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F. Gonzalez: The Art of Governing the Public Space

Excerpts of speech to the Americas Summit, Washington, DC, May 1, 2008

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Politics is the art of governing the public space that we share—whether it is the city, the nation, or the region. Leaders who gain the majority of the votes have to govern the plurality of ideas. People from Latin America and the Caribbean are capable of establishing all kinds of political parties, even if all the  members of one political party can fit inside just one taxicab. But we need to govern for those who voted for us as well as those who didn’t. To polarize the country, making team A fight against team B, is to betray moral leadership.

People’s sense of identity has become more diverse. For example, we say that the identity of the European Union is Judeo-Christian, but we don’t know how to govern the 80 million Muslims who live in Europe and the few Jews still in Europe after the Second World War.

I was charged by my country to carry out an impossible mission during the war in Yugoslavia. I had lived half my life in a dictatorship and half in a democracy, and I know that you don’t impose democracy with tanks and guns. My friends who were born in countries with many generations of democracy wanted Milosevic to respect minorities, but how could he take care of minorities when he was not even willing to respect the election results of the majority?

Most people in Yugoslavia are southern Slavs. Some identify themselves as Orthodox Christians, others as Catholics, and still others as Muslims. But when the war started, each group became stuck and destroyed themselves by excluding others. It was said that if you are not Catholic, you have no right to be a Croatian; if you are not Orthodox, you have no right to call yourself a Serb; and if you are not Muslim, you have no right to be Bosnian.

Societies are becoming increasingly pluralistic in people’s sense of identity and belonging—even when they are of the same religion and ethnic group, and speak the same language. We need to govern that diversity of belonging. The art of governing is getting people not to kill each other, to have a minimum of respect for each other. Beside this, leaders need a project with which all the diverse people can identify and take a shared interest in. There can be a plurality of ideas, but all should identify with a common project.

One might think that the higher the cultural level of the people, the greater the likelihood of adhering to peace and democracy. The highest level of cultural, scientific, technological, musical, and artistic development was in Germany, which caused two world wars in the twentieth century.

Education for peace is not only about the right to vote. The right to vote is a necessary component of democracy but not a sufficient one. It legitimizes a leader who is elected by votes, and not by boots. Democracy only guarantees that if leaders do badly, the people can throw them out. It guarantees good government only in the long run. We need to constantly improve and do things for the long-range good.

Excerpts of address to the Americas Summit, Washington, DC, May 1, 2008.