By Henda Chennaoui, translated into English by Vanessa Szakal.

FSM15

The 2015 World Social Forum opened its doors for the second consecutive year in Tunisia. Since 2001, this open space represents an alternative to the World Economic Forum at Davos and declares its anti-globalization approach in the fight against capitalism and neoliberalism. At each session, participants and visitors express ideas and personal experiences to make their voices heard and learn how to improve their capacity for self-governance.

This year, participants were quick to voice their criticisms. Disappointed Forum-goers were clearly much greater in number this year than the last. Many including the WSF Steering Committee are perhaps not interested in experimenting with alternative forms of organization. In theory the WSF is committed to facilitating the self-governance of exchanges between movements, ideas, and experiences of all progressive ideologies. Meanwhile, some have observed the gradual development of a hierarchy amongst WSF organizers and that a serious, collective reflection for future editions is more than necessary.

Egyptian writer and political activist Houssein Abdel Rahim has followed the WSF from its inception.

Everything began with the groundwork for the social movements in Brussels. At that time there was a union crisis. So Christophe Aguiton began to connect people with one another and to organize exchanges between activists. The following year, the communist party in Brazil attended the international Communist Manifesto celebration and requested the help of European leftists in the coming elections in Brazil. It was then that organizations decided to go to Porto-Alegre to create the Forum. The Brazilian Communist Party (UPT) won the elections and turned its focus to political power, but the WSF continued to gather each year. All of this to say that nothing changes as easily as one might imagine. The WSF has suffered from political manipulation since its inception.

Abdel Rahima added that in spite of everything, the Forum succeeded in changing the form of the traditional left but not the foundation:

This carnival of activists is not really participative and democratic as it claims to be. The truth is that it follows the pyramid scheme. Big decisions are monopolized by the governing minority in the image of a capitalist system.

Having participated only two times at the Forum, artist and movie director Khaled Ferjani observed that a sort of general depression hung over this year’s gathering:

The disappointment and depression of Tunisians and Arabs this year is very real. If last year assemblies and workshops were filled with Tunisians who wanted to change the country, this year they are more withdrawn and limited to the forum’s festivities. You see them everywhere dancing, singing, or filling the space with music turned to the highest volume. They are less drawn to political debates. I think it’s a direct reaction to the present political situation in Tunisia.

Dodging many pending trials in Sidi Bouzid, activist Safouen Bouaziz took advantage of the event to see his friends and meet new people. Having missed the previous Forum for security reasons, this year was Safouen’s first encounter with the WSF:

I had a totally different idea of what the Forum was. I had imagined it to be more radical and anti-establishment. In reality, there are more reformists than revolutionaries. The festive and almost commercial atmosphere obscures the spirit of protest and rage that we should have in the face of the current global crisis.

In the same way, Dragan Nicevic, leftist from Slovenia, explains that

the Forum’s common objective is no longer to change the global system and fight against capitalism but only to denounce the dangers of neoliberalism that drives the world in a chaotic crescendo. I don’t think that this is linked only with Tunisia but the world where progressive anti-establishment movements are undergoing a marked decline, with the exception of a few cases such as that of Greece.

This year the Forum drew less participants and visitors than the last. One explanation might have been the inclement weather, or perhaps that this event took place in the same location as the last. Belgian activist Samuel Legros shared his opinion:

I think that a number of participants did not return because they have the impression that we are not really advancing towards a common vision and solid project. Even if the Forum forbids the deliberation of decisive measures or results,* some of us have the need to elaborate a common anti-globalization project. The absence of a concrete result in the fight against neoliberalism creates a real frustration and triggers much criticism and reluctance. I am disappointed to see the Forum transform into some sort of fair where people come to show off their work, remain within their circle of knowledge and interest and leave without the littlest of changes.

Thursday afternoon, dozens of volunteers protested to bring attention to difficult work conditions the experience. One volunteer reported,

Because it rains every night, we don’t have a place to spend the night sheltered from the water that fills the tents. We don’t get dinner (one sandwich is served in the middle of the day), and those who go home at night fend for themselves.

Composed of a majority of students and unemployed college graduates, the volunteer corps requires the support that the Steering Committee once offered but has apparently ceased to provide. «And yet, we know that the organization receives an incredible amount of financial backing…» another volunteer added.

Even if criticisms are many, the Forum retains a particular charm for regulars. «If self-criticism is always tolerated in the Forum, all changes remain possible and achievable. Converging different points of view is everyone’s objective and not just that of the Forum»,said Carminda, a member of the Canada delegation which is a prospective organizer for the Forum in 2016.

* See the World Social Forum Charter of Principles