Soenke Zehle on Thu, 14 Mar 2002 20:20:55 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> ETC Genotype - Beyond NGOism & Intergovernmental Jamborees

Wednesday, March 13, 2002

Reflections following the World Social Forum - Porto Alegre, Brazil

Stop the "Stockholm Syndrome"!
In 2002 - The Year of Life Endangered

A series of global conferences this year are touted to renew
intergovernmental commitment to conserve biodiversity, eradicate hunger, and
help the world to develop sustainably.  Where have we heard that before?  If
the conferences fail, CSOs (civil society organizations) should cancel the
"Stockholm Syndrome" - the sad sequence of pep rallies that have pacified
popular protest for the last thirty years - and take on much tougher
tactics.  The easy part is to speak sweepingly about vision and direction.
We must also articulate the strategic timetable for short and medium-term
steps that will get us to our vision. The 10th anniversary of the
Biodiversity Convention; the World Food Summit; and the World Summit on
Sustainable Development; each offer critical tests for CSOs to present both
a vision and a plan.  If, as is likely, governments and UN secretariats fail
to meet realistic CSO goals, next year's World Social Forum could adopt a
"tough love" approach to intergovernmental negotiations that will really
make a difference. 

The Year of Life Endangered:  By any standards, 2002 is a turning-point
year.  Not so much the "Year of Living Dangerously" as the watershed  "Year
of Life Endangered".  Three gala international fora lie ahead that could
profoundly impact our lives and our environment:
* The Sixth Conference of the Parties (and 10th anniversary) of the
Convention on Biological Diversity (The Hague, April 8-26), will consider
the Biosafety Protocol, the GM contamination of Centres of Genetic
Diversity, and Terminator technology (the last chance for the Convention to
ban "suicide seeds" before commercialization);
* The World Food Summit - Five Years (and getting) Later (Rome, June 6-13),
must address Food Sovereignty including the Right to Food, Farmers' Rights,
the Law of the Seed (FAO's crop germplasm treaty), and the agricultural
biodiversity issues also considered in The Hague;
* The World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg, Aug. 26-Sept.
4), must review progress on each chapter of Agenda 21 and sort out a new
strategy to manage powerful new technologies such as nanotechnology.
Whether we call it "Rio+10"; "Earth Summit III"; or "Stockholm+30"; the
World Summit on Sustainable Development should signal the end of the South's
(and civil society's) dependence on global jamborees.  At the end of 2002 -
a year of bum-numbing 'diplomania', the world's governments must either have
their act together or the "Third System" (civil society in concert) that
Marc Nerfin posed thirty years ago should set new "rules of engagement" with
governments and industry.

The Stockholm Syndrome:

In 1972, Nerfin was the éminence grise to Maurice Strong's Stockholm
Conference on the Human Environment ("Earth Summit I"?) - the first global
environmental "happening".  The conference's main structural innovation was
to facilitate the active participation of the Third System.  In Nerfin's
analysis, the First System was the Prince (government), the Second System
was the Merchant (industry), and the Third System was the People.  Thirty
years ago, the people were invited to join in the UN System.  The conference
was a public relations success, and Maurice Strong went onto become the
first head of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and ten years ago, the
Secretary-General of the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED
- "Earth Summit II").  No doubt at some timely moment during the
Johannesburg opening ceremonies, Mr. Strong will come jogging into the
plenary holding aloft the UN's answer to the Olympic Flame.  Perhaps a paper
clip in square brackets...
What is the Stockholm Syndrome?  Shortly after the landmark Stockholm
Conference, a bank robbery and hostage-taking incident in Stockholm grabbed
world headlines.  The media furor was not because hostages were taken, but
because once rescued, they didn't want to leave their captors.  Two of the
four victims were eventually betrothed to their bandit heroes.
Psychiatrists have since dubbed the phenomenon, the "Stockholm Syndrome".
The theory goes that given sufficient duration and dependency, captives will
instinctively bind themselves to their captors.  Last June, Camila
Montecinos (then head of the global Community Biodiversity Development and
Conservation Programme) described the Stockholm Syndrome as a political
phenomenon in oppressor-oppressed relations.  Montecinos was in Sweden at
the time, attending a joint Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation/ETC group seminar on
new technologies.  

The Stockholm Syndrome has geo-political dimensions.  By opening up
intergovernmental negotiations to civil society, the 1972 Stockholm
Conference launched an ozone-depleting trans-oceanic parade of
intergovernmental (mostly UN) theme park jamborees running from women to
water, to food, habitats, and population.  The environmental theme
blockbuster for which the upcoming Johannesburg meet will be the Theme-Rex
of all UN conferences.  Like other hostages, South governments and advocacy
CSOs have bound themselves to this pitiful pageant in the hope that someday,
somewhere has morphed into an omnibus, they will find if not true love, at
least a little security.

Talksonomy of an extinctable species:  As a species, the Stockholm
(Conference) Syndrome has distinct markings:  First, all varieties within
the species have a mandate to "solve" some earth-shaking crisis.  For this
purpose, they have an exhausting preparatory process during which
governments and civil society gather under an uneasy flag of truce to sort
out the agenda and sidestep the solutions  (it generally takes so long to
agree on the agenda that there is no time to negotiate a programme of work).
Second, every conference must teeter on the brink of disaster  (for as long
as "diplos" can manage their blood pressure) so to keep the media interested
and in order to convince the South that if nothing was accomplished, at
least great losses were heroically avoided.  Third, summit or otherwise,
(the WTO's ministerial sessions far out-power most summits), there have to
be rumours of impending greats.  Without the Pope, Castro, or a reigning or
retired U.S. President, delegate and media attention will drift away.  After
so many years, however, the Pope is something of a 'cheap date' in UN terms,
and ex-Presidents are a dime a dozen. Only Castro has kept his luster.
(Lately, U2's Bono  has been outranking them all.)  Fourth, there has to be
a clarion call to arms - some ringing testament to international resolve to
do better, or at least stop doing so badly.   Finally, there has to be a
walk-by cast of thousands of passionate placard-waving CSOs convinced that
the sky really would fall if the conference doesn't master its mandate.

After three decades, the intergovernmental road-show has only one new act:
"The Multi-Stakeholder Forum" - an eye-catching little vignette in which
multinational corporations represented invariably by a woman of colour with
impeccable Oxford English, T-shirted trade unionists, and pinstriped CSOs
(all with cell phones slung low on their hips) all stare gravely across
tables at one another while senior UN officials tell them that they "are all
really on the same side" - and Greenpeace climbs something decorative in the

The cast for a bona fide Stockholm Syndrome drama has devolved somewhat over
the years.   When Marc Nerfin postulated the Three Systems, the captors were
the North governments.  The captives were the South governments.  The
"Keystone Cops" were played by UN secretariats that could never quite catch
their mandate.  The characters in the tragi-comedy related symbiotically.
The South comes to these events in the hope of new money or resources.  The
North came to maintain the delusion of momentum.  Civil Society came because
we get to act like "diplos" and - in the absence of anything else happening
- we had a reasonable shot at presenting our posters - if not our opinions -
on CNN.

In recent years some of the roles have shifted.  The First System is now
industry and they are the captors.  Governments (North and South) have been
pushed (unknowingly) into the Second System.  The cops (UN secretariats) are
increasingly protecting industry and policing governments rather than the
other way around.  The People are still the Third System but many of us have
been taken hostage.  On stage, the pompous strutting and posturing remains
as ever.  Behind the scenes, the world's largest corporations have
commandeered the tele-prompters.

Nevertheless, cell phone civil society has come to play a leading role in
Stockholm-grade performances.  If the UN throws a party and civil society
doesn't RSVP, there's no party  (where would Russell Crowe have been in
Gladiator without civil society jamming up the cheap seats at the Coliseum?)
A thousand suits dragging their sorry briefs into a conference hall are a
media "flat line" unless somebody clambers onto the roof.

Herein lies our strength...not on not being either on the
roof, or in the room.

Syndrome Sundown?  

Love means never having to say you're sorry:  It's time to break free of our
captors and take the tough love route.   South governments and CSOs should
lay down precise agendas and timetables at each of the three global
conferences that will be held this year.  In particular, when the folks
gather in The Hague, Rome, and Johannesburg, the central task should be to
lay out a real programme for the 12 months following each jamboree.  If
substantive measurable progress is not achieved, then CSOs should meet,
perhaps as early as the next World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, and
announce the cancellation of future intergovernmental theme parties and the
launching of a more targeted political process.

We are not proposing to abandon the three big jamborees of 2002 - we are
suggesting that we all get serious about setting realistic expectations for
them and evaluating their results so that we are ready to work differently
in the future.  In contrast to other intergovernmental parties, we do think
that strong popular protest and educational seminars at meetings where the
Third System is clearly not welcome - G8, WTO ministerial, and other
closed-door sessions - is important and should be encouraged.

Rio +Action? Most of civil society has remained outside the UN System for
all of these decades.  Most, too, would consider the UN "in action" to be a
typo ("inaction"?).  Fair enough.  But the world needs good governments and
good governance and a good forum in which to establish global norms and
defend human rights.  However used and abused the UN becomes (by industry,
the First System) it should not be abandoned and it should be made to work.

The challenge for CSOs will be to construct both a vision of where we
believe the world should move in the decade or so ahead - and to fashion a
credible sequence of achievable goals along the way.  Truth be known, we
share the "diplo's" penchant for pontification.  Are we capable of seeing
the horizon and charting a course that takes us to it?  We think "yes".

The new agenda does not necessarily or always mean the abandonment of
intergovernmental bodies or negotiations come 2003. Clearly,
constituency-based social movements and others in civil society with a
specialized focus must continue to pursue their mandates and concentrate on
the issues vital to their peoples.  Perhaps, however, it will be possible
for many of us to adjust our focus or to work together on issues of good
governance - nationally and internationally - and for Nerfin's Third System
to make the First System institutionally, financially, and publicly more

What do we do if we cancel the UN's party?  A lot...
* First, we each need to evaluate our own history with the UN System and
sort out for ourselves whether we have "used" or "been used".
* Then national, regional, and global advocacy partners need to talk to one
another about what needs doing and what - if any - role is relevant for
intergovernmental bodies in their (non-conference) programme of work.
* Thirdly, we need to evaluate our communications (including technologies)
and cooperation approaches to better democratize dialogue and information
flows so that national and regional initiatives are strengthened by global
initiatives and so that global information and actions are informed by - and
more specifically in the service of - national and community concerns.

Because ETC group works at the global level, we won't pretend to describe
specific national strategies - although we hope that international actions
will mutually enhance strategies and actions at local and regional levels.
Internationally, however, we can see the post-Stockholm world operating on a
number of interesting levels...

Social audits:  If, in Porto Alegre next year, we are concerned that an
intergovernmental organization may be performing poorly and is not
responding to minimal expectations, a consortia of CSOs could agree to
perform an external programme and management/financial audit of the agency.
The audit - conducted by an independent but knowledgeable team - would
consult extensively with governments, programme beneficiaries, and past and
present employees in order to prepare an authoritative report and offer
member states specific action recommendations.   Such audits might take six
months to one year and should bear in mind the organization's leadership
selection timetable and processes.

Critical pathing: Moving beyond platitudes to practise, for example, a call
for a new initiative on land reform or sustainable agriculture should be
accompanied with specific proposals for CSO-agency liaison teams;
identification of the exact intergovernmental committees and secretariat
working groups that would develop the initiative; listing of background
papers and conference documents needed to support the agenda; mapping of the
timeline to be followed inside the house and intergovernmentally; and
development of lists of potential resource persons for the process.  If
documents are not developed or items fall off agendas, CSOs should be able
to know this immediately and respond accordingly through contact with the
secretariat and with governments.  Considering the global dimensions of the
work, some of these steps may seem very small, but they are essential

This is not a political recipe that will make many hearts go pitter-patter.
Basically, we must create covenants of cooperation between advocacy CSOs and
social movements that allow groups to set aside some of our less endearing
postures of political correctness and/or opportunism. We must recognize that
we have different roles and natures that are complementary and that enrich
our vision.  And, we need to take advantage of the agility we have achieved
in communications technologies to pack a sustained political punch both with
national policy and opinion makers, and international negotiations.  We need
to mess with the operational nuts and bolts of organization, financial
decision-making, and leadership nationally and internationally.  If a UN
agency secretariat does not undertake the internal steps they should, we go
after its funding and its electoral processes.  If a government crushes
peoples' movements nationally and grandstands internationally, we embarrass
them at every level.

Civil society not civil servants: We also see a need and an opportunity to
direct intergovernmental funding to People's Organizations and other CSOs,
and for the creation of new partnerships and programmes involving
governments and UN agencies with CSOs.  But, we do not believe that a useful
option is to turn CSOs into new UN bureaucracies.  We should make the global
institutions that already exist work properly, or we should eliminate them
and work with governments to create more effective bodies.  But this does
not mean creating a feeding-frenzy for hungry NGOs  - or turning civil
society into civil servants.  As people's organizations are painfully aware,
we NGOs have an enormous chameleon capacity to turn ourselves into anything
that can attract funding.  Our propensity for infighting, backbiting, and
bureaucracy is legendary.  There is no reason to believe that we would do
any better than the sorry creatures we dislodge.    A major shift of funding
to CSOs would quickly destroy the effectiveness of civil society in global

The Third System revisited:  Marc Nerfin's thoughts of thirty years ago
actually hold up pretty well over time.  The original dream born in the
Stockholm Conference in 1972 continues to have reason and value.  We need to
realize that industry has taken global governance hostage and we need to get
free governments - and ourselves - from corporate captivity.  We need to use
the considerable political acumen and muscle of the Third System to make
tangible change.   We should begin in April at the Biodiversity Convention
in The Hague.  Interestingly, the CBD is meeting in the same conference
center that hosted the FAO World Food Congress of 1970.  Interesting,
because the then Director-General of FAO (a former Dutch Minister of
Agriculture) became the first head of a UN agency to open up a global
meeting to the "Flower Children" of that era.  More than 300 kids camped for
two weeks at "New Earth Village" during the Congress and attended the entire
intergovernmental event as delegates.  Some of those same kids will meet
together again this April - or at the World Food Summit in Rome in June.

The message from New Earth Village - scrawled across the wall of a Quonset
hut and enshrined on t-shirts and in the film, " Easy Rider" for years after
- was "Do not adjust your mind, there is a fault in reality." True Enough!

The Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration, formerly RAFI, is
an international civil society organization headquartered in Canada. The ETC
group is dedicated to the advancement of cultural and ecological diversity
and human rights.  ETC is a member of the CBDC.  For more information on ETC
see our website at:

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