For this third European Social Forum in London, Babels has assembled more than 500 volunteers to interpret in all plenaries and seminars. Speakers have been able to express themselves in more than 15 different languages and delegates from more than 60 countries have been able to follow and participate in those debates.
We exist to facilitate multi-lingual comunication in forums and processes that abide by the principles of the World Social Forum Porto Alegre Charter. The most important of these principles are: (1) that the Social Forum does not constitute “a locus of power to be disputed by the participants in its meetings”; and (2) the Social Forum is a plural, diversified, non-confessional, non-governmental and non-party context that, in a decentralised fashion, interrelated organisations and movements engaged in concrete action at levels from the local to the international to build another world”.
Our aim is to bring those principles to life by enabling the largest number of people to participate as fully as possible in social forums by breaking down language barriers and offering the means to understand one another in a multi-lingual and multi-cultural environment. Perhaps our most important principle is that of self-organisation: we aim to develop the political and technical means for the forums to organise autonomously from the capitalist sphere and demonstrate that another world is not only possible, it is already being constructed.
However, many opportunities of experimentation and innovation have been missed during the organisation of this forum resulting in the exclusion of many people, organisations, networks, groups, and even countries. This is in total contradiction to the Porto Alegre Charter. Instead, classical neo-liberal practices of organisation, management and service delivery have been employed, with the result that the Forum has been entirely dependent on the state.
This has had disastrous consequences for the self-development of our movements. The inclusion of networks of activists and volunteers not only enables the largest possible collective of people in the construction of alternatives, but also the inclusion of the largest number of social and political actors – creating a dynamic of ever-increasing mobilisation of the social movements. This Forum has been an distressing experience of de-mobilisation, not only in terms of the number of delegates (less than half than previous years), but also the chronic shortage of volunteers to help make a successful Forum possible.
Finally, as you prepare to discuss how we must fight against racism and fascism in Europe today, we want to inform you that some of our fellow volunteer interpreters cannot be here today because they were not allowed to enter the United Kingdom. This is a direct result of the racist immigration and asylum policies of the British Labour government and another example that Fortress Europe is a reality not a slogan. In particular, several interpreters coming from Turkey, Russia, Romania, the Maghreb countries (Tunisia, Algeria, Morrocco, Lybia), and the Middle East were refused their visa. It is sad to report that the way in which the ESF was organised this year did not help this situation.
Coordinators of Babels International Network of Volunteer Interpreters and Translators (and not Social Forum translation service as you may have read in the official programme).