Translated by Agnes Zilber
The Tunisian edition of the WSF just finished on March 30th. It was a unique experience for the associations, organizations and citizens of the whole world to gather and create the necessary networks to provide for their respective commitments. In this text I will look into the link between the current situation in Tunisia and the WSF taking place in Tunis.
Without a doubt people and activists from all over the world came to Tunis to ‘try’ and get an idea of the ‘revolution’ in Tunisia and its consequences. It is not sure that the majority of them have been able to come into contact with the main actors of the revolution such as the Tunisians from the poor suburbs of Tunis, as well as those from further off regions, who participated actively in the popular revolution.
The exclusion of grassroots social movements and of those which are not mainstream has always been a recurring topic in World Social Forums and the 2013 WSF has not been an exception. Although the participation in the Tunis forum was clearly massive, a vast majority of Tunisians were not able to participate, let alone suggest activities. This is quite ironic given that the historical situation should favor exchanges of knowledge and experience from those who have led the popular revolts.
Instead we saw a downpour of thousands of associations and NGOs, who, for the most part, came to talk about their activities in a well defined sector and were incapable of stepping out of their specific activity field often dictated by flaws of the capitalist system (human rights, women rights, development, education, dept, migration, etc.). If the relevance and efficiency of these NGOs are questionable, their incapacity to go beyond this sectorial approach and fight for the blurry concept of ‘social justice’ poses greater problems.
To understand this situation some thought can be given on the existing gap between these local and international NGOs and the social movements undergoing a revolutionary process. For the former the challenge is to reform, supervise, improve, represent, democratize, finance, etc. Whereas for the latter, it is rather to confront, demand, appropriate, revolutionize, spread scandals, fight, struggle, block the economy, etc. It is not only about capitalism and globalization but also about the relations with the state.
As history bitterly reminds us, January 14th 2011 marked the beginning of the ‘democratic transition’. Ben Ali left, but his system remained: the police, the different ministries, the few hidden powerful, etc. Soon an agenda for the democratic transition was imposed on the ongoing revolutionary process, creating a large scale popular protest (Kasbah) which faded away within several months.
Obviously many Tunisians wanted to continue the struggle with the monster that the Tunisian state had become: the repression system, the endemic corruption, the suffered economic imperialism, the under-development policies, etc. were discussed, analyzed, deconstructed everywhere and by all the Tunisians in the streets and elsewhere. And this, right after the ‘revolution’.
It is clear that during the WSF, the Tunisian state was present through its various ministries. Some even saw a rebirth of the tourism sector with this new kind of tourism: the activist tourism, a perfect product to give a fresh start to low cost tourism, which benefits the elites and sends out a peaceful image of a Tunisia ready for foreign investments. Because the revolution is over, isn’t it? Never heard of the Tunisia of jasmine?
The massive presence of the state ministries allowed living in a ‘Disneyland’ for one week, away from poverty, outcasts, violence, etc. A taxi driver told me that the WSF week reminded him of the times Ben Ali was still there, when tourism was doing good.
But when he almost got arrested by the police that night, he added that the police presence during the WSF also reminded him of the times Ben Ali was still in power… No comments… Another friend told me that the massive security force in a ‘social’ forum is an outrage and triggers memories of the traumas experienced by the victims of repression from ‘the police’ during and after the revolution…
For many the process of democratization post January 14th 2011 has been counter-revolutionary. We could say the same about the 2013 WSF in Tunis regarding ‘civil society’. If the WSF has been populated by local and international NGOs, this also means that grassroots social movements lost an historical occasion to know one another, unify, and identify their common enemy: capitalism (and not only neo-liberalism), the powerful state, the economic and cultural colonization, as well as the colonization of the imagination, and the steamroller of Western modernity and progress. The ‘NGOization’ of the ‘civil society’ is one aspect of the ‘civil society’ phenomenon because NGOs can be seen as messengers of Capital and the State whereas, on the other side, social movements need to confront them.
We can start to make out a colonization pattern based on a certain Western ‘civil society’ model which institutionalizes the fights, pretends to ‘represent’ the outcasts, monopolizes time of speech and presence in the media, and more especially follows an agenda according to the needs of the international fund donors, removing the local ‘civil society’s’ sense of responsibility towards its own priorities and choices in order to pursue imposed policies. It is a political economy for the social struggles that must absolutely be undone, because this ‘NGOization’ will grow stronger in the future and most importantly be a great hold-up towards the self-determination of people.
Colonization is even found in the conceptual and historical foundations which claim to be mainly of humanism, universalism, secularism, determinism, racism, science, and rationalism for European modernity. This usually tends to strengthen the idea that the West has the monopoly on modernity when actually many different modernities exist, spread throughout time and space with different civilizations. In the case of Tunisia, the way to see and think politics cannot be rooted in reality if the Arab-Muslim modernity is not taken into account in all its historical and ontological diversity and complexity. This other modernity will allow a search for alternatives in the understanding of capitalism and its deconstruction.
It is very special for the 2013 WSF to be held in a country in the process of a revolution; and, in order to complete the speeches and workshops of the WSF, it has been a failed opportunity to set concrete actions for urgent issues. There is the Choucha refugee topic, the recent IMF loan, the police impunity report, etc. It was a dreamed opportunity to support social movements in struggle and yet nothing happened.
Now to decide whether the forum is revolutionary or reformist seems trivial after all this. Here is a concrete suggestion: cancel the Porto Alegre convention for the WSF and give it a new name: Forum for the Social Professionals, NGO and State Forum, Host State Forum (please add your own suggestion in this collaborative page, don’t hesitate to participate: http://pad.tn/p/FroumName).
This way, we can stop creating frustrations with each new edition of the forum and leave some room for a new imagination which will truly strengthen the grassroots social movements and enable to seriously launch a revolutionary project, project which already started in Tunisia in 2011.
The big polluting car, based on old technologies, pseudoscientific, cumbersome, and expensive, telling the whole world it is a bike, will then get back its original name: car. This will allow those who need it to build a bike, light, efficient, bringing people together and fighting against capitalism with simple, local ways, well rooted in reality; instead of using the methods of the current masters of the world like in the Davos conference: a small group of white men deciding for the future of humanity in a militarized space where all is done so that a minimum of ‘democracy’ is carried out. The WSF uses Davos’ methods…
In Tunisia a starting point could be for example in the small basic community places which are for most citizens: the café, the hammam, the mosque, the bar, the stadium, the neighborhood, the small or big family, etc. So many places that the administrators and engineers of these ‘social transformations’ ignore. The destructive obsession to make out the public from the private only perpetuates these colonization patterns…
The lie of the Tunisian revolution has brought forth another lie, the WSF lie, which reminds the Tunisian people and all the people in struggle that another lie is possible.