In the middle of October 2012 more than 1000 social activists and progressive scholars from both Asian and Europe took part in the 9th Asia-Europe People’s Forum. The meeting was held in the Lao capital of Vientiane. This was an opportunity for civil societies from the both continents to meet in advance of an interregional summit in November gathering leaders from 49 countries. At the opening ceremony there were introductions from both the Lao deputy Prime Minister Somsavat Lengsavad and a representative from the Greek left coalition SYRIZA.
Another speaker at the opening ceremony was Sombath Somphone who is the founder of the Participatory Development Training Centre in Laos. He stated that “the present development model is not balanced, not connected, and definitely not holistic. We focus too much on economic growth and ignore its negative impacts on the social, environmental, and spiritual dimensions”.
The main four themes of the meetings were universal social protection and access to universal services, food sovereignty and natural resource management, sustainable energy production and finally just work and sustainable livelihoods. During the days more than 40 workshops, debates and cultural events were organised. There was a significant presence from Lao participants as well as trade union members from different parts in Asia.
The issue about introducing universal social protection is a concrete way of counteracting poverty. Such a model has to be based on human rights, provide social security as well as income stability. All main aspects that are important for living in dignity need to be addressed; food, water, housing, education and health care. One important point was raised by Bruno Jetin who is an economist from the University of Paris Nord who stated that Southeast Asian countries are rich enough to extend social protection. The pressing question is thus not about resources but about preferences.
Considering a looming global food crisis and the fact that land/resource grabbing is accelerating in Asia the question of food security and rural development is essential. Food sovereignty needs to be enhanced, food security assured and rural livelihood conditions improved. Calls were heard for coherent and publically funded rural development strategies which put special attention to small-scale farmers and rural women.
Globally more than 1 billion people lack access to electricity. Access to energy should however be a right and not a privilege. There is thus a need for alternative energy policies with comprehensive support for decentralized renewable energy solutions. Community based energy system need to be up-scaled.
The last main theme of the People’s Forum was just work and sustainable livelihoods. The fundamental question concerns the quality of work and under which conditions work is being pursued. According to Charles Santiago who is a MP from the Democratic Action Party in Malaysia the Asian worker can be seen as a threatened specie. There is no job security, no rights and no protection. The fierce exploitation of the working people is an everyday reality. Instead of a continued race to the bottom, demands were made for introducing a social charter in ASEAN and raising labor standards in compliance with ILO requirements.
An important dimension of the days was the global crises that continue to continue to bring harm to both Europe and Asia, although in slightly different ways. The Vientiane nights were co-hosted by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation (RLS) in Hanoi was an opportunity to analyse the situation, sharpen strategies and come up with working alternatives for political mobilization and radical change.
In the discussion it was said that the crises are multiple and systemic, rooted structurally in the functioning of the capitalist system. There seemed to be a consensus that to overcome the crises we need to transcend capitalism. How this can be done and in which way frustration can be transformed into political mobilization is though still an open question. As was pointed out by Marina Mortagua from Portugal angry people are not necessarily leftist people. It was also said by Christa Wisterich from Women in Development Europe that the EU austerity policies is portrayed as the There Is No Alternative (TINA) of our time.
In contrast with the persistence from the elites there is however a multitude of progressive alternatives. The paths that are likely to lead to more sustainable societies go via more democracy and societal redistribution. One issue that was raised by Pablo Solón who is the executive director of the Bangkok-based NGO Focus on the Global South was which mechanisms are needed between the social movements and political parties for long term transformation?
In the final declaration that was adopted at the last day of the meeting it was stated that “despite the policy failures of trade liberalization, market deregulation and privatization, our governments continue to ignore the growing tangible consensus for fundamental policy change”. The governments were also urged to enact legislation for social protection systems that are rights-based and universal, oppose land and resource grabbing and to implement national waste plans that will phase out non-biodegradable plastics.
*Daniel Bladh is an economist from Sweden. Daniel Bladh was invited by RLS to participate in the AEPF 9 as a speaker at the Vientiane Nights about his ideas on alternatives to the recent development model. In this article he shares his impressions of the forum.