St Petersburg G8 Summit: Anger as the ‘Big Eight’ powers arrive

‘Down with capitalism!’ opens Social Forum

According to the latest estimates, more than $1 billion will be spent on the ‘Big Eight’ in St Petersburg, excluding a massive security operation. Guests of Vladimir Putin, president of what is being dubbed the ‘Energy superpower’ of the world, will spend two days avoiding issues like democracy and war and agreeing no policies that will not change, one iota, the fate of the majority of the world’s population, who live in poverty and fear.

In the southern end of the city, in the region of the Konstantinovsky Palace, where the G8 summit takes place, groups of police and soldiers stand on the pavements every hundred metres. “People are complaining but actually feeling sorry for them,” said Nadyezhda Romanovna, member of Socialist Resistance (CWI Russia). “They are standing in the blazing sun, in full uniform with batons, rifles and maybe even pistols under their jackets”. Nadyezhda’s factory and some others were closed for two days, “For safety reasons, they say. But we have been laid off for two days without pay and others in the Strelny area have had to stay off work since 10 July, also without wages. But no expense has been spared for these top people. Just one example, 60 new cars have been bought – electrically driven ones, presumably for driving around the spacious grounds of the palace”.

Hundreds of activists trying to get to the city for a counter-summit were blocked – visited in their homes by the police, taken off trains, some arrested and held, some beaten up, some released. Organisers of the Russian Social Forum, held in the city’s Kirov Stadium, say 800 people have managed to get to the event. But even this morning, a coach of would-be participants was held up on the road, and, so far, they have not arrived.

As the Forum opened, a group of Putin supporters, calling themselves the ‘General League of Other-globalists’, turned up. They started trying to shout reactionary slogans like, “Russia we’re with you!” The Socialist Resistance (SR) comrades were quick off the mark to get them put back outside the gates. “State patriots” we call them, explained SR member Sergei, from Moscow. “Some call them fascists. What they mean by ‘other globalisation’, no-one can work out, but they have no place here. It’s a provocation!”

Soon after this, another Putinite rolled up in a limousine – the governor of the city, Valentina Matvienko. Followed by journalists and TV crews, she made her way into the stadium, and straight to the table of Socialist Resistance (the first and only stall to be set up for a day before the Forum got fully under way). Valentina Matvienko faced a barrage of hostile questions. With stunning hypocrisy, she welcomed the Forum, and spoke about how “democratic” her administration was. She said the repression taking place against G8 protesters was not her responsibility etc. Rallies were banned in the city, only marches, she said. But one of the main events due was to be a protest march against the G8, which was meant to finish at the embankment where the famous battleship, ‘Aurora’, is moored.

Car factory workers

At the Forum, there are many young people and trade unionists, including workers from the Togliatti car factory, the biggest in the country. There is also, of course, many anti-globalisationists – from Russia and abroad – for whom the main problem is not global capitalism but its ‘unfair’ and ‘inhumane’ way of operating. But the main chant heard at the opening ceremony was, ‘Down with capitalism!’ and various socialist groups are present. In the seminars and main meetings, the world situation and important political issues are not really dealt with, although there are some very important exchange of experiences on issues like housing and education.

More than 20 members of Socialist Resistance will finally make it to the stadium, making up a lively contingent. They are widely distributing a special leaflet and great interest is shown in the Socialist Resistance stall and paper, ‘Left Vanguard’, which is selling fast, as has a new Socialist Resistance pamphlet called, ‘Why Socialism’. This afternoon, a meeting under the same title will hear from the author, Ivan Ovsiannikov, and from other members of the CWI – from Poland, Ireland and Britain.

In the run-up to the Forum there was a two-day symposium about globalisation and neo-liberalism. It was long on discussion and a bit short on concrete examples of the struggle of workers and young people against the effects of globlisation on their everyday lives. The conference was organised mainly by the ‘Rosa Luxembourg Foundation’ – an organisation run by the PDS/Left Party in Germany. Members of the CWI participated in the discussion and pointed out the irony of the PDS hosting a meeting on globalization while it carries out neo-liberal ‘reforms’ in Berlin and other German cities.

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July 2006