Sad Spectacle in Istanbul

The Sixth European Social Forum - Istanbul
19 July 2010
Article

If left-wing ideas have become popular again and social movements in Eastern Europe have strengthened, why is the European Social Forum in decline?

There was genuine enthusiasm after the first Social Forum eight years ago. It was the lead story in local news reports and was even featured on national television programs.

If the situation has changed in recent years, it is not because solutions have been found to pressing issues that satisfy everyone concerned. The economic crisis has shaken confidence in capitalism far more than any left-wing propaganda. In addition, governments everywhere from Russia to Ireland have stepped up their attacks on culture and education. Nobody is surprised anymore by mass protests in Europe. Left-wing ideas are clearly coming into fashion in many countries and social strata. At the same time, the Social Forum — a venue designed to promote the development of these processes — is in decline.

One purpose of the forum was to demonstrate European unity on common social and economic problems and to create networks of solidarity that go far beyond the West. A busload of Russian activists who came to Florence was not merely proof that the idea of a social forum stretches beyond the European Union.

Social movements in Eastern Europe were weak, and more importantly, inexperienced. But the situation has changed. The delegates from Eastern Europe gained experience and got to know each other. They became a community of sorts, with their own internal connections, relationships, approaches and informal leaders.

Many people from Eastern Europe and Russia attended the Fifth European Social Forum held in Malmo, Sweden, in 2008, but they came mostly out of inertia. After all, the process of organizing the forum and sending out invitations had been started even before the previous meeting in Kiev turned into a fiasco. And shortly before the 2010 forum in Istanbul, it was learned that the program committee had nothing to work with in formulating the agenda. The request to participants to send in their proposals was met with sullen silence. With only six weeks remaining before the opening of the forum, not a single initiative had been received from Eastern Europe. Interest in the forum had likewise fallen in the West. Functionaries of Western nongovernmental organizations have transformed the forum into a private club, so is it surprising if they are the only ones who take an interest in its proceedings?

Does this mean solidarity has once again been defeated? Of course not. The crisis in a host of countries is a reality, and the need to protect social rights, education, health care and culture in Russia and the countries of the former Eastern bloc is perhaps even more pressing today than it was in the early 2000s. But we must accomplish this vital work by relying primarily on our own strength, and not on outside assistance.