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Fighting "Jurassic Park" capitalism

Russian Social Forum Success

Tuesday 15 August 2006, by Aleksander Buzgalin

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The second Russian Social Forum has just come to an end in
St.Petersburg. Despite various obstacles put by the state authorities
(including arbitrary detention of activists and other forms of police
repression), more than a thousand people from different regions of
Russia, and also from many other countries, attended the gathering.
The forum declared its support for a number of constructive program
proposals concerning education, housing policy, labor issues,
human rights, energy and environment. Those who love bloody spectaclesand unhealthy sensations were disappointed; the alterglobalists did not organize any brawls, and no shop windows were smashed.

1. Why riot- and mayhem-lovers were disappointed

Unfortunately, in today’s Russia (and not only here), philistines
and journalists pandering to the philistines’ taste prefer to report
crimes, violence, bloodshed, scandals and other "hot" topics. For
this kind of public, a serious, constructive debate on urgent problems
faced by people in Russia and other countries is simply too boring.

There were no fistfights, so the alterglobalists’ scheme was a ’failure’.
And you can explain endlessly that the forum organizers had other
goals, and those goals were mainly achieved. The gathering was
organized not by "antiglobalists" guided by moth-eaten ideas of
isolationism, Stalinism etc. but by supporters of world integration
quite different from the present one that is imposed by the so-called

For us, the aim of integration is not in realizing the US and NATO geopolitical ambitions, nor in helping to satisfy the profit-thirsty transnational corporations who dominate the world markets under the cover of the slogans of free trade, nor in the spiralling growth of international financial speculations (up to 2500 billion dollars a day!). It is something else. We say, "A different world is possible!", and on the basis of world experience and expert studies, we show, just what kind of the world this would be.

We call for a serious debate on possible alternatives. Neither the
authorities, nor the philistines, nor mass media serving their demands
like the idea of such a debate.

So what are these alternatives all about? Who were the participants
at the forum in St.Petersburg, and what were they doing there?

2. Who we are, and what are we going to do.

The Russian Social Forum is a network of diverse social organizations
and movements, a network that shows in practice, constantly working,
that another world is possible and necessary - a world oriented not
toward the "market fundamentalism" but toward human development andsolving social and environmental problems. Among the most active
groups that took part in the forum were: independent trade unions;
campaigners against the commercialization of housing and communal
services; the "Education for All" and "For Human Rights" movements;
alterglobalist organizations proper, such as "Alternatives" (a movement that supports citizens’ social initiatives), "Collective Action" Institute; organizations of victims of the Chernobyl disaster and those who helped to liquidate its consequences; "greens", and dozens more.

In all about 1500 people registered at the forum that took place on
July 14 and 15 in the Kirov Stadium in St.Petersburg. Many of them
came simply to see what was happening at this gathering that frightened the authorities so much. In the author’s opinion, about 300 people worked actively in seminars, round-table discussions and symposia at the forum. Many militants of left-wing youth organizations,
anarchists and other politically-oriented activists saw participation
in meetings and protest actions outside the stadium as their priority.

3. What happened at the forum, and what are our positive demands

The opening event was intended to be a working session, including
presentation of main thematic blocks of the forum’s work, but the well-timed visit by the St.Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko
kept us busy for some minutes. The journalists who flocked towards
the big boss, with their usual servility, inevitably diverted general attention to a certain extent, and we decided to make use of this
situation in order to protest against the detentions and arrests of
our comrades. The forum participants chanted "Freedom!" and other
slogans denouncing the repression by the authorities, while Matviyenko
tried to explain that the authorities loved us.

Despite all that, the basic aim of the plenary meeting - providing
information about the main directions and tasks of the forum’s work -
was achieved. Then, the serious work started.

Discussions were held on issues of defence of human rights, forms
and methods of the struggle against "filling-in" house construction,
against evictions from dormitories, against the rise of costs of housing and utilities, and so forth. As a result, constructive recommendations have been developed - what needs to be done and how should it be realized, with creation of new networks and strengthening of old ones. In a longer term, these networks will provide more effective organizational base for citizens defending their rights and interests as inhabitants.

Similar steps were made to develop solidarity of independent trade
unions that are defending workers’ rights in the conditions of
Russia’s present-day "Jurassic Park capitalism".

The forum discussed a wide range of human rights issues, from
developing constructive steps consolidating the structures of civil
society to very definite demands for release of political prisoners
and our arrested comrades. Facts were presented demonstrating that
in Russia, there is more and more arbitrary repression by bureaucrats
and police, less and less real democracy, and that it becomes more and
more difficult to exercise elementary civil and social rights.

Important practical steps toward establishing a united action network
involving "traditional" human rights defenders and left activists
campaigning for social justice were proposed. At the forum, one could
point out a positive role played by Lev Ponomarev, the leader of the
movement "For Human Rights", and by Lyudmila Alekseyeva, the head of
the Moscow Helsinki Group. They stated unambiguously that human rights defenders in Russia are increasingly oriented to a constructive
dialogue with left-wing defenders of social justice.

Among the most important constructive initiatives proposed at the forum
was the "Education for All" program document presented and discussed at
a special symposium where it was shown that the government?s policy,
with its efforts to privatize educational institutions and to introduce
a new Chubais-style "voucherization" (this time in the field of
education), would lead the country to a loss of what remains of its
(once great) intellectual potential, making it impossible to achieve
a "society of knowledge" in a proper way. The positive part of the
"Education for All" program contains concrete proposals for ensuring
high quality and universal accessibility of education; these are
measures that would allow the education to be oriented to human
development, not to "the markets".

The basis for elaboration of the program was provided by materials prepared by O. N. Smolin, professor and State Duma deputy, and by dozens of well-known scholars, teachers, and education experts. It also explains how to obtain resources for the development of education, and how to use them effectively, how to make attractive the teacher’s work, and much else. The All-Russian Movement "Education for All" becomes, more and more, the organizational basis for realization of this program, in collaboration with trade unions and youth organizations.

These are only a few examples of specific documents discussed
at the forum, and practically-oriented decisions made. There were also
documents on energy, environment and other issues.

So, we have carried out the work that was intended to be done in
St.Petersburg. In this respect, the forum was quite successful.

Very important was the fact that activists of social organizations,
parliamentarians, young people from many countries addressed us at
the stadium and worked together with us. The forum participants
reacted enthusiastically to interventions by a well-known Italian
social activist Vittorio Agnoletto. A member of the European Parliament, where he serves in the Human Rights Commission, Agnoletto sharply condemned the police outrage initiated by the Russian authorities. Speeches by German comrades, French trade union activists, many other guests from abroad were received with enthusiasm. The youth delegation from Ukraine, young people from the Baltics and Poland were particularly active.

At the same time, the forum encountered a lot of problems and
contradictions. A major problem was arrests and detentions of our
comrades. There were also numerous internal disputes and disagreements, some of them essential, others arising from difficulties in
understanding and interaction between such diverse groups as
human rights activists, left political organizations, youth groups,
anarchists, "presentable" professors from education networks...

Sometimes we could not avoid organizational problems and disputes.
We also had to discuss at length how to react to the police blockade
of the stadium and to the authorities’ ban of our demonstration.
Some members of the organizing committee reacted positively to the
idea of our meeting with Putin, that originated from within the
presidential administration. However, an agreed decision was made:
we could engage in a dialogue with the government leaders only on the
condition that all our comrades were freed (of course, they weren’t,
and no such a "dialogue" took place).

Nevertheless, all these disputes did not prevent us from carrying on
our work.

4. The right hand of the government doesn’t know...

...what the left hand does. As a result, more than two hundred people
arrested, held in custody, humiliated...

An extremely harsh attitude of the authorities was a feature of this
forum. More than two hundred participants were arrested, held in
custody, or persecuted in another way. In some cases (including that
of the author himself), the dialogue was conducted politely, but many
of our comrades were detained without explanation or taken off from
trains, and some were charged with criminal offences, with explosives
or narcotics planted on them.

A couple of days before the forum, the member of the organizing committee Mikhail Druzhininsky was arrested, and later, another organizing committee member, Ilya Ponomarev, was detained. A number of the St.Petersburg activists could not return home in the evenings, since they had been told that preparations were being made to detain or arrest them.

During the time the forum was held, especially on July 15, our comrades
were constantly being detained using all sorts of cooked-up pretexts.
After the end of the forum, several dozens activists who participated
in anti-G8 protest actions were taken into custody.

We should give their due to a number of media outlets, and in
particular to the radio station Moscow Echo, as well as to a number of
internet sites who reported honestly on these repressive measures by
the authorities.

Most of the pro-Putin media, however, reported "a picture of total
harmony" playing up the fact that the St.Petersburg authorities had
provided several army tents and a field kitchen for us. At the same
time, there were "inaccurate" reports that the participants were also
given free meals. Everyone who attended the forum and ate that soup
and buckwheat knows that we paid for everything ourselves.

The fact that we were allowed to occupy the stadium was the result of
a compromise with the authorities, compromise not very pleasant for us.
They agreed that we would use the arena of the stadium (which, it
should be noted, was closed for reconstruction) only after they had
understood that we would not change our minds about holding the forumin St Petersburg anyway. Probably, they decided that it was better to lock us up in the stadium than to face far bigger problems if we would
hold the forum somewhere else, in more "open" place.

Some representatives of the presidential administration constantly
tried to convince us that federal authorities’ attitude to the forum is
exceptionally democratic and friendly. But mass "clean-ups" of our
comrades, the ban on demonstrations, and riot police in vast numbers
around the stadium clearly showed exactly the opposite. So, it was
very relevant that before the end of the forum, Lev Ponomarev presented a declaration strongly condemning the authorities’ actions and demanding release of our comrades and stopping their persecution.

5. The alterglobalists: "white fluffy kittens", or...

In concluding these quick notes that are being written during the first
hours after the end of the forum, I would like to stress that
organizations and movements that form the network of the Russian SocialForum are not "white fluffy kittens" admonishing everybody "to live
together peacefully". Not by chance, the main slogan of the forum was:
"Rights cannot be granted ? rights are to be conquered!". We’ll
demand from the authorities that our legitimate social and civil rights
be realized. We’ll fight for this demand using all methods permitted
by international law and by the Russian constitution. We’ll advance it
resolutely, in serious dialogues between experts, at meetings and in
discussions, - and, if the authorities are unwilling to listen to
citizens, in the same way as participants of protest actions against
the "monetization of social welfare benefits" did it in early 2005;
many of those people who took part in the second Russian Social Forum
were also active in the 2005 campaign. At the same time, we have been
and remain opposed to senseless hooliganism and to provocative violent
acts. The image of "antiglobalists" smashing windows is forced upon us
by those people who are really afraid of our constructive initiatives.
And the authorities are afraid; otherwise, they would not have detained
scores of citizens who wanted to make their way to the forum.

In any case, what the authorities think of us is not so important. We
know perfectly well that the government implements its policies of
"market fundamentalism" and bureaucratic lawless rule not because it is
ignorant of the interests of citizens, but because these policies
are beneficial to those who put the government in power. This is why
we address our words and actions, above all, to the society, to the
citizens, to those who solely is able to change our life, finding in
themselves the resolve to unite with comrades, so that another way of
life, more humane and just, will become possible in Russia and
throughout the world.