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Malmö Diary: The European Social Forum, 2008

23 September 2008

Malmö Diary: The European Social Forum, 2008

The SP and its youth organisation Rood (Red – pronounced 'rote') was well-represented at the European Social Forum in Malmö this weekend. Rein van Gisteren and Herman Beekers reported daily from the Forum. Below is a summary of what they had to say.

The programme here in Malmö is jam-packed. The organisation wasn't always up to scratch, however: Meetings turned out to have been moved to another neighbourhood, cancelled or even brought forward. For the serious participant, this was frustrating. .

We were just on time for the opening performance of the ESF, held in the Folkets Park – literally the People's Park. A parade of speakers took the microphone, addressing democratic and social rights, ecological interests, war and peace, the Palestinian and Kurdish questions, and unbridled capitalism in general. Waves of applause indicated the agreement of the thousands gathered in the park. The high point was the speech by Vandana Shiva, who spoke about her struggle, together with India's farmers, against genetically manipulated crops. "The fight is not lost," she said. "We are winning more and more ground. A few days ago the biggest investment bank in the US collapsed. An economy based on greed and without respect for the environment will sooner or later collapse. We want a world where the climate is secure, people have enough to eat and our water is a common good. A world where our seeds are not patented, where people don't speculate with our food. Present day hunger and thirst are a result of speculation and privatisation."

Entrance to the European Social Forum
Entrance to the European Social Forum

Vandana Shiva's words made us somewhat melancholic. Hadn't we heard them many times before from well-known activists? And are we any nearer to finding a solution?

Vandana Shiva
Vandana Shiva Eva Gerrebrands
Eva Gerrebrands during her workshop

The next morning Rood activist Eva Gerrebrands got immediately down to work in one of the classrooms at the Folkets Hus (The People's House). Although her workshop, 'From activism to socialism' was not announced in the official programme, and the starting time and location were changed at the last minute, she still attracted a full classroom. There is a great deal of interest throughout Europe in the successful approach of the Dutch SP.

Youth meeting
Youth meeting

In the evening, on the initiative of Rood, an invitation-only meeting was held at the Kvarnby Folkhögskola (People's High School) for a large number of sister organisations, aimed primarily at enabling the exchange of ideas and experiences regarding youth organising. Rood's Leon Botter led the meeting with fervour, while other members of the SP delegation – whose youth organisation days were in most cases well behind them – attended a meeting in which left parties from Russia to France to Greece debated why they find themselves in a crisis which threatens their very existence. Once they'd all spoken there was no time for discussion, so the SP had no chance to try to explain to the assembled European brothers and sisters our party's success, or our philosophy, our 'new optimism'.

Friday 19th September

The European Social Forum is not for the pious, armchair socialist but for active people, most of them young, who want to speak out against injustice, unequal treatment and exploitation. It's a colourful gathering of left activists, peace groups and antimilitarists, 'autremondialistes' and environmentalists, women's groups, trades unions and political parties, solidarity groups and minority organisations. Some groups were watched closely by the ubiquitous police. The ESF is a broad forum for people who want to make a better world, and to start this in Europe. 'A Better Europe Is Possible' could also be seen all over Malmö on posters, stickers and banners, and in many different languages.

The Swedish police were everywhere
The Swedish police were everywhere En annan vald ar mojlig
En annan vald ar mojlig:“Another world is possible”

Unexpected encounters kept cropping up all over the town, too. Such as one over a hot snack in a café set up in a tent, where we met someone called Dag, an energy consultant who was eager to discuss Sweden's membership of the EU. No, we explained to him, the SP is not overjoyed by the handing over of powers from The Hague to Brussels, but we are not against 'Europe', we even have two seats in the European Parliament. Our MEPs have even been able to get parliamentary majorities behind them when it came to not forcing municipalities to put their public transport services out to tender, or the castration of pigs without pre-stunning. "If you can’t beat them…"

Altre mon es possibile
Altre mon es possibile:“Another world is possible”

Malmö offered dozens of choices of event at every moment of the day, more information than a healthy mind can carry, and so it was a matter of choosing. Meetings on women's rights, teaching and sustainability, a seminar on civil rights and occupied countries, there were even ads for Ramallah Nights perfume – the profits from which go towards the struggle against Israeli oppression of the Palestinians.

D'autres mondes sont possibles
D'autres mondes sont possibles: “Other worlds are possible”

The organisation of the ESF is reasonably traditional. For the most part meetings were held in a small classroom setting with a table on a podium at the front, which rather invites one-way traffic. The microphones were too often in the hands of the people on the podium – sometimes the loudspeakers should be turned in their direction. The Belgian educational expert with her sustainability project deserved far more of an audience. On the other hand the representative of the Paulo Freire organisation – not at all in keeping with the revolutionary pedagogic theories of the man from whom it takes its name – monopolised proceedings, apparently interested only in the sound of his own voice.

Musicians in Folkets park
Musicians in Folkets park, “The People's Park”, Malmö's most central public park

Did this Forum bring us a bit closer to a more democratic EU? Contributions in Malmö on this issue were hopefully, for young participants, new and interesting. The EU is now a union of states led by politicians who have no support among the citizens of those states. But it is most certainly not as yet a union of the peoples. Right wing politicians are trying, against the rules of their own game, to introduce a European constitutional treaty which has no support from the people. Even the small change for which the parties of the Dutch governmental coalition, the Christian Democrat CDA and the centre-left Labour Party (PvdA) – no flag, no anthem, no symbols of statehood – sold our referendum's rejection of the treaty, has been quietly returned by Prime Minister Balkenende.

Erik Meijer (left) during the globalisation debate
Erik Meijer (left) during the globalisation debate

Friday afternoon a meeting took place in which SP Euro-MP Erik Meijer played an important role. Meijer told how Europe's relations with past colonies are in reality a continuation of colonial relations: Independence has been achieved, in a political sense, but as far as economic independence goes this has precious little significance. The rich west continues to profit from cheap imports of raw materials. With the income from this, the former colonies can buy our technology. An effective means of perpetuating the poverty of numerous countries.

Continuation of economic colonisation
Continuation of economic colonisation

Saturday 20th September

Unanimity

The ESF programme announced that there would be a large-scale demo on Saturday. It would be a demonstration of unanimity around the fact that another Europe is possible. Anyone who looks at the slogans in the Rose Garden Park here in Malmö realises that the dominant mood among participants is one of anger. Anger over injustice and unequal treatment. Anger over exploitation and discrimination. But it is also, happily, clear that there is a great deal of hope that something can be done and a great deal of energy available to do it. Between two and three o'clock the green of the park gradually turned to red, as the multilingual procession gathered.

European Social Forum
European Social Forum

On the posters calling the demonstration was written 'Makten åt folket' – which it was easy for a Dutch speaker to see meant Power to the People. Another Europe is possible was what we told each other, first and foremost, with our babel of banners. Each other, because during the first hour of the long march from the Rose Garden Park there were far more demonstrators than onlookers. This would improve when we reached the centre of town and lots of residents there hung out of their windows or put down their shopping bags to watch.

Power to the People
“Power to the People”: call to demonstrate Another world is possible, even for Basques
Another world is possible, even for Basques

We marched alongside our hosts from the Swedish Left Party as well as the German Left (Die Linke) and the Danish Enhedslisten, known in English as the Red-Green Alliance. The flag of the European Left Party was also waving merrily, but you have to ask for how long this will be the case. The outlook for the left in Europe is not universally favourable, especially when it comes to the once massive blocs from Italy and France. Progress for the Germans and ourselves makes up somewhat for this.

Truck belonging to the SP's Danish sister party
Truck belonging to the SP's Danish sister party, Enhedslisten, the Red-Green Alliance

The political group in which the SP participates in the European Parliament is the GUE/NGL: European United Left/Nordic Green Left. The group's banner was carried by, amongst others, Erik Meijer and his Swedish colleague Eva Britt Svensson.

A section of the delegation from the United European Left/Nordic Green Left
A section of the delegation from the United European Left/Nordic Green Left, the political group to which the SP is affiliated in the European Parliament Eva Britt Svensson
Eva Britt Svensson (Swedish Left Party) and Erik Meijer (SP) at the start of the demonstration

Svensson is well-known in Sweden, and had to keep stopping to greet passers by. There were, however, only ten times as many demonstrators as police officers present, at least according to the Swedish teletext and the police themselves, who gave the figures as 10,000 and 1,000 respectively.

Sunday 21st September

‘We are water’

The last day of the ESF 2008. Staying on the outskirts of nearby Lund we found that there were no buses to the station where we normally took the short train ride to Malmö. Public transport in this area is in the hands of multinationals such as Arriva and Veolia, well known in the Netherlands.

Windmill park near Malmö
Windmill park near Malmö

The first bus on Sundays did not leave the stop near our hotel until after ten, so that, thanks to Arriva, we would arrive too late for the meeting on the subject of water to be held in the great hall in the People's Park. When we eventually arrived we joined the gathering of people who fervently believe . that water must not be frittered away on the market, but should stay in public ownership. Water is what we ourselves largely consist of, so goes an ad from the bottled water firm Spa. Water has become a scarce resource, one which can be traded, which offers commercial opportunities. 'Water is everyone's" one of those present called out in Spanish.

Italian Water Movement
Italian Water Movement

In at least one country his plea was being ignored, because the Turkish government has plans to carry out the most thoroughgoing privatisation of its national water reserves. The arteries of the country, the lifeblood of its people, springs, lakes and rivers are now threatened with being sold off to multinational corporations, leased for forty-nine year terms. And this privatisation will not happen with any feeling of horror. On the contrary, in March 2009 it will be 'celebrated' with a World Water Forum in Istanbul. Happily there will also be an alternative water forum in Istanbul two months later in May, a gathering of international social movements. Under the slogan 'People, Not Profit', the organisers of the forum are calling on everyone to contribute to making possible a different water policy.

Privatisation? No Thanks!
Privatisation? No Thanks!

At the end of the meeting a European Network for Public Water was established, amongst loud applause. 'Today we have grown a little stronger than we were yesterday,' said a proud chairman. And while an exuberant singer sang 'Water is everyone's' in numerous languages, the organisers had their photographs taken – and reality returned. The ritual meaning of such gatherings should not be denied. But will this water network take us any nearer to our goal? Wasn't a similar European organisation established during the ESF in the Parisian suburb of Evry in 2003? What did it achieve?

The newly-established Water Forum
The newly-established Water Forum

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