How and why it was decided
that in 2004, from May 9th to September 26th, Barcelona had to celebrate
the "Universal Forum of Cultures".
In the year 2004, the subsidies that the European Community grants to
its less-developed member countries in the Mediterranean basin will end,
as the EC shifts its focus toward financing the development of its new
members in Eastern Europe. So the elite leadership of the city of Barcelona
decided that, in order to squeeze every last penny out of the EC development
fund, they would have to invent a special event to justify an enormous
financial investment. The Olympics had already been assigned, and for
years the Barcelona City Council had been working to sell a new image
of the city to the outside world, using slogans that have been growing
in popularity in recent years: "The City of Peace," "The
Multicultural City," "The Sustainable City"...
if, among the organizers of the "Universal Forum of Cultures"
in 2004, there were a group of cultural promoters that were truly
committed to certain of the supposed "contents" to be
discussed during the 6-month event, these cultural interests have
been totally squashed by the speculative and business interests
taking part in the Forum, which since the beginning of the organization
of the event have doubtlessly imposed themselves above all other
interests. What is left is the rhetoric of the three "axes"
that the Forum turns upon, which are nothing more than buzzwords
used to call for general consent: "Peace," "Diversity,"
"Sustainability." ...And a huge emphasis on "Participation,"
another very popular word.
By 2001, the attempts to weave the
"Forum" into the social and cultural fabric of the city had
already failed miserably. The Barcelona Federation of Neighborhood Associations
(FAVB) declared that its demands had been utterly disregarded, and that
their participation had been requested purely to boost the Forum's image,
and so the FAVB withdrew from the Forum. At the same time, many of the
city's intellectuals who had been called upon to participate decided
not to get involved: this was the case with Josep Caminal, director general
of the Liceu Theatre, who was supposed to be the Forum's main organizer;
and with Josep Ramoneda, director of the Center for Contemporary Culture,
who had been called upon as one of those "sages" who was supposed
to manage the forum's contents during the event. The prestigious School
of the Culture of Peace, of the University of Barcelona, has also withdrawn.
These withdrawals were followed by others, on behalf of numerous NGOs,
associations, and different bodies within the city, as well as several
professional schools (among others, the anthropologists of the Federation
of Anthropological Associations of the Spanish State, who denounced the
perverse usage of the word "culture"). Another position that
many groups have adopted is that, while they denounce and refuse to participate
in the Forum's hierarchical and business-dominated organizational scheme,
they have decided to use the Forum's spaces in order to make themselves
known and to receive funding.
Faced with failure on the "contents" front (which means that,
less than three months before the event is to start, still very little
is actually known about the activities of this supposed "Universal
Forum") immense amounts of money and energy were being invested
on other fronts, such as the commercial side of things. The three public
administrations involved in the Forum's organization (the Barcelona City
Council, the Government of Catalonia, and the Spanish State Administration)
have established collaboration contracts with large private companies
to cover the predicted expenses. In a firestorm of controversy, it was
decided that the Forum of Cultures was to be financed by multinational
corporations including Telefónica, the Endesa electric company,
the Damm beer company, Iberia airlines, El Corte Inglés shopping
centers, Toyota, the La Caixa banking company, Nestlé, Coca Cola,
and - with less publicity - Indra Information Technology. If the policies
of these and other sponsoring companies have been the subject of much
controversy, Indra's participation merits special attention, because
this corporation gets most if its income by developing military technology.
Nevertheless, the Forum continues to proclaim its commitment to dialogue
The situation got even more complicated when the conflict exploded in
Iraq. When the population of Barcelona took to the streets in mass demonstrations
(on February 15th, it was said that there were more than a million protesters
in Barcelona) Barcelona residents requested that the Forum - like all
other institutions of the city - declare itself to be against the war.
But the participation of the Spanish government in the Forum implies
that all organizing bodies must be in consensus, so any declaration against
the war in Iraq was prohibited. If afterward there were individual declarations
or positions belatedly taken against the war, it is sure that among the
themes that will be debated during the Forum, there will be, coincidentally,
five gaping holes in the discussion: Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, the
former Yugoslavia, and the Basque Country.
Like the 1992 Olympics, this Forum is also a pretext for a massive "urban
renewal" project of proportions never-before seen: nothing less
than the "requalification" of the entire north coast of Barcelona,
a zone too potentially valuable to continue housing the "same old"
neighbors of the Poble Nou district. And so began the city-planning works
that would come be called "District 22@": a "city of knowledge,"
according to official propaganda, which in order to be installed in the
city would require the demolition of innumerable historic buildings in
the neighborhood, and the expropriation of thousands of residents' homes.
In their place, in this new "District 22@," hotels, shopping
centers, office-building skyscrapers, and luxury houses will be constructed,
all of which accelerate the process of "gentrification" that
the city has suffered with for the past 10 years. To a lesser extent,
this phonominon is also seen in Barcelona's city center and other neighborhoods,
but on the north coast it has reached unimaginable proportions.
The predicted total cost of the Forum 2004 is about two thousand million
Euros (about 2.5 billion dollars). Of these expenses, only 319 million
Euros will go to the actual contents of the forum; the other 1,740 million
will go to the new city-planning projects. and urban renewal. Obviously,
those who profit will be the big special-interest groups and the real-estate
companies, such as Procivesa and Servihabitat, and the multinational
corporations, from General Electric to La Caixa, Retevisión, AXA,
Deutsche Telekom, etc., that have already bought the land that has been
siezed, which had formerly belonged to the public or been the private
property of the old Poble Nou neighborhood's residents.
During the summer before the Forum, after the massive antiwar mobilizations,
various events occurred that demonstrated the Barcelona City Administration's
will to end the "diversities" within the city. First there
was the constant assaults on and arbitrary detentions of tens of immigrants
who lived in the abandoned houses in the Torres i Bages neighborhood.
The City Council wants to "clean out" that area, but does not
offer any solution for the 600 "undocumented migrants" who
live there. Then came the orders to evict the two oldest and most active
squatted social centers in Barcelona: Las Naus and la Casa de la Muntanya,
in the Gràcia neighborhood. This is not surprising, since in the
previous year the city had already witnessed numerous episodes like this:
since the police raid in November 2002 against neighbors in the Forat
de la Vergonya park, and the multiple evictions of "antiwar spaces"
in Avinyó street, on February 18th, and in the Placeta del Pi
liberated plaza on March 20th, not to mention the numerous evictions
of the houses that are the most difficult to enter, such as the houses
in the Vallcarca neighborhood, in Santa Catalina, and in El Guinardó,
etc. The goal is to "clean up the city" for the guests of the
Forum of Cultures.
This event's pretension is impressive, when you read the number of visitors
that Barcelona hopes to welcome in the months between May and October
2004: more than Rome on the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Christ,
more than Mecca. According to the Forum's promoters, about 500 million
people - one sixth of the world's population - will be "sensitized
by the Forum's arguments," even though they themselves cannot all
come to visit Barcelona. We're not wrong to discount these declarations
as mere delusions of omnipotence. Basically, the Forum will be: Greek
theatre, the Mercé music festival, and the normal Barcelona summer
activities, ending with the Festival of Saint Eulalia: it is possible
that more tourists may come than in other years because of the presence
of international artists and because of the enormous flood of propaganda
that we are already witnessing, but Barcelona has always been a city
that is rich in cultural activity, without needing any Forum to bring
culture to it.
After the Forum, when the tourists and the artists return home again,
we will be left with a city transformed, a city that is ready to enter
into a new phase in its history: a new dominion will have been declared,
over public space and over the imaginations of its inhabitants. What
remains to be seen is how the diverse actors involved in this event will
play out their roles: the administrations, the multinationals, and the
population of the city, and in particular the dissenting cultural and
social fabric of the city. Many processes will come to a head, in 2004,
and there is much to reflect upon and to debate, when considering how
to act before and during the Forum. The rhetoric of "Peace"
and "Multiculturality" is extremely subtle; it creates a very
strong division between those who have come to see that it is only a
rhetorical cloak, and those who remain trapped by the knee-jerk reaction
of spontaneous consent that the Forum's buzzwords bring about. Just as
the Forum's promoters will try to capture the approval of the "anti-globalization
movement" (it's no accident that they yse the word "Forum,"
a reminder of the Social Forums in Florence and in Porto Alegre!) by
inviting dissident intellectuals such as Ignacio Ramonet, Noam Chomsky
or José Saramango, and by imitating the "alternative"
style and design that are typical of Barcelona. There might even be some
good concerts and debates. But the essence of the Forum can be summarized
in Telefónica's advertising slogan: "Hablen de lo que hablen,
pero hablen con TELETARGETAS TELEFÓNICA" (Talk about what
you want, but talk with TELEFÓNICA PHONE CARDS.)
Forum 2004. Where armed globalization paints itself in rainbow colors.
Source of this article: http://barcelona.indymedia.org/?category=forum_2004