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Boaventura de Sousa Santos /I: The silences: from Ukraine to Boric


Europe is going through a period of moral panic that not only makes it impossible to think with a certain complexity and analytical depth about the tragedy that Ukraine is going through, but also creates a new period of witch hunts very similar to the one lived in the United States in the 1950s and that became known as McCarthyism.

It has not yet reached the levels of censorship and political repression based on accusations of treason and subversion for alleged sympathies with communism that characterized that period, but presumably we could get there. The signs are disturbing. The wild beast now is not communism, but Putin and Russophilia. And whoever is not emphatic enough to defend the western values he is a Russophile. The hysteria installed by the media bombardment is such that it is not possible to counter, contextualize, present information that contradicts the installed narrative.

Somehow, the unanimous and self-multiplier logic of the fake news that circulate in social networks has been generalized to the hegemonic media. It’s not that the news is necessarily fake; it is simply impossible to introduce news or analysis that contrasts or only contextualizes. Nor is it possible to report on other relevant issues that help us to see that, however important and tragic what is happening in Ukraine, it is not the only important and tragic or newsworthy event that is happening in the world. To even say this in a moment of moral panic is to be open to the charge of relativism. Some examples from my personal experience may help to illustrate the situation.

On complexity and polarization

The first great absence produced by the extreme polarization is the complexity of the analyses. On the crisis in Ukraine I have so far written the following texts that can be consulted because they are online: The UN at the crossroads (; How did we get here (; Is it still possible to think with complexity? (, and For a self-criticism of Europe (

In all the texts I tried to contextualize what is happening and provide information that is less accessible, but very relevant, to understand the facts. As a whole, my analyzes aimed to avoid the simplism of the good guys and the bad guys, and to provide instruments for more careful evaluations and less conducive to justifying warmongering adventures where innocent civilian populations are always the great victims. The last text, published on March 10 in the newspaper Public de Portugal, one of the main reference newspapers in the country, deserved an unfair, insulting, violent and uncontrolled attack by the director of the newspaper.

These moments of mass hysteria and extreme polarization, which make complexity or counter-current thinking impossible, are becoming more and more frequent. In my long life I have already experienced three such moments, in which I paid a price for insisting on thinking with complexity and independence. The first was just after the Revolution of April 25, 1974, which returned democracy to the Portuguese and paved the way for the independence of the Portuguese colonies in Africa and Oceania.

At that moment there was a sudden and radical turn to the left, and whoever was not with us was against us. At that point, to be on the left was to belong to the Communist Party or to one of the parties of the extreme left (Leninist, Stalinist, Maoist, Trotskyist, etc.). I think that at that time I was the only director of a Faculty of Economics in Portugal who was not affiliated with the PCP or with a far-left party. He sympathized with the MES (Movement of the Socialist Left), inspired by Rosa Luxemburg. I was publicly accused of being a CIA agent (perhaps because I had just finished my Ph.D. at Yale University). The students helped me by choosing me (they didn’t know if I was from the CIA, but at least they knew that I was the only professor who taught them Karl Marx before the April revolution).

The second moment was on September 11, 2001. I was in the United States (where in the last 35 years I lived almost half of each year, affiliated with the University of Wisconsin-Madison) and I was participating in a debate at Columbia University , New York, on human rights. Because, in my speech, despite having strongly condemned the attack on the Twin Towers, I dared to speak of the need to respect human rights in all circumstances and not give up continuing intercultural dialogue with the Islamic world, which, For the most part, I was peace-loving, viciously reviled by my Harvard colleagues and almost considered a philo-terrorist. In later years, these colleagues would justify torture and worse against the US Constitution.

The third moment, a few days ago, was the aforementioned personal attack by the director of the newspaper Public in reaction to an article of mine.

We are in a new time of extreme polarization. I didn’t see her in the invasion and destruction of Iraq or in (many) other situations. To maintain the ability to think even in moments of danger, as Walter Benjamin taught us, it is never healthy to reach this level of polarization. Just as it is not acceptable to remain silent in the face of the violence of atrocities when they occur further away from us and do not mobilize our media. Human life for me has an unconditional value.

Translation by José Luis Exeni Rodríguez

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