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Original Venue, New and Improved Methodology for Giant Meet

Mario de Queiroz

PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil, Jan (IPS) – The fifth World Social Forum (WSF) opened Wednesday in this southern Brazilian city, returning to the birthplace of this gigantic annual civil society meet.

But this time around, organisers rolled out a new approach for making order out of potential chaos as 120,000 participants gear up for five days of conferences, workshops and panel discussions about a vast spectrum of issues.

Salete Valesan of Brazil, Meena Menon of India and Njoki Njoroge Njehu of Kenya spoke with the press about the various aspects of the new methodology adopted for WSF 2005.

Brazilian government minister Luiz Dulci attended the press conference as a special guest on behalf of Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and took the opportunity to highlight the WSF’s contribution in making civil society a force â€?that every government in the world must take into consideration.â€?

�Is another world possible?� Dulci asked, paraphrasing the theme of the annual meeting, and then continued, �That other world is already on the way, it is already being built.�

The four previous Forums — of which the first three took place in Porto Alegre, while the 2004 edition was held in Mumbai, India — â€?were not concerned solely with debates, but also with collective reflection, and were not solely an exchange of ideas, but also of highly valuable practical experiences, which should be studied by the world’s governments,â€? he said.

The minister concluded by addressing the theme of government funding for the WSF. â€?Nothing is more pleasing than a government’s support for society,â€? he said, especially when the government â€?respects the political and cultural independence of the Forum.â€?

Valesan, meanwhile, called attention to the new methodology that was agreed in 2004 for this year’s WSF, which, as in past years, has drawn experts and civil society activists from the most varied specialisations and from around the globe.

â€?We conducted a broad public study of entities and individuals from around the world, using the Internet and also forms that we sent out to those who don’t have this technology, to arrive at 11 thematic spaces in which to hold the 2,000 activities proposed by 5,700 organisations from more than 100 countries,â€? she said.

For her part, Menon, as spokeswoman for WSF 2004, held in Mumbai, underscored that her country owes a great deal to this movement, �which was born five years ago here in Porto Alegre.�

�The movement that you began here was very important for India in particular and for Asia in general, giving us a new perspective in the struggle against war and hunger. What you have done for us is huge,� Menon said.

Next year’s WSF, which will be a â€?multi-forumâ€? held simultaneously in Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe, will be â€?an excellent opportunity for the four continents to spread to the four winds the Forum’s message,â€? she said.

Kenyan representative Njehu, who took part in the panel because WSF 2007 will take place in Africa, stressed that �Porto Alegre was the first home that civil society ever had.�

â€?The future is here, but it is also necessary to look forward,â€? said the activist, adding that the road ahead won’t be easy. The fight will continue against the policies of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organisation, she said, accusing those institutions of adopting actions that hurt the poorest Africans.

In 2002, there were 745 events organised by the WSF and by NGOs, encompassed in four thematic areas. In 2003, the totals rose to 1,402 events and five thematic areas, but the next year they fell to 1,241 events and four thematic groups.

WSF participants in the conferences, workshops and other presentations will be able to cross the language barrier thanks to volunteer interpreters who will provide translations in 17 languages: Portuguese, English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Japanese, Hebrew, German, Italian, Korean, Guaraní, Hindi, Quechua, Wolof, Bahasa Indonesian, Russian, and Brazilian sign language.

The 11 thematic spaces of the WSF will be distributed amongst 150,000 square metres of venues constructed from bio-recycled materials, including rice, wheat and oat straw. The site covers the equivalent of 18 football stadiums, stretching over four kilometres along the banks of the Guaíba River.

As of Tuesday noon, the number of accredited journalists at the Forum reached 5,421, handily surpassing the total of 3,200 who covered the fourth WSF last year in Mumbai.

Valesan ran down the list of 11 thematic spaces this year, which are:

— Defending Earth and people’s common goods – as an alternative to mercantilism and control by transnational corporations

— Arts and creation: building a resistance culture of the peoples

— Communication: anti-hegemonic practices, rights and alternatives

— Defending diversity, plurality and identities

— Human rights and dignity for a fair and egalitarian world

— Sovereign economies for and of the people, and against neo-liberal capitalism

— Ethics, cosmovisions and spiritualities – resistance and challenges for a new world

— Social struggles and democratic alternatives – against neo-liberal domination

— Peace, demilitarisation and struggle against war, free trade and debt

— Autonomous thought, reappropriation and socialisation of knowledge and technologies

— Towards construction of international democratic order and integration of peoples (END)

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