Social unrest in France upsets G-8 protests

Protesters are gathering, but the scale of demonstrations remains uncertain Keystone

As G-8 leaders gather in Evian this weekend, tens of thousands of anti-globalisation activists are planning to stage demonstrations and events in Switzerland and France.

This content was published on May 29, 2003 - 10:56

But organisers warn that widespread protests in France over proposed pension reforms are likely to keep many demonstrators away.

"The protests are going to be much smaller than we hoped because the French unions are thick in the battle against the destruction of their country's retirement plans," said anti-summit organiser, Olivier de Marcellus.

"We're certainly not going to go over 50,000 people... if we get that many, I'll be very happy because this is happening at the same time as a lot of really important social struggles," he told swissinfo.

Debt tribunal

Despite the unexpected drop in numbers, major activities have been planned on both sides of the border to coincide with the annual G-8 meeting.

The summit, which brings together the leaders of the world's seven most-industrialised nations and Russia, officially kicks off in the French resort of Evian on Sunday.

Neighbouring Switzerland will play host to a series of conferences and discussions, including a "Drop the Debt" tribunal in Geneva and a "counter-capitalism" village in Lausanne.

On the other side of Lake Geneva, the French city of Annemasse will host the "Summit for Another World," which will argue that the G-8 "does not have a place in democratic global governance".

Campaigners from both sides will take to the streets on Sunday, marching from Geneva and Annemasse to the Franco-Swiss border crossing at Thônex-Vallard, where they will join forces.

A smaller protest - with about 4,000 marchers - took place in Lausanne on Thursday, where leaders from 12 African nations and other emerging countries are staying during the G-8, as part of "extended" summit talks.

Global governance

The activities surrounding this year's G-8 gathering are part of a worldwide anti-globalisation movement, which includes a broad spectrum of activists, ranging from counter-capitalists to anarchists.

Members of the movement, like de Marcellus, claim that the G-8 is an "illegitimate gathering of a select few leaders, who have never lived up to their promises".

Ever since the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, they have been turning up at events such as the G-8, as well as meetings of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The movement argues that capitalism has gone too far and that open markets and corporate dominance are ruining the environment, destroying small businesses and widening the gap between rich and poor.

"For 25 years the G-8 has been pursuing policies which are only in the interest of big-time capitalists and multinationals," de Marcellus explained. "It's not in the interest of their own people and even less in the interest of the people of other countries."

This year, the protestors will be trying to draw the world's attention to issues like debt-reduction for developing nations, rights to common resources and the regulation of international trade.

Lack of substance

But observers of the movement say that the activists' arguments lack substance and unity.

Geneva-based author, Blaise Lempen, has written a book about the subject, entitled "Democracy without Borders", which examines the evolution of anti-globalisation over the past ten years.

"The movement is still very young and is having trouble structuring itself," Lempen told swissinfo.

"In general, they criticise the world's neo-liberal system, poverty, inequality and exclusion... but even the United Nations is critical of these things," he added. "So they need to come up with constructive and concrete alternatives."

De Marcellus disagrees with this point of view and points to the fact that the world's most powerful politicians have been forced to withdraw to remote spots such as Evian, as proof that the protests are working.

"The first thing is to show the G-8's unpopularity and that they can't actually do anything without being under police guard," de Marcellus said.

"If the G-8 had been doing anything right over the past 25 years, there would be crowds there to cheer them... but instead the crowds come to jeer," he added.

swissinfo, Anna Nelson in Geneva

In brief

Thousands of anti-globalisation activists will be taking part in "alternative" forums in Switzerland and France during the G-8 summit this weekend.

The campaigners claim that the annual meeting between the world's seven most-industrialised nations and Russia is a "democratically illegitimate gathering".

They are hoping to draw the world's attention to issues such as debt relief, common resources, inequality and international trade.

A major protest against the G-8, involving up to 50,000 demonstrators, is planned for Sunday in Geneva.

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