LONDON, Oct 25 (IPS) - The third European Social Forum appears to mark the end of the "love story" between grassroots social movements and the international gatherings that are now in vogue. In any case, discontent in both camps -- the activists and the official organisers -- will leave a mark on future events.
For the first time since its inaugural edition in November 2001, the European Social Forum (ESF) was openly criticised by grassroots activists.
Anarchist groups and "media-activist" networks like Indymedia decided to gather autonomously in self-organised spaces -- the anarchists prepared events under the banner 'Beyond the ESF'; Indymedia set up a centre in Central London, and other groups held events at the "squatted" (peacefully occupied) social centre RampArt.
"There have been autonomous spaces before, but they have always been requested from the official process. In this case, people didn't want to ask to be given a space to be autonomous in: they wanted to demonstrate their ideas of self-organisation by organising themselves," activist Dave, from Indymedia UK, told IPS.
The main themes being debated in the so-called "autonomous spaces" were the precariousness and flexibility of labour, migration and migrants' rights, communication issues and the movement's next steps -- including protests at the meeting of the G8 (group of eight most industrialised countries) in Scotland in July 2005.
Several thousands of people attended the "autonomous" meetings daily.
Participants at the "main" ESF attended more than 500 meetings and listened to more than 250 speakers. Although some of the same items, such as G8 protests, were on the agenda, those at Beyond the ESF opposed their approach to discussions.
"The debate here is more responsive to our needs. The fact that only the 'leading activists' can speak in the official Forum is extraneous to our way of action," said an Italian activist.
Also for the first time, the Forum was targeted by protests. Around 300 activists from 'Beyond the ESF' entered Alexandra Palace to interrupt a panel that London Major Ken Livingston was supposed to attend, disappointing the organisers.
"We criticise the authoritarian control over the Forum process of a small number of groups: the Social Workers' Party, Socialist Action and Livingston's London Great Authority," said Dave. "Local authorities and political parties were dictating the (rules of the) Forum through the control of budget."
"The process in the UK reflected everything we are fighting against -- the manipulation and the construction of the movement in someone's political interest," Julie B from the Forum volunteer translators' group, Babels, told IPS. "Political parties should not be there anyway."
The Forum charter of principles adopted in 2001 by the Brazilian Organisation Committee states, "neither party representations nor military organisations shall participate in the Forum." It adds, the Forum is a "plural, diversified, non-confessional, non-governmental and non-party context."
The next meeting must be organised with a more participatory and horizontal process, say activists.
"Some people view the Forum as a political conference to be organised like a conference; all about selling tickets and booking big-name speakers. But we see the Forum as a process, and within the organising process people can build new networks and strengthen solidarities. If this method of organising continues, the Social Forum will become politically bankrupt," said Dave.
Karen Banks from the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) organised, with Indymedia, the Forum on Communication Rights. According to her, "Most of the preparatory meetings seemed to be conducted in a very alien and exclusive way. This is one of the reasons we organised the counter-activities."
Such reactions to the official Forum are seen as a turning point in some movements' strategies towards the large gatherings, which are offspring of the World Social Forum (WSF) in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
Italian activist networks GlobalProject, Invisibili and Ya Basta published an open letter on their website to discuss the "London contradictory days," and called for reflection on the future of social forums.
In London, the grassroots networks "produced a common agenda which can go beyond the closed and sclerotising ESF -- a European event on precariousness and migration in Berlin next January and the European day of conflict against the migrants' detention camps, on Apr. 2," they announced.
The next ESF is scheduled for 2006.
"Many people who are critical of the Social Forum want to take the opportunity to use the time in between to re-evaluate what the social forums are about and to re-examine the basis on which they are organised," said Dave.
"If 'another world is possible' (the motto of the forums), the biggest question is: 'how do we arrive at another world'? If social forums continue as in London, there will be increasing voices of dissent and increasingly calls for a boycott of the forums," he added.
What do the organisers say? IPS tried to contact the director of the organising body 'ESF Company', Kate Hudson, several times, by phone and by e-mail, but she did not reply. (END/2004)