Swiss out in force for World Social Forum

More than 100,000 people are expected to attend the World Social Forum Keystone

Around 50 Swiss are attending the World Social Forum as part of the biggest Swiss delegation since the event was launched four years ago.

This content was published on January 20, 2005 minutes

After moving to Mumbai last year, the meeting of international civil society is returning to the Brazilian town of Porto Alegre, where the inaugural session was held in 2001.

“With more than 50 participants, the Swiss delegation is the biggest and the most representative that we have ever had,” said Sergio Ferrari of the Swiss social forum coordination group.

Ferrari, who is also head of communications with the E-Changer movement, is one of those dealing with travel arrangements for the Swiss.

E-Changer is very familiar with Brazil. This NGO with Christian roots sends most of its volunteers there on humanitarian or development missions.

As happens every year, the Swiss delegation will spend several days visiting different Swiss-Brazilian cooperation projects. It is a chance for them to get to know the country at first hand.


“The NGOs are particularly well represented, and not just those dealing with development,” said Ferrari. “The Swiss section of Amnesty International will be there for the first time.”

E-Changer secretary general Pierre-Yves Maillard concurs. “For the past two years the Swiss Coalition of Development Organisations has been really getting involved, and that’s something we welcome,” he told swissinfo.

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), on the other hand, has been on board since the start. This year it is sending three senior managers.

Although the SDC is a government agency, the government as such will not be represented in Porto Alegre. And nobody thinks it should be – that is simply not its role.

“The Forum is a place for civil society,” stressed Maillard, “and does not seek to replace parliaments or governments.”

“It was clear from the beginning that politicians could come as private individuals, but not in an official capacity.”

Red-green mix

It is a slightly different matter for members of parliament. They have the right to spend two days at the world parliamentary forum, but that is a different organisation from the World Social Forum.

This year eight Swiss parliamentarians are attending the Social Forum in a private capacity. They all belong to left- or centre-left parties or the Greens and have seats in the House of Representatives.

“We had no role in selecting the delegates,” Maillard of E-Changer told swissinfo. “But the centre-right and rightwing parties consider the Forum to be a left-wing phenomenon, although that is not the reality of it.”

This year, one member of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party did sign up to attend. But he had to pull out at the last minute owing to health problems.

Youth presence

The Swiss presence in Porto Alegre will not be limited to the official delegation. A number of other Swiss will be representing NGOs at the Social Forum.

And there promises to be a good number of young people present. Ferrari of the Swiss social forum coordination group says he is particularly pleased about an initiative from French-speaking Switzerland in this respect.

The Geneva youth association liaison group is sending around 20 teenagers to the forum. The young people, who have been preparing for the event for the past year, plan to make a documentary about their experiences in Brazil.

The film will be given a public showing on their return.

swissinfo, Marc-André Miserez

Key facts

This year’s World Social Forum (January 26-31) will hear a call for solidarity with tsunami-ravaged south Asia.
The Forum will urge the immediate and unconditional cancellation of all debts owed by the 11 affected countries – a total of $272 billion.
The organisers say this measure is completely separate from the G8 and Paris Club offers to suspend debt repayments.

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In brief

The World Social Forum was first held in Porto Alegre in 2001.

It sees itself as an alternative to the World Economic Forum, held annually in Davos around the same dates.

More than 100,000 delegates are expected this year from more than 3,000 NGOs and 120 countries.

The 50-strong Swiss delegation includes parliamentarians, union representatives, development specialists and journalists.

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