Propaganda Berlin-Wien-Wroclaw

Tord Björk | Propaganda,Travel | Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

On my tour from Friends of the Earth European Annual general Assembly in Lenzen to the ESF meeting in Vienna I passed by Berlin. As an old neon-sign designer I regularly get neck problems when visiting cities, always glaring at signs above my head. This time it was rewarding. At the main ublic entrance to the city, the new impressive main station with traisn on top of each other in many layers and all directions there was a great neon-sign: Vattenfall.

Last year when I toured Central and Eastern Europe to promote ESF in Malmö I camer to the Warsaw railway station. It was impossible to find the way to the ticket boot. All over the place there were signs advertising for the private businesses that swamped the whole basment and endless corridors under the main hall making it hard to find the public information. I thought this is as a bazaar and the bizarre result of the drastic changes that has taken place in CEE countries after the transition to capitalist economy. Back home in the West we do not allow such total confusion so people cannot find the ticket boot anymore.

Such a mistake. Well it is possible to find the ticket boot at the Berlin main station, but private enterprises rule the world also here with proganda all over the place. And proudest of them all is Vattenfall. This is a Swedish state company that has been ordered to get out as much profit as possible out of its operations. The basic income comes from selling electricity from the many dams in Northern Sweden. With this income the company has been able to buy a lot of coal plants and open pit coal mines in Germany causing many conflicts wwith local popualtions and the envrionmental movement. Sweden that promotes itself as the best climate policy state among rich countries gets profits out of this company that creates alone more green house gas emissions outside Sweden than the whole country of Sweden. Sweden talks with a double tongue in the climate negotiations and has finally conquered Germany, this time with energy as the weapon.

Conservative gender propaganda is of course also a favourite at railway stations. Conquer the world and women with the help of beer… and what is so prickelnd, ..

In Vienna new and old propaganda were mixed in an effective way. I remember reading a book about Austria only some 50 years old. It described all of the country in the text. The illustrations were as I remember half of then chruches in the countryside and the villages. The rest was to a far degree nature. It was as if the life of the Austrians only had to do with these buildings. I like churches. Somehow they are places were people have gathered because they had a hope, because they needed each other. I am not religious myself but I respect these places. But in the book about Austria it became to much. In Vienna there are a lot of Churches.

There are also a lot of grandiose buildings and statues. These buildings and statues are far to huge for the country they now decorate with their presence from older days when the empire extended so far in all directions.

These heavy buildings making propaganda about the glory in the past becomes today parts of a holy temple of consumerism.

A consumerism that presents itself as full of the sense of lightness of luxury, a spiritual matter above all material concerns,

a spirit full of being swept away on a white horse.

In this classical city modern advertising also adopted the most modern form. At a crossing two young persons with a banner went in front of cars with a message. It looked very familiar from many environmental actions against car traffic. It is the same phenomena as when out door posters have pictures on young people making graffiti in branded jeans while the municipality in the city with these posters starts big campaigns against those making graffiti.

Looking at the whole picture it is quite clear what kind of prpoaganda that dominates a city like Vienna today, that of consumerism with specific gender roles.

After Vienna I took the train to Wroclaw in Poland, or the former German town Breslau. This big city was bomber in the late parts of the war but has been rebuilt and many historical parts are well kept.

Here I found walking forks making propaganda for a restaurant. Somehow this felt more to the point and a bit humouristic. As a teacher in exhbition design it was fun to see this classical Sandwichmen walking around in a time when it is claimed that only internet will be the way for marketing in the future. But I should not have thought in that way. Back home I traveled in a car with my collegue Roberto Finoli. He allt he time spoked with a soft volice to Lisa. He told her that she was so kind and that her voice was so much more gentle in Swedish than in Italian. She guided him so well through all his obstacles on the way to a meeting. Lisa was the name of his new GPS. As far as i understand this is the future. Everywhere one can get information about both which roads to take, restaurants to eat at, which museum to go to, which hotels to slepp at and whatever you need. There is new future for walking forks or people with banners anymore, or?

Memorandum on ESF future

Tord Björk | ESF | Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

Friends of the Earth Europe and International
MJV – Friends of the Earth Sweden
EPA meeting in Vienna 20-21/6 2009 preparing ESF 2010

By Tord Björk
Coordinator EU Committee, MJV
Coordinator Contact group for Europe and the World, Nordic Organizing Vommitteee ESF 2008
Founding member of ESF Support group

The points in this memorandum can be summarised:

1.    Better balance between ecological and redistribution issues.

There should be better respect for decisions made and no hidden agenda making ESF into only a gathering for the left. ESF have the risk of becoming a shopping window to promote political consumerism for different fractions within the left. Instead it should promote building of alliances for another social and ecological Europe and World were different movements are equally important whether they define themselves as left or not..

2. Reform needed for the ESF process.

At the core of the ESF process is the linking of discussion and action. In the ESF 2008 process the idea of open space was fulfilled completely. The open space concept have been tried and it went bankrupt lacking capacity to mobilise volunteers and promote common action to have solutions to the global social and ecological crisis. To much emphasis is put on high number of activities and participants, to little on process, political outcome and common efforts and collective action.

The best of the open space concept is still useful, the principle that no decisions are made in the name of all ESF participants. The principle to decide upon collective action at assemblies is equally important. Thus it is necessary to acknowledge the responsibility the organizing committee and EPA have for informing about all parts of the ESF process including both discussions and the linkage to action. It is also necessary to have representation mechanisms in such processes making it possible for different movements and countries to have a balanced possibility to come to common points on an agenda. Thus it is necessary to brake with the underlying market mechanism which makes central ESF activities dominated by organisations from rich countries or with good access to external funding. It is important to promote collective processes within the ESF process as Assembly of social movements and CEE networking. Good steps in this direction are the Via Campesina proposal that ASM organises a seminar in the beginning of ES on the linkage between different issues, the closer cooperation between different networks and the initiative to make national reports that have been started within the CEE-ESF network.

ESF demonstration in Malmö 2008, photo from

Memorandum on ESF future


FoE Sweden was involved as the only environmental organisation from the start of the preparations for European Social Forum 2008. Our aim was to get a better balance. This by promoting an ESF process with long term goals to strengthen activism and cooperation between popular movements. Also by adding more of ecological awareness to the social justice content. Our method was to establish strong cooperation with action-oriented movements and especially Via Campesina in Sweden as well as their and our international organisations. We were active in promoting climate action and a youth camp for environmentalists and small farmers as well as a number of seminars on environmental issues and their linkage to social questions and how to change society by popular movement mobilisation. We also committed work to strengthen NOC and the mobilisation in general for ESF and promoted also here better balance between West and East. We continue also after ESF to engage ourselves by supporting documentation and are active in the ESF support organisation established with the aim to collect money for ESF debts. Below you find some conclusions that I bring forward. We have not been able to discuss them in full within FoE Sweden but they hopefully bring some of our reflections forward.

Better balance between ecological and redistribution issues.

There is a serious lack of respect for the political integrity and balance in the ESF process. One clear case is that it is the wrong WSF declaration that is quoted on the official ESF web site. Instead of the official WSF declaration decided in June 2001 were critique against capitalism and imperialism stand on equal footing with the stating the need for another relationship between humn being and nature. Instead an earlier version of the WSF declaration is presented were anticapitalism and antiimperialism alone are important added with a antropocentric rather meaningless statement. This means that there is a lack of respect for decisions made which makes the process unstable and also that ecological awareness is something marginal while issues of redistribution and power becomes the only central ones.

Instead of respect for decisions made there is sometimes a hidden agenda. By official spokespersons ESF was presented in the 2008 process as a gathering for the left. This kind of cooptation of other movements into a ”broad left” who by definition is marginal in relation to the left core is unacceptable. The only criteria for who we are is stated in the WSF declaration. There are many other positions that should be equally respected as being part of the process and not some marginal phenomena to a left core. Feminism, radical pacifism, social ecology, gandhianism, indigenous or small farmer criticism of the present development model or any person or organisation that endorses the WSF declaration.

It is true that environmental and small farmer movements do not so far contribute very many activists or other resources to the process. But if ESF wants to be true to its foundation and have a vision for the future to express better all parts of the movements, than other movements that do not define themselves as left and correct versions of decisions must be the point of reference and not any hidden agenda.  Redistribution issues now dominates the process with the trade unions as a key factor and some kind of ”left” as the unspoken and yet dominating identity. This makes the ESF process defensive and unable to have a more clear vision that also questions the present development model while at the same time repeating old divsions within the left. It also means a lack of respect for the common cause which was fully expressed when the Transport workers union that were in the front of the common ESF demonstration refused to carry the main banner and instead made their own banner the front banner of the demonstration. ESF thus slips into being a shopping window to promote political consumerism for different fractions within the left instead of building alliances for another social and ecological Europe and World.

Reform needed for the ESF process.

There is a serious need to reform the ESF process by acknowledging the strength and put aside unrealistic and unbalanced ideas. At the core of the ESF process is the linking of discussion and action. In the ESF 2008 process the idea of open space was fulfilled completly. The great majority of the Swedish initiators and later the NOC board viewed ESF as a space that should only be defined by the participants and not by the the hosts.  The organisers should only provide this open space. This idea was seductive with promises of horizontal democracy from below. Any attempts to state that the organisers had to take political responsibility for informing about the ESF process as a whole including that ESF also is a place were decisions on actions as the Anti Iraq war demonstrations can take place was seen as a threat towards the open space concept. Instead of political motivation for the ESF process professional neutrality was seen as the ideal together with presenting ESF as very special and unique. This resulted in choosing expensive solutions on some points but more problematic that there was no political motivation for mobilising sufficient number of volunteers. It also caused severe internal conflicts ending in qualified volunteers leaving the practical work and a board majority that chosed the professional solutions in spite of that there were no money for this professionalisation strategy. It ended in political and practical exhaustion and finally in bankruptcy. Afterwards there is a lack of analysis from the great number of persons who promoted open space and ESF. Instead it is mainly those people that promoted the opposite kind of activist-oriented model that are active in organising a follow-up of ESF both on practical and analytical level.

Thus the open space idea have went bankrupt. It caused a fragmentation of a common effort making it more effective to only focus on organising own activities. It also caused a focus on status in terms of quantity in numbers of participants and activities rather than on how discussions could be linked to action.

The reform needed is to

2a) Acknowledge the responsibility the organizing committee and EPA have for informing about all parts of the ESF process including both discussions and the linkage to action.

2b) Brake with the underlying market mechanism which makes central ESF activities dominated by organisations from rich countries or with good access to external funding.

2c) Promote collective processes within the ESF process as Assembly of social movements and CEE networking.

There is no need for reform when it comes to the rule that ESF do not take decisions in the name of all participants. This part of the open space concept is good for a long term openness. But it has to be equally acknowledged that within the process it is especially important with such collective efforts that results in action influenced by all on equal level.  Here to continue develop what Via Campesina proposed in April 2008, a seminar on the linkages of all issues at the beginning of ESF organised by ASM, the networking between network that has been developing better after ESF in Malmö also at WSF and the All-European Assembly with 2 delegates from each country not enable a space at ESF were all parts of Europe and especially CEE countries can discuss All-European issues in a more balanced way.

But it als means another balance between ESF and the process between ESF meetings. Here the initiative by Russian and Hungarian ESF organisations to make reports on how the crisis develops in their countries and what can be done about is a key to reform the ESF process. The focus only on high number of participants at ESF must be changed into a more political focus on the process as a whole. Collective efforts like this CEE initiative are of importance rather than focussing on which key note speakers are at the moment most interesting for many people to listen to and should come to our activity. ESF should promote collective solidarity with some common efforts rather than producing political consumers of the latest well-known media messages on social and ecological issues.

Some of these reforms were promoted already before ESF in Malmö and met sometimes resistance. Afterwards one can see that ESF is able to reform itself and some important changes have already taken place that now needs to be confirmed as important principles for the future of ESF. One should be able to say that ESF is an important gathering with multiple spaces for discussion and action. Here different points of views can meet and it is also possible to take decisions on action at assemblies of different movements although no decisions are taken in the name of all ESF participants. Thus ESF promotes both open debates with different perspectives as well as assemblies for mobilising and taken decisions on action that the participants at these assemblies supports. Decision can also be taken at these assemblies  to strengthen the ESF process and cooperation between different movements before and after ESF gatherings.

EPA in Vienna – ESF: a Leftist Kindergarten or Social Movement Cooperation

Tord Björk | ESF,Friends of the Earth,Travel | Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

The European Preparatory Assembly (EPA) for next European Social Forum to be held in Istanbul 2010 took place in Vienna in June. In short it was a step backward in spite of Austrian great efforts to strengthen the process. In Turkey the key organization and people that have carried on the preparations so far for almost two years have stepped aside and new people and organizations took over. Central is a committee of five trade unions. The new Turkish cooperation partners said no to strengthen the preparations and the momentum have at least temporarily been broken. The network meetings were few and not well attended but with soem good results as the CEE network. The Climate change network meeting also resulted in a useful outcome stressing the need for cooperation between different movements and constructive programs that can address both climate and job crisis.

I arrived early with the night train from Berlin. Things had changed completely. I needed a telephone book to find a number and address but was told that this did not exist anymore. Nor were there any internet cafés open at the Westbahnhof or nearby. It took me many hours to sort things out. Global 2000 was a great help. This organization is a member of Friends of the Earth. Last time I visited them the office was placed quite far out, filled with activist equipment, placards and the like. This time there was a new office closer to the centre in some less luxurious blocks easy accessible. This saved me and my need to use internet. I also bumped into an office meeting and made a report from FOEE AGM. Global 2000 is an effective NGO with many professionals in the staff working on controversial issues as GMO and nuclear power. There was a sense that the contact with lay activists had been lost and now needed more emphasis. There was a sense of rationality in the air, of high level intellectual and goal-oriented professional action reaching out to the political consumer. Quite far away from the less resourceful Friends of the Earth Sweden.

Finally I found Leo Gabriel from the Austrian Social Forum who had invited me at the anti-racist rally outside the parliament.  Austria have continued to make more and more strict laws against the interest of refugees and immigrants. Also people accused of having a fascist and antisemitic background were members of the parliament and Jews were amongst the protesters in the anti-racist rally which gathered a very large number of participants.

Among the demonstrators was a Swede according to Leo. He presented me to Peter Kreisky who was brought up in Sweden during the war when his father was a refugee.

We talked about the can company Felix were Peter worked as a boy while his father Bruno struggled in the exile resistance against fascism. It was nice to meet someone so well acquainted with Sweden down in the emperors city which Sweden as so many others failed to conquer in its imperialist days. Here the Mongols, Turks and Swedes have failed, only Hitler was well received and could conquer the city without any resistance after the fascists had massacred the workers movement with the Ottakring district as one of the last strongholds for the workers in 1934.

The EPA meeting took place in a Volkhochschule, a People´s high school in the midst of the old worker´s Ottakring district of Vienna established in 1905. It was a hundred years old and still a busy place were people go and learn things, in the old days both workers and women’s liberation activists and today participants in “democratic and intercultural” education. It is one of the oldest schools for education of after adulthood inspired by the Danish peoples high school movement and celebrated equally by social democrats and communists.

Here we entered among the many busy students. The network meetings took place in smaller appropriate rooms. Attendance was low compared to earlier EPAs. The environmental climate meetings though got for the first time a wide interest from others than environmentalist, small farmers and climate campaigners. We were very few from these movements, basically myself from Friends of the Earth Sweden and Alexandra Strickner from Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy and Attac. The Danish delegation from Climate Forum 09 would arrive later to the plenary session on Saturday. Some 40 people attended interested to hear about the preparations for the Copenhagen Summit. The divergence became very clear. Trade unionists from Belgium were especially ambitious in the practical planning. A train for some 700 people was in the preparation for participants to go from Brussels to Copenhagen and the Summit Summit in December. They also stated their political purpose clearly. It was only to support the politicians. This is in strong contrast with the different actions and the Climate Forum 09 that is in preparation. Here the basis are political platforms with specific demands both for constructive solutions and against solutions that will have a negative effect on both environment and social justice. It is clear that participants in the ESF-process have very divergent agendas.

Still yet the network meeting could conclude in making a statement that is useful in the preparations to promote political goals that hitherto have been marginalised. Political goals that are important for building alliances between different movements and for reaching out to the general public. The political demand was to focus on the need for a constructive solution to the climate crisis that will bring about jobs. So far in the preparations the radical activists in the consensus process used in the Climate Justice Action network have blocked this demand from getting wider support. The environmental NGOs tend also to see this demand as marginal and the radical environmental groups tend to focus on degrowth in a socially neutral way and thus also avoiding this issue. Only in the ESF process has it been possible to get a broader support among different movement for this demand.

The next day the European Preparatory meeting started. The main hall were this meeting took place was impressive, once financed by the baron Rotchild who saw the need in supporting education of workers. The assembly was dominated by a struggle between the Austrian organisers and Western Europeans, mainly French attempts at questioning the leadership of the meeting. Under the surface was the fact of the change in leadership of the Turkish Organizing Committee.

The Austrian organisers had untactically named its proposal for a European preparatory group European Organizing Committee. Thus the name was the same as that of the organisers in the host country which is normally also called organizing committee. Such labelling caused confusion. There was also not enough flexibility from the Austrian side once the criticism was expressed although in the end willingness to change the name. The label European Organizing Committee was kept in the discussion to long in spite of that it was not intended to have the same postion visavi ESF as the organizing committee of the host country/ies.

Probably the Austrians felt that their proposals was in the interest of all. They had especially gone to Istanbul to meet the new TOC and present their idea of the need of a European preparatory group that continously could help the Turkish preparations.and that the Turks had agreed to the idea. The need for a better organisation have been clearly seen in the preparation for the ESF 2008 in Malmö. There are numerous practical tasks left without follow-up between the ESFs. The haphazardous way important things as supporting CEE participation, fund-rasing or spreading of information is managed causes severe unnecessary problem. The fact that most ESFs have left big debts behind of hundreds of thousands Euros shows that there is something basically wrong in the preparation process.

But no arguments helped. The TOC opinion, if they ever accepted the Austrian idea in the first place at the visit in Istanbul, was now that they did not want any European group that continously helped with the preparations whatever label it had. To talk to the TOC representatives was as talking to empty eyes. I must admit that it made me very uneasy to sense this lack of interest in practical preparations. It was not only disinterest in the idea of setting up a European preparatory group. Worse was the disinterest in any specific practical experiences from preparing a ESF. As experience tells us that to start in advance is crucial to many aspects as fund-rasing, CEE participation, getting new groups involved etc it was discouraging to to feel that the new TOC tin the hands of trade unions was disinterested in not only a group but also specific ideas and practical needs of immediate nature for improving the organizing of next ESF

Discouraging was also the unqualified assessment of the ESF in Malmö. The practical problems with dispersed localities and unsufficient number of volunteers for organizing the event are well-known facts. In the case of the localities it is trivial. As there were no other option than Malmö to place ESF and as there were no other localities to be found in this small city there were no alternatives. The lack of volunteers could have been different. When similar or higher amounts of people took part in the activities at the EU Summit in Gothenburg these problems did not occur (instead the police caused severe problems). The trade unions and Attac who dominated the board of the Nordic Organizing Committee had chosen a model for the preparations that promoted professionalization and thus activists were marginalised and the mobilization of volunteers failed. The Swedish trade unions were as disinterested in practical preparations as now it seems that the trade union dominated TOC is.

Criticism on these practical matters are well deserved and not much to be embarrassed about. What is discouraging is that the ESF in Malmö also was in general dismissed politically as well. This is false. The assessments made by a large number of groups states the opposite. This becomes obvious when reading some 2000 reports on the internet about ESF in Malmö including many from outside the Nordic countries. More or less all movements report from Malmö that it was a political step forward for them and for cooperation with other movements. What was lacking was a general political debate about the connection of issues and the different crisis. But this was stopped not by the Nordic organizations but by a French intervention against a Via Campesina proposal at a European programme meeting. The political attack on the Nordic organisers coming to a large degree from French delegates is misdirected. It became clear in the discussion that few of the EPA delegates build their judgements on serious analysis and studies. Instead superficial opportunistic arguments dominates the discussion which do not bring the ESF process forward. The experience from the ESF 2008 preparations is also that many Western European organisations claim interest in supporting the practical preparation including funding of the Solidarity fund and then afterwards quickly forget it while an overdimensioned interest instead is put into discussing the programme at high costs at special meetings outside the EPAs.

The Austrians had done a lot of effort in preparing the event. They made strong effort in translation and had interpreters organised. They also made a lot of fund-raising for CEE participants. Thus the tradition to maintain a strong CEE presence in the process from the ESF 2008 process was maintained. The journey to meet the new TOC in Istanbul also shows a clear committment to the practical needs of preparing next ESF. Instead of seeing the psoitive side of these efforts and the need to enforce the practical preparation the meeting tended to act in a rather disgraceful manner. Partly this was due to inflexibility from the Austrian chair but it certainly could have been done in another way. In practice the meeting ended with that the secretary took over and the Austrian leadership of the meeting was put aside.

If the discussions in plenary were discouring the discussions in the corridors was much more so. Thanks god for not being a leftists! I do not mind cooperating with the left and as independent of them I tend to be told all bad things about the others. My own experience is that all strands have positive aspects and that the way criticism against the others are handled sometimes become comical and a way to avoid the problems the own left-wing tendency have. What happened was a big shift in the view of the former main collaboration partners in Turkey. A key organisation in the former TOC was the Socialist Workers Party in Turkey, SWP. Their main strength had been in building broader coalitions working against war and also campaigning on climate change. Now when the power relations shifted in Turkey suddenly many reminded themselves of hw this trotskyist tendency which SWP belongs too was an obstacle to many in different parts of Europe. Whether this was relevant for the case of Turkey seemed not of interest. My experience of the SWP tendency in different countries is different from situation. I do ot like the opportunistic tendency to put only one issue a a time as the only important thing but the activist commitment is many time sincere and important in a European political were politics more and more is based on dependence of donors, a problem which is very clear in the environmental movement. My experience as coordinator of the European contact group for ESF 2008 is that the former TOC was a great help in the preparations that time upon time helped out in practical problematic situations, directly contrary to the experiences which now was brought up from other countries. Two times I also visited EPA meetings in Istanbul and both times it was clear that the participation from  environmentalists and other kind of movements was broad. The climate change network meeting had 55 participants, larger than any other environmental network meeting during EPAs that I know of. The discussion also had a high level, more so than in Vienna. It is as if the left that dominates the EPA process opportunistically changes its assessments according to who is in power and not according to principles and relevant serious judgement.

Now what caused the split in Turkey was never really clear. The SWP people stated that it was political and part of a great split in the whole left in Turkey and due to the developments when five trade unions established a  special committee within TOC to guide the work. Thus they saw both political developments outside TOC and thus only informally connected to the ESF process as well as the formal aspects within TOC as an argument for leaving their active participation. The new TOC organisers claimed that the informal political aspects was irrelevant and at the formal level that SWP at first had agreed to the new group of five trade unions as guiding and not controlling the TOC. Only when, in the new situation, SWP people presented the idea that some of them should be part of the professional staff to prepare ESF and were refused so the SWP left. The two stories are not necessarily contradictory. What is illogical is the way the new TOC treats the two similar ideas to have guiding groups supporting TOC, in one case consisting of five Turkish trade union, in the other case European organisations helping with the preparation. In the case of the five trade unions guiding group this is not only willingly accepted but also claimed to be of no importance for the possibility for TOC to have a open and democratic decision process. In the case of an All-European support group the claims are exactly the opposite and the idea bluntly refused.

My role at the meeting was rather ungrateful. I reported about the bankruptcy of the Nordic organisers after ESF and the failure in paying the costs of Babels and cultural workers as well as others. This issue is something I might come back to in later contribution on my blog socialforumjourney. The reactions on the report were firstly to the point but after a while there were tendencies to state things against a position that was claimed to be ours in the Nordic countries when it fact in was a speculation made by the person thus enabling himself or herself to make a stronger statement against a non-existant position. It was also discouraging to sense a lack of interest in being committed to the idea to expand the ESF process to the Nordic countries. It was if the challenge to integrate the Nordic experiences was a to hard task for the original initiators of the ESF process in Southern Europe and that they now gladly retracted back to the Mediterranean waters.

In my role as one of the few environmentalists it was more fun. The statements on climate change and job-creation in plenary and in the network meeting is most helpful. I found two French delegates that helped my out a lot with the climate network meeting. As I have a private ”campaign” blaming more or less all bad things about the ESF process on the French it was lovely to find some French delegates who both talked and did things in a focused and  efficient way. It is nice to get my prejudices contradicted. So it was when reading the reports from ESF in Malmö. No country had as diverging reports as those in France. Both experienced activists as Christophe Aguiton and young activists as one contributor to L’Humanité had strong positive evaluation of ESF 2008, in L’Humanité the message was that Malmö was young and energetic. In not other country were the opnions as contradictory and strongly expressed as in France to my knowledge. But the positive judgements now seemed wiped away from the minds of the French.

Conclusions are hard to make. My obsession with the problems dealing with a consensus process in practice dominated by internal French positions that quite often are contradictory was met by a commentator from the old TOC, this is a French affair and it is just to love it or leave it. Another Greek comment was that ESF 2101 will be a Turkish affair and that this is good. The Turkish mass organisations have the capacity to carry out the task well practically. To a large degree this EPA behaved as a leftist kindergarten.

In general the kind of movement that participate in the ESF process are of utmost importance for the strand of the environmental movement that I belong to. Many environmental organisations only focus on environmental issues and often only on lobbying. My strand sees the necessity of alliances between different social movements. In the preparations for the Climate summit and the building of a movement of movements for climate justice this is of great importance. In the ESF process there are both in Eastern and Western Europe many of the only really existing social movements able and actively interested in building such alliances. But that the dominant leftist forces sees the trade unions as the cardinal and unquestionable central movement creates problems, also for the trade unions that in this way are not confronted with the need to treat other movements as equal cooperation partners.

What was really fun was to meet all the CEE participants, the famous Matyas Benyik and Endre Simo from Hungary, Peter Damo from Romania, Mirek Prokes as always administrating all our needs for minutes and order in the papers, the nicely provocative Alla Glinchikova from Russia as well as  Svetlana and Yulia from Law Institute in Moscow. Together with the Austrian pacifist Mathias Reichl and the Russian women the EPA meeting in Vienna ended with all the human benefits that one can get out of political meetings.

We talked a lot about Stanislav Markelov from the Law Institute in Moscow that did so much for the ESF process at the EPA meeting in Kiev and as a strong advocate for Caucasian cases at ESF in Malmö. He was murdered in January directly outside the court building in Moscow together with the young activists Anastasia Baburova directly after a trial against someone accused of human rights violation in Chechnya. It was clear that is very hard to replace this very committed lawyer who have helped so many social movements in Russia. We strolled along the streets in Vienna guided by our Austrian friend, went to the empress castle and looked at an exhibition of paintings and drawings from the time of Rembrandt. This made me leave Vienna in a nice mood.

PS You can read about Stanislav’s adventures during ESF at the mayors dinner and with the police on this blog:

Comparing 1972 with 2009 Friends of the Earth Europe

Tord Björk | Environmental movements,Friends of the Earth,Summits | Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

What have than happened to the environmental movement since 1972 judged when mainly looking at Friends of the Earth. Already in 1972 FoE was central organisation in the international arena. The Conservation societies had given an open floor to new organisations as they gave no priority to the UN Conference on Human Environment while FoE established itself in Stockholm as an international organisation 1971 with the aim to influence the Summit. Below I list the claims I made about the environmental movement in 1972 and then the situation today.

1.We did have a lot of fun.

Certainly there is a lot of fun today as well. Maybe sometimes to much divided between actions with resources to be well organised and actions with very small resources and repressed by the police but the creativity and good vibration coming from many actions is great.

2. Over population was presented as a main if not the main global environmental problem by the dominant Anglo-American environmentalism.

Forget about it today with the exception of British discussions on climate change between Monbiot and those talking about the need to become very few on this earth. I was informed by my classmate Gunnar Widing in 1966 that the social and economic development in South Korea and Taiwan showed how population growth could be controlled by volunteer efforts in the third world. In country after country this is what happens. Since this early mentioning how social factors had a strong influence I never believed in alarmist discussions about population growth as a bomb that would explode. If we fight for social justice we will also be able to stabilise or even reduce the number of people, not by seeing people in the South as a threat.

3. US hippies, ”crowd control experts” from Hog Farm, a dozen of journalists from the same two newspapers that never wrote an article about the events, business think tanks and the official US delegation eagerly cooperated.

Nowadays business lobbyist are all over the place influencing every international environmental negotiation of importance and setting up think tanks to influence the genera public and media constantly. Different kind of provocateurs are still around.

4. The dominance of Anglo-American environmentalism with little concern for social justice was overwhelming from the outset but lost a lot of its glamour during the conference.

Today the environmental justice movement in the US and UK have changed this considerably and are sometimes ahead of other environmental groups in Northern countries. FOE have also changed drastically.

5. The third world was very poorly organized but in the last minute an alliance between young theosophists and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, (WILPF) was able to get funds from the government allowing 60 third world participants from the ad hoc Oi Committee to come to the alternative activities.

Today the third world is well organised both inside and outside FOEI. This can be seen as the strongest difference from 1972 until today.

6. Before the Stockholm conference many environmental organizations looked upon environmental problems as technical. Thus to save the rivers nuclear power was seen as an alternative to construction of dams.

FoE was from the beginning sceptical towards nuclear power and still is. Nuclear power did not become become part of the strategic plan for the whole of FOEE but many groups campaign on the issue as FoE Austria and it is seen as one of the false solutions that FOE oppose in the climate negotiations. Many other important issues was also excluded from the strategic plan because not sufficient number of national groups are committed to act now but the organisation is firmly opposed to nuclear power.

A Strategic Meeting for Friends of the Earth Europe

Tord Björk | Environmental movements,Friends of the Earth,Travel,Uncategorized | Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

There was with some curiosity I headed for Friends of the Earth Europe’s Annual General Meeting on my search for an answer on the question: Where is the environmental movement heading? The FOEE AGM took place in a ”Small little town in Germany”. This small town still had a lot of memories from the cold war as it was placed just at the old border to the Federal Republic of Germany (BRD) on the Peoples Democractic Germany side (DDR). As many small towns in the east not in the frontline during the war very little have changed since some century ago. The economic development have been slow and thus few new houses have been built. Some of the old houses are renovated while many are warned and yet gives a character for a foreigner to the place.

The town is called Lenzen not far from Wittenberge in North Eastern Germany. It is close to the river Elbe. Here BUND, Federation for the protection of environment and nature in Germany, a FoE member group with some 400 000 members have received a castle as a gift. It was given back to the old owners after the reunification of Germany and the owners than gave it to BUND. It is a small castle, well suited for courses and excursions in the environs.

One of the great pleasures of being an environmental activist is that every time now and than at meetings one can get out to have a look at birds, take a swim or just walk around enjoying nature. Lenzen gave a lot of these possibilities combined with walks through the small town and a visit to the old watch tower were the DDR police was supposed to stop people from fleeing to the West. It seemed a distant passed when we strolled along bicycle paths and looked at many Storks and people enjoying life in the open fields.

When I arrived I was alone from Sweden but the day after Hanna came as well. I only had met here briefly once. She is a member of the board and have studied the external effects of consumption in Sweden and the need for included this in our estimation of what Sweden consumes. It was good to be two at the meeting finding out what was going on and sharing some thoughts of the differences between Sweden and some other countries. We both were quite amused by the way some talked about members of FoE groups as grassroots and them, as if not the members are the basis of the FoE groups and those that democratically decide upon strategy and which direction they want the movement to go. Of course we in FoE Sweden have groups working with specialist issues as making qualified reports on specific subjects and of course we alos take direct contacts with politicians. We are even sometimes pointed at as inventers of modern lobbying in Sweden which can be seen as somewhat overestimating our role but anyway we are not unconscious about what is presented as new ways of doing politics. But at the same time we see the communication and acting together as people in common as the basis for our work. Thus how to make a specialist report accessible and used by people in common is something we see as quite obvious, and people in common are not them, we are one of them.

In general FoE groups are fairly small with as in Sweden 2 500 members but some are big like in Switzerland, Germany, UK and the Netherlands. In Sweden as in many countries we have to heavily rely on volunteer work and lay activists do much of the qualified work as we in total only can have 2 ½ person employed. In other countries the situation is quite different.

The strategic plan

The main task we had at the AGM was to decide upon a four year strategic plan for the first time in the history of FOEE. It had been prepared it was stated with a lot of effort by the staff and with consultation f all interested FoE groups. It was a hard work we understood, but the what had been so hard in finding out the political content in the strategic plan was not presented. What was important was that the process had been formally correct which I am quite for certain that it had been. But to shortly address the main political obstacles and the solutions to these obstacles and thus also motivate us the see the political importance of the document was not part of the culture at this meeting.

In general though there were a great deal focus on issues building strategic alliances as the food security question. Here cooperation with Via Campesina have been important. Climate Justice was also an important part of the strategic plan including many social aspects although the criticism of false solutions in the climate negotiations are a lot stronger and more developed than notions on a constructive program that could solve both the environmental and social crisis. It is quite clear that those radical anticapitalist activists in England accusing FOE EWNI (England, Northern Ireland and Wales) from being two separate fractions in one organization is not correct on this field. There is a vital radical discussion among many FOE groups both among lay activists, staff and elected boards on climate justice which makes such a judgement misleading.

Friends of the Earth Sweden becomes main stream

Tord Björk | Environmental movements,Friends of the Earth,Via Campesina | Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

In earlier days FoE Sweden seemed odd to many FoE groups in Europe. We were closer to FoE groups in the third world with our strong emphasis of being a popular movement and cooperating with other popular movement and with our opposition to EU. Popular or social movement was an odd concept to many who rather called themselves NGO. More federalism in the EU was seen as a main strategy for solving environmental problems.

Now the strategic document states that EU:s influence globally by promoting strongly neoliberal models is a threat to the environment and the earlier rather uncritical attitude to EU is gone. Of course EU is there and should be addressed when there is a need on environmental and linked issues, but there is now a lot more realism in the relationship with EU.

Demonstrators at the EU-Summit in Gothenburg 2001 when FoE Sweden and FoE Europe made a break-through in cooperation between anti-EU FoE groups and Pro-EU FoE groups ending with FoE Sweden, FoE Europe and FoE International sitting in a panel together wih Attac in the first videolinked direct discussion with EU politicians at an EU-Summit.

The real radical change comes in the way FoEE looks upon itself. When being part of the EU system is less attractive membership in FOEI have been seen as more important. And FOEi have decided to become a social movement and furthermore sees Via Campesina as a main partner. FoE Sweden even have ”popular movement cooperation” in its statutes and have long time experience in expanding from a small organisation into a core organisation in large coalitions or during Summits. We also have a closer relationship with Via Campesina than probably any other organisation and cooperate often with small farmers, recently to a high degree at ESF in Malmö 2008 were also Via Campesina Europe became an important cooperation partner.

Joint Via Campesina and FoE youth camp at ESF 2008

Now the participants at tthe FOEEAGM were supposed to sit and answer on questions as what is a social movement and how can we develop towards such a way of acting as well as questions concerning cooperation with Via Campesina. FoE Sweden suddenly became fairly alone in living up to cooperating with Via Campesina in Europe and feeling at home with questions concerning what is a social movement.

It was a pleasant feeling to become main stream. It is quite much easier when the whole movement goes in the same direction, at least in words. To mainly be an opponent in an organisation is not necessarily bad but not interesting as a role all the time. Even better was the sense that FOEE really is in a process asking itself what should be its role in the future and its main cooperation partners.  It is clear that it will not be an easy discussion, not for FoE Sweden either. There were a lot of uncertainty and quick changes from a position to another. But anyway steps have been taken and I believe FOEE never will be the same again, and hopefully not FoE Swedem either.- We live in new tomes and to address the environmental issue in a more social way as well as see the need in change through social movements rather than the routines set up by governments in your own country, Brussels or at Summits or the routines of the market is less and less an option. When FOE decided to become a social movement rather than an NGO it was a historic decision and FOEE is seriously starting to follow the decision. It will take time, but the journey have started.

Becoming a social movement will necessarily need more of a general vision for were FOEE is heading. Now the work is structured almost only according to limited campaigns, both in the strategic plan and concerning budget. The kind of common purpose for the movement as a whole is somewhat missing. There is a need for both a cosmology, ways of organizing and technology that challenges the present society if we should be able to solve the ecological and social crisis. And the three are strongly interlinked. This was according to movement intellectuals as Andy Jamison and Ron Eyerman once the strength of the environmental movement which any movement needs to be able to bring about change. Some steps to regain that strength has now been taken, interestingly even at the global level. We will see what will follow. As someone who was nick named grandfather of the the environmental movement by activists of EYFA and A SEED already 1990 it will certainly be interesting to see how the movement will develop in the future.

FOEE AGM Process and culture

Tord Björk | Environmental movements,Friends of the Earth | Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

The Friends of the Earth Europe Annual General Meeting was rather enjoyable as someone calling himself ”process freak” directed the meeting forward. It was of course true that all have had the possibilities to influence the document in advance and thus to make additional proposals at the meeting was not necessarily constructive. On the other hand this was not openly stated and as we were there to discuss and decide upon the strategic plan it would be maybe anyway possible to raise some questions.

FoE Europe Youth meeting at the former castle spring fountain

It was especially the issue of a constructive plan for rebuilding society according to global justice values that we in Sweden sees as important in relation to the the climate issue. In 1997 FOEE carried out an ambitious project in many European countries that also was elaborated upon on other continents by FoE groups. The idea was simple. There is a limited environmental space on Earth with we need to share equally, or as it was stated we need to use not more than our fair share. Every country would preferable set a goal to reach this level of fair share when the environmental space was shared equally among all human beings.

Now there was in the project some tendencies towards technological change rather than also look at the necessary social changes but it was an important attempt at constructing a strategy built on global justice. We wondered if this kind of thinking not could be refreshed and used again.

To my astonishment this very large and politically important project seemed mainly forgotten. The way the strategic plan attempted at bringing it up again was to ask EU for seeing to that the member countries started to measure their use of resources. That was seen as a strategic goal as it had a concrete object and the lobbyist in Brussels seemed to see it as semthing possible to achieve.

Of course a FOEE AGM have to deal a lot with what the office in Brussels can do and the office has a big role in influencing the EU Commission. Yet in a strategic document for FOEE one could also think of other possibilities to change society as by simultaneous action in many European countries whether they are outside or inside EU.

Finally I think it was possible to get into the strategic document some small wording opening up for bringing up the fair share and environmental space concept again but I must admit it might be wishful thinking from my side and I do not have the documents here to help me to know for certain.

Much of the discussion was carried out in small groups in cute little old houses in the castle garden perfectly suited for the task. Facilitators had been picked in advance. The way these group discussions was carried forward was very different. Sometimes there was a very open discussion and amendments made to the draft while in others the text was seen more or less clear already and the discussion carried away from influencing the content. Rather than being ways to consciously influence the political outcome it reflected people many being experts rather than used to democratic processes.

In general the whole atmosphere was anyway open and criticism was sometimes addressed bluntly also from staff towards the board. This was an expression of openness which is necessary for democracy in a movement.

The film The Age of Stupid was screened. The global premiere is on the 21 of September in more than 40 countries and at 700 place alone in the US. This was one of the few occasions when political differences became more evident at the meeting. The film shows concentrated very many of the strong arguments put forward by the environmental movement on climate change. People from different parts of the world are followed including a young women from the Niger river delta, a owner of a low-budget air flight company in India and a persons who tries to get windmills erected in Britain. The picture also show how the problems have develops and sees consumer culture as one of the causes but explicitly also points at capitalism as a cause to the climate crisis. Now to the of big conservation societies in FOE from Germany and Norway both had similar opinions against using the film. Not as one could guess the explicit blaming of capitalism as a cause to global warming. Instead it was the way the opponents of wind mills in Britain was presented in the film. The opposition was reduced to estetics only. How in fact this was the case in the conflicts concerned and shown in the picture I do not know. Certainly there are conflicts regarding establishment of new wind mills when there are legitimate nature conservation or other objections. But there are certainly also quite a lot of the kind of conflicts realistically shown in the picture. To be afraid of the reaction from some members in the organisation rather then seeing opportunities by screening the film and be an active part in giving people advice in how to do something about climate change might be a better option. The experience from pre-screening the picture have been that people come out motivated to do something. The material made for the picture also gives people the idea t do something as influencing town-planning and the community were they live and not mainly consumerist solutions to the climate crisis. Here FoE groups can do a lot of good work.

FoEE Youth in the garden

There was also an interesting energetic short picture about the activities of Young FOEE activities at the Climate Summit in Poznan. Here the different ways to act during a Summit was cleverly put together in a way that made it possible to feel that everyone could do everything. To discuss with politicians, sit and send email messages or other social media work to communicate with the communities you come from, making street actions or demonstrate was not something that were separate task but something everyone could do. Thus the picture was inspiring stimulating activism. How to be able to discuss with a politician? Well it is easy one of the Young FOEE activists present said, it just to ask if she or he wants to go and take a beer. Young FOEE people is a newly started part of FOEE which made some good work at ESF in Malmö together with Via Campesina Europe and is now building up for Copenhagen Climate Summit.

Apart from the strategic plan there was a lot of other matters common to an AGM as election of a new board and the budget. Than of course all the talking and walking with people here and there and from everywhere. I especially enjoyed to talk about cycling in Rome, a city I once penetrated by bike for four months a long time ago and a place were it still seems possible to use the bike. To pass the eight lanes around Colloseum between Fiat, Lancia and Alfa Romeo is not any longer possible though. There is no traffic anymore here. That was otherwise one of the places almost as dangerous as biking through Sao Paulo which I did in the beginning of this year, see earlier posts in this blog.

Here I am on a bike when the first EYFA bike tour started from SEED Popular Forum in Bergen to Hungary 1990. The bike is one of these laid back versions which I borrowed remembering earlier bike tours through Europe from Stockholm to Bergen and then to Poland and Sicily and back again to Stockholm but claims on facebook that I cycled the EYFA tour is false, I just had to test the bike.

There were none from the days when FoE started to organize internationally in the early 1970s and very few of the old friends from European Youth Forest Action and A SEED. But Paul de Clerck was there as always with whom we organized climate action days globally in the early 1990s. Jan Thomas from SEED Popular Forum in 1990 and Latin American Groups also turned up, now head of the FoE Norway staff. And of course Martin Rocholl, long time director and than chairman of FOEE turned up for the party and a chat with the newly re-elected chairman.

The AGM ended as always with a great party. From the tower of the castle I could see the preparations.

Then there was eating   … and dancing!

Another FoE Sweden report from FoEE AGM 2008:

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