Barcelona 2004: Waiting for the rain

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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”…Even 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 ( 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 (href=” 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 The prestigious ( of the Culture of Peace, of the University of Barcelona, has also withdrawn.These withdrawals were followed by others, on behalf of numerous (, (, and ( bodies within the city, as well as several professional schools (among others, the anthropologists of the ( 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 ( 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 four months before the event is to start, still ( 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 ( and multinational corporations including (, the Endesa electric company, the Damm beer company, Iberia airlines, El Corte Ingles shopping centers, Toyota, the La Caixa banking company, Nestle, Coca Cola, and – with less publicity – Indra Information Technology. If the policies of these and other sponsoring companies have been the subject of much (, Indra’s participation merits special attention, because this corporation gets most if its income by developing ( technology. Nevertheless, the Forum continues to proclaim its commitment to dialogue about “Peace”.

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 ( 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 ( 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 phenominon 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, ( 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, Retevision, 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 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 ( the two oldest and most active squatted social centers in Barcelona: Las Naus and la Casa de la Muntanya, in the Gracia neighborhood. This is not surprising, since in the previous year the city had already witnessed numerous episodes like this: since the ( raid in November 2002 against neighbors in the Forat de la Vergonya park, and the multiple evictions of (“antiwar spaces” in Aviny 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 less well known, such as the houses in the Vallcarca neighborhood, in Santa Catalina, and in El Guinard, 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 during the jubilee – the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Christ. According to the Forum’s promoters, about a half billion people – one twelfth 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: “El Grec” theatre festival, the Merc 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 use 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 Jose 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 Telefonica’s advertising slogan: “Digas lo que digas, pero dilo con TELETARGETAS TELEFONICA” (Talk about what you want, but talk with TELEFONICA PHONE CARDS.)

Forum 2004. Where armed globalization paints itself in rainbow colors.

see also: Indymedia – forum 2004 page (fucked in 2004) page gran circo de las culturas by Manuel Delgado, anthropologist letter from Oficina 2004 futuro en tiempo de descuento by Agust Fancelli of the Assemblea de Resistncies al Frum 2004 Social Forum against Forum 2004

http://www.barcelona2004.orgUniversal Forum of Cultures 2004 – official site

For contacts, write to the Assemblea de Resistencies al Forum mailing list: llistainsostenible [at] sindominio [dot] net

Stefano and others