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Kurzbericht vom Europäischen Sozialforum in Florenz

Dr. Rogate R. Mshana vom Ökumenischen Rat der Kirchen berichtet in englischer Sprache vom Europäischen Soziale Forum „Ein anderes Europa ist möglich“, das vom 6. – 10. November 2002 in Florenz stattfand. Insbesondere geht es ihm dabei um die Rolle der Kirchen.

The European Social Forum (ESF) took place at the Fortezza de Basso -Central Florence in Italy from 6th to 10th November 2002. The estimated number of participants was 60,000 from 105 countries and the number that participated at the major demonstration against neo-liberalism and war against Iraq was stated by the Italian police to be 500,000 people but the ESF organizers said the number was 1 million for a city of only 400,000 people.
The official agenda outlined three major issues as follows:
· Globalization and Liberalism
· War and Peace
· Rights/citizenship/ Democracy
There were 6 conferences daily under each of the above themes 151 seminars on various issues part and not part of the official program. Most of the conferences were attended by more than sometimes 5,000 participants. I will only briefly report on the role of churches in this the ESF.

1. Seminars Organized by Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy(FCEI)
The Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy organized two seminars. The First seminar was on the „Role of the Churches in the Construction of a new Europe: Commitment for a society based on Justice Peace and Integrity of Creation“. The second seminar was on „Christianity, Islam, and Judaism in Europe; the road toward a dialogue for a society of peace“.

1.1 „Role of the Churches in the Construction of a new Europe: Commitment for a society based on Justice Peace and Integrity of Creation“
The Speakers were Bishop Anastasios Athsofoulos from Athens Orthodox Church; Rogate Mshana, Justice Peace and Creation, WCC, Rev. Gianna Sciclone, Waldensian pastor, Florence; Tonio Dell’Olio, Coordinator of Pax Christ International in Italy and Grasia Bellini, Chairperson of the panel and President of Agesci, Italian Boyscout Organisation ( Catholic). I presented the WCC’s work on economic globalization and our joint work with WARC, LWF and CEC. Participants were interested to know about consultations on economic globalization organized by these ecumenical bodies beginning at Bangkok (November,1999)“ Consequences on Economic globalization“, Fiji( May 2001), The Island of Hope as an Alternative to Economic Globalization; Budapest ( June, 2001), “ Globalization in Central and Eastern: Responses to the ecological, economic and social consequences and Soesterberg (June 2002) Economy in The Service of Life. The various statements directed to Europe made at these consultations were shared at this seminar. I made reference to WARC’s work on Processus Confessionis and LWF’s work on Engaging Economic globalization as a Communion and its recent call to participate in transforming economic globalization. I refered the participants to the CEC’s discussion paper on „European Market Economy- an Alternative model for globalization.“ Most of the discussion which followed was supportive of the ecumenical work in this area and the need for the churches to continue working along these lines. Other speakers spoke of the European constitution and were concerned about the inclusion of a certain paragraph on European values supported by the Roman Catholic church despite the fact that it gave an impression of rekindling the legacies of the time when the church was strong and repressive in Europe. Reference was made that it was necessary to follow the European Union Charter as a guidance. Rev. Gianna Sciclone from the Waldensian church spoke of the need to take on board the gender perspective.

1.2 Christianity, Islam, and Judaism in Europe; the road toward a dialogue for a society of peace
Speakers were Brunelto Savarani, Catholic theologian, editor of QOL magazine, Tariq Ramadan. Leader of an organisation of Muslim in Europe; Paolo Naso, editor of the Catholic-Protestant review Confronti and the director of the Communication department of FCEI, Manuela Paggi Serun, President of the Jewish-Christian fellowship in Florence and Stefano Allieri, Sociologist and writer, Lecturer at Padoa University. I did not participate in this seminar because I was attending another huge conference going on at the same time on “ Globalize Resistance: People Not Profits“ led by Susan George as one of the speakers. This conference was attended by more than 5,000 people.

2. The Role of Religions in the critique of Globalization
This conference was coordinated by Tommaso Fattori of the Florence Social Forum. Speakers included Miguel Alvarez (Conai), Chief Rabbi from Florence, Sanitsuda Ekhachai ( Buddhist Network Thailand, Superintendent Evangelisch Church ( did not appear); Ibrahim Saleh Alhosaini ( Head of Islamic Scholars of Nigeria) who was present but when his turn to speak came,he was absent. This conference attracted over 2000 participants indicating the interests people now have on inter-religious activities and dialogue. One of the participants from Germany-ATTAC movement stood up and said, “ I am amazed to see that normally issues to do with religion were considered to be boring and unattractive to young people, but this attendance shows us that, religions have a role to play in bringing peace and justice in the world“. It was noted that the increasing people’s interest in religions as a source of solutions and alternatives to the current world of war and greed is an indication that religious institutions and ecumenical movements have a role to play in the social movement. Churches and the ecumenical family belong here.

3. An Invitation by the Archbishop of the Diocese of Florence
Organizers and speakers of the seminar on the Role of Churches in the construction of New Europe were invited by The Archbishop of the diocese of Florence Ennio Antonelli. The discussion at the Archbishop’s residence was in Italian. I was allowed to speak in English. I inform him about the work WCC , WARC, LWF and CEC are doing in economic globalization, our critique of the neo-liberal globalization and a search for alternatives. At one point I asked him his church’s role in the construction of a new Europe based on justice and peace particularly with its historical link to Africa. He responded that the church was involved in the issues but mainly organizations in his church are taking positions. He as an Archbishop takes the neutral position. I presented the Archbishop the two WCC booklets on „Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Churches Response to the Policies of the International Financial Institutional“ and “ Economic Globalization: An alternative view and a Critical Vision.“. He appreciated the work of the ecumenical network on economic globalization.

4. The Huge People’s March against Neo-liberalism and War on Iraqi
The march estimated to have 1 million people with a variety of people from various nations, organizations, movements, parties and various religious institutions was colorful like a rainbow. It reminded me of Bishop Tutu’s expression of „the Rainbow people of God“. I have never seen so many people like this before in my life. I was marching, I guess in the middle of the demonstration because I could neither see its beginning or the end. Behind me, the church was visible composed of a mixture of Christians from the Roman catholic and protestants carrying a cross made of wooden sticks and in front of me Palestinians with their drums singing“ We want freedom.“ Further ahead the Pacifist movement of “ Globalize resistance“ were chanting “ People Not Profits“. I could read many banners “ Peace Not War“; „Do Not attack Iraqi“, Capitalism has Failed“, “ Jobs Not Bombs“, “ Bush,Blair, Berlussconi-War mongers“, „War Not in My Name“, „Our World is Not for Sale“ etc. There has been so much talk in the media that anarchists might vandalize artistic sites in this beautiful city. „It was as if Florence was just a museum and not a modern city suitable to host a Europe-wide meeting of grassroots groups“, one demonstrator complained. I was talking to a lady who came all the way from the US to march here. She was the president of Peaceful Tomorrow, a committee of some 60 relatives of the victims of the 9/11 attacks in the US. Invited by the pacifists group, she lost her brother William Jr. in the attack on the World Trade Center and arrived from New York to tell pacifists here „that there are people just like them in the United States.“ The demonstration was peaceful. It dispelled the wide spread belief by the authorities that social movements are by nature violent. Haidi Giuliani, the mother of Carlo who was killed by police at the Genoa demonstration in 2001, told the demonstrators, “ civilization is here, and intolerance is on the other side. The new political and social phase which started in Genoa-and, before in Seattle and Porto Alegre continues and intensifies. This is just the beginning.“ She and another mother whose son died in Argentinean demonstrations were applauded as they spoke at the forum as well. The government warned people to close there businesses that day and residents residing where the march was to pass were asked to close their windows. I think those who closed their business regretted because the few who opened restaurants had almost all food and drinks purchased and consumed by the demonstrators. Contrary to the warnings of the government, I saw homes on the way feeding the demonstrators with free soup and water while others threw colorful papers to demonstrators with jubilation. The demonstrators applauded with chants of Peace. It was nice: One demonstrator concluded thus, “ In 40 years of political activism, this is the first time I have seen so many organizations united to change the world politics and economy.“

5. The ESF Assembly
An assembly of the European Social forum took place in one of the old factory building. It attracted over 6,000 people representing delegations from participating countries. The organizers said the Forum and the huge march was a big success for the social movement. Speakers who represented their countries delegations spoke 3 minutes each. The general emphasis for all of them was that they should consolidate and intensify their movements at home. They will continue to organize huge anti-war and anti-neo-liberalism events. The ESF coordinator from Florence said,“ we have made clear that it is sure that there is a Europe which doesn’t want this dirty war, supported or not supported by the UN. Blair and Berlusconi can try to ignore it. France could endorse, but we are not particularly interested in diplomatic outcomes of our demonstration. We must rather reflect on its deepest meanings.“ First it was stressed that the first reflection is that a world movement against war and neo-liberal globalization now exists and it is strong, wide and determined. The second one is that this movement includes many and various social components but the traditional left parties are not its core. Its core is rather the Social Forum movements against capitalism. The third reflection is that the Social Forum Movement has now greater social and political responsibilities. The social movements are looking for alternative world which we have never experienced before. “ We hate Capitalism, Socialism and Communism. We need something else with real justice, peace and equity for all,“ said one of the speakers. One said, “ Our leaders have failed us every where even in the UN. We do not trust them any more, let us go home mobilize people and get them out of power, elect ourselves and those people who want real justice, peace and alternatives to neo-liberal globalization. Go and work for alternatives with our people“. Some said that the neo-liberal globalization which was described as the best ever, discriminates and affects most of the world populations. The system is not capable of convincing people that it is necessary any more. International Institutions such as the World Bank, The IMF and the World Trade Organization have been the first to pay the price of this change of vision. And then another factor that affects neo-liberalism is the crisis of representative democracy. Politics is perceived as bureaucracy and those in charge are supranational institutions that are seen as far from the people’s needs and control. This movement is a great occasion not to be missed. “ We must all work together and assemble all the old and new energies of critical subjectivity, political parties, groups and movements. All together, South and North of the World. We can not waste any more time“ concluded one of the ESF organizer.

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