European Social Forum: Perhaps there is a need for a reflection time. But it can’t be too long

On Saturday, 3 July, around 3,000 people joined the march of the European Social Forum (ESF) in Istanbul.

It was the closing march of the sixth European Social Forum. Just as there is low participation in Turkish trade unions, the turnout at the ESF march was quite low.
Why so few people attended? It is a question that needs to be addressed. Certainly now, but to be honest it had to be addressed before. Clearly the ‘formula’ of the mass gathering seems to have had its day. Perhaps as somebody says it is time to go beyond these fun periodic activist meetings anyway, and rather create permanent networks of real relations.

The unions in Istanbul say that the global crisis has also affected trade unions. Many people from countries like Greece, Bulgaria and Romania may not have been able to come because of the effects of the crisis.

But someone in Turkey, for example KESK confederation of public sector workers said that they had faced a lot of difficulties in the preparation of the forum, one of them being European prejudice. Some European trade unions, said KESK, had the impression that the ‘Turks’ would not be able to organise this. And the ‘Turks’ reply that they really have to work on breaking down these prejudices.

The other point made to explain the low turnout was that the left is totally isolated.

All of these reasons are true. And they seem to indicate that somehow the emotional and political bond which had worked so well in the past, in the first editions of the Social Forums, is suffering. From the crisis faced by the left first and foremost.

And it was quite disturbing to listen to people in Turkey pointing out that they were looked at in a kind of ‘different’ way from people from this side of the world. Scaring and certainly something which has to be addressed immediately. At the Mesopotamian Social Forum, in September 2009, there was the same impression: the south of the world seemed to be left alone with its ‘problems’ despite the fact that most of them are caused, directly or indirectly, by the North or West world behaviour.

The West or North for its part seems to be closing itself in a dangerous self-compassion attitude: everything goes wrong, the crisis is bad, politics is over. It’s dangerous because clearly it could lead to the renounce of a common struggle, opting instead for a selfish and ultimately pointless fight for survival.

Perhaps there is a need for a reflection time. But it can’t be too long.

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