At the end of January and for a third consecutive year, a planetary match will take place between two international authorities which do not belong to the United Nations’ system, yet still have a considerable influential, or even prescriptive role. On one side, the 33rd World Economic Forum (only available in English) once again returns to Davos and will endeavour to recover what little stocks and shares it possesses from the portfolio of the deceased ‘Globalisation’ which was alive and kicking in the nineties…and also to survive competition characteristic of the Forum world, which does not escape ‘Market Law’. On the other, the third edition of the quadralingual World Social Forum at Porto Alegre, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul (Brazil), will follow its shifting to a higher gear by seeking to make itself the place to be for analysis, deliberation and suggesting alternative ways of ‘global governance’, in a country that is living in the light of the ‘Lula phenomenon’. The Lula, whose rise to power beggars belief and the potential impact of the precedent is a hot discussion topic amongst the international community. The two Forums are both fighting over him, urging him to attend as the guest of honour – if possible exclusively…
However equally matched they were in the beginning of 2002, this has not continued, on either a ‘qualitative’ or ‘quantitative’ level. The WEF is decreasing in value, which makes it harder for them on all fronts, whereas the WSF is increasing in value, and their most serious worry is which ‘good model of growth’ to choose (following in the example of all start-ups). Now in its thirties the WEF can no longer rid itself of the oligarchic paradigm on which it is founded, and it has even decided to embrace it by reducing the number of participants and guests in relation to 2002, with the alleged motive of ‘ensuring a productive environment’ at the 2003 Forum (the less the merrier in terms of efficiency). For its part, the still youthful WEF aims to achieve a certain maturity, by increasing more than twofold the number of delegates (29,700 in 2003, in place of 12,300 in 2002) sent by the organisations that are represented there (nearly 5000), at the workshops and other activities that it organises (more that 1700).
On a programming level, the WEF remains on the defensive, as it has been since 2001 with its disturbing theme of ‘bridging the divides’ and 2002 with that of ‘leadership in fragile times’. In 2003, it will be ‘building trust’- which in fact means, rebuilding the trust that has been lost on all sides, on the economic, industrial, financial, trading, moral, intellectual and diplomatic stage! ‘Since our last Annual Meeting, confidence in the security of public and corporate life has been shattered as, around the world, apparently robust institutions have been rocked by disaster and scandal’. The global of the formerly triumphant ‘globalisation’ is in crisis, stemming from both an internal and external confidence crisis, sectoral as well as general, affecting the ‘most industrialised’ countries as well as the ‘less advanced’. Davos ski resort is turning into Thomas Mann’s sanatorium, the operating theatre in ‘The Magic Mountain’. And this sanatorium is nothing other than that of ‘globalisation’.
On the other hand, Porto Alegre is not so much a clinical operation as a generator for alternative methods and scenarios within a globalisation, which has fallen short of the mark in so many areas – especially, that of social equity and the fight against poverty – which is exactly reflected in the themes for the 2003 edition. Its themes are: i) issues of production of and access to funds (questions of work, industrial property and allocation of funds and resources…) ; ii) the role of civil society and public forums in the on-going mondialisations (for example, in terms of promotion of democracy, education, information…) ; iii) reformulation of political and ethical questions (tackled from the angle of peace, fundamental rights and integrity)(2) . You will have noticed that the WSF aims are very ambitious and intrinsically multilateral, but also that they remain centred upon the world’s increasing preoccupation with giving ‘mondialisation’ a ‘human face’.
Hence the divide is the most noticeable it has ever been since the first WSF in 2001. The WEF’s Think Global slogan in effect concerns business (principally the Major Players), large ‘civil’ organisations and States. It embarks from the accounting vision of a highly structured globe, where what counts is simply the optimisation of reigning models and laws in favour of the current leaders (be they political, industrial, financial, intellectual or religious, hence the make up of the 500 non-member guest panel), with the aim of consolidating their leaderships. In this sense it is easy to talk about defensive strategy, with both its logic and rhetoric resolutely oriented towards prolonging the present dominations, whatever they might be (hence a superficial feeling of ideological ‘eclecticism’…and the simultaneous invitation of Bush and ‘Lula’).
However, the WSF’s strategy, whose logic is open and properly offensive. In contrast to the WEF (which only exists thanks to the support of its club of member businesses) and the ‘idée reçue’, it does not have a determined clientele to satisfy (syndicates, associations, NGOs…), for its clientele is ‘the world’- a world of citizens conscious of their duties and rights, and desirous of control over its evolution, with no particular dominating interests taking precedence. A world of citizens who can all see their interests reflected in its debate (for example, concerning the respect of the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights, of tolerance and dignity; concerning progress of democracy and education) –even if their personal or professional interests can lead them to deny or reject some of the lines of debate. Therefore the WSF has considerably more room for manœuvre than the WEF, even though the size of its undertaking constrains it to reflecting decisively on its ways and means.
When all is said and done, it is not really the adjectives ‘economic’ and ‘social’ that differentiate the two January Forums. What distinguishes them is essentially what they understand by the ‘world’ - and the relationship between ‘global’ and ‘mondial’ that their programmes and work define explicitly or loosely. Their very conception of the world differs, its contours and content, what it can be and what it should be; it is in this difference in conception that the distinctive identities of these two Forums and will certainly affect their future. What issues are at stake and what should we be trying to achieve? Is it about a globe built of major companies, organisations and powerful states, needing to iron out the ‘divides’, ‘fragility’ and the lack of ‘trust’? Or else a world of citizens rightfully informed, responsible, standing together, united by a body of common values, and striving in the long term to build democracy, equity, and ‘sustainable development’ for all? This is the nature of the choice and all betting has begun on the outcome of the match!
(1) ‘mondial’ refers here to all globalisation processes ongoing in all sectors, not just globalisation of the economy.
2) These themes are in themselves specified in five main work axes (each of which organises numerous panels and conferences): a) ‘democratic and sustainable development’; b) ‘principles and values, human rights, diversity and equality’; c) ‘media, culture and counter hegemony’; d) ‘ political power, civil society and democracy’ and : e) ‘the world democratic order, fight against militarization and for peace’.