Within four years, the World social forum has succeeded in drawing the world’s attention, thanks to the originality of its process, methods and execution, which are not challengeable. However, it has not yet become a key player on the world stage, able to promote innovative propositions taking up today’s major challenges, and then negotiate their implementation with multilateral organisations and with governments.
After the 2003 edition that was struck by organisational problems and the difficulty to come up with a common agenda, after the 2004 WSF held in Mumbai that failed in identifying a consensual strategy, this year’s fifth edition, which takes place in Porto Alegre from the 26th to 31st January, sounds decisive. Questions about the organisation (the present one is said to be on its last legs), about a “less elitist meeting” (inviting minorities, underprivileged groups), about the next Forums (the 2006 edition could take place in several cities simultaneously, the 2007 one in Africa…)...That is to say, existential issues about the future of a movement which focuses on three priorities: utility, efficiency, and perennity.
This year again, the WSF raises most of the questions which do mobilise the international civil society, represented through the 2500 activities planned during 5 days by some 2000 organisations and grouped around 11 “thematic axes”. One can realise this by simply reading the titles of some of these rallying issues: “Autonomous thought, re-appropriation and socialisation of knowledge and technologies”, “Defending diversity, plurality and identities”, “Assuring and defending Earth and people’s common goods – as alternative to commodification and transnational control”, “Peace, demilitarisation and struggle against war, free trade and debt”, “Towards the construction of international democratic order and people’s integration”, “Human rights and dignity for a just and egalitarian world”…
This range of themes aims at encompassing all the concerns carried by social and educational movements, NGOs, humanitarian organisations and foundations, as well as by all the people who, since the failure of the Seattle WTO summit in 1999, are committed to analyse, to assess the major causes for ongoing world disorders, but also to “build alternatives”, to prefigure “another possible world”.
These questions, however, do not carry themselves the guarantee that the “answers” brought forward will bring about adequate political translations, or else concrete implementations at the different levels involved (multilateral, regional, national and local). And this is regardless of the intercultural and interdisciplinary performance embodied by the Forum itself. Whatever its large audience, popularity and communication potential. Indeed, what is actually built, at this stage, is no more than a Babel Tower whose architecture, means and ends do remain problematic, despite the amazing effort of translation assumed by civil society, and particularly by an international network of volunteer interpreters which are precisely called… Babels!
One is even entitled to ask whether the new concept used for this WSF by its Organising Committee is anything else than a rhetorical argument justifying a headlong rush in front of responsibilities that are far more constraining than the hosting and achievement of the event per se. In fact, when this Committee claims that it “did not propose any workshop”, but on the contrary assigned the conception and management of the program to the participating organisations, one has the right to ask about the nature of such a “policy” so informal and dislocated that it could well have nothing to do with … politics!
Considering the historical over-simplification (“simplisme”) showed by the Bush administration in his approach and treatment of the “world affairs”, a simplisme reinforced in the inaugural addresses of both the re-elected president and her adviser Rice; one can doubt whether the best method for the WSF is to multiply a myriad of workshops with limited audience and with limited chance to get their messages heard at the international level.
One can certainly argue that this is precisely the WSF ambition not to play the normative (geo)political game, not to simply react to the matrix practice of established domination relations or to the multilateral governance paradigms. One can grant that to look for its own way requires the patience of concept, but also the time for deliberation and negotiation with the multitude of actors involved.
Alas! the world affairs agenda for 2005 and beyond is surely not ready to wait for the results of this long work of decantation and elaboration. It is heavier than ever, and demands immediate and convincing responses, voluntary proposals, at least on the following issues (such list non exhaustive!): implementation of a sustainable peace in the Middle East, mobilisation around the Millennium objectives (in danger), UN reform, WTO reform and reactivation of the Doha process, current regional integration processes, biodiversity threats, climatic changes, and finally projected adoption by the UNESCO at the end of 2005 of a constraining international convention on the preservation and promotion of cultural diversity.
It is on such issues that we do hope for the clear and distinct voice of the WSF, which has to care less about its perennity than about its efficiency.
(Translated by Camille Joseph and Victor Conradsson)