Patrice Riemens on 21 Feb 2001 14:36:46 -0000

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<nettime> Richard Wolff (INURA): First Hand Report on Davos WEF

Richard Wolff is the Zurich representative of INURA, the International Network 
for Urban Research and Action, which brings together in true interdisciplinary 
fashion grass-root activists and academic researchers. Besides Zurich and 
Toronto, the most active branches at the moment, it has reps in Amsterdam, 
Bruxel, Buffalo, Caen, Firenze, London, Ciudad de Mexico, Novi sad, Rostock and 
Torino. Its next congress will be held in Firenze, Sept 24-29.
Richard wrote this report (dated 29.01.2001) for the INURA list & website. 


First Hand News from the World Economic Forum in Davos  

I have just come back from Davos where 3200 economic, political and media 
leaders met for the annual so-called World Economic Forum. Since 1971, the World 
Economic Forum has played a key role in formulating economic policies throughout 
the world. It's sponsored by a Swiss organization that serves as a consultant to 
the United Nations and it's financed by more than one thousand corporations. 
This year's motto was "Bridging the Gap". 

Every year, chairmen and CEOs of the world's 1000 largest multinationals and 
banks come together to talk about future economic and political strategies. Also 
present are presidents, ministers, kings and queens: people like Vicente Fox 
from Mexico, queen Sylvia from Sweden, the king of Jordan, Laurent Fabius, 
minister of finance from France, and Kofi Annan. 

For days, countless helicopters have been buzzing over our heads, taking global 
rulers up to Davos. They had arrived at Zurich Airport in hundreds of additional 
flights. Their planes were too many to be parked in Zurich. Instead they had to 
be valet-parked in Stuttgart, Basel, Munich, and Geneva, after having dropped 
off their valuable cargo in Zurich. 

An Anti-WEF demonstration had been planned for a long time. A coalition of more 
than 70 organisations had asked for a permit to demonstrate against WEF in 
Davos. Permission was refused by the Kleiner Landrat (local government) of 
Davos. Instead police - aided by major media - tried to create a climate of fear 
and panic. It was said, that violent protesters from all over the world were 
ready to burn down Davos. 

At least 1000 police and army forces imposed a state of siege over the entire 
valley. All three points of access to Davos were blocked off with double fences 
and on top NATO barbed-wire. Police asked peasants to deliver cow manure to hose 
off demonstrators (peasants, very well aware that they, too, were victims of 
capitalist globalisation, refused). 

Organisers appealed to the Federal Court of Switzerland, claiming freedom of 
speech and freedom of demonstration. The same game of 'request - refusal - 
appeal' had been played the year before, and the Federal Court had decided in 
favour of the protesters, but only after the WEF meeting was finished. 

Meanwhile, police forces from all over Switzerland were pulled together to 
protect the WEF. The whole country was practically put under state of siege. At 
the borders with Italy, Austria, Germany and France "suspicious people" were 
turned away. Some of them protested against this unlawful treatment and blocked 
the Swiss-Italian border. A German television team was also held up. The media 
kindled the fire by predicting heavy riots, thus raising the tension. 

Adam Ma'anit (Holland), speaker at counter-forum was pulled out of train and 
deported. Three students who handed out programs for the counter-conference were 
detained, their i.d.s and address books were fotocopied. Two video journalists 
from Berlin were stopped and deported. Arte and ARD journalists were forbidden 
to take pictures and ordered to leave the scene. On the motorway cars were 
stopped by masked anti-terror police from Geneva. Some of them used their batons 
to smash car windows and pointed a pistol at the head of a driver, then threw 
the man on the ground and handcuffed him. Several road blocks were erected on 
the road from Landquart to Davos. Activists from France were held at the border 
for 6 hours. Address books were confiscated. People were interrogated for four 
hours. People trying to travel into Switzerland from Austria and Germany were 
hindered to enter. Only helicopters could travel to Davos. 

On Saturday, when the (by now "illegal") demonstration was to take place, train 
stations at major railroad junction were turned into fortresses and no-go areas. 
In Landquart and Klosters (Prince Charles' favorite resort) double rows of high 
steel fences and barbed wire surrounded the station,  with hundreds of armed and 
masked anti-terror police intimidating all potential protesters and passers-by. 

Philipp and I were surprised to find out that we were able take a train part of 
the way to Davos. Official news had said that no trains would go to Davos and 
that roads were blocked, making it virtually impossible to reach Davos, one of 
Switzerland's main tourist resorts. Instead of taking us to Davos, the train 
stopped in Klosters. When the train pulled into the station we saw dozens, 
perhaps hundreds of masked and heavily armed anti-terror police on both sides of 
the train. I hesitated to get off the train, afraid of being beaten or otherwise 
mistreated. We were herded into a fenced off area to be searched. Only few 
people were let through without further checks. Philipp and I were two of them. 
(Do we really look that old and harmless?). We were allowed on a bus that was 
supposed to take us into Davos. Before we got there, the bus was stopped in a 
road block. In the middle of the mountain forest we were surrounded by dozens of 
policemen and trapped in a fenced-off and barbed-wired area. 

Policemen got on the bus and asked everybody's i.d. Some people, mostly young 
ones and those with long hair, dreadlocks, piercings, and dark skin, had to get 
off the bus and their luggage was searched. After about half an hour in the 
freezing cold with heavy snowfall, most of us were allowed to continue. Some 
unfortunate ones stayed behind or were sent back. 

We didn't know that we were among the last ones to make it to Davos that day. 
Most of those attempting access were blocked off somewhere on the way. 

In Davos it was like entering a ghost town, inhabited only by police and army 
forces. Fences everywhere. Behind the fences police forces with guns. Water 
cannons. Barbed wire. All shops closed. No-one on the streets. People peeking 
from behind closed shutters and drawn curtains. One lost Dutch couple with skis 
wanting to get on a ski lift. They didn't know that all cable cars, ski lifts, 
chair lifts had closed down for the day. The man told me that they had been 
coming to Davos for 20 years but that this was the last time. 

So there we were. A few lost souls looking for the "illegal" demonstration. We 
made it to the venue of the alternative conference "The Public Eye on Davos". 
Not many people were there, because participants and speakers had been hindered 
to get to this ("legal") meeting. 

Still, about four hundred or so people managed to stage a demonstration with a 
few banners. We couldn't go far because there was police everywhere. We never 
made it to the official WEF conference center. For every demonstrator there were 
two, three, four, perhaps 10 policemen and even  soldiers. On the roof tops of 
some of the buildings there were hidden gunmen. Helicopters soared over our 
heads. Some of the demonstrators were singing songs, some were shouting, the 
most violent ones were throwing a few snow balls. The response was an attack by 
a water cannon. Heavy  snowfall and bitter cold in the lost streets of this 
luxurious resort town. After two hours of attempting to move one way or another 
the demonstration desolved. 

But there was no way to get back. Neither trains nor buses were running. 
Eventually we found out why. Between 1'500 and 2'000 demonstrators, who had been 
stopped by police and army on their way to Davos had blocked stations, railway 
tracks and even the motorway. One of Switzerland's major traffic  axis was 
totally interrupted for hours. Some telephone lines had also been cut. 

Only after these interruptions had been ended and demonstrators dispersed were 
those remaining in Davos allowed to board a special train, taking us down to 
Landquart. This train was followed by two helicopters, hovering above the train 
for almost the entire stretch of about one hour, very James  Bond-like. At 
times, one of the helicopters flew alongside the train allowing us to wave hello 
to the pilots. 

Back in Landquart everything was quiet and Swiss Federal Railways sent an extra 
train to take us down to Zurich. Over the train loudspeaker system we were kept 
up to date on the demonstrations that had started in Zurich after the first 
trainload of demonstrators had arrived back. 

I had hardly stepped off the train in Zurich main station when rubber bullets 
were flying all around us. It was the beginning of a long night of riots in 
downtown Zurich with police using tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets and 
demonstrators singing, shouting, dancing, trying to march towards Rote Fabrik 
where they were going to have the final party. It all ended with burning cars, 
smashed windows and so on. Damages are estimated at several hundred thousand 

Today, Monday, everybody is upset: Demonstrators, police, politicians, hotel and 
restaurant owners, local inhabitants in Davos and Landquart. Having read most 
newspapers and listened to various radio and T.V. stations it looks like the 
vast majority believe that police actions were much exaggerated and that massive 
police presence, with masked and heavily armed forces, police tanks, helicopters 
etc. had contributed to a climate of aggression and fear. Efforts to protect the 
WEF had disregarded fundamental constitutional rights, right of free movement, 
right of free assembly and right of free speech. Various cases will be taken to 
court. It is being said that the constitution has veen violated and that, in 
fact, a state of emergency had been imposed on much of Switzerland. A majority 
of the population is not willing to accept this again and it may well be that 
the WEF is not going to happen in Davos ever again. 

Some thirty demonstrators remain in custody, most of them foreigners who will 
probably be deported to their native countries. These coming days we will find 
out how parliaments, the public and media react to what has happened. The 
"Spirit of Davos" much praised by WEF organisers is probably gone for good. 
Whether or not Swiss officials and politicians want to accept this "dictatorial 
regime" (qoute from Swiss tabloid) ever again is uncertain. 


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