|WORLD SOCIAL FORUM:
Civil Society Meet Draws University-Educated Elite
Mario Osava (IPS)
Mizzima News (www.mizzima.com)
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan 12 - A study
aimed at finding out who attends civil society's annual World
Social Forum gatherings shows that participants tend to be
young, university-educated, anti-imperialist and independent
of political parties.
The new ''Profile of Participants'' released Thursday in
Rio de Janeiro also reports that the vast majority of those
attending the first three editions of the WSF, held in the
southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, were Latin American.
But that should change radically at this year's edition,
scheduled for Jan. 16-21 in the city of Mumbai (formerly Bombay)
The plan to hold civil society's annual gathering against
''neo-liberal globalisation'' in India represents an important
step towards making ''the global gathering truly global,''
according to Brazilian sociologist Cándido Grzybowski,
a member of the WSF International Council and one of the main
organisers of the meetings in Porto Alegre.
The Profile of Participants, based on the registration records
from the 2003 WSF and surveys among 1,500 participants, found
that the imbalance in representation is both ''geographic
Nearly 86 percent of the 170,000 officially registered people
who took part in the first three WSF gatherings in Porto Alegre
were Brazilian, and the biggest foreign delegations came from
other Latin American nations, especially neighbouring countries
in the Southern Cone region of South America, the report indicates.
''Only around 200 people came from Asia, which is nothing
when you're talking about a continent that has half of the
world's population,'' said Grzybowski, who is also the director-general
of the Brazilian Institute of Social and Economic Analysis
(IBASE), and who was in charge of the study coordinated by
the WSF International Secretariat.
The fourth WSF, in India, should turn that participation
around, with many Asians and few Latin Americans, which ''is
good for mobilising other continents'' in a tendency that
should continue in 2006, when the global meeting will be organised
in Africa, said Grzybowski.
But next year, the WSF will return to Porto Alegre, under
an agreement reached by the International Council, according
to which the venue will alternate between that southern Brazilian
city, the symbol of the WSF, and countries in other regions.
The Profile of Participants also found that 73.4 percent
of people attending last year's WSF had gone to the university,
although not all had completed their degrees. Of that total,
9.7 percent had done some post-graduate coursework.
But among the delegates -- representatives of non-governmental
and social movements who formally take part in the WSF seminars
and workshops -- 17.8 percent had graduate degrees or had
studied in post-graduate programmes.
The results show that ''it is an elite that attends the WSF,''
where the poor and excluded, like slumdwellers, peasant farmers
or indigenous people, are not represented, said Grzybowski.
The study also highlighted the heavy presence of young people,
given that 62.7 percent of people attending the gathering
were under 34. But most stayed in the Youth Camp or were ''non-delegate''
participants, which means young people make up ''the WSF's
main social base, while they lack the proportionate means
of expression in the debates,'' said the expert.
In India, where the poor are more numerous, and better organised,
than in Brazil, taking part in movements that have millions
of members, the participation of socially marginalised sectors
is expected to be much broader and more direct.
''We hope the Forum will have a great impact on Indian society,
with strong local participation,'' another WSF organiser,
Jorge Saavedra, the president of the Brazilian Association
of Non-Governmental Organisations (ABONG), commented to IPS.
This year's edition should also expand the WSF's ''spectrum
of alliances,'' he added.
In addition, a ''happy coincidence'' accentuates the importance
of holding the WSF in India this year, said Saavedra, referring
to the agreement reached by the governments of India and Pakistan
Tuesday to negotiate an end to the border conflict that has
dragged on since the two countries were divided on religious
grounds in 1947.
That could generate ''positive synergy'' with the ''WSF agenda'',
one of whose top priorities is world peace, he said.
The WSF is also facing the challenge of bringing closer together
the agenda proposed by the International Council and the numerous
activities scheduled by participating organisations. There
is a major thematic gap, ''as if they were two separate forums,''
The ''most creative, vital part are the activities organised
independently by the social movements, but they are also anarchic,
and we haven't come up with a way to make them more visible,''
According to Grzybowski, the Profile of Participants study
increases the WSF's understanding of itself, which will help
it move towards its objective: the strengthening of civil
The report shows, for example, that only 35 percent of participants
in 2003 were members of a political party.
That tends to neutralise pressure to politicise the WSF,
exercised by leftist groups that want it to adopt political
resolutions and positions.
Grzybowski underlined that ''we are not an organisation,
but a forum, whose strength lies in the diversity of thought,
where we don't disqualify any argument, and discrepancies
are not a problem.''
The study also surveyed WSF participants on their views regarding
certain questions. For example, more than 90 percent of respondents
participation by civil society in public policy-making, 81
percent said globalisation aggravates the inequality between
rich and poor, and 68 percent said globalisation ''is just
a new name for imperialism.
(Inter Press Service)