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World Social Forum fulfils expectations

Tens of thousands demonstrated against war in Iraq in the last major event of the WSF. Keystone

Swiss participants have expressed satisfaction with this year's World Social Forum (WSF) in Porto Alegre, Brazil, which ended on Monday.

There was praise for the quality of the speeches and the opportunities for networking, but also criticism that the anti-globalisation event had become too large.

Several members of the Swiss parliament, as well as representatives of Swiss non- governmental organisations, were among the 21,000 delegates. But no members of the cabinet attended the forum, which coincided with the World Economic Forum in the Swiss alpine resort of Davos.

“The forum exceeded my highest expectations,” Beat Dietschy, president of the Berne Declaration, told swissinfo.

“We were able to show that there is an alternative to Davos.”

Powerful opposition

“The WSF made a very powerful opposition to the dominant neoliberal globalisation,” explained Bruno Gurtner of Swiss Coalition, which brings together six of the largest Swiss aid agencies.

“We are all returning home fired up to make a different world possible.”

Two Social Democrat members of parliament, Pierre Tillmanns and Rudolf Strahm, were full of praise for the forum and the high level of debate that took place there.

“It was excellent,” Tillmanns told swissinfo. “The issue of the possible war in Iraq was ever-present. And one thing was clear: everyone was opposed to it.”

Although no members of the Swiss government were present, the foreign ministry was represented.


Dora Rapold of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, which comes under the foreign ministry, said she and her colleagues appreciated the opportunity to make contacts and find out more.

“We have been working with NGOs for years now,” Rapold told swissinfo. “So it is important for us to know what issues, debates and ideas are important to them.

“The forum is a unique opportunity to make contact with so many organisations.”

Gérald Pachoud, representing the foreign ministry itself, shared this view. “We want to maintain contact with this section of civil society, and to see what trends there are.

“The issue of water was a very strong theme at this forum. I suspect many other circles will be taking up this issue soon.”

Size a problem

Criticism of the forum was mainly limited to its size. In addition to the delegates, more than 4,000 journalists were in Porto Alegre for the five days the event lasted.

“It’s not possible to have an in-depth discussion within such a big framework,” Rapold complained.

Rudolf Strahm went one step further: “Porto Alegre is at the limit of its capacity in terms of organisation and efficiency. Perhaps some of the work done needs to be shared out among regional forums.”

Eric Decarro, one of the founders of the Swiss social forum, said there was a strong case for decentralisation.

“There must be a network of social forums,” Decarro told swissinfo.

Meanwhile, plans are already under way for the next World Social Forum, to be held in India next year.

Opinion is divided over whether a Swiss cabinet member will attend the next event.

Strahm thinks it is unlikely. “Some Swiss politicians have expressed reservations about the WSF, saying it’s just a forum for demonstration while the real work is done in Davos,” he said.

And Gérald Pachoud believes the presence of a government member would not necessarily be appropriate.

“The WSF is not aimed at politicians and businesspeople,” he said. “I don’t know if the WSF would approve. Switzerland has other ways of lending its support.”

swissinfo, Philippe Kropf, special correspondent in Porto Alegre
(translated by Morven McLean)

A total of 100,000 people took part in the World Social Forum (WSF) in Porto Alegre, up from 60,000 last year, according to the forum’s organisers.

“The greatest capital at this event was the participants,” said Chico Whitaker, a speaker for the WSF committee.

Over 20,000 delegates representing 5,700 organisations from 156 countries took part.

Organisers were pleased with the media coverage the WSF received – more than 4,000 journalists reported on the event from Porto Alegre.

Organisers hope that the event will return to Porto Alegre in 2005, after taking place in India next year.

The World Social Forum was held in Porto Alegre, Brazil, from January 23 to 27.
The event attracts mainly NGOs and unions, but the Swiss foreign ministry was also represented this year.
Next year’s WSF will be held in India.

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