ESF 2006 ATHENS

Globalise Resistance brings together groups and individuals opposed to the global growth of corporate power.

Guy Taylor

X http://www.resist.org.uk/reports/archive/esf2006/index.php (external link)

Over 100,000 people flooded the streets of Athens to attend the biggest anti-war demo since 15 February 2003. International, significantly with a large contingent of Turkish activists, and loud, the protest re-stated the antiwar movement is still at full strength. A message of "Don't Attack Iran" was sent out, in solidarity with smaller events across Europe and the world. The demonstration came at the end of the 4th European Social Forum, another great success of the altermondialist, or anticapitalist, movement. After the victories over the EU Constitution in France and the Netherlands, the defeat of the EU Ports Directive and the spectacular hammering of the CPE employment legislation in France again, the movement is in very good shape

Reportedly 35,000 people attended the forum, it was hard to gauge as the venue so so cavernous, but given that almost every one of the workshops and seminars I saw was packed to the gills that figure is acceptable. More than any of the previous forums, thanks to the venue, there was a large Eastern European delegation there, and unsurprisingly less Scandinavians attending. The disused airport gave the event a strange environment, in places you could wander and feel quite alone, in others the crowds were overwhelming. As usual, the number and diversity of seminars and discussions was spectacular, the sheer number of stalls to browse was impressive.

There was plenty of space too for cultural events and exhibitions. In many rooms and corridors we had quite fantastic displays of images from the movement and imaginative installations. A major installation of sculpture by Danish artist Jens Galschiot entitled "Balancing Act" was again central to the artistic input in Athens. Jens' work is well worth a look, check it out at http://sculptures.aidoh.dk (external link). Outside in the huge open space (rather a distance from the city) were two large stages where concerts were performed each night. Unfortunately the rather un-Athenian weather (high winds and quite a chill after sunset) took the edge of what could have been a fantastic party atmosphere.

The movement in Greece makes the UK's look pretty harmonious. many of the differences of opinion over many different matters were either resolved unsatisfactorily or not at all. Now the idea of the major plenaries has thankfully been ditched (so torturous was organising them), some of the seminars organised by a smaller section of the forum are now fulfilling the 'rally' role. The organisation decided to put two anti-war rallies at the same time, thus promoting the 'Life of Brian' feel. perhaps the most shocking display of sectarianism came on the protest. There was a predictable row over the order of the demo, with the Synapsismos / Greek Social Forum grouping insisting that whatever the theme of the demo, they should go first. To ensure this happened, a large group of all white and pretty macho young men surrounded the Stop the War and Genoa 2001 groups, preventing them from moving as many groups and parties moved ahead. In the predictable furore that ensued some young women (including a member of Globalise Resistance) were struck and injured, thankfully not seriously so.

The demonstration saw worse behaviour on part of some 'activists' not involved in the forum who threw molotovs and firebombed a bank before running to the demo for cover. It appears the COBAS section of the march, near to the front weren't happy with this and a fight ensued. Three protesters needed hospital treatment, at the hands of protesters the cops must have found that highly amusing.

But despite these problems, the movement certainly benefited. The Assembly of the Social Movements, characteristically chaotic made some useful calls, the highlights of which are:

• A week of action from 23 to 30 September 2006 for a complete withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afganistan, against the threat of a new war in Iran, against the occupation of Palestine, for nuclear disarmament and to eliminate military bases in Europe. busy week - ed • An international day of action and mobilization the 7th of October 2006 in Europe and Africa, for a European unconditional legalization and equal rights to all migrants; for the closure of all detention centres in Europe. • Campaigning against the casualization and the dismantling of public services and for social rights across Europe in the coming months. • In January 2007, the ESF will meet in Nairobi. The growth of the African social movements is crucial for the world. Building for the WSF will be an opportunity to fight against European exploitation and neo-colonialism. • In June 2007, there will be a meeting of the European Union Council and a meeting of the G8 at Rostock in Germany, for which there will be a major mobilisation.

Perhaps it was the animosity, maybe the fear of the sheer volume of work involved, but there has been no potential host country coming forward to organise the next European Social Forum. there will be a meeting in September to discuss this issue. i fear we will be waiting for the 5th Social Forum, maybe even longer than the 18 months we had to wait for the 4th. In the meantime there's work to be done, and a major gathering at Rostock next year.