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SOME REFLECTIONS ON THE LONDON EUROPEAN SOCIAL FORUM

Wednesday 27 October 2004


by Piero Bernocchi, Marco Bersani, Raffaella Bolini, Salvatore Cannavò,
Roberto Giudici, Maurizio Gubbiotti, Piero Maestri, Alessandra Mecozzi,
Felice Mometti, Luciano Muhlbauer, Alfio Nicotra, Anna Pizzo, Franco Russo

For a year we worked on organizing the London European Social Forum. We were aware that the situation in Great Britain was complex: a great capacity to mobilize, especially against the war, and a wide social participation didn’t coincide with sets of relationships aimed at unity.

The organizing of the ESF resulted in the opening of the English Organizing Committee to the unions and large coalitions, but it wasn’t able to overcome the conflicts and tensions that surfaced during the whole process, in particular the difficult relationships between the political organizations and the unions and grassroots organizations in Great Britain, while an official institutional representation was added under the leadership of the Greater London Authority.

As the ESF’s Italian Working Group we tried during these months to make a positive contribution. And our experience confirmed that the practice of democratic inclusiveness is a fundamental precondition for the movement of movements and must be the essential starting block on the road that will take us to Athens in the spring of 2006.

We made an effort, together with other national delegations, to insure that the tensions wouldn’t lead to indigestible ruptures and to insure that the differences could find ways of coexisting, convinced that the essence of the Forum as a public and welcoming space should be safeguarded. For this reason we positively welcomed the agreements made at the organizing meeting in Berlin that among other things had instituted the autonomous area as part of the Forum.

The great participation from all over Europe - over twenty thousand individuals, mostly youth who for three days packed the plenaries and seminars - is an affirmation that this process is correct and it’s worth the effort to construct it.

During the Forum, as well, we endeavoured totally for a positive and political resolution of the conflicts that arose. In this spirit together with the other European delegations we intervened so that the Forum opened its doors to the hundred or so individuals who on Saturday afternoon organized the interruption of the plenary where Mayor Livingston was originally scheduled to appear.

That same evening the preparatory meeting for the social movements assembly agreed on a statement condemning the behaviour of the police - who had attacked the demonstrators outside the Alexandra Palace and arrested some of them - and committed itself to insure their release.

Nevertheless we believe it’s necessary to reflect carefully upon the fact that for the first time in a European Social Forum, collectively agreed debates were not able to be held. This happened on two occasions: the debate where Livingstone was scheduled to appear, and the antecedent plenary on Iraq. The interruptions were two distinct occurrences with different causes and the work of different groups. In the first instance, the assembly was able to resume, while in the case of the Iraq plenary it had to be annulled. Nevertheless when on the inside of an open space such as the Forum the differences transform themselves in an inability to communicate, then there is a problem.

On Sunday morning, at the beginning of the social movements’ assembly two speeches were made that explained the reasons of the day before protests and, once more, the meeting expressed its solidarity with the arrested comrades.

The meeting’s success, from which a lengthy and compelling document was issued that reaffirms the movement’s united stance against war, racism and neoliberal policies, and sets the date of several European Days of Action, is especially due to the positive climate created by a leadership of the meeting, Europe wide and united, that made room for participatory democracy and respected differences.

The Sunday afternoon demonstration, instead, was entirely organized by the British Organizing Committee. Contrary to the precedent set by Florence and Paris, the European delegations were in no way involved in its organizing: neither in the building of its composition, nor in determining who would speak and be on the stage where all the speakers were British. The only involvement took place during the last European preparatory meeting in Brussels, during which after lengthy discussions the common “platform” was adopted, moreover later obscured by the slogans selected by the British Organizing Committee.

Upon hearing of the arrests and the blockage of the demonstrators that had taken place during the morning at Kings Cross, we immediately intervened upon the British Committee and - with the help of members of the European Parliament - pressured the British police to remove the police block and release those arrested.

The succeeding events that occurred under the stage once again demonstrated that the absence of communication and of a political resolution of the conflicts do not bring anything good for the movements. And we think it is a matter of serious concern for everyone that a comrade, engaged from the beginning in organizing the London ESF, could be arrested in a movement space.

Our commitment to insure that ESF would be an open public space, inclusive of everyone and multicultural, is strengthened by our recent experience. We will bring this firm belief to the European evaluation meeting that will be held in December, where an in depth discussion will have to address the experiences of the last two years and what road we will take in the future.

The large spontaneous participation at the London Forum shows that its course is alive and meets widespread needs. The movement, more and more, is becoming “the movement of movements,” with its own unitary aggregations, its own platforms and agendas - which the Forum must respect, highlight, facilitate their communication and networking. The Forum’s organizing structures must be able to be inclusive and open, build up Forum with a more participatory method, and have the capacity to prevent and, at least, to be able to manage internal conflicts.

Democracy inside the movements is a complex issue and there are no simple recipes, but we can rely on the collective experience accumulated in these years. We are in favour of plurality and many are our differences, but we share a common political and social space, based on our opposition to the war, to the neoliberalism and to racism. So that our plurality can be the motor of growth and enrichment instead of a problem and obstacle, inclusion, listening and reciprocal respect must never be absent.