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Schwab says unity will be theme of Davos 2002

Klaus Schwab remains a staunch defender of globalisation

(Keystone Archive)

The founder and president of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, says "Coping Together With Fragility" is to be the theme of the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos next year.

Schwab was speaking to swissinfo at Zurich's Federal Institute of Technology where he received a less than warm welcome from around 100 student protesters last week.

The students blocked the entrance to the Institute's main hall where Schwab intended to give a speech on globalisation and social responsibility. Schwab was eventually led into another room where he was able to address a smaller audience than planned.

Surrounded by bodyguards and heavy police security, Schwab and his World Economic Forum seem to attract controversy wherever they go. There was violence at the Forum's recent European summit in Salzburg and its annual meeting in Davos in recent years has attracted plenty of attention for the regular clashes between police and protesters.

Along with the European Union, the G7 and the World Bank, the Forum has become the focus for those who criticise globalisation for widening the gulf between the haves and the have-nots.

Schwab remains a fierce defender of globalisation and argues that it has lifted millions, if not billions, out of poverty. But he admits that the pace of change raises concerns.

"Globalisation is a revolution happening at tremendous speed and it requires a readiness for change that creates anxiety for many people. The world has become very complex and for many globalisation is a scapegoat."

The Swiss government faced much criticism earlier this year for turning Davos into a fortress for the Forum's meeting and banning protests in the resort.

Some non-governmental organisations even threatened to boycott next year's meeting unless the Forum found a way to accommodate those wishing to demonstrate.

But Schwab says that the decision about whether to let protests go ahead is a matter for the Swiss government and not the Forum.

"If I had to take the decision I would always allow demonstrations," he said, "but with the guarantee that there is no violence. Demonstrations were only banned last year when organisers refused to renounce violence."

The theme for Davos 2001 was "Bridging The Divides", which, the Forum says, was an attempt to address some of globalisation's pitfalls. Next year's theme will be "Coping Together With Fragility".

"Everything is put into question at any time," he says. "We have at the moment a fragile environment. The CO2 question is just one of the examples. We also have a very fragile situation in the Mid East and the Balkans. So how to cope together will be the theme of the next general meeting."

Other issues on the horizon already threaten to swamp concerns over the global divide between rich and poor. Over the next decade, Schwab says one of the greatest challenges will be how to respond to the biological revolution.

"It's a revolution that affects us directly because for the first time our identity becomes a fragile question. Cloning is the issue that will preoccupy many people and it will become a major concern of the general population."

Schwab expects the first human being to be cloned by the end of next year. But he says we may not find out as the experiment could be conducted by a rogue state or organisation.

Schwab clearly believes that the World Economic Forum still has a role to play in formulating our responses to the challenges ahead.

His critics think otherwise, seeing the Forum as part of the problem rather than as part of the solution.

The lines are clearly drawn for further clashes.

by Michael Hollingdale


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