The dangers of talking without action and legitimating the present world order

Tord Björk | MST,popular movements,Travel | Thursday, February 26th, 2009

Maybe Robert Nilsson shows us a general way out of the idealistic trap in North South relationships when he states that we have to focus upon the task to change our own societies and see our cooperation with MST or other popular movements in the South in the light of this.

My own experience have made me very criticial to much of the Northern solidarity and NGO development work. I belong to a Nordic popular movement tradition claiming the importance of a movement to have a local base and simultanously strive for changing the whole society and live as one preaches. The fragmentation of such movements into specific trends that suddenly due to media, business or governmental incitaments becomes suboptimized always have seemed comical and at times dangerous to me.

In the history of this nordic popular movement tradition one occasion strikes as typical of the swedish political culture. In the end of the 1970s a radical alternative movement emerged with its roots in the smaller origins in the 1950s among volunteer international work camps and direct action to promote dismantling of the swedish army using military resources for stopping world hunger and give foreign development aid. Consumer cooperatives was started again after 50 years when no new cooperatives had been established. The peace movement declared itself as part of a wider alternative movement and so did feminists and environmentalists to a large degree, all seeing third world solidarity as important as well as changing social and ecological relations in industrialised societies. This movement was even able to start struggling for alternative production by supporting female textile workers in their struggle to maintain production in a factory in North of sweden.

The most clear symbol of alternative production at this time was Lucas air space, a military company in Great Britain on its way to make cutbacks in its operations. Here the workers and engineers as Mike Cooley had been able to both plan and make some alternative products as alternatives to the weapons they mainly used to produce. As the peace movement in the end of the 1970s was on the way up Lucas air space became internationally very popular and recieved many foreign guests, among them very many Swedes. After a while the activists at Lucas air space found out according to the oral tradition in Nordic popular movements an odd reality. While other foreign visitors produced results using their visit to Lucas air space for domestic purposes or solidarity action the Swedes went back home and then nothing was more heard of them. It went so far that Swedes became blocked from visiting the alternative production at Lucas Air space as the British activists could see no use in swedish people coming there. This unbalance between claiming a serious interest and being able to constructively support alternatives in practice was also seen in Sweden. At a meeting on practical alternatives in North of Sweden with 50 participants only 3 were people who did something in practice, the rest were people writing about those that did something.

The reason behind this suboptimized interest in alternative production came from the compromise between the two main popular movement parties in Sweden at the time, the Center party with its links to the peasant movement and the many farmers cooperatives and the social democratic party with their links to the workers movement and their many consumer cooperatives. Thus there was an overwhelming amount of resources to study practical examples of local production with workers involved in managing the production while there was nothing or very little to study the popular movements as a whole and how to change society.

Ten years later 35 young Norwegian came into a meeting in Delhi with a new well-funded Nordic trend backing their presence, that of sustainable development as presented by the Brundtland commission that gave birth to the UN Conference claiming free trade as a solution to environmental cirisis. The purpose of such a big group coming to India was unclear, but there was a huge amount of money for anyone in Norway that wanted to jump on the band waggon of sustainable development promoted by a dialogue between governments, business and NGOs. In some few years the Norwegian envrionmental movement who had been among the most radical if not the most radical in Europé with a strong criticism against growth societies shifted opinion completly. Using the sustainable development concept that the Brundtland commission claimed was possible to achieve through technological effectiveness and thus made sustainable growth possible the movement turned into professionalised NGOs promoting technological solutions rather than social change. A huge NGO sector for environment and development was created with the help of governmental funding based on the principle that the international NGO developemnt work had to be disconnected to work to change Norway. In this professionalised sustainable devlopment NGO sector radical activists could find a good living and soon claimed themselves to be the vanguard of global democracy.

In general NGO development cooperation has been a method for creating an avenue for copncerned people to become active and feeling that they can do something valuable. As both economic resources and the dominant discourse in society splits development issues from changes in the societies were Northern development NGOs get their resources from these NGOs trends tend to create a split in political awareness. It becomes very important and economically possible to explain to the public an ever growing number of political interventions in the South as WTO, IMF, WB, SAP, TRIP. TRIM, FTAA, MAI etc while political concepts that unites the experience among people in common in the South with the experience of people in the North was more marginalised as privatisation whether this is carried out by the local parties, national government, EU, NAFTA of Bretton Woods instutions.

As NGOs also live on market mechanism for their survival collecting money from people they also tend to create images that maximises their income as studied by Jörgen Lissner in his seminal book The Politics of Altruism in 1977. To present people in the South both as victims and that there is no connection between the potential supporter of charity and the one that is supposed to recieve the gift is the two mechanisms for maximizing income. Pictures of starving children begging for help is the most effective image. The result is that people in the North believes that the situation in the South is worse than it is as well as that the global majority which is mainly based in the South is not seen as a subjective to work together with democratically in solving todays ecological and social crisis, they are instead seen as obejctives for charity, people to be helped.

If the opposite takes place and movements are seen as subjects in history, they regularly are put in an exotic context. Via Campesina in Sweden, Nordbruk, can point at many occasions when Via Campesina from Southern countries as MST are invited to Sweden while their national counterpart here are excluded from the discussion as if agriculture and developemnt is something that should be seen separate from what happens in Sweden. Visits of organisations from the South becomes a decoration for showing how global justice oriented we are at the same time as the need to change our own society gets excluded from the cooperation as well as the possibility for the Southern organisations to make contacts and cooperate with their counterparts in Sweden.

How can than the Nordic delegation at the MST 25th anniversary be seen. The future action will tell. As we know also the best intentions can turn out in the opposite direction from what was orginally thought. What is clear is that the number of partcipants is no argument at all for something good, maybe it rather can be seen as problematic if it is a part of a trend that creates exotic indvidualised political tourism rather than collective change in the Nordic countries. But the diversity of the delegation points in other directions. The age balance was more or less complete, from very young children to very old men. In Sarandi half was young and later the young participants became slightly more in the delegation, thus there was an age balance which is needed for dynamic results.

At the surface one could guess that the male dominance was strong among the senior members with access to some established resources. But this is partly a false image. It is true that Berge Furre had resources of both political and economical capital exceeding well the total capacity of the rest of the delegation. But these resources was not linked to any wider popular movement cooperation internationally and could rather be seen as a bilateral development cooperation than part of  growing dynamic cooperation involving both established and new movements although hopefully there could be such potentials in the Norwegian support of MST. The Finnish and Swedish nestors were both of a different kind. Pertti Simula has lived since 1973 in Sao Paulo, first working for the Finnish tractor company Valmet and than as a psycho therapeut. More or less a naturalised Brazilian but with strong ties to Finland and Sweden were he goes on lecture tours every year he has not the kind of connection to established resources in the Nordic countries but is rather an actvists in MST pedagogical development. As MST puts much effort into education this is an important field but the role here is not to give aid from Nordic countries to the South but to be one of the activists of the movement. Lennart Kjörling is also primarily in contact with MST in his professional job as journalist and as an activist rather than having good links to established resources and being part of an NGO bureacracy. He also have been living in Brazil for a long time and has thus qualified experience and knowledge of how MST and the Brazilian society has developed as well as the possibilities and difficulties in getting mass media in Sweden to present what happens in Brazil. He is also active in Friends of MST.

The person with maybe most flexible and considerable resources at her disposal is rather Kirsi from the Siemenpuu foundation. Although of young age her position is strong and the goals of the environmental foundation is such that it can contribute to strategic projects of interest to both environmental, landless, peasant and indigenous movements. Thus the gender balance is better than it looks at first sight. The biggest group are the activists in Friends of MST in Finland and Sweden, a strength as this organisation has support of MST as top of their agenda and thus a long term commitment of importance rather than having MST as an example they temporary are interested in according to a more wider goal. Here many activists have an interest in producing media. The young activists as their counterparts in MST are interested in making videos.  Mika Rönkkö and Ruby van der Wekken have long lived in Brazil and developed good contacts to many popular movements and have both specific fields were they are active beyond the development cooperation, he as journalist at Le Monde Diplomatique in Finland and active in Attac and Friend of MST and she as coordinator of Network Institute of Global Democracy. Robert Nilsson with his background as historian and in dialogue with historians and activists in the MST movement broadens the capacity of the Nordic delegation further. The students of the social forum process from Finland and Norway as well as an activist from Attac Norway also became part of the Nordic delgation in the Carajas Social Forum part of the MST celebrations. Finally the two environmentalists from FoE Finland and Sweden complemented each other well, Noora Ojala who continued the tour after Belem to Montevideo to meet other FoE groups and the World Rain forest movement and Tord Björk who went back to Sweden.

How many in the Nordic delgation that actually will cooperate after their MST journey is an open question. Friends of MST and Friends of the Earth in Finland and Sweden have already established joint campaigning to support MST which was further well developed during the trip. How much also other people and organisations can be involved the future will tell including the need to incorporate Denmark an maybe the rest of Europe as well in a wider campaign. How much it can become a part of real change is also an open question. One can hope that the diversity of the Nordic delegation were each one have a separate interest and people in MST to cooperate with who have similar interests could result in a more equal partnership resulting in change in both the North and the South. As the saying goes in Friends of the Earth Sweden, the most important form of solidarity with the the South is to change our own societies and tus stop them from exploiting the South.

Robert Nilssons way out of the idealistic Global North exploitation

Tord Björk | MST,popular movements,Travel | Thursday, February 26th, 2009

In  tradition with the critica-autocritica of the MST movement it can be appropriate to say something about the role of a Nordic or any Western delegation in a third world country. Robert Nilsson have set a good example. In his blog Historias Sem Terra he critically examines his own project to answer the question: How makes MST its contemporary time historical and with this themsleves historical? (Badly translated, the Swedish original text: Hur gör MST sin samtid historisk och därmed sig själva historiska?).

Nilsson ask himself if MST needs a Swedish historian. He wonders if MST ”that uses history as critical reflection, as a mobilizing force, as ideological critique and counter hegemony, as a strategic resource” have to accept the examinating view of  a Swedish historian. He asks himself if he does the same thing as many researchers from the global North has done before him, explore and study people in the South as there were no knowledge and history before his own arrival. It it is just and ethical to build his own career on their daily life and struggle? That he himself is an activist he sees as an unsufficient answer. It is he who goes to Brazil to turn his view on them. They do not have the same opportunity to do the opposite move. They do not either have the chance to avoid his gaze. It may even be so that they need his look he argues, they are forced as a way to get support for their struggle.

His conclusion is then obvious: ”MST certainly do not need any historian from Sweden. Historians from Sweden though sometimes need MST. One have to understand the purpose of the paper correctly. The purpose is not to describe MST, but to learn something about how change is created and by doing this create development in Sweden.”

His goal in studying how MST uses history is focused on how this is creating people that believe and act as if they have the power to change society. ”To make oneself historical means to study and take power over the historical, social and collective circumstances to make changes real.” One can finns a lot of material on MST with many voices and general reflections on his study at

The Nordic delegation visiting MST

Tord Björk | Friends of the Earth,MST | Thursday, February 26th, 2009

The concept delegation is an old word that one cold guess is outdated in our modern individualistic times. That there could be such a phenomena that is a collective and furthermore that this collective is representing a larger collective seems against the essence of our times and the future, at least European times and futures. I get reminded about this seemingly backwardness on the world delegation reading a book about the first travels to Soviet Union when photographers came as tourists for the first time within some limits deciding their own places to visit and making their own choices of what they saw as important. Tourism was such an unimaginable concept that delegates became the description of these first adventurers when Soviet Union opened up for tourism in the early 1960s.

Most of the Nordic delegation: Tord, Mitra, Noora, Lennart, Miranda and Sebastian at MST 25 jubilee

One can also question the concept Nordic delegation in other aspects. That the delegation is defined in geograhic terms and not social, gender, class, age, ethnicity or other aspects can be seen as arbritarily or clinging to old nation-state geograhic limitations. From another aspect one can question whether there is any real collective reality behind a delgation claimed to represent not only one country but a group of countries. To complicate the matters the quite unknown term Nordic is used and not the more well-known Scandinavian. The difference is that Scandivian only refers to Denmark, Norway and Sweden while Nordic also refers to Finland and the North Atlantic islands Iceland, Faeroe islands and Greenland. When Nordic cooperation was dominated by Danes, Norwegians and Swedes this seemed a smaller problem but today in many processes as the MST solidarity work or World Social Forum influence Finns are crucial and at times in majority which makes the term Scandinavian more and more questionable. So the concept Nordic delegation built on national identities is sometimes problematic.

But together we were from  the start of the MST 25th anniversary celebrations in Sarandi in Rio Grande do Sul and as a delegation we felt. I hope also the nestor in the delegation, Berge Furre. Alone from Norway representing the only peasant organisation and thus an organisation most close to MST, The Norwegian farmers and small peasant union. With his long time back ground as chair of the Left socialist party, official investigator of Norwegian security police, member of the Norwegian nobel prize committee and Norwegian Academy of Science, professor in history with special interest in carismatic movements in the third world, knowledge of portuguese and  twelwe visits to Brazil he represented a country were peasants still have an important role in national politics and can mobilise many million euros for development cooperation with MST. We have our oil money says Furre with a smile.

The Finnish nestor was Pertti Simula, a Finn living in Sao Paulo on bicycle distance from the MST head quarters and long time active with developing the pedagogy at MST schools around the country. The Swedish nestor was Lennart Kjörling or Leonardo as he has to call himself in Brazil were noone can promouce Lennart to not talk about Kjörling. He is a free lance journalist that has been following MST since many years living in Bahia and active in Friends of MST Sweden. In the Nordic delegation there was also Noora Ojala from Friends of the Earth and Friends of MST Finland, a photographer with strong equal interest in the social side of the MST settlements and scientific arguments for and against monoculture. The biggest national delegation at Sarandi was Swedish with three more members of friends of MST, Miranda, Mitra and Sebastian involved in media production as part of their participation in a course at the Nordic peoples high school at Biskops-Arnö and myself from Friends of the Earth Sweden. Interestingly there were noone from Denmark, the Nordic country with most peasants, but also to a high degree industrialised agriculture. All in all the Nordic 8 person delegation was a strong part in the international delegation of in total 40 persons at the 25th anniversary in Sarandi.

As the 25th anniversary celebrations continued at the Carajas Social Forum held as a travelling seminar and visit to places of struggles, industrial projects and MST settlements the Nordic delegation shifted and expanded to become even larger but also fragmented in Belem were MST maintained their own indepedent activities outside WSF and influenced also some inside.

At the Carajas Social Forum Kirsi Chavda from the Finnish environmental foundation Siemenpuu joined the delegation together with Eirik Stavenes from Norway studying the social forum process from Norway and one student as well from Finland. In Belem we could finally also meet a Finnish family that had done so much to prepare the Finnish-Swedish cooperation efforts with MST and now also offered housing for some of the Nordic delegation in Belem. The Finnish family consisted of Ruby van der Wekken, Mika Rönkkö and their young children. In Belem a number of other MST friends also joined the Nordic gang as Bosse Johansson, long time activist in Brazil working much with media projects, Johanna Suhonen trying to learn Swedish when being part of the Biskops Arnö media delegation making a documentary about the movements in Brazil and Johanna Gruvsjö from Friends of MST Sweden. As a shadow follower of the Nordic delegation one can also include Robert Nilsson from Sweden that some months before us had followed a similar route making interviews with MST activists for his study on how a movement makes history.

Thus the Nordic delegation had a very wide range in age, less so in back ground although. Peasant organisations were marginal, environmental organisations were small but in accordance with the main cooperation partner of MST in Rio Grande do Sul which is the environmental movement and espcially Friends of the Earth Brazil. The pedagogy interest was also in accordance with the strong eductional interest of MST and so is critical journalism. Solidarity organisations was the main part of the delegation which can be seen as natural. But the special character here is that the solidarity organisation represented is built specifically to support MST, something uncommon as solidarity organisations mainly have been state centric in support of a specific country or continent. What was missing in the Nordic delegation compared to the Brazilian allies that were important to MST at the celebration were trade unions, liberation theology, indigenous people, feminists, minorities and civil disobedience occupants.

The limitations of the back ground of the Nordic delegation we seemed to share with the rest of the international delegation. From Italy Ya Basta reprsented social centers which have some similarity with MST settlements and can be seen as an urban counterpart, a kind of movement missing in the Nordic delegation. The delegate Benjamin Bunk from Germany showed great interest in liberation theology and had close links to Caritas, the Catholic development organisation. But basically the limitations were similar.

All international guests were invited to the stage at the final solidarity party on Friday night at Sarandi and given a warm reception. The international guests that were chosen to speak to the audience during the 25th anniversary celebrations were Abdullah Aysu, a leader of Via Campesina in Turkey, Aleida Guevara from Cuba, Monica from a Sandinista organisation in Nicaragua and Berge Furre from Norway.

Direct Action, Movements, NGOs and Governments at WSF in Amazonia

Tord Björk | MST,WSF | Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

It is hard to assess WSF in Belem so early and without proper access to internet. By I make a first attempt. In general social forums are expressions of the balance between direct action, popular movements, professional NGOs and government, even corporations sometimes. WSF in Belem shows some interesting tendencies in this balance.

In spite of that the participation from social movements and especially direct action movements was very weak as well as the participation from outside Brazil the outcome was relatively radical. The reason for this is primarily that the direct action mass movement MST together with indigenous movements from all of Americas have such a strength that they can put their mark on the outcome of the Assembly of Social Movements together without strong participation in numbers.

In total 135 000 participated out of whom 15 000 in the Youth camp. Some 55 percent according to the first figures came from the Para state were Belem is capital. The total international delegation was 6 000, with more than 4 000 from Latin America, more than 400 from Africa and Europe and more than 200 from Asia and 100 from North America and less than 20 from Oceania according to the local daily Amazonia. (News sources more close to WSF as Terra Viva do not report these figures but the overall figures are almost the same. Another source claim 20 000 international guests cadtm: Thus WSF in Belem have lower international participation than e.g. World Students and Youth festivals that since 1947 always have gathered more than 10 000 international delegates, at most 32 000, with significant results especially inte the 1950s and the 1960s in promoting social justice and antiimperialist struggles but also, against the intentions of the organisers, dissident movements in Eastern Europe.

The greatest achievement of WSF in Belem was that the last day was only devoted to assemblies. First for different themes and finally a joint general assembly. Here the Latin American movements calls for more action, actually direct actions on the key days of struggles for the womens, peasants, workers and antiimperialists. That is a call for making 8th of March into a day of struggle for working women, 17th of April a day of action for agriculturral reform and actions against TNCs, 1st of May a day of struggle for workers and 12th of October, thanks to indian movements, a day of action against thye imperialism of settlers societies. I cannot access the exact text at the moment but with good internet connection you can probably easily find it. The predictions I recievied about the outcome of the ASM were thus according to the pre-information given by MST.

When it come to direct action the most clear such took place against WSF when favela people tried to storm the gates without severe confrontations. At least according to a realiable oral report. But no actions took place according to my knowledge against tha many TNCs operating in Belem like Cargill and others threatening the survival of peasants and indians. Many regarded the main part of the WSF participants as unpolitical more interesting in having a nice time than doing action. The atmosphere at the youth camp, very well placed at one of the two campuses where WSF had its venue, was warm an welcoming, a very nice carnival atmosphere. An indian activist from Patagonia was criticising both lack of political commitment, the strong NGO influence and that Petrobras, a state owned Brazilian oil company that is in conflict with indians were sponsoring the WSF and made propaganda thanks to WSF.

While the direct action was small or non-existent apart from the attempt at storming the gates and a huge carnival-like demonstration a the beginnign of WSF and some smaller paseatas with single issue groups marching between the two WSF venues the strong direct action movements chosed to have its main focus outside WSF while still influencing ASM inside. 500 MST actvists participated in a separate MST program in their own venue. MST made a statement by blocking president Lula from coming to a meeting with Latin American movements only inviting the presidents from Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Paraguay. But at another event all 5 presidents participated. Obviously the negotiations had been hard and a dialogue was not allowed at this meeting between social movements leaders and the presidents while at the MST meeting the presidents were questioned by MST and made accountable.

More assessment will follow.

Lost in humidity for ever

Tord Björk | Travel,WSF | Monday, February 2nd, 2009

I tend to miss all important events at bigger gatherings. I missed to meet president Lula and more importantly I missed the greatinauguration party of the rubber tappers office in Para state, the CNS gathering with all the people I met 1991 like Julion Barbosa and Gatoa. But at the party was also a captain and head of CNS reserve across the river from WSF. So a gang of us went by ship and went and went into another world of dieselboats, canoes, houses on poles and small narrow  rivers ending at the captains village and his house. Here when we finally came inside the rain started to fall and fall, warm soft rain. There is only one thing to do, to join the rain and the river and all nature.

Thomas Wallgren from Helsinki goes first. The last things he was told before the trip by an Amazonas expert was that one should never swim in the Amazon.

This time I did not miss the most important things. I followed. If there are no more reports from us you will know were to find us.

Some more pictures from the tour we made to get lost in humdity

Schizofrenic qualities at WSF

Tord Björk | popular movements,WSF | Sunday, February 1st, 2009

There seems to develop two very different outcomes of WSF. On the one hand a consensus develops in climate justice and financial crisis issues by avoiding to come to a common position on what one are against. Instead unity should be created by focusing on a common alternative. In the case of the financial crisis by promoting a new solidary and sustainaible economy, in the case of climate crisis by avoiding the issue of being for or against shutting down the Climate summit and rather focus upon issues that unites including the criticism of the latest Climate COP.

In general one could guess that here the wekaness and strength of the WSF political culture shows itself, the tendencies to dilute clear politics by avoiding confrontational issues and replacing them with discussion on alternatives or being clever in raising more radical concerns against a specific international negotiation but also stopping a more clear set of demands.

On the other hand the assemblies tomorrow might end with an appeal on Womes Day 8 of March, Peasant day 17 of April, Workers Day 1of May and on the request of indigenous peoples also 12th of October when Columbus arrived to Americas or invaded Abya Ayla said with other words. Turn all this days into days of struggle. Not anymore “paseatas”, the lively nice carnivals which nor demonstrations are turned into in many parts of the world following the Brazilian example. Instead occupation and direct action. Here in Brasil 8th of March will be turned into womens workers struggle day and then it will continue with action all year long. At least if Latin American movements get there will through.

So on the one hand consensus processes to focus upon alternatives instead of struggles or to avoid too radical statements regarding content. On the other hand radical in form.

How these two political cultures will be able to come to conclusions and most interesting how they might come in conflict and create passiveness and uncertainty or the opposite create constructive schizofrenic strategies ahead, that we will see tommorow.

The future of WSF and other WSF news

Tord Björk | WSF | Sunday, February 1st, 2009

I have been participating in three seminars on the achievements and the future of WSF. A detailed report from one of the discussions on the future of social forums, e.g.:

“Walden Bello: generally positive
1. come together to affirm community
2. site for planning resistance to neoliberalism
3. space for planning alternatives to neoliberal globalization

Could have been a more effective force in intervention in global issues, could have taken more political position on war in Iraq, middle east, Palestine, climate change. Missed opportunities to be more effect(ive).”

My own very critical remarks stating that WSF is not unique, and that it split the antineoliberal movement by excluding the zapatistas met different kind of reactions. Francine Mestrum in the panel said that there were figures indicating that the number of international partcipants were 10 000 out of 100 000 in total. I stated that there were 32 000 international participants at the World Students and Youth festival 1957 in Moscow and 8 million Soviet union participants and what followed afterwards was the most succesful decade in the struggle for stopping growing inequality during the whole last century as well as the starting point for an open dissident movement in the USSR. There were people agreeing with some of my remarks and wanting more information while other have been given the tip that I should not be as critical although they agree while some other gets very suspiscious. See the detailed report for your own judgement on different opnions about WSF.

This and other material in english as well as pictures you find at:

Some more blogs, pics and news about WSF:


Evangelic blog with interesting material on how EU destroys stomachs and chicken famers in Africa by selling the left over from Brazilian chickens were the breats is taken out to the countryside in Africa lacking frigirated transport. And other material in German.

Jesuit blog on WSF in many languages.