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The European Social Forum in Paris

kathy | 14.11.2003 17:34

The European Social Forum in Paris (2003) is the third event of its kind, following the World Social Forum in Porte Alegre, Brazil (2001) and the European Social Forum held in Florence (2002). Paris is an ideal setting for this bunch of human rights activists given that the Treaty of Versailles was signed by a group of peacemakers in this city in January 1919.

It is time for a positive change. Activists are meeting to create their own forum rather than protesting against others’ meetings. In 2000 the IMF and World Bank met in Prague to discuss third world debt amongst other globalised issues. This was the follow up to Seattle which saw some of the worst violence on the streets being shown on television. This was a radical protest against the richest countries of the world and their unfair trade rules.

Full of allusions to the Velvet Revolution, the divisions I witnessed in Prague were more reminscent of the Spanish Civil War. The place was full of paranoia, police, and provocation of violence. The media was full of analysis of the failure of an ‘anti-globalisation movement’. Direct Action represented clear physical empowerment but it needs to be backed up with clearly thought out alternative proposals, and perhaps a polemicist for the 20th century! I stayed in Camp Strahov before it was raided, an accommodation centre which capitalised on the anti capitalists. These were my impressions:

The police are human beings too. But in full riot gear the lines of helmets mechanically banging their riot shields, it is difficult to think of them as anything other than automatons of global oppression. Capitalisms hegemonic power now means that economic globalisation is seen as inevitable, and a departure from the system unthinkable.

Dubbed by cynics as an inevitable repeat of Seattle, and by utopians as the start of revolution, citizens of Prague were led to expect violent conflict rather than the spread of peace and love. President Havel noted the preparations for the protests surrounding the week’s conference were similar to that before a civil war. ‘They were coming to wreak havoc on the city: the anarchists, communists, militant, disenfranchised members of society clad in black scarves and gas masks and waging war on security and order. Many residents left Prague for the week, shops and schools closed and the evacuated city was set up as a battleground with ten policemen on every street corner. The protesters meanwhile arrived to find residents too scared to speak to them.

Using antagonistic intimidation and always ultimately the threat of physical foce. The police are the armies of governments which can only survive if they preserve the status quo ultimately only possible because of its monopoly over the legitimate means of violence (Weber). Disempowered and frustrated, the angry stone hurlers succumbed to the continuous employment of antagonistic intimidation and the inducement of fear and paranoia. But when you have been recondtructed by society as a criminal, systematically and brutishly silenced, it has become the only expression of discontentment available.



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  1. strange article — steve