The Party of the European Left (PEL), which is made up of left groups across Europe, held its Third Mediterranean conference in Malaga, on the southern coast of Spain, from March 31 to April 2.
The three-day gathering brought together left-wing, socialist, anti-imperialist and anti-austerity parties from across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
It marked an important development in the collective understanding across the Mediterranean left of the problems of militarism and austerity, as well as the consequences of the refugee crisis on some of the poorest countries in the region. Participants also reaffirmed their commitment and solidarity with the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
In the opening panel of the conference Inger Johansen, of the Danish Red-Green Alliance, remarked on the need for social struggle against austerity, particular with the rise of far-right and xenophobic political forces across the continent.
Johansen said: “The extreme right-wing played upon the feelings of disillusion with the neoliberal policies of national governments and mainstream political parties, particularly social democrats, to try to push xenophobic agenda on the issue.”
Claudia Haydt, of Germany’s Die Linke (“The Left”) party focused her speech on the consequences of the refugee crisis in Europe, and particularly the European Union and German policies towards it: “The Mediterranean sea has turned into a mass grave. The UN figures made it concrete that more than 10,000 people died because of the policies of the European Union. We don't know how many people died on the way to the sea.
“Germany has no economic problem with sheltering refugees. It is a problem of racism, institutional racism. [There have been] daily attacks on refugee centres and on migrants outside the centres. Even after leaving war, [refugees] are still not safe.
“Refugee centres have been built across Germany but are now empty, particularly as we are witnessing mass deportations.”
Vajnai Attila of the Workers Party of Hungary 2006 also spoke of the dangers of the rising tide of far-right forces across the continent, particularly in the former Eastern Bloc, noting: “After 25 years of extreme anti-communist propaganda, the present generation has changed towards extreme right-wing political forces.”
Attila explained: “Ten percent of all schools and educational institutions are owned by the church, promoting anti-refugee sentiments by labelling them as the threat to Christianity.
“And while the EU supports the far-right groups in Ukraine against Russia, Russia contacts and finances the far-right groups in Hungary (including the neo-Nazi movement Jobbik).”
Several panels and forums focused specifically on the political crises and imperialist intervention faced by Cyprus, Palestine, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Turkey, Kurdistan and Lebanon, among others.
Hassan Akif, of the Communist Party of Iraq, spoke about the economic crisis gripping the Middle Eastern state as a result of both the US invasion and the current military conflicts.
“[Post-US invasion] there has been a transformation of Iraq into a free-market economy, producing trade favourable to multinationals,” Akif said. “At the same time, [Iraq’s] ‘unity government’ has served to finance and impose market liberalisation.
“Economic and financial resources have been drained from Iraq. More than 90 privatisations have taken places and state companies in strategic sectors taken over by foreign companies. After 2003, 30,000 companies have been taken over.
“Between 30-60% of production capacity has been privatised, agricultural production has been lost. The production of tomato and potatoes has ended completely. The majority of agricultural products are imported from other countries.”
Taifun Mata, of Turkey’s Freedom and Solidarity Party (ODP), spoke of the magnitude of the refugee crisis, and in particular its effects on Turkey.
Mata said: “In 2016, the number of registered refugees rose by 200,000 to 4.8 million in November, with over 6.5 million being displaced internally. Out of all refugees, 30% are men, 47% women, and the rest are children.
“Turkey currently hosts 2.9 million refugees, with more than 260,000 Syrian refugees in 26 refugee camps on the border with Syria, despite the ongoing conflict.”
Eyup Doru of the left-wing, Kurdish-led People’s Democratic Party (HDP) reported on the latest actions of the Recep Tayyip Erdogan regime against the Kurdish movement for self-determination. This included last year’s arrest of more than 9000 activists, including councillors, politicians and mayors. All up, 80 out of 106 elected mayors in the Kurdish region have been arrested.
Doru put forward the HDP’s proposal for a confederate political system, with local autonomy, stating: “The real alternative [to the crisis] in the Middle East is a confederal system, in which all have their voice heard and participate in governments that could integrate all the people who live across that area.”
Omar Al Deep of the Lebanese Communist Party explained the situation in his country within the context of the Syrian conflict: “The presence of ISIS and Al-Nusra Front in many Lebanese towns would create unrest, alongside the oppression of the Palestinians.
“In our last congress, we raised the slogan about struggling for a secular, democratic, resisting state. By secular state, we consider the need for deep political reform, starting with a new electoral system that would adopt proportional representation without sectarian quotas, which currently divides Lebanon along religious groups with sectarian parties dominating.
“We emphasise the democratic character of the state, particularly with regards to social justice and equality between classes.
“The concept of a ‘resisting state’ involves building an army equipped to defend the country against the aggression currently perpetrated by Israel, Al-Nusra Front and ISIS. The party has been working with people on borders to defend their towns.
“In Syria, a secular democratic state, with rights for the Kurdish population, is [key to a] political resolution.”
Riad Ben Fadhel, of the Popular Front of Tunisia, analysed the scale and effects of the military build-up across the region, emphasising the need to resurrect the struggle for a peaceful and a nuclear-free Mediterranean.
“The military expenditure of countries across north Africa, including Israel and Gulf countries, has exploded lately,” Ben Fadhel said. “[There has been an] unusual level of expenditure on arms, instead of social budgets, with austerity still being widely implemented across the Arab world.
“Some of the reasons for this include the Algerian government spending against the perceived Moroccan military threat, as well as Moroccan and Saudi Arabian governments receiving military assistance from the US.
“The main beneficiary of the arms markets remain the imperialist countries - Israel, US, Russia, Germany and France.
Ben Fadhel said the Arabic, Kurdish and European left should broaden their social bases and show the European population the relationship between peace and issue of refugees, thus preventing the far-right from stigmatising the refugees and gaining the popular vote.
Ben Fadhel spoke about experiences in building a united left-wing political coalition in the post-Arab spring political environment. “We have grown strong on the left, because we are united. We are a cluster of different leftist groups including secular Muslims, leftists, Marxist-Leninists.
“Despite contradictions and differences we advance on the items where we achieve objectives together.”