| European Social Forum at Malmo
THE FORLORN FORUM
Photo by Tiziana Turatello
MALMO, Sweden, September 21 - If little else the European Social Forum (ESF) in Malmo this month ventilated the diverse
aspirations of the alternative movement and the difficulty of a reunifying theme to make the dream work.
On paper the theme was â€˜Another Europe is possibleâ€™ but in reality, at least for the moment, it seems impossible to merge
the myriad of groups and their agendas into any kind of functional strategy to stop our headlong race towards the destruction of the
planet and the collapse of our social and economic system.
What the Forum aired, admirably, were the defects of a global society in the grip of corporate greed, escalating racism,
privatization of public goods and services, the erosion of civil rights through new regulations based on the contrived fear of so-called
terrorism, a society driven by â€˜permanent wars,â€™ inequalities, injustices and a wealth gap that has become an abyss.
The irony of Malmo was this: As scores of seminars debated the â€˜evilsâ€™ of our mercenary society and
proposed remedies and battle calls some of the principal icons of that very society were already imploding at the core
of the system on Wall street.
While this financial meltdown is no reason for triumphal-ism, since it will affect everyone, it does make it more urgent to
find an alternative system and remedies beyond plucking up leaks with vast sums of money only to find new and bigger leaks opening
elsewhere or denouncing the avarice of neo-liberalism and its fat cat beneficiaries.
When Michael Hardt (co-author with Antonio Negri of â€˜Empireâ€™ and â€˜Multitudeâ€™) told a packed auditorium the
United States â€˜is no longer as powerful as it thinksâ€™ he was stating the obvious as more American financial giants crumpled, the
American system began to shake and shiver and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan became no-win propositions.
â€œEven in Latin America, the old backyard of U.S. imperialist practices, the U.S. is no longer able to impose its
hegemony or domination,â€� Hardt added casting the focus on a part of the world thumping its nose at Uncle Sam these days.
In general Malmo, basically, was old style protest again with little creativity, no novelty. In the final street demonstration the
trade unions, often accused of being corrupt, were out front, the good-Samaritan Christians behind, then came the masked black
block radicals ready to tear it all down, the anti-U.S. bases movement, the pro-abortion people, a group of Maoists, a gaggle of dye-in-
the wool communists and last and certainly not least lots of banners for human rights, whatever they are these days.
â€œIn this context of global crisis, we want to reaffirm that alternatives do exist for global justice, peace,
democracy and the environment,â€� said the final declaration of the Forum.
Alternatives have always existed. The problem is how to implement them without lobbing off if not all at least large parts of
the existing system.
If there was anything truly enjoyable about Malmo it was the diversity of its participants, their enthusiasm and their
eagerness, sometimes excessively long, in proposing â€˜what we should do.â€™ Everyone listened even though many of the
suggestions were generated more by idealism then practicality.
In reality it was a report by various groups to a Forum functioning as some kind of central mother movement with some of
the moderators already acting as if they had been given a divine mandate â€“ though no one knew who had anointed
them. Still many reports were of great informative interest.
The Greek students pointed out new campus regulations forced them to attend classes or forfeit passes. This virtually
prevented political campus mobilization. In past years, as elsewhere in Europe, students left lectures to be attended and copied for
them by a few comrades while the rest demonstrated or attended political meetings.
The practice of rightwing governments to stifle opposition and criticism has also affected the last vestiges of the critical
media. An editor from Le Monde Diplomatique extolled his paperâ€™s practice to use 1,500 worldwide â€˜contributorsâ€™ to cut
costs while the Italian government has virtually given the coup dâ€™grace to the last critical dailies that Prime Minister Silvio
Berlusconiâ€™s media empire does not control. The government is rescinding the law granting an annual financial subsidy to all
dailies. Leftwing newspapers like the feisty Il Manifesto, run as a cooperative, have depended heavily on this subsidy and now face
closure leaving Italy without the voice of a Cassandra while the barbarians are already inside the gates.
As expected the mass media faced fearsome flak.
Bolivian journalists complained the western media has conducted a scare campaign to pave the way for a Pinochet-style
takeover by depicting Bolivia in the grip of a civil war, a highly exaggerated assessment of the countryâ€™s internal situation. The
charge is that, led by the USA, the mass media is promoting the ambitions of multi-nationals to control and exploit â€“ through friendly
governments â€“ the considerable energy resources of countries like Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Brazil.
One of the most prominent topics was a fiery debate rejecting the notion of western societies to equate the freedom
struggle of countries with terrorism. The motto of the debate was â€˜Freedom Struggle is not Terrorism.â€™
Coupled with this debate was a movement calling for the dissolution of NATO as a military organization no longer
necessary after the end of the Cold War. At the same time there was a call for the dismantling of the 200 U.S. military bases in Europe
which have virtually colonized â€˜the old continent.â€™
(The people of Vicenza, Italy, have forced a referendum this month to stop a U.S. Air Force base being build on the
very edge of their city under an agreement with the U.S. that goes back to the end of World War II.)
The Forum was told 14 US military bases are planned for Iraq to maintain control of the oil. Yet if the host countries
refused to renew their base agreements, as did the Philippines in the 1990s, there would be no more military bases from which the
Americans could launch their attacks on those countries blacklisted as members of the â€˜Axis of Evil.â€™
It is now accepted that national European armed forces have become no more then part of an international armed
forces under U.S. command and that NATO has ceased to be a defense organization against possible aggression but functions as an
instrument for military intervention.
People in Iraq and Afghanistan want US troops out of their country today.
â€œIn 2,000 we knew under the Taliban what we could do and what we could not do. Today there is now such
knowledge and the situation in Afghanistan is worse then it was under the Taliban according to report by the UN
Development Agency,â€� said an Afghani human rights worker.
In a candid address Norwegian aid specialist Alexander Harang said all donor countries of development aid are now
also involved in military operations and the prevailing wisdom today is â€œin order to help we need troopsâ€¦.but I wonder how you
can win hearts and minds with bombs?â€�
The result of the escalation of military action has killed twice as many aid workers as in previous years and this resulted
in a roll back of civilian involvement.
Today out of 480 aid projects in Afghanistan today only 24 are run by civilians. The rest are under military
â€�We cannot be neutral and it is impossible now to be impartial. There is no room anymore for real
humanitarianism,â€� Harang told the Forum.
â€�Today we are legitimizing war through development aid which we use to win the war,â€� he added
While European leaders tell their public participation in the Afghanistan operation is to rebuild and help the country in
reality, so Harang said, the balance between civilian and military aid is now about eleven times more military aid then development aid.
(The exception is Norway which budgets an equal 750 million Euro for both military and development aid)
This means the military conflict in Afghanistan is now being fought with development aid and donor
agencies should know this, the Norwegian said.
â€œDevelopment aid is being used as a weapon,â€� he added.
Harang lamented the lack of critical reporting from Afghanistan due to aid personnel and journalists being â
€˜embeddedâ€™ by the military. He said at the beginning of the conflict the NGOs were the major source of information for the media.
But today the NGOs are â€˜fenced inâ€™ by the military and see the Afghan situation through the eyes of the military who force
everyone to abide by their rules.
(In 2004 the Nobel Prize winning aid group â€˜Doctors without Bordersâ€™ withdrew from Afghanistan because it
refused to accept the militarized aid system. If other aid organizations acted or threatened to act in a similar way governments and the
military would have to rethink their war-financing strategy or make concessions)
At the same time the aid projects have turned into lucrative profiteering with at least 40 per cent of the donations
returning to the donor. For example the U.S. claims for every dollar spent you get two and a half dollars back, most of it in tax relief.
Harang said in one incident he saw a U.S. business sent into Afghanistan its own painters at enormous cost just to paint the faÃ§ade
of an Afghan school financed by American aid.
( This donor bonanza is reminiscent of the UN operation in Cambodia in the 1990s when the U.N. spent three billion
dollars to safeguard a democratic election which was anything but democratic. The UN doled out a fortune importing housing, four-
wheel drives, food and even mineral water from Japan for its troops. In the end the UN operation left the country as poor as before but
enriched scores of suppliers and shrewd operators of the â€˜occupation infrastructure.â€™)
As European dissent struggles for a platform or an icon the Forum turned its attention to Latin America which many
leftists consider â€˜a beacon of hopeâ€™ for a more humane and egalitarian System.
But Latin America too continues to carry heavy luggage from the past with a stubborn oligarchy fighting
populist innovations at every step while clinging for support to their American masters.
A representative of the â€˜soon-to-beâ€™ created Banco del Sur offered a peek into a continent which he
said had accumulated vast central bank reserves since 2005, â€˜three times higher then the rich countriesâ€™ thanks
to the skyrocketing prices of primary material.
â€œBut what they did with this money was to buy debt titles from the U.S. so financing North American
development by three per cent. At the same time they asked for loans from the International Bank System with interests
rates as high as 12 per cent, in the case of Argentina as high as 40 per cent,â€� the bank representative said.
In an effort to divest and separate the oligarchs from their pro-American tick the regionâ€™s new leaders decided to
create a South American Banco del Sur. This project between â€˜enlightenedâ€™ South American countries was born in 2007 and
given three months to become active. Today, ten months later, the bank remains inactive, hobbled by political squabbles and â
€˜resistanceâ€™ from the old power blocks. The delay is sold to the public as technical problems.
In the meantime both Brazil and Venezuela have created their own banks.
Some of the Latin Americans visitors at the Forum did ask some blunt questions, like: â€˜I saw more McDonalds in
Europe then hospitals and schools. Why are Latin American social movements progressing yet nothing in Europe moves forward?â€™
One of the major topics at the Forum was the plight of immigrants, the majority from the war and drought-devastated sub-
Sahara region. This exodus is coupled to the birth of both official and unofficial Mafias that run the smuggling of people into Europe.
It is estimated there are now eight million illegal immigrants in Europe.
A special European agency, called FRONTEX, has become the scourge of these immigrants. Frontex agents, specially
trained, have confiscated water and fuel from boat people in the Mediterranean forcing them to turn back to Libya which together with
Morocco is the main exit gate to Europe for illegal immigration. Frontex intends to become a kind of CIA on immigrants, tracing,
tracking immigrants and archiving information.
According to one Italian lawyer active among illegal immigrants these immigrants are generally treated â€˜worse then
animals.â€™ The Forum was told about inhuman detention camps in the Ukraine and Slovakia, some holding one thousand people in
shocking conditions as the immigrants are being shoved back and forth between borders.
Alone 100,000 have crossed into the Ukraine to enter Europe of which 10,000 are still detained in the Ukraine a country
which has granted asylum to only 33 applicants. The immigrants are maltreated and fleeced of their last belongings, according to
human rights workers.
Neither NGOs nor human rights organizations are permitted to inspect or visit these camps. The few inspections allowed
have been organized guided tours â€“ well prepared in advance.
In a world increasingly immune to the plights of the less fortunate or â€˜the othersâ€™ Forums like those at Malmo try their
best to galvanize public compassion or debate. They usually fail because the mainstream media has already dismissed their
participants as leftwing rabble out to smash something.
In fact many at the Forum complained unless there was a clash with police no news organization would take notice of the
Forum. The complaint was correct: The only news from Malmo was a stand-off with an admirably self-controlled Swedish police
contingent during which stones were thrown and a bank window was broken.
Of course the Swedish and European mass media immediately described this rather meek incident as â€˜Chaos in Malmo.â