BRICS no longer exists: the time of BRICS+ has come. But to make this informal forum into a structured reality, one capable of withstanding bumps and games, a radical rethinking of its purposes and its current skeleton is needed, writes Emanuel Pietrobon.
The Johannesburg summit has been a tremendous success, and it will be remembered as the long-awaited watershed event of the BRICS. Not only have external interferences aimed at boycotting Russian participation and sowing discord between India and China failed, but the five countries unanimously agreed on an expansion that has the potential to convert the group into a kind of “strategic natural resources super-cartel”, an all-resource OPEC on steroids with the potential to make the 1973 energy crisis look like a joke.
From 2024 onwards, BRICS+ will account for 44.4% of the world population and for 37.3% of the world’s GDP, with its overall natural endowment capable of leading, as anticipated, to a world-challenging super-OPEC: home to 79% of the world’s aluminium output and 77% of palladium production, 75% of the world’s manganese and 50% of its graphite, approximately 50% of the world’s gas reserves, 44.3% of the world’s oil reserves and 41% of oil production, more than 50% of global food production, 38.8% of total global industrial production, over 30% of the world’s nickel reserves, four-fifths of all rare earth reserves, one-fifth of global lithium production and one-tenth of the world’s copper.
Common energy considerations and long-term geo-economic goals (de-dollarisation) are the main driving reasons for the BRICS’ existence and its first enlargement, but (much) more is needed if the aspiring G7 rival hopes to win the battle for the de-Westernisation of the world. The West wasn’t built overnight: it is an artificial creation held together by a widespread network of agencies, bodies, NGOs, institutions, schools and programmes — this is the secret recipe for the success of the Western project and it is also the weakness of all the others who, over time, have tried to challenge it.
For the BRICS+ to become a truly disruptive force, a world-overturning coalition for change, a Western-model system of intergenerational transmission of values is required.
Learning from the West
Hollywood is undisputedly the US’ strongest machine of soft power projection. It significantly helped the US to spread its values and promote its narratives worldwide, especially in the war-torn Western Europe of the early 1950s. Its role in building a common identity among Western Europeans, the Judeo-Christian, White-populated West, has been enormous. The BRICS+ has nothing like a unified entertainment industry and it never will — too many different cultures, no superpower with hegemonic ambitions over the rest, etc. However, something can still be done: entertainment industries working together to make movies and other products capable of instilling sentiments in the public in favour of the BRICS cause and reducing tensions among members. A sort of BRICS mythology needs to be created, and Hollywood is very instructive in this regard.
It’s fundamental to decolonise the collective imagination of the BRICS peoples, who keeps being traversed by strong pro-Western sentiments that often translate into anti-national xenophilia — one telling example is the obsession with Western brands, the natural association whereby West equals high-quality, the fascination with Western values, and so on. Because the masses mean the electorate, and it is the electorate that decides the fate of political parties and their visions. In other words: tools are needed to give solidity to the BRICS project and transform it into a project that is equally felt by both farsighted leaders and their peoples.
Some examples of BRICS cooperation extended to edutainment might be Sino-Russian productions on the Korea War or modern-day thrillers on espionage, Russo-Indian blockbusters on the countries’ partnership during the Cold War, Russo-Egyptian movies on the Arab-Israeli wars, and so on. It can work. Hollywood, Bollywood and, more recently, Turkey’s dizileri have proven that.
If the edutainment chapter of the BRICS’ reconstructive surgery is something that requires both a lot of work and political will, investments in the building of exchange programmes, scholarships and institutions to foster sentiments of unity are a bit easier, at least theoretically.
The US managed to build a strong and common identity across Western peoples, who had been at war with each other for centuries (this is particularly true for the Europeans) in two ways.
The first way is Hollywood and the related music industry, which both have been serving the goal of reaching out to the masses and shaping their values and worldviews through high cultural impact productions.
The second way is the ensemble of institutions set up by the US, from the German Marshall Fund to the Fulbright Program, with the aim of making Atlanticism mainstream. Generations of European leaders have been formed in and/or by the US through exchange programs and scholarships. The Fulbright Program is the US’ most important cultural exchange programme and it is easy to understand why: it has operated in more than 155 countries, about 300,000 people have taken part in it since its establishment, and 7,500 people from all over the world receive a scholarship annually.
In Italy, where more than 10,000 people received training under the Italy-US Fulbright Program since 1948, many alumni eventually became influential people later in their life: former prime minister Giuliano Amato, former prime minister and chief diplomat Lamberto Dini, and former minister of economic development Corrado Passera.
If the BRICS(+) really aspires to exist over time, it needs to establish a Fulbright-like network of institutions devoted to the popularisation of their mission and to the training of tomorrow leaders. Perhaps, the first step might be the foundation of a BRICS Academy for wannabe leaders, economists, journalists, and statesmen. Such an academy should ideally have five headquarters, one in each founding member, and branches in the non-founding members, and it should pursue three goals: to promote university and cultural exchanges among the BRICS+, to provide scholarships also to promising students from the rest of the world, to pass on the group’s mission to future generations.