The ESF in Malmö, Sweden

In 2001, the first World Social Forum (WSF) was held in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, coinciding with the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Since then, social fora have played an important role in enabling discussion, the exchange of ideas, and coordination and collaboration amongst the various elements of the global ‘movement of movements’.

In the wake of the original event in 2001, social fora have sprung up around the world on the continental, national and city level. A number of thematic fora have also been held, most recently the second World Social Forum on Migration, in Madrid earlier this month.

The fifth European Social Forum (ESF) was held in Malmö, Sweden, between 17 and 21 September, 2008. Along with the climate camps held in the UK and Germany earlier this year and the protests around the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, we chose Malmö as a good moment to try and intervene in movement discussions, distributing a few thousand copies of the most recent issue of Turbulence framed around the question of futures and the meaning for the left of the current intersecting and ever-deepening crises.

The Social Forum, this year, appeared to experience something of a quantitative and qualitative decline. The numbers were the lowest they’ve ever been, and the organisers appeared to be preparing to cater for larger numbers. Qualitatively speaking, both the Forum itself and the events surrounding it appeared to relatively lack innovation, having less movement and cross-pollination in them than previous years. This almost certainly says much more about the current state of the European area of the global movement than it does about the concrete organisation of this year’s event.

As we’ve attempted to do with other events we’ve intervened at, we’d like to try and compile some background information about and critical reflection on the events in Malmö. Please do send any reports, videos, audio interviews or photos you come across or have produced yourself. Our email address, as always, is

The following is only a very tentative list of reflections, some of which we think might be of interest.


A brief history of the World Social Forum and the International Youth Camp can be found in the following article by Turbulence editor Rodrigo Nunes here.

The special issue of the journal ephemera: theory and politics in organisation from which that article is taken focuses on the WSF and the global social forum process. It is well worth taking a look at.

Also of note is the new edition of Challenging Empires, edited by Jai Sen and Peter Waterman. The contents of the first edition are online here.

A history of the European Social Forum is online here, written by Tord Björk from Friends of the Earth Sweden ahead of the Forum in Malmö.

Here’s the invitation to this year’s ESF, a list of those involved with the Organising Committee, and a copy of the World Social Forum Charter of Principles to which the ESF also subscribes.

As has been the case at every ESF, an ‘autonomous space’ independent from but coinciding with the Social Forum was held in Malmö. The space was held at Utkanten social centre, organised by the ESF 2008 Action Network. Within the Action Network, a number of Swedish radical publications also worked together to publish a free newspaper, From Thoughts to Action. An edited version of Tadzio Mueller’s article in the most recent issue of Turbulence was included, with a new post-script.


After the grand opening event the night before, Thursday was the day where workshops started in earnest. Turbulence was present at a seminar  about the past, present and future of the global justice movement. A Call to act around and against the global climate change summit in December 2009 in Copenhagen, having been written by an international gathering of radical climate activists a week before in Denmark, was discussed and received a positive response.


On Friday morning, a workshop was organised, amongst others, by people from the Interventionist Left in Germany, around the question of whether mass blockades and civil disobedience a la Heiligendamm could be a new way forward for the movements in Europe.

On Friday evening, a Reclaim the Streets (RTS) part was held in central Malmoe. The Call for the party is here. There’s a report from the action (and a few photos) here.


Perhaps the largest single event at the Forum was a planned presentation by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri of their new book, Common Wealth (the final volume in the trilogy following the bestsellers Empire and Multitude). Negri was unwell and unable to attend the event, but Hardt’s presentation can be watched on YouTube in eight parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. (Also available via GoogleVideo).

In the afternoon, around 15,000 people participated in the ESF demonstration, the slogan of which was, ‘Power to the people – against capitalism and environmental destruction. Another world is possible!’ The Call for the Anti-Capitalist Action Bloc is here.


Sunday was dominated by the Assembly of Social Movements, a body officially separate from the ESF. This was the meeting which, in 2002, issued the call for the global day of protest against the planned war in Iraq which saw some of the world’s biggest protests take place on February 15 the following year. Around 1,000 people participated in this year’s Assembly, which issued the following statement.

Statement from the Assembly of Social Movements (Sunday 21 September 2008)


2009: To Change Europe. On the European level, we are witnessing a liberal and anti-social front on all domains: economic financial crisis, price increases, food borne illness crisis, privatization and disassembly of public services, movements against work reform, decisions of the European Court of Justice, dismantling of the Common Agricultural Policy, reinforcement of Fortress Europe against migrants, weakening of democratic and civil rights and growing repression, economic cooperation agreements, military intervention in external conflicts, military bases, all this in a world where inequalities, poverty and global and permanent war are increasing day by day.

In this context of global crisis, we want to reaffirm that alternatives do exist for global justice, peace, democracy and environment.?We, the European social movements gathering in Malmö, have committed on a common agenda in the way to lead the fight for ‘Another Europe’ and Europe based on the people’s rights.

1. On the social issue: We launch immediately a COMMON EUROPEAN CAMPAIGN against EU social and labour policies, first to oppose specifically the EU directive on working time and EU decision on migrant labour. This campaign will have different steps (e.g.: December the 6th in Paris) and includes the objective of a massive joint mobilization at European level as soon as possible. As a second step, we build up a large, inclusive and strategic conference/counter-summit of all the European social movement, in Brussels in March.

2. Against NATO and war: we call a large demonstration in April the 4th in Strasbourg/Kiel, centre of celebration of the 60th anniversary of NATO, to say ‘Stop NATO!’ and dissolving this terrifying tool of war. In the same day we call demonstrations in all countries in Europe. We propose the WSF in Belem to declare the 4th of April a day of international mobilisation against NATO.

3. Against the climate crisis: we call for a global day of action on climate on December 6th during the Poznan summit in Poznan itself and al other the world. We are calling for a massive international mobilisation next year to make the critical Copenhagen talks in December 2009.

4. Against the G8: In July 2009, the Sardinian and Italian social movement will invite all movements to come to Sardinia where the G8 summit will be held in la Maddalena island to protest against G8 and its policies and to present our alternatives for global justice, peace, democracy and environment.



There is an initiative this year to document the ‘outcomes’ of the Social Forum via the official ESF website. You can do so here.

There’s a photo gallery with pictures from this year’s Social Forum here.


Buzz it!
  • Who we are

    Turbulence is a journal/newspaper that we hope will become an ongoing space in which to think through, debate and articulate the political, social, economic and cultural theories of our movements, as well as the networks of diverse practices and alternatives that surround them. Read more here

  • Turbulence on Myspace

Flattr this