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Wednesday, 22 January, 2003, 12:56 GMT
Davos braces for anti-capitalist protests
A Swiss soldier setting up barriers in Davos on Monday
Barriers are going up as Davos prepares for protests

Anti-globalisation demos just aren't what they used to be.

In 1999, at the Battle of Seattle, the violence of "fair trade" protests shocked the West, still basking in its victory against the threat of communism.

Genoa protests, 2001
Scenes in Genoa shocked the world
Two years later, a meeting of the G8 club of economic superpowers in Genoa attracted 250,000 demonstrators, one of whom died in clashes with police.

The World Economic Forum in Davos suffered its own problems in 2000, when 500 demonstrators dressed as skiers to evade a demonstration ban.

A year later, dissenters took the battle to Zurich, where three police officers were injured, and more than 100 people arrested.

Rogue dissenters

But this year protesters are not only going to be allowed into Davos. (On Saturday, at least).

They are, it appears, to be helped to the venue by authorities.

Anti-globalisation goes global
Nov 1999, Seattle: 100,000 protest at WTO meeting
Jan 2000, Davos: Police fire tear gas at protesters in ski gear
Apr 2000, Washington: 1,300 people arrested at World Bank/IMF summit
Sept 2000, Prague: Anti-IMF protesters throw Molotov cocktails at police
Apr 2001, Quebec: 400 demonstrators arrested at Summit of the Americas
May 2001: Mayday marches worldwide. In London, 6,000 police deployed
July 2001, Genoa: 500 people injured in riots during G8 summit

Documents seen by BBC News Online show that the Oltner Alliance, a protest group, has, since June, been in talks with officials over ensuring peace at demonstrations.

Agreed has been the frisking of demonstrators for items more aggressive than anti-WEF banners.

While the Oltner Alliance may be committed to protest without "any physical harm to anybody", police believe that about 5% of demonstrators will come prepared to use violence, the documents say.

Another protest group's website reads, ominously: "We are going to confront the rulers with resistance that cannot be ignored."

Delegates may be relieved to hear that the relevant internet page has received less than 10 hits a day.

Davos no more

Indeed, if anti-globalisation campaigners BBC News Online contacted were representative, Davos is unlikely - bar the outbreak of a US-led war against Iraq - to prove a significant flashpoint.

There was this feeling that the internet could solve all the world's problems

Davos business delegate

This is not just because the Swiss policing plans are reminiscent of the "divide and rule" tactics effective in marginalising militants at London's Mayday march two years ago.

There is also the emergence of an alternative forum where anti-globalisers, given a voice, are proving increasingly keen to be heard.

Ask the average "fair trade" campaign group how many people it is sending to Davos, and the number will almost certainly be less than that sent to the World Social Forum (WSF) in Brazil.

Lula lovers

Typical is the response of the London-based World Trade Movement.

Noam Chomsky
Noam Chomsky: "Historic" event

"We are not sure if we are sending anyone to Davos," a spokesman said.

"Everyone is going to the World Social Forum."

Last year, the second WSF attracted some 60,000 people from around the world, including half the French cabinet.

Anti-globalisation protesting is, um, going global.

Block the bloc

And the attraction of the WSF?

"There has been nothing like it in history," says Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a figurehead for protesters.

"There has never before existed such a collection of individuals and movements."

What is more, the forum is rooted in the developing world, rather than the consciences of the West.

Indeed, participants will gather in Proto Alegre, Brazil as neighbouring Argentina assesses the role global institutions, such as the World Bank, have played in its economic downfall.

Fluffy Davos

Ironically, the rise of the World Social Forum comes as Davos is championing social issues.

The WEF trailed its 2003 summit, themed "Building Trust", with a poll revealing declining trust in world leaders.

In a world which is increasingly globally focused, you need global institutions

Ed Mayo
New Economics Forum

Seven years ago, before the Battle of Seattle, Davos delegates met to debate "Sustaining Globalisation".

And even in 2000, at the peak of the boom, the summit was distinctly pro-corporate.

"People hoped that some of that gold-dust would rub off," one senior UK businessman, and Davos regular, said.

"There was this feeling that the internet could solve all the world's problems. That we were standing at the end of history.

"Now there has been a little sober reflection, following the bursting of the bubble."

If you fancy attending forums entitled "Giving a voice to the disenfranchised", or "Can't we all just get along", fly not to Porto Alegre, but Davos.

Room for both?

Indeed, the ground covered may prove so common that some, such as Salil Shetty, chief executive of development agency ActionAid, would see increasing contact between the two summits.

"We should be seeking to encourage dialogue," says Mr Shetty who, while a Davos delegate, receives daily updates from Porto Alegre.

Ed Mayo, director at anti-globalisation think-tank the New Economics Foundation, also sees both forums playing important roles.

Jove Bose, French anti-globalisation protester, arriving in Porto Alegre on Tuesday
WSF campaigners have begun arriving in Brazil

"In a world which is increasingly globally focused, you need global institutions."

The WSF may even emerge as the dominant summit.

"The WSF has so much creativity, consensus. It is wholly chaotic, but much clearer in its aims," Mr Mayo says.

"In the long run it is going to be more relevant than the WEF."

The challenge for the WSF will, as a movement comprising so many factions, to maintain coherence.

Still, for now it has attracted the media spotlight, and an increasing anti-globalisation throng.

In the future, who knows, its success may even trigger the eruption of pro-capitalist protests.

Conference colour

Eyewitness accounts


See also:

21 Jan 03 | Business
30 Apr 02 | UK
29 Jul 01 | BH
28 Jan 01 | Business
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