Perplexed by the crisis
The economic slump left its mark on the WEF in davos, but the world social forum in belem is also looking for a perspective
Where should the journey go? This question was asked in the past few days by the elites from business and politics at the world economic forum in davos, as well as by the many thousands of globalization critics who met at the same time in the brazilian city of belem for the world social forum. At both meetings we love to see more active politicians than in the past years. At both meetings, the question of perspective was no longer surmountable. But here the similarities already stop.
Chancellor merkel was also there and called for a world economic council, while praising the german social market economy as exemplary. Photo: swiss-image.Ch/photo by sebastian derungs
The philosophy of WEF founder klaus schwab is that the fate of politics and economics can be regulated with a bit of esotericism, a lot of good will and the right ambience. The fact that most of the guests saw the meeting more as an extended weekend with an interesting side program did not detract from schwab’s success. The leading politicians of the world met in davos.
But this year it became clear at several points that schwab’s hubris is more appearance than reality. Turkish prime minister tayip erdogan left a discussion with israeli president peres on camera, ranting loudly, and left to be celebrated in turkey as a fighter against israel (lunch or war)?=. One can see in it an indication of the worldwide anti-israeli sentiment, which an islamic conservative who has been pretending to be moderate in recent years is exploiting as an election campaign aid. But one can also interpret the incident as a total failure of the WEF strategy, where one relied more on the spirit of davos than on a competent moderation.
The global players from politics and business, who had been so self-confident in recent years, were most unsettled by the slump in the economy. This year’s motto "shaping the world after the crisis" give the impression that everything is under control. The reality of the situation was not hidden from the media representatives present. When the asian head of the investment bank morgan stanley, which has been particularly hard hit by the crisis, calls for more effective supervision of the financial markets and, when asked, admits that he himself does not know who could take on this task, the perplexity becomes clear. "This session was not funny. Nevertheless, folks, have a nice davos", the moderator’s closing remarks sounded like the famous "whistling in the woods".
Participants at the world economic forum in davos. Picture: swiss-image.Ch/christof sonderegger
Dancing for a better world
Ulrich brand, who has been working for many years on an emancipatory critique of globalization in practice and for some time now also theoretically as a scientist, reminded us in an article at the beginning of the WEF that concepts for a more just and ecological world economy were not to be expected from davos, but at the meeting of globalization critics in belem.
In fact, the world social forum was a direct response and counter-proposal to the WEF. Unlike the elites in switzerland, the WSF did not want to discuss world salvation plans in secluded mountain resorts. Rather, the world’s social movements, also called civil society, were to present their utopias and concepts at the social forums. Since a central event would not do justice to the grassroots approach, continental, transnational and regional social forums soon became fashionable.
Some celebrated the social forum movement before ca. 10 years as the model for a completely new form of civil society politics with flat hierarchies. Social movements, non-governmental organizations and citizens’ initiatives, rather than party politicians, were to be the actors there. Inspired by the zapatista uprising and the rise of the anti-globalization movement, the social forum movement became a media event and, to some extent, a political factor at the start of this millennium. One of the high points was the worldwide day of action against the iraq war in february 2003, which was initiated by the world social forum and met with a millionfold response (the first global or planetary demonstration).
But this date also showed the limits of the social forum movement. The coalition of the willing under the leadership of the USA simply ignored the protest. With the growth of the social forum movement, fault lines and contradictions became clear, which were also evident in belem. When five latin american presidents paid their respects there, it is no longer possible to speak of a politician-free zone. Only a few years ago, venezuelan president chavez had to rent an area next to the WSF for his appearance, because at that time the ban on politicians was still in force. There was an exception for brazil’s head of state lula from the host country of the WSF. In the past years, he had the ambition to build a bridge to the WEF and jetted from the WSF- porto alegre to davos. This year, for the first time, he refrained from a flying visit to switzerland. This could also be interpreted as a point victory of the globalization critics.
But in the WSF, the debate about perspective. The fact that today, even at the WEF in davos, demands are being made for regulation of the financial markets and that the globalization critics have run out of topics to discuss is the least of their problems. In fact, not only anti-globalization but also anti-capitalist tones were heard in belem.
But how fond the ubergange can sometimes be, can be seen in the texts of the publicist daniela dahn, who distinguished herself as an eloquent campaigner against injustice at various world social forums, only to report a few weeks ago as a participant in a german-arab dialogue in dubai almost schwarmerisch from this elite meeting in the 7-star hotel in the wustensand.
Is there really room for everyone in this world??
The problem is rather a non-commitment, which leads to the fact that in one place indigenous people act against the construction of a dam and a few meters away some trade unionists present exactly this dam as a special proof of progress. This can be defended with the zapatista slogan "in this world there is room for many worlds". The indigenous groups were pointed out that in practice they are displaced from their places by the dams.
Behind these problems are unresolved questions that have accompanied the social forum movement since its founding. Should it continue to be only a forum for all initiatives and non-governmental organizations, which in case of doubt can also represent contradictory goals?? What role do politicians play there? Some also argue for a counter-design to davos. While in switzerland politicians consult with leading companies, at the WSF there should be an equal exchange between left-wing politicians and social movements. This kind of self-confidence was undoubtedly gladly accepted by the politicians present, who have already emphasized that the left-wing governments in latin america would have been inconceivable without the WSF. On the other hand, other initiatives warn against closing ranks with politics and want the WSF to be a strong forum for civil society.
Outside of latin america, the relationship between the social forum movement and governments is also much more tense. Probably there will be no WSF next year. Critics complain that the annual meetings devote so much time and energy to preparations, leaving too little capacity for actual policy work.
The WEF’s ability to mobilize will become clear on 28 september. March 2009 show this day was proclaimed in belem as an international day of action for a social response to the economic and financial crisis and is aimed at the G-20 summit in london. In germany this day of action will get more attention. For some weeks now, social groups, trade unions and the left party have been mobilizing for two nationwide demonstrations in berlin and frankfurt/main under the slogan "we will not pay for your crisis". "Preparations have already begun in mid-december. From the proclamation of the action day we raised ourselves naturally ruckenwind with the mobilization", a member of the preparatory alliance told telepolis.