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[27.02.2005] What is the European social forum and what it wants in Greece

By N. Seretakis, member of the International Section of KKE, Rizospastis

The news that the European Social Forum is seeking to organize its next European convention in Athens has already started to pass in the “small-print” of the newspapers. It is worth, therefore, to remember certain elements concerning what it is, where it originates from and what is the aim of this process.

31 January 2005. The 5th World Social Forum closes its workings in Porto Allegre. In the midst of the closing demonstration of the Forum, the local newspaper “O Sol” writes that “already before Justice are the results of the interrogation which researched irregularities in a contract of millions which concerned the electrical installation of the 5th World Social Forum. The broad probe, effected by the appropriate Service Against Financial Crime, has four volumes and over 700 pages…The thousands of foreigners and of Brazilians going round the area of the activities discussing for a better world without hunger and corruption, could not even imagine that the contract of 1,06 million Real (about 311 thousand euro) signed between the organizers of the Forum and a private electricity company was in its way to justice…”. Overpricing, subcontracting, bribes, all the good things of the “free market” at the service of this “other world which is possible”. “People above profits”, but in no case above “our own” profits…

The origin and the course of the World Social Forum

Of course among the “inhabitants of Jerusalem” such phenomena come as no surprise. Similar phenomena could be seen in the 2nd and 3rd WSF, while the last European Social Forum was organized by a… company, the “United Kingdom - ESF 2004 (London) Ltd”. The multi-tentacle ties of the Fora with sections of the capital, governments and state political forces of socialdemocracy, but also classic conservative ones, the Catholic Church etc, are neither limited nor exhausted to the economic interweavings and funding. They concern mostly the political targets and pursues of the project.

It is by no accident that the “father” of the idea of the WSF, Oded Grazeu, comes from the business circles and even he is at the head of an organization of Brazilian entrepreneurs. The Forum is being born in a, interesting for its composition, meeting in Paris in February 2000, where participants are also Bernard Cassen and Susan George, publishers of “Le Monde Diplomatique” and also Francisco Whitaker, head of the union of Brazilian NGOs, connected with the catholic hierarchy.

The second WSF in 2002, will remain in history for the exclusion of Chavez and his government, and indeed the year where they had the greater need for solidarity. The FARC-EP are also excluded, while the idea to invite Fidel Castro is rejected by the international council.

In 2003 the idea is put forward for a “combination” with the Davos Forum. Lula takes part in both… Mario Soares, a well known international star of socialdemocracy, supports this idea and speaks of the necessity for “a new world contract” between the two for a. In the same wave length is Renato Ruggiero, former manager of WTO and former minister for foreign affairs of Italy. In the WSF the “center-right” is present. Chirac’s government is represented by 3 ministers and indeed the French Equality Minister exclaims in her enthusiasm: “the new consciousness of our era is born in Porto Alegre!”

In view of the invasion to Iraq, the Chairman of the Central Bank of Brazil Enruque Meirelles (basic sponsor of the Forum), speaking in Porto Alegre he expressed the wish: That this war would be a brief one, “cheap” and would not influence the price of oil… and one should not forget that the peace movements are in alert for the mobilization of 15th February, with the slogan “No to the war, with or without a decision of the UN”.

Concern and manipulation

The World Social Forum (WSF) was not an idea of the movements. It was born outside the movements, as a reaction to the appearance of popular movements, due to the concern caused to dominant circles by the explosion in Seattle in 1999 and the signs of an upcoming radicalisation.

Already in 2000, at the meeting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Prague, simultaneously to the events and the demonstrations, we witness for the first time the appearance of a "discussion forum" between representatives of Non Governmental Organisations (NGO) and the IMF, after an initiative by the well-known anticommunist Havel. Certain analysts speak about the "foundation of a new international of the civil society". The idea of "world consent" and of communication channels between the World Social Forum and Davos, as international institutions of "social partners", today constitutes already an applied policy.

Pressure is being accumulated in order for the movements to pass from a position of opposition-confrontation to international imperialistic institutions and their policy, to the formulation of "alternative solutions". In substance, to be trapped "inside the walls". This is also expressed in the renaming of the "anti-globalisation movement" to "movement for an alternative globalisation".

At the same time, every year, and to the extent that top-down structures were formed (social forums on a regional, national and local level), the process was alienated from the movements and their demands. Looking at the program of its last version in Porto Alegre, one could conclude that the big movement against the war in Iraq never existed, particularly if one counts the no more than six (yes, 6!) big seminars that dealt with the subject a few days before the electoral farce in Iraq.

The case of the European Social Forum

The case of Europe and the European Social Forum is very telling. In Europe too, during the last years, the tendencies of awakening are expressed, with a strengthening of struggles, with an intensification of resistance. Mobilisations against imperialist wars were multiplied, manifestations of solidarity to the struggle of Palestinians and other peoples in struggle became stronger. Anti-NATO movements were broadened. In the “one-way” of the European Union of Maastricht and the EMU, the slogan "Against Europe of capital and war" emerged as main slogan in all the big mobilisations at the EU Summits up to 2002, even in places without a strong tradition of anti-EU struggles.

It is a particularly important fact that the mobilisations during the EU Summits take ever stronger anti-NATO and anti-capitalist characteristics, overcoming and challenging the policies promoted both by centre-left and by centre-right governments and coalitions from the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992 and the NATO Summit in 1999. Signs of the times, that the opponent too takes into account: by strengthening the repression, particularly after Gothenburg, by even suspending the reactionary Schengen Treaty itself, when even the minimal margins of bourgeois legality that it leaves constitute a danger.

The organisation of the first European Social Forum in Florence constitutes a point worth reminding. The events in Florence present an important radicalism, which however is a result of this general tendency. The primary result of the ESF is however precisely the opposite: the restriction and the suffocation of radical forces and movements.

Really, the 1st European Social Forum means the castration and the retreat for the movement of counter summits and for the movements that challenge EU policies: in their place appears a "movement" "for another Europe"!!! This goes on well in all Europe, except for the cases where a concrete and powerful intervention by communist forces is developed.

The important demonstrations (anti-NATO in Prague in November 2002, anti-EU in Copenhagen in December 2002, Popular Counter Summit in Thessaloniki, 2003, anti-NATO in Istanbul, June 2004) happened with a leading role by the communists, by the radical anti-imperialist forces, who move beyond and outside the Forums.

A characteristic example for the disruptive effect exerted by the European Social Forum (ESF) is the Italian Presidency of the EU during the second semester of 2003. So there in Italy, the "mother” of the ESF process, after the grandiose mobilisations by "Action- Thessaloniki 2003" in Thessaloniki, with Berlusconi in office and after the war in Iraq, and, what’s more, in view of the ratification of the "euro-constitution", absolutely nothing happened! Not a single European initiative or mobilisation.

What the European Social Forum is after in Greece

The three years that passed from the first European Social Forum are enough time for evaluating also the political positions it declares:

  • It is a warm supporter of the EU enlargement, which has been called "annexation" even by “multicolour” forces. The ESF has never, not even for the sake of appearances, expressed the slightest solidarity to the Turkish left and the popular movement of that country, who are against joining the EU.
  • The leading forces of the European Forum, for the past 3 years, did not find the time to say a word, in their eloquent manifestos, neither for the prohibitions against communists, nor for the apartheid experienced by hundreds of thousands of "non citizens" in Latvia, Estonia, Slovenia.
  • They never formulated any criticism to Maastricht and the 4 freedoms of capital institutionalised by it, nor a contestation of the international imperialist role of the EU.
  • In the "calls” of "social movements" not one line was ever dedicated to the "Lisbon strategy", which constitutes the principle weapon of restructuring.
  • In the last "call” of the ESF of London, referring to the constitutional treaty, it declares that "this draft does not correspond to our expectations", nurturing the illusion -and hence the castration of the movement- that there can exist another, "progressive" draft of the "Euro-constitution"!
  • On the political level, it functions as a "Siloam Bath" [a means for absolution] for social democracy and centre-left government scenarios. As in the case of Spain, where the movement in its entirety was co-opted by Zapatero ... who came up to its expectations, withdrawing his troops from Iraq and sending them to Haiti without anybody saying a word!
    The coming of the ESF to Greece should be interpreted in the light of several elements and motives.

    Firstly, it materialises and becomes a bearer of the European Union’s orientation towards extension over the Balkans, where all its direct candidate members are situated.

    Moreover, it comes to give impulse to centre-left government scenarios. Exactly as it did in Italy, where the radical forces were put into Prondi’s pocket, the civil-disobedience movement disappeared and forces from the anti-war movement started flirting with the idea of an occupation force in Iraq under the mask of the UN.

    Finally, it constitutes an open intervention against the popular movement and struggles in our country. Not only because the European forces have not shown any solidarity at all to the struggles underway (students, farmers, 17 March strike etc.), but also because the local organizers are opposed to these struggles (from the consensus majority of National Confederation of Greek Workers, the accomplices in the "national dialogue" for Education, the Euro-liberals of SYNASPISMOS etc.). Besides, we know the feeling because the same play was staged in June 2003 in Thessaloniki too.

    In any case they can address themselves to the most recent fervent supporter of the World Social Forum, who is no other than ... the chairman of the Commission, Mr Barroso, who indeed speaks about "a movement that in the beginning was wrongfully considered as an anti-globalisation movement"(!!), which has of course matured by now "realising in time that globalisation is inevitable" and today submits constructive proposals.

    On 21.2.2005, speaking to the European Parliament, Mr. Barroso told us that "the new reality of global governance is taking shape. It is defined as much by our formal gatherings in the WTO, the World Bank, the G8 as by the more informal settings provided by the World Social Forum or the World Economic Forum. ... Both Porto Alegre and Davos stand as symbols of one real benefit of globalisation ... One thing which struck me above all else is how the agenda of both gatherings are tending to converge"!!!

    If, furthermore, one thinks that some people seek to hold the 2006 European Social Forum (ESF) in our country, as a regional version of the World Social Forum, then the organizers should send in time an invitation to Mr Barroso, since, as he said, "this year, I participated in the event at Davos; next year I hope the Commission will be able to join the 150 000 people attending the World Social Forum".

    You can tell a man by the company he keeps.

    Under such circumstances, may be "another bank is possible", as the Bank of Brazil advertized on their kiosks at Porto Alegre, but another world, certainly NOT ...

    by Nikos SERETAKIS, member of the International Section

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