Alternative Nobel Prize for anthroposophical activists  


Sekem-Initiative honoured for economics of love and Nicanor Perlas and Walden Bello for working to achieve a more just world economic order


Stockholm, 15 December (NNA) The Right Livelihood Award (RLA) better known as the Alternative Nobel Prize was awarded to four individuals and organisations at a ceremony in the Swedish parliament last week, three of whom belong to the global anthroposophical movement.  


The awards went to the Egyptian Sekem initiative, the life’s work of Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish, as well as to the founder of the Centre for Alternative Development Initiatives (CADI), Nicanor Perlas, together with his colleague Prof. Walden Bello, both civil society activists in the Philippines.


A further prize winner is “The Citizens Coalition for Economic Justice” (CCEJ) from South Korea, which has worked successfully since 1989 to make Korean economic development more just, inclusive and democratic.  


The prize comprises 2m Swedish kroner (US$260,000). It is presented each year ahead of the Nobel Prize awards and in contrast to them for outstanding work in meeting the human challenges of today’s world.


In his address at the award ceremony in the overflowing chamber of the Swedish parliament, Jakob von Uexkuell, chairman of the RLA Foundation who established the prize, emphasised the contribution made by Perlas and Bello to the creation of a more just world order which benefited all people. Through their work to develop the theoretical and practical basis for peace and human rights they had contributed to finding a  creative answer to the challenges of globalisation.  “The challenges we face demand a deeper, ethical and spiritual response: we are facing a systems, not just a management crisis,” von Uexkuell quoted Nicanor

Perlas. In theory and practice Perlas had created important foundations for an active citizens’ culture which was of special importance today.  


The Sekem initiative in Egypt was praised for establishing a blueprint “for the healthy corporation of the twenty-first century” in which economic success went hand in hand with social and cultural development. Its founders had recognised that the first question to justify any undertaking should not be “will it make a profit?” but “will it serve my community?” von Uexkuell said. Sekem, an internationally renowned market leader for ecological products, combined economic success with projects in the field of education and health. A statement of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation described the initiative as an example of the “economics of love”.    


Economic inequality as background to terrorism


The former New Zealand prime minister, David Lange, received an honorary award in recognition of his “steadfast work over many years for a world free of nuclear weapons.” Politically engaged citizens were needed more than ever today, but this required politicians to show that politics can and does make a difference. Lange was one of those.


In this context the RLA founder said that the nuclear danger had increased after 11 September and included civilian nuclear facilities. A plane crashing into a nuclear installation in Europe could release enough radioactive fallout to make large parts of this continent uninhabitable for thousands of years. Yet what had been the response of governments to this new threat? To experiment with "artificial fog" to make the reactors invisible and to ban nail files and scissors on planes, von Uexkuell said.


He placed responsibility for the growing support for global terrorism on the “financial terrorism“ which the policies of the rich countries imposed on the poor.  “How long can we continue to consume oil at four times the rate of new discoveries? How long can technologies of mass murder, widespread misery and rampant consumerism co-exist peacefully on our finite planet? How long will the poor wait for us to fulfil the commitments we have made?” Jakob von Uexkuell asked.


The wretched of the earth did not have the power to threaten the rich – “except perhaps by asking bin Laden to ‘do the right thing regarding world affairs’,” he added, referring to a survey he had quoted earlier according to which significant populations in Indonesia (58%), Jordan (55%), Morocco (49%) and Pakistan (45%) had expressed confidence in Osama bin Laden to "do the right thing regarding world affairs." This was more than worrying von Uexkuell emphasised: “Let us not say that we were not warned and had no alternatives!“


He called on the rich nations to take action against mass unemployment and hunger in the world:  “We have the ability, the knowledge, the technology to end them.” Only economic convention stopped them from acting.


“Do we want a culture where everything is for sale and the economic sector dominates all others, as the church and one-party state do in totalitarian societies? Or do we want a culture where the market serves (instead of ruling) our higher common values, like reciprocity, respect for life, fairness, truthfulness, diversity, compassion, responsibility and community?”


Von Uexkuell concluded his address with a quote from the Rev. William Ellery Channing, who spearheaded the campaign against slavery in the USA:  "There are seasons in human affairs, of inward and outward revelation … when a new and undefined good is thirsted for. There are periods when … to dare is the highest wisdom."


The ceremony had started with a minute of silence for the RLA activist Marie-Thérèse Danielsson who died this year. As an ethnologist working in Tahiti she had placed her life in the service of the struggle against nuclear testing in the Pacific. She had been an “ambassadress for the people of French Polynesia and their right to live without the dangers of radioactive fallout.”


Bello: “Prize honours all globalisation critics”


Walden Bello accepted the prize on behalf of all his “comrades-in-arms” in the movement against “corporate-driven globalisation”. With this prize the RLA Foundation was honouring the commitment of everyone in this burgeoning movement, Bello said.


In his speech, he outlined the history of the movement which ten years ago had still been marginalised. The founding of the WTO in 1995 “seemed to signal that globalization was the wave of the future, and that those who opposed it were destined to suffer the same fate as the Luddites that fought against the introduction of machines during the industrial revolution.”


In contrast, the globalisation critics had remained steadfast in their prediction that, driven by the logic of corporate profitability, the liberalization and deregulation of trade and finance would bring about crises, widen inequalities within and across countries, and increase global poverty.


The Asian financial crisis in 1997, which had driven one million people in Thailand and 22 million people in Indonesia below the poverty line in the space of a few weeks, had opened people’s eyes, as had the crash of the Argentine economy and the wiping out of 4.6 trillion dollars of invested capital in the US in 2001. As global capitalism moved from crisis to crisis, people organized in the streets, in work places, in the political arena to counter its destructive logic.


One climax of this resistance had been the demonstrations against the WTO summit in Seattle in 1999. Global protests had eroded the legitimacy of the IMF and the World Bank. The Cancun meeting had turned into another Seattle. “Justice and equity has been one thrust of our movement. The other has been peace. For we never believed the pro-globalization argument that accelerated globalization would bring about the reign of ‘perpetual peace’.” On the contrary, the movement had warned that as globalization proceeded, its economically and socially destabilizing effects would multiply conflicts and insecurities.


“It gave us no pleasure that we were proved right,” Walden Bello said.


He too called for a change in the rules of the global economy. Quoting the Hungarian social democrat Karl Polanyi, he said the market had to be “reembedded” in society and governed by the overarching values of community, solidarity, justice, and equity. In contrast to the belief common to both neo-liberalism and bureaucratic socialism, “there is no one shoe that will fit all. It is no longer a question of an alternative but of alternatives.“ Each society had to finds its own.


However, Bello warned against underestimating the size of this task. The dying spasms of old orders had “always presented not just great opportunity but great risk”, including the risk, as Rosa Luxemburg had predicted at the start of the twentieth century, that the future might belong to "barbarism." This had happened with the fascism of the 1930s and 1940s.


Today, corporate-driven globalization was creating much of the same instability, resentment, and crisis that were the breeding grounds of fascist, fanatical, and authoritarian populist movements. The forces representing human solidarity and community had no choice “but to step in quickly to convince the disenchanted masses that, indeed, as the banner of World Social Forum in Porto Alegre proclaims, ‘Another world is possible’.


“For the alternative is, as in the 1930’s, to see the vacuum filled by terrorists, demagogues of the religious and secular Right, and the purveyors of irrationality and nihilism,” Bello concluded.


Perlas : the world will not change without an inner, spiritual revolution


In his address at the award ceremony, Nicanor Perlas described his path from a protected youth at an elite school to becoming a civil society activist. His classmates had thought him crazy to give up a protected and privileged life to work for an improvement of the conditions in the Philippines with its “sea of poor and oppressed people”.


To change the oppressive structures, Perlas organised many mass mobilisations under the Marcos dictatorship such as to prevent the construction of 12 nuclear power stations near active volcanoes and earthquake faults.  The result was the largest anti-nuclear power movement in a so-called Third World country.


A further campaign led to the banning of 32 pesticide formulations “dumped on unsuspecting countries like the Philippines”, harming the lives and economic existence of rice and other farmers.


There are now over 5,000 member organisations in the civil society network organised by Perlas and his colleagues. It has become the third power in the country, helping turn the Philippine Agenda 21 into the framework development programme of the government.


Perlas further reported how in a tactical alliance with the government it introduced “an innovation called social threefolding where civil society, business and government dialogued and debated the future of world development within the Commission on Sustainable Development in the United Nations.” This innovation was one of two streams of influences which enabled the tri-sectoral approach to become a major policy approach adopted by the UN Millennium Summit.


Perlas reported about the personal risk associated with his commitment to the development of civil society, with death and bomb threats: “I had to develop inner strength and courage to carry through with my decision that I was willing to die for my principles,“ he said. 


Perlas spoke at length about the development of inner resources in the struggle against the consequences of globalisation. “Behind every act of social resistance and creativity is a spiritual act,” he said. “Spiritual revolution must have happened first within us before we can create the new world we all long for.


“Failing this act of spiritual revolution, we will face the future powerless to redeem and transform the mechanical, totalitarian world we have created out of our societies, our selves, and Nature.”


The inclusion of a spiritual dimension in the social movement was necessary also because the current problems could not be resolved by the kind of mindset which had created them in the first place. “The plea for human rights, for example, makes no sense if we truly believe that humans are simply complex biochemical machines that we can alter, patent, and clone,” Perlas emphasised


Perlas concluded his address with a call for everyone to act: “In this Winter of our history, we will also have a Spring. But it is a Spring that we will have to create, for this kind of Spring will not come automatically. It is a Spring that we must bring forth through effort and courage, through our free decision to suffer with and engage the world. It is a Spring we can create by so loving the world, that we bring forward the best we can be for the world and for others.”


He would work to create a different world to the last gasp of his breath with others from the farthest end of the planet, Perlas said in conclusion.


Abouleish:  Community as a symphony of harmony and peace


The Sekem Initiative, too, is based in the words of its founder, Ibrahim Abouleish, on the principles of social threefolding “striving to inspire, aid and develop our human and natural resources.”


Since the late Seventies, he had been guided by a similar vision to Jakob von Uexkuell, Abouleish said, to heal the earth and “initiate progressive steps towards the development of the people”.


At that time it became clear that the implementation of this ideal would become a life’s task: “I knew that it would require patience and most likely would take many generations to progress. It is as if one tries to reach the horizon, which seems to retreat at every step you take,”


Years spent in Austria had allowed him to absorb European culture while at the same time giving him a totally new perspective on his own roots and Islam. This “cross-cultural exchange” had kindled the first flame of his vision.


Returning to Egypt 21 year later, he had started preparing for his initiative: “After much consideration I chose the name Sekem, the reason being that the Egyptians had recognised the light and warmth of the sun as well as the third life giving force, permeating and enlivening the earth’s entire being. The name Sekem portrays this“.


Abouleish emphasised that the initiative was to “embody” itself as a community from the beginning: “A community in which people from all walks of life, from all nations and cultures, from all vocations and age groups, could work together, learning from one another and helping each other, sounding as one in a symphony of harmony and peace.” 


From out of this community the “Council of the Future” had been born. “The goal of this council is to strengthen our direction and simultaneously renewing it according to contemporary needs. To achieve this we draw our source of inspiration from spiritual and natural science, religion and art,” the Sekem founder explained.


Economic life within Sekem’s group of companies began on a practical level by healing the soil through the application of biodynamic farming methods. “Through this method we have raw materials at our disposal and are able to develop and manufacture natural medicine and a wide range of other products, adhering to the highest possible quality standards, which conform to the true needs of our consumers.”


The democratic involvement of the co-workers was assured through the “Cooperative of Sekem Employees“. The cultural life was nurtured by the “Egyptian Society for Cultural Development“, which was concerned with education of children, youth and adults. The next aim was to establish an own university. “Here it is our ambition to give future generations a comprehensive education, inspiring creative and courageous youth, with the aim to send them into the world as bearers of ideals,” Abouleish emphasised.


He concluded by “expressing my gratitude to Allah and His endearing support”.



Alternative Nobel Prize: Background


The Right Livelihood Award was established in 1980 by Jakob von Uexkull, a writer, lecturer, professional philatelist and former member of the European Parliament, who raised the initial endowment of one million US dollars by selling his holdings of rare postage stamps. This has since been supplemented by additional funding from private individuals. So far a total of 100 people from 48 countries have received the prize. Past winners have included Astrid Lindgren, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Petra Kelly and Survival International to name but four.


Unlike the Nobel awards (for Physics, Medicine, Literature, etc), the RLA has no categories because it recognises that, in striving to meet the human challenges of today's world, “the most inspiring and remarkable work often defies any standard classification.”  According to the RLA Foundation, the Nobel prize had dealt with the issues of the twentieth century, while the Right Livelihood Award dealt with those of the twenty-first century.

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