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A report on Athens ESF

Monday 22 May 2006, by ALMPANIS Yannis

1. The success of the Athens ESF exceeded all hopes. Even the most optimists among us didn’t expect to have about 35.000 people in the Forum and about 100.000 demonstrators on May 6 (Police said that the number of demonstrators was 25.000, independent journalists estimated that there were about 70.000 people in the streets of Athens). This unexpected success showed the strength of no global movement and its potentiality to become even bigger. This international movement has opened a new space for social struggles that cannot be cancelled. Social competition has an international aspect which becomes more and more important.

2. The demonstrations of May 6 can be considered as a historic moment for the Greek social movements. It is the biggest demonstration ever organized in Athens without the participation of the Greek Communist Party. The massive participation in this demo is not only an undeniable proof of no global movement’s popularity. It is at the same time a sign of the rise of a new political culture within the Greek society. Although the denial of a potential war on Iran was the No 1 political issue of this demonstration, we should not underestimate the fact that for a great number of demonstrators this massive mobilization was a way to express their will for a social change. This will is still too vague to constitute a real political program. Nevertheless, it can be the starting point of such a procedure.

3. The use of thousands of demonstrators as human shields by some groups of black block is an authoritarian act and shows that these groups think that the Forum is their enemy. Although the intensity of the events was lower than in the past, we as organizers we should have better informed international delegations about the possible dangers in the demo. On the other hand, the Organizing Committee assured that the demonstration ended as it was planned.

4. The success of the Athens ESF becomes even bigger if we take into account the problems that the Organizing Committee had to face:
- The groups that composed the Greek Organizing Committee are relatively weak and didn’t have any experience of organizing such an event.
- Greek left is probably the most fragmented and sectarian left in Europe.
- For months the procedure was blocked by people who were continuously putting veto whenever there was an effort to move forward.
- After the London ESF the ESF process seemed to be ineffective, unreliable and antidemocratic.
- The fact that almost every 6 months there is some kind of social forum (national, polycentric, Mediterranean, European etc) has created a certain fatigue.
- The participation of Rifodazzione Communista (one of the most important organizations of this movement) in Prodi’s center-left project created a sentiment of disappointment to a large number of activists, especially to radical youth.

On the contrary, our work was facilitated by:
- The victory of No in the French referendum
- The massive movement in France against CPE

These victories not only encouraged activists but also increased the interest in Athens ESF.

5. In addition to massive participation, we have to underline the significant presence of activists from Central-Eastern Europe and Turkey (more than 2.000). It was the biggest ever participation of these countries in an ESF. The political significance of this participation is obvious: ESF is a Forum of the whole continent and not just of Western Europe. This huge participation was the result of: a) a strong mobilization of no global activists in Eastern Europe and Turkey b) the initial political decision of the Organizing Committee to consider the geographical enlargement of the ESF as a primal priority c) the hard work done by the comrades of the enlargement group who worked day and night to obtain more than 2.000 Visas.

6. The new form of the ESF program proved to be very productive. The abolition of plennaries facilitated the preparation of the ESF and at the same time prevented the creation of false impressions about the “representation” of the movement. Furthermore, in some cases we achieved very good mergers (p.e. the seminars of Euromarches, and the “Public services pool”) that included almost all the organizations that work on a specific issue. On the other hand, we couldn’t avoid repetitions and “one organization’s propaganda” seminars. We should all work harder to create more inclusive and better prepared seminars To achieve this goal it is vital to reduce the number of seminars (I think that 170 seminars are enough) and to use European Preparatory Assemblies as opportunities to work also on the content of ESF and not just on its structure. European networks should work in a collective way all the time and not just few weeks before the ESF. In addition to that, we really need a permanent European web site that could facilitate not only voluntary merger but also the centralized merger process elaborated by the European program group. After working for some months on the ESF program, I arrived to the conclusion that it will take many many years before central merger process stopped to be necessary.

7. The Organizing Committee gave more importance than in the past to the cultural aspect of the Forum. In fact the response of the artists was impressive. About 150 cultural events took place in the ESF venue. We believe that this convergence between art and politics not only helps artists (specially the young) to present their work to massive public, but also contributes to the emerging of new forms of activism and political communication.

8. Although we did it well with artists, the presence of intellectuals was not adequate. A great number of progressive intellectuals were not at Athens. The ESF isn’t yet a bridge between activists and intellectuals. And it is a pity that alternative thinking networks do not work as much as they can in this direction.

9. The ESF would have never taken place without the active participation of all the volunteers who worked hard before and during the event. All these people worked more than they were supposed to do. It is also very important to underline the fact that it was the first time in recent years that people who are not members of any organization worked on the organization of a mobilization. If the process had not been continuously blocked the participation of such kind of people would have been even bigger.

10. For once more Babels proved that they are a fundamental political component of the ESF and that non commercial practices can be very effective. Despite the very serious logistics problems, ALIS (Alternative Interpretation System) worked well and it will probably be the basic interpretation infrastructure for future Forums.

11. Interpretation was not the only area where non commercial practices were put in action. The Organization team did its best to use such practices as much as possible. In deed, there were very few cases where professionals worked for the organization. This political choice is not only the outcome of a very limited budget, but also reflects the conception that the practices of the ESF should correspond to its goals.

12. Although the weather didn’t help us this time (unbelievable cold!), I strongly believe that we should continue working on the idea of thematic spaces. Such spaces contribute in the enlargement of the ESF by making easier the introduction of groups who were skeptical in the past. At the same time thematic spaces give visibility to movements and struggles that sometimes are marginalized by the mass media.

13. For the future I believe that:
- We should all work for a common European mobilization, a common appointment of all European movements. It seems that in addition to anti-war mobilizations, G8 in Germany gives this opportunity. This movement is based on the logic of “tous ensemble”. Without common mobilizations it will fade away
- We should keep on with the reform of ESF methodology. It is necessary to work together for a program with fewer but more inclusive and better prepared seminars. It is high time that European networks work more within and beyond the EPA.
- We should continue to give priority to the enlargement in Eastern Europe and Turkey. It is a difficult task, but vital for the future of the movement.
- We should think more on the political perspectives of no global movement. The question if center-left governments can satisfy this movement’s demands acquires an increasing importance.

The success of the Athens ESF indicates that social forums have a great future. Under the condition, of course, that the ESF has the political will to change and to adapt to new realities.

Yannis Almpanis (Greek program group)