris-based coalition of NGO’s, celebrated its first birthday with a bittersweet taste. The Danielle Mitterrand Foundation, Emmaüs international and the Utopia Movement, the three founding organizations, decided to work together after the Dakar World social forum, as they realized that the project of a Universal citizenship passport, symbolizing the right for every human being to travel and settle all over the world, gathered an overwhelming support from the civil society, especially that of the global South. The goal of the Organization is to promote this freedom of travel and settlement as a Human right – which it technically is, being the object of the Universal Human Rights Declaration’s thirteenth article.
This year’s event, hosted by Paris’ City Hall, saw the return of our partners from ATTAC (a French NGO which advocates the taxation of financial transactions to fund social and humanitarian projects) and a wide range of organizations that defend the rights of migrants. The symbolic Universal citizenship passport was handed to the European deputy, historical militant and internationalist Daniel Cohn-Bendit, to Argentinian anti-dictatorship militant and world-renowned pianist Miguel Angél Estrella, to Franco-camerunese athlete and reporter Maryse Ewanjé-Epée as well as to two militants who have gone through the hardships of life as an undocumented migrant in France. Edgard Morin, one of the most important philosophers of the late twetieth century, also accepted to support the project and receive the passport, but couln’t make it to the press conference for medical reasons. Sakharov- and Simone de Beauvoir prize-winning author Taslima Nasreen was also here to support us in our struggle.
Given such prestigious sponsors, what could possibly cast a shadow over this celebration?
Well, actually, almost all the rest. After the recent Indian general elections gave the Hindu-nationalist BJP a clear and massive victory, after the secession of Crimea from pro-European Ukraine and into Russia, this weekend clearly illustrated that reactionary and nationalist opposition to globalization, and to the fears – fantasized or justified – that it engenders, is a global trend. In Belgium, the Flemmish nationalist movement gained momentum. In Columbia, the staunchest right-wing candidate, who refused to negociate peace with the country’s marxist guerilla, came in first.
In Europe, most of the headlines after the elections of the European Parliament mentioned the surge of anti-european, anti-globalization nationalist parties. The Greek neo-nazi party Golden Dawn made a smashing come-back after its recent electoral and legal defeats. The UK independance party, a populist movement driven by a strong rejection of the European Union in Great Britain, has, as expected, achieved a great success, despite England’s traditionally bi-partisan model. The Danish People’s Party lead a xenophobic populist list to victory in this traditionally tolerant northern-european kingdom.
But the most shocking victory was that of the French National Front, which came in ahead in this election gathering around a third of all votes. In this country, famous for its promotion of Human Rights and Universalism, for its strictly color-blind and secular administration, the steady rise in influence of this anti-immigrant, nationalist, anti-women’s rights, xenophobic and anti-European party, with a rich history of racist slurs and sporadic acts of violence, is the unmistakable proof that all over the world, people are voting for groups that promise them a more homogenous country and sell them the nostalgic memories of a fantasized past of national unity and ethnic coherence.
This is clearly the context in which we are struggling. This is why this year, the Universal Citizenship Organization chose to invest its energy into showing that, despite these trends, despite the entrenchment of racist and xenophobic political forces, and despite the general disaenchantment with globalization as it exists so far, there are people, in larger numbers than one might think, who still support freedom of movement and settlement for all.
So, from the 21st to the 23rd of May, hundreds of people who walked past the Paris City Hall, and dozens more through internet’s hashtag #CitoyenUni, were able to take pictures of themselves in a replica of Universal citizenship passport, to show their support for this ideal. We then printed the pictures and glued them on to a seven meter wide banner, showing a small visible part of today’s universal citizens, fighting against the mainstream anti-immigration ideas being diffused through the media, swimming against the tides. The rainbow of faces on the banner finally made it obvious that in 2014, hundreds of individuals of all origins, genders and ages, are still ready to show support for migrant’s rights and for the principles of Article Thirteen of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
” (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”
A fundamental right which, like so many others and despite its clear wording, has never really been upheld or enforced by the international community, but that every individual aspires to.