On the occasion of the presentation of the Colombian edition of the collective book “Nonviolent Journalism” in Bogotá, journalist Iñaki Chaves and Desde Abajo TV invited Pressenza communicator and researcher at the World Centre for Humanist Studies Javier Tolcachier, to share some concepts and visions from a humanist perspective of communication.
By Desde Abajo TV
Iñaki: Hello, welcome to Desde Abajo TV. We are with Javier Tolcachier, member and co-founder of Pressenza, an international news agency for peace and non-violence, columnist with an emphasis on historical processes and also a researcher at the World Centre for Humanist Studies. Taking advantage of his visit to Bogotá for the presentation of this wonderful book “Nonviolent journalism. Towards a humanising approach to communication”, we wanted to talk to you, to rave a little along the lines of what Galeano said “to guess if we have another possible world”. First of all, who is Javier Tolcachier?
Javier: Thank you Iñaki. A humanist activist for more than four decades and an apprentice communicator in the attempt to humanise communication, which we believe is an important front, the front of narratives, the front of the word, of the story. The character here is not very important, because the work we are here to present is a collective work. It is not only collective because of who wrote, corrected and edited it, but also because it summarises the experience of 13 or more years of an attempt by an international content agency to reflect a non-violent point of view, a humanist point of view on the events that take place.
Iñaki: Along these lines, what role do you think an agency like Pressenza plays in this media sphere that is so governed by the big multinationals of information?
Javier: Those of us who do believe and who work so that another world is really possible and not just an alternative slogan, understand that we have to fight hard in a proactive sense. In other words, we have to show that another possible world in some way. It is not that there is an absolute and definitive answer in each of the fields, such as economic models or finished political models – which is what is always sought – but that we must try to move in that direction, taking indicators, correcting, and in the field of communication this seems important.
We are not held back by the fact that we know we make many mistakes, but we try to learn and learn from others. Latin America has a rich heritage of popular communication, of alternative and community communication, of which we have also taken up a lot in this work. But the issue of conceptualising a non-violent way of narrating reality seemed to us to be an important step.
Iñaki: Precisely, in the book, the five people who sign it (Pía Figueroa, Nelsy Lizarazo, Juana Pérez Montero, Tony Robinson and Javier himself), say that the book is a book under construction, that is, with its errors and its successes in order to continue improving, and that it will need reeditions and updates. But at this time, when violence, not only physical but above all structural, is resurfacing in a large part of the planet, how pertinent is it to launch this text?
Javier: It seems very opportune to us and that is why we are trying to produce different editions in different places and also in different languages. I was just telling you that we are translating it into English, French, German, Greek, Italian and we are also trying to translate it into Chinese, because we believe that it is fundamental for journalism students, communicators or the communication teams of social movements to prepare the new world. We cannot build the new world with old words, with old stories. We believe that this work provides clues to be able, on the one hand, without any doubt, to denounce the existing and emerging violence, but at the same time to have a way of dealing with this violence, to deal with these established situations, to deal with the legacy of violence that we have. Because we also have to work on ourselves to dislodge a number of prejudices we have on the subject of violence and violent behaviour. And so, in this sense, it seems to us that it is a way of overcoming these discourses of hatred, of overcoming this manipulation of rhetoric that only serves to poison coexistence between people.
Iñaki: I know that you are aware of the Truth Commission in Colombia and part of the Commission’s report is dedicated to the media and their responsibility. What would you say to the media, especially the Colombian media, from this position of non-violence and peace?
Javier: I would invite them to talk, as a first step. I understand that the commercial interests of a media outlet are not the same as the communicators, the journalists, the directors of the sections that work in them, and it is true that they are often obliged to follow an editorial line that the media outlet deems convenient for its business, for its commercial vision. But I would invite them to talk and to show them that there are other ways of communicating. And of course we are on the side of those who want a plurality of voices, of those who want the de-monopolisation of communication, decentralisation and the amplification of stories through all possible means, of those who want to strengthen the small media in every neighbourhood and in every city. There is no doubt that this is our defined political position, but we believe that it is time for the big media to realise that they have a contribution to make to humanity and that using their power only for their own benefit is terribly short-sighted.
Iñaki: And from where would you say, from what place of enunciation can this struggle for peace be proposed from civil society? Would it be from the neighbourhood, the social collectives, from the citizenry in general? A social proposal towards the powers that be, not just the media, but the powers that govern us, both political and economic, what would you say would be that place of enunciation to work for peace and non-violence?
Javier: As is so commonly said, we all have to make our contribution, each one to the extent of his or her possibilities, virtues and skills. There is no doubt that today the historical subject – if I understood your question correctly – is not as clear as it was in other times, when it was the working class, for example. Today it is much more plural, the historical subject is much more diverse. That’s why I think that diversity is precisely the place of enunciation and diversity has a very important place in the narrative of non-violent journalism, the conception of diversity as richness. So, I believe that yes, the historical subject is precisely the convergence of this diversity, which has been amplified so much in recent years and that although it runs the risk of falling into social atomisation with little specific weight of each collective, it seems to me that it is being achieved, and Colombia is one of the places where this has been achieved. It happened in the widespread national strike, through the electoral triumph of the first progressive government after so many decades and even centuries. It is something for everyone, but particularly for those collectives that are a reference point for this emerging diversity that is sweeping our times.
Iñaki: In this diverse collectivity, what role should be played today by something that I believe we unfortunately lack in many areas: ethics and humanism?
Javier: It seems to me that humanism as ethics is the future. That is to say, there cannot be any premise above the human being because that is the root of violence. The negation of the human is the root of violence, the desire for appropriation, for alienation, as has already been discussed many times in the field of philosophy and political philosophy.
Humanism is the central nucleus of the world to come, it is like a starting point from which to begin to create the world. It is this humanism that permeates these pages of non-violent journalism because it goes to the affirmation of what is human in everyone and, in short, of what we have in common and of the common good in which we should live.
Iñaki: From this humanist starting point, how do you see the current political processes taking place on our continent, in our Abya Yala?
Javier: There is no doubt that we support all progressive processes, the processes of the left, and we also see how time is running very fast in history today. These processes that before, for example, could have installed their paradigms in twenty, thirty, forty or fifty years, today somehow tend to exhaust their proposals in shorter periods of time. So, we see the need for humanism to contribute a quota of renovation, of reinvention for each of these progressive processes. Because what happens is that if social change does not go hand in hand with an internal transformation, with a transformation of habits, with a transformation of horizons, beliefs and perspectives, then there are two different speeds. To put it more simply: if one improves education, health, food, housing, which are all urgencies and needs shared by the emancipatory political processes in our region, or decolonisation and depatriarchalisation, that has a speed. But what remains is the habit, the legacy I was talking about, the legacy of violence, the legacy of a world that is gone, that does not exist, and that does not coincide with the new world. This is the proposal that we make, from within all these progressive processes and the left, to renew ourselves internally, to understand that history is not only made outside, but also inside human beings.
Iñaki: Do you think that human beings today are walking along a path that leads us forward in the sense of being more humanist, or do you think that the task is still halfway done? Because I see that we are falling short, that the proposals you are making are often not taken up by those who have to take them up. We were talking about this the other day, at the presentation of the book here. Don’t you think we’re halfway there? How do you see this step? Because it’s true that time is going fast but I think humanity is going slow…
Javier: That’s what I was saying before, that we have to speed up the internal process, that we have to first discover that there is an internal world, which is as decisive as the external world. That is a fundamental first step. We always stop at improving the external conditions of life and that’s all very well, but we also have to invest efforts in the inner improvement of everyone. When you say power, I understand clearly what you mean, but I would say that external power, the power of capital, the power of money, corporate power, is just as reactionary as the power of old beliefs, for example the power of believing that people can do nothing and depend on the power to change and that is not the case.
So I do believe that what we have to demobilise is the power that makes people not believe in themselves. I believe that this is an invincible power. If the people discover themselves, the human potential for organisation, for collective participation, that is a totally invincible power, against which the supposed power of the superstructures can do nothing.
This power is palpable, and we have recently seen examples of it here in Colombia, with all the mobilisations, or in Chile, which led to the process towards a new constitution.
Iñaki: And yet, look at the situation. In Chile, the constitution has been left hanging… So, what does this have to do with the fact that the population has recognised its power and has said Yes but No, or that there are powers that are conditioning the political position of the population?
Javier: Of course, there are no single causes, it is a conjunction. It is absolutely true that the Pinochettist right, the ultra-right in the United States and other powers are doing their thing, the concentrated media, without any doubt. Let’s remember that one of the driving forces behind the coup against Allende in 1973 was Agustín Edwards, the owner of El Mercurio, one of the main media outlets, going back to the field of communication. But my point is that what happened in Chile is partly related to what I was saying earlier: how many subjugated people, how many poor people, how many excluded people voted against the New Constitution? A lot, because the indignation of the Chilean people was greater than just the issue of changing the Constitution, it was systemic and it was not so easy to link the issue of a constitutional text – which undoubtedly has obstacles and locks that prevent progress – but it was not so easy to link it with the immediate urgency of getting out of oppressive situations.
So it’s the same thing that happens – and I’m going to expand a little to give an example on the subject of women: how many women who are asphyxiated, violated by the patriarchy, continue to vote for people who defend these positions? Many! So I insist: there is something inside, there is a model inside, there is a habit inside that prevents us from realising that we have to expel this denial from ourselves. In the example I am giving on the subject of women, it is palpable, isn’t it? Why should a woman be in the kitchen or looking after the children, doing what she is supposed to do, obeying the macho man? We have to give more emphasis to the work of inner liberation from old models, habits that prevent us from advancing as peoples.
Iñaki: That, I think, is unlearning, and as difficult as learning is unlearning, it’s hard… But connecting with what you are saying, that from within, you have written in some of your texts “to look inside history and towards history from within, is an intense challenge, a beautiful aspiration and an inspired promise”. But don’t you think that this work, which could be global, passes through what you are mentioning, by unlearning, by changing the internal schemas, by first saying who I am before telling others and you who you are? If there is a social burden that is that human beings have always wanted to be the centre of everything and that’s how we can’t change history, how can we do something from humanism, from texts like yours, for this movement that you are proposing from within history?
Javier: I do believe that history is made by human beings. In other words, there is no predetermined history. The issue of predetermined histories is a question that arises a little from classical mechanics, from classical physics, where it is assumed that human sciences such as history should work in the same way as physics. That text you allude to, that book talks precisely about how human beings make history and how history depends on what we human beings do. Beyond the anthropocentric discussion, whether human beings are the centre of everything or nature or whatever, I don’t want to go into it now, but speaking of history, we want to emphasise that it is human beings who make their own history with these drags from the past but, above all, by configuring images of the future. This is how life is put together, the future is preponderant in human life. If we do not configure a collective image of the future that is attractive and mobilising, then action will not go in that direction. In the field of communication, this book that we have just published thanks to you, we believe that it is mobilising, that it is a start to the configuration of a type of image that is as plastic as possible, as practical as possible and that will obviously be enriched by the real practice of communicators and journalists in the media so as to say: Let’s move a few centimetres in this direction! That’s how we’ll make a stepping stone, that’s how history is built, everyone does their part and then the new generations will come along.
Iñaki: Let’s see if together we can make a ladder with all those steps. In this brief but interesting talk, I began by saying that we should bet on delirium, because I believe that all of us who put forward these kinds of proposals are a little delirious – because we are beaten up day after day – I also want to end up delirious, delirious that education will not be the privilege of a few, the police or armies a curse for the majority, justice and freedom will unite to defend the majorities against the powers that be…. All this is a utopia, a chimera, a dream, an illusion, but we will delirious: Javier, what is your bet?
Javier: You were saying it at the beginning with Galeano and Galeano was already saying it (and I clarified that it wasn’t his phrase but that of the filmmaker Fernando Birri): What is utopia for? they asked him precisely here in Colombia, in a talk I think it was in Cartagena de Indias. And he said that every time I move towards utopia it moves a few steps forward. And what is utopia for then? That’s exactly what it’s for, to walk, they said. But more to the point, I believe that we are walking as a species and that the next step to take is towards a universal human nation, towards a construction where borders do not exist, where equality of opportunities is not a story, towards a construction where diversity is truly recognised as wealth, the different cultures, the different trades, the different arts, the different sex-affectivities. I believe that humanity is pulling back the curtain and not very far away is that utopia that we, from humanism, call the Universal Human Nation.
Iñaki: Thank you very much, Javier, thank you very much to Desde Abajo for the space and to you for joining us and hopefully we can continue dreaming and breaking down frontiers and pulling back that iron curtain that fell at the time and that we hope will not be lifted again.