Last month, over a thousand trade unionists, human rights activists, students, miners, environmentalists, artists, left thinkers and journalists gathered on a campus in the heart of Moscow. It was Russia’s first ever Social Forum, designed to develop strategies, exchange ideas, and build a new movement for democracy and social change–as has been done in recent years in Brazil, India and Italy.
Longtime political activist and journalist–and contributor to The Nation–Boris Kagarlitsky’s report from the frontlines of this unprecedented event is published below. (As Director of the Institute of Globalization Studies, Kagarlitsky was one of the key organizers of the Forum.)
His analysis of what the Forum means for the future of opposition in Russia–and for the upsurge of new social movements and the left in that country–is an invaluable counter to the conventional wisdom about Putin’s Russia.
Russia’s First Social Forum
by Boris Kagarlitsky
On the weekend of April 16 and 17, the first Russian Social Forum was held in Moscow. On the campus of Moscow’s University of the Humanities, members of the left, trade union, environmental, human rights and disabled organisations gathered to discuss strategy and tactics for the struggle against the policies of today’s authorities. The participants numbered more than a thousand–but reporters from the mainstream media were almost completely absent.
On the evening of April 16, a demonstration to mark the opening of the forum was held on Pushkin Square. It might, of course, seem that to attract a little over a thousand activists from such a vast country was no special achievement. But with an almost no money and or access to the mass media, in circumstances where even collecting the addresses of participants in the protest action was a problem, and when the price of the cheapest train ticket is often an insurmountable barrier to making the trip to Moscow, organizing such a forum was by no means a simple task. (In Germany, where the left is considerably stronger, and where trade unions and antiglobalist groups are able to invest far greater resources in forums, similar events attract around five thousand people.)
Interms of attendance, Moscow’s first forum can be considered a success. But there was another measure of success: Until now, persuading various left groups to work together has been extremely difficult. Similarly, the “alternative” trade unions have not always got along. The Russian Social Forum was the result of joint work by a series of groups and organizations whose past relations have often been far from friendly. Nevertheless, the forum took place. The proceedings were not without problems, but the overwhelming majority of the participants showed a readiness to work together.