Social Forum in Wrocław

UNAC Participation in the Eastern European Social Forum

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Video from the conference and march:


It’s now been 25 years since what is generally referred to as the “Transformation” - the transition from socialism back to capitalism in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The resulting economic and social dislocation and the rise of right-wing, anti-immigrant movements are serious issues that progressives in the region are trying to address.

To help move this process forward, representatives from dozens of organizations from more than 20 countries gathered March 11-13, in Wroclaw, Poland, for a “Social Forum of Eastern Europe & Cooperation between South & East.”

More than 100 delegates represented left-wing parties, civic and labor organizations from Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Montenegro, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Russia and Ukraine.

Also present were guests from Austria, Cameroon, France, Germany, Morocco, Palestine, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey, as well as members of the Kurdish liberation movement. Two representatives from UNAC were also invited to participate.


The purpose of the gathering was to examine the causes and effects of the transition from socialism to neoliberal capitalism; take stock of the present economic and political situation in the region, including growing militarization and the refugee crisis; and lay the political groundwork and organizational structure for networking and collective actions. The emphasis was on solidarity and anti-racist actions.

There seemed to be general agreement on each organization clearly stating its political views, while staying clear of sectarian debates, with the goal of seeking common ground.

The two main political trends seemed to be those groups working for a revival of socialism, taking into consideration lessons from the past, and those working toward a social welfare form of social democracy, referring to the Swedish model.


As in the U.S., progressive movements in the region are on the defensive in this difficult period. Over the past 25 years, right-wing governments have collaborated with Western financial institutions such as the IMF and World Bank to impose “shock therapy” on national economies - i.e., reversing the gains made under socialism while consciously reducing the formerly socialist countries of Central and Southern Europe to a second-class status, viewed only as sources of raw material, cheap labor and a captive market for manufactured goods.

There is privatization not only of formerly centrally owned sectors of the economy, but also areas such as public housing, a major feature in the cities, with a resulting steep rise in evictions, along with unemployment, cutbacks in social services and poverty.

Accompanying these economic setbacks is the rise of “ethno-nationalism” and racism, in which anxious dominant ethnic groups are finding solace in nationalistic jingoism and xenophobia. At the same time, this racism finds a ready target in the large numbers of refugees attempting to flee the U.S. wars in the Middle East to the relative safety of Europe. Combatting right-wing nationalism is a focus for many of the groups at the conference.

Finally, there is the increasing militarization of the region. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed in 1949 ostensibly to counter Soviet influence in Europe. There were 10 original Western European member countries, plus Canada and the U.S. Today the number has more than doubled to 28, with most of the new members forming a military semicircle around Russia, greatly contributing to rising tensions in the region.

While Europe has many progressive conferences sponsored by a wide range of organizations, several activists described the 2016 Social Forum as unique, in that it was trying to forge a new, broad, militant alliance capable of cooperative action on a wide range of issues. By the end of the conference, concrete steps were being taken to develop this new alliance, starting with an official conference declaration.


UNAC was the only U.S. political organization represented at the conference, a result of contacts made by UNAC Co-coordinator Joe Lombardo at a previous conference held in Moscow.

Ana Edwards and Phil Wilayto of the Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality, a founding UNAC affiliate, gave a brief joint presentation at the conference’s opening session, explaining UNAC and its principles of unity, the right of oppressed people to self-determination, denouncing U.S. imperialism and expressing solidarity with the conference participants.

The next day Ana, who chairs the Defenders’ Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project, was one of five panelists addressing the issue of “Ethno-Nationalism and Racism as Tools to Create Social Conflict.” Ana’s presentation was on the struggle to reclaim and properly memorialize the former slave-trading district in Richmond, Va., known as Shockoe Bottom. She explained this struggle in the context of fighting racism by uniting various communities in support of the right to oppressed people to self-determination, as well as the context of the rhetoric of xenophobia currently demonstrated in the U.S. presidential campaign. She described the community proposal for a nine-acre Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park, with many groups responding to her request for organizational endorsements of that plan.
At our request, the conference organizers graciously sent a message of solidarity to UNAC's March 13 March for Peace & Solidarity in New York City.


On Saturday evening, the conference participants marched through downtown Wroclaw, holding a rally in Rynek, the main public square. The lead Social Forum banner read “Stop Militarization!” Other banners promoted individual parties and organizations; called for the release of a Turkish activist being held by the Polish government and now facing extradition to Turkey; expressed solidarity with struggles in Latin America; and more. Some of the chants were “Karo zu America Imperialism!” (our phonetic spelling of “Down with American Imperialism”); “No Pasaran,” a slogan of the Spanish Civil War; “FreeMumia Abu Jamal”; “Ah! Ahn-ti! Ahn-ti-Capitalista!!” and calls for solidarity with refugees and against deportations. There were lots of red flags and hammer and sickle symbols.

Phil was one of three speakers at the rally, emphasizing the central role of the U.S. government in the European economic crisis, the refugee crisis and the region’s increasing militarization. Many people expressed appreciation for hearing someone from the U.S. denounce U.S. imperialism.


Of all the organizations and individuals at the conference, it was the activists from Odessa in Ukraine who seem to be in the most difficult situation. At Joe's invitation, a few Odessa activists had attended UNAC's 2015 national conference.

As the Ukrainians explained, a progressive protest held May 2, 2014, in Odessa was murderously attacked by a large right-wing mob. The progressives were overwhelmed and herded into a trade union office building, which was then set on fire. Forty-six people died from the flames and smoke inhalation, leaping from the burning building, being shot or fatally beaten. Many other activists were arrested. Despite the terror, family members converged at the police station the next day, demanding the release of their loved ones, some of whom were then released.

The community then began holding regular weekly memorial programs at the site of the massacre. A larger memorial is held once a month and the largest was held on the one-year anniversary.

The second anniversary memorial will be on May 2 of this year and the right wing is threatening to again attack. In response, UNAC is consulting with our Ukrainian friends on how we can best support them in this struggle.


After the conference, and with the support of Defender friends in Virginia, we traveled to Krakow in southern Poland and met with the director of the Schindler Museum, which is housed in the former factory owned by German industrialist Oskar Schindler, credited with saving some 1,200 Jews from being sent to the concentration camps. Both the Schindler Museum and Shockoe Bottom are recognized as International Sites of Conscience by the prestigious Coalition of International Sites of Conscience.

We then traveled to the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp, to show respect for those who suffered and resisted there and to see how the Polish government has dealt with memorializing this sacred site. Originally a Polish army base in Oświęcim, the Auschwitz Museum has become a lasting testament to the depths of depravity humanity is capable of reaching, as well as the heights of courage and resistance. We will be writing more about this experience.

Many thanks to UNAC for the opportunity to participate in the Social Forum and help expand UNAC’s international presence.

Ana Edwards - Former UNAC Administrative Committee member
Phil Wilayto - UNAC Administrative Committee member

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