Many people are wondering what the World Bank and IMF Prague annual meetings, plus associated independent discussions and protests amounted to. Some argue that it was a major step on the road to disempowering the international institutions and their backers. Others that Prague saw little more than people talking past each other inside the meetings and photo opportunities of confrontations outside. A large number, regardless of their own positions, are urging serious strategic assessment of what is being achieved by the various dialogues and protests.
The meetings were accompanied by the usual blizzard of official and non-official publications, and many column inches of media coverage. Many NGO representatives met officials and journalists inside the official conference centre, while the CEE Bankwatch Network and others organized parallel activities including a skill-share and a public forum. Many students, journalists and others were brought into discussions or protests about the roles of the Bank and Fund. There were excellent networking opportunities for the thousands of officials, NGOs and private bankers.
However, while the press coverage, discussions and protests were more extensive than in previous years, they rarely revealed the key issues at stake. Many of the meetings in the conference centre were not organized in a way to create genuine dialogue, and even the much-touted Castle dialogue organized by Czech President Vaclav Havel yielded little genuine exchange of views.
The World Bank tried to outflank opponents by asking for new mandates and funds to tackle ‘global public goods’ and set up a major new internet initiative. Fortunately NGOs and governments tried to block these moves, the Development Committee demanding a review to clarify the Bank’s agenda (see stories on pages 3 and 4). The Group of 24 Southern governments complained of the “ever-mounting political pressures and non-economic considerations interfering with the process of approval and implementation of the BWI‘s programmes and projects”.
The experience of this year’s meetings, where the range of pressures on the Bank and Fund were all too visible, may cause a rethink of the whole approach to annual get-togethers. The institutions and their shareholder governments may, for example, move decision-making to other fora and electronic exchanges. Similarly campaigners are considering how to improve communication and co-strategizing between groups using different tactics and based in different countries. Fortunately a number of writers have recently published some thought-provoking proposals about how global decision-making can be achieved more legitimately and effectively (see story on page 2).
“The Bank and the Fund are more interested in splitting civil society opposition to their projects, and they do this by branding some civil society groups as ‘reasonable NGOs’ and their more militant critics as ‘unreasonable’, interested only in closing down discussion.”
Walden Bello, Focus on Trade, October 2000
“The violence suggests that the anti-globalization movement still lacks a Rev. Martin Luther King-like figure capable of disabling opponents with dignity, bringing attention to the cause and not themselves.”
Prague Post, 27 September 2000
“Demonstration fatigue is already setting in. History suggests that protest groups only turn into successful mass movements when they tap into widespread discontent and offer a feasible alternative.”
Larry Elliot, The Guardian, 27 September 2000
“More attention has to go to expanding and refining our agendas, to give militant actions greater meaning and strength by incorporating much more outreach, many more events and activities that have more diverse and introductory levels of participation.”
Michael Albert, The Trajectory of Change, ZNet Commentary, October 1
“The agenda had been taken over by the protesters. Prague created quite an impression with the World Bank-IMF bureaucracy. I sensed that after Prague the words of civil society will be taken much more seriously, but whether this will mean real dialogue we still have to find out.”
World Bank staffer, October 2000
“The institutions say they are ready to listen. But are they ready to hear?”
IFI et Maintenant, October 2000