President Barack Obama at the G20. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Earlier this month, world leaders at the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia were promising to develop proposals to regulate big banks and international tax heavens. Meanwhile, an international group of activists in the same city were proposing a striking alternative.
Participants in the G20 Counter-Summit spent two days discussing ways to solve the intertwined financial and environmental crises that the G20 has been unable or unwilling to seriously address for five years now. Fingering the neoliberal economic policy of G20 members as the main obstacle to worldwide economic recovery, the conference called for a renunciation of austerity policies and World Trade Organization agreements in favor of stricter regulation of markets and capital flows, a broadening of public services and the development of sustainable methods of production and consumption. Participants also drafted a statement condemning any attempts at an outside attack on Syria, which coincided with their call for an end to US hegemony and the emergence of a multipolar world.
“The participants of the counter-summit are speaking out against cruel economics… against cutting expenditures on healthcare and education… against reducing the interests of labor,” said Boris Kagarlitsky, director of the Institute for Globalization and Social Movements, which helped organize the counter-summit, at a closing press conference. “Instead, we want growth of jobs, growth from the bottom up, and growth for the lower classes of society, and this is a much more complicated path.”
“With the G20, we're facing now not only a business community that tries to have it its way through strong lobbying in the side-rooms of official meetings, but they're also inside, defining public policy,” Pierre-Yves Serinet, a Quebec-based activist with Our World Is Not For Sale who also helped plan the counter-summit, told The Nation. “For us, it's tantamount to a coup d'état, which has its expression also at national levels.”
The single greatest argument for the counter-summit's case, of course, is continued worldwide financial instability. Unemployment in the euro zone remains at a record high 12 percent, and youth employment has reached 50 percent in Greece, Spain and Portugal. Meanwhile the United States is seeing a record gap between the employment rates of the highest- and lowest-income families.
Why Protest in Russia?
Russia is itself quickly becoming an example of the austerity-based neoliberal political agenda the counter-summit sought to push back against. Shortly after the summit, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev announced that his government would cut federal budget expenditures by at least 5 percent between 2014 and 2016, citing volatility on world markets and slowed growth at home. (Russia's gross domestic product growth fell to 1.2 percent in the second quarter of 2013.) To compensate for decreasing budget revenues, the Finance Ministry has proposed additional cuts, such as canceling inflation-tied wage increases for government employees and sales tax discounts for pensioners.
Furthermore, Russia, along with China, has recently become an unfortunate example of the growing effects of climate change, which counter-summit participants pointed out is caused in large part by the emissions of transnational corporations. More than 16,000 Russians have been evacuated as areas along the Amur River in the Far East suffer the worst flooding in 120 years, and hundreds of Chinese citizens are dead or missing. Russian government scientists have said the flooding is part of the increasingly volatile weather patterns caused by global climate change.