World Economic Forum in Davos brings state of siege to Swiss tourist resort
February 2001

The following dispatch comes to us from Dr. Richard Wolff of the International Network for Urban Research and Action (INURA) in Zurich, Switzerland.

I have just come back from Davos [Switzerland] where 3200 economic, political and media leaders met for the annual so-called World Economic Forum. Since 1971, The World Economic Forum (WEF) has played a key role in formulating economic policies throughout the world. It's sponsored by a Swiss organization that serves as a consultant to the United Nations and it's financed by more than one thousand corporations. This year's motto was "Bridging the Gap". Every year, chairmen and CEOs of the world's 1000 largest multinationals and banks come together to talk about future economic and political strategies. Also present are presidents, ministers, kings and queens: people like Vicente Fox from Mexico, queen Sylvia from Sweden, the king of Jordan, Laurent Fabius, minister of finance from France, and Kofi Annan

For days, countless helicopters have been buzzing over our heads, taking global rulers up to Davos. They had arrived at Zurich Airport in hundreds of additional flights. Their planes were too many to be parked in Zurich. Instead they had to be valet-parked in Stuttgart, Basel, Munich, and Geneva, after having dropped off their valuable cargo in Zurich.

An Anti-WEF demonstration had been planned for a long time. A coalition of more than 70 organisations had asked for a permit to demonstrate against WEF in Davos. Permission was refused by the Kleiner Landrat (local government) of Davos. Instead police - aided by major media - tried to create a climate of fear and panic. It was said, that violent protesters from all over the world were ready to burn down Davos.

At least 1000 police and army forces imposed a state of siege over the entire valley. All three points of access to Davos were blocked off with double fences and on top NATO barbed-wire. Police asked peasants to deliver cow manure to hose off demonstrators (peasants, very well aware that they, too, were victims of capitalist globalisation, refused).

Organisers appealed to the Federal Court of Switzerland, claiming freedom of speech and freedom of demonstration. The same game of "request - refusal - appeal" had been played the year before, and the Federal Court had decided in favour of the protesters, but only after the WEF meeting was finished.

Meanwhile, police forces from all over Switzerland were pulled together to protect the WEF. The whole country was practically put under state of siege. At the borders with Italy, Austria, Germany and France "suspicious people" were turned away. Some of them protested against this unlawful treatment and blocked the Swiss-Italian border. A German television team was also held up. The media kindled the fire by predicting heavy riots, thus raising the tension.

Adam Ma'anit (Holland), speaker at counter-forum was pulled out of train and deported. Three students who handed out programs for the counter-conference were detained, their i.d.s and address books were fotocopied. Two video journalists from Berlin were stopped and deported. Arte and ARD journalists were forbidden to take pictures and ordered to leave the scene. On the motorway cars were stopped by masked anti-terror police from Geneva. Some of them used their batons to smash car windows and pointed a pistol at the head of a driver, then threw the man on the ground and handcuffed him. Several road blocks were erected on the road from Landquart to Davos. Activists from France were held at the border for 6 hours. Address books were confiscated. People were interrogated for four hours. People trying to travel into Switzerland from Austria and Germany were hindered to enter. Only helicopters could travel to Davos.

On Saturday, when the (by now "illegal") demonstration was to take place, train stations at major railroad junction were turned into fortresses and no-go areas. In Landquart and Klosters (Prince Charles' favorite resort) double rows of high steel fences and barbed wire surrounded the station, with hundreds of armed and masked anti-terror police intimidating all potential protesters and passers-by.

Philipp and I were surprised to find out that we were able take a train part of the way to Davos. Official news had said that no trains would go to Davos and that roads were blocked, making it virtually impossible to reach Davos, one of Switzerland's main tourist resorts. Instead of taking us to Davos, the train stopped in Klosters. When the train pulled into the station we saw dozens, perhaps hundreds of masked and heavily armed anti-terror police on both sides of the train. I hesitated to get off the train, afraid of being beaten or otherwise mistreated. We were herded into a fenced off area to be searched. Only few people were let through without further checks. Philipp and I were two of them. (Do we really look that old and harmless?). We were allowed on a bus that was supposed to take us into Davos. Before we got there, the bus was stopped in a road block. In the middle of the mountain forest we were surrounded by dozens of policemen and trapped in a fenced-off and barbed-wired area.

Policemen got on the bus and asked everybody's ID. Some people, mostly young ones and those with long hair, dreadlocks, piercings, and dark skin, had to get off the bus and their luggage was searched. After about half an hour in the freezing cold with heavy snowfall, most of us were allowed to continue. Some unfortunate ones stayed behind or were sent back.

We didn't know that we were among the last ones to make it to Davos that day. Most of those attempting access were blocked off somewhere on the way. In Davos it was like entering a ghost town, inhabited only by police and army forces. Fences everywhere. Behind the fences police forces with guns. Water cannons. Barbed wire. All shops closed. No-one on the streets. People peeking from behind closed shutters and drawn curtains. One lost Dutch couple with skis wanting to get on a ski lift. They didn't know that all cable cars, ski lifts, chair lifts had closed down for the day. The man told me that they had been coming to Davos for 20 years but that this was the last time.

So there we were. A few lost souls looking for the "illegal" demonstration. We made it to the venue of the alternative conference "The Public Eye on Davos". Not many people were there, because participants and speakers had been hindered to get to this ("legal") meeting.

Still, about four hundred or so people managed to stage a demonstration with a few banners. We couldn't go far because there were police everywhere. We never made it to the official WEF conference center. For every demonstrator there were two, three, four, perhaps 10 policemen and even soldiers. On the roof tops of some of the buildings there were hidden gunmen. Helicopters soared over our heads. Some of the demonstrators were singing songs, some were shouting, the most violent ones were throwing a few snow balls. The response was an attack by a water cannon. Heavy snowfall and bitter cold in the lost streets of this luxurious resort town. After two hours of attempting to move one way or another the demonstration dissolved.

But there was no way to get back. Neither trains nor buses were running. Eventually we found out why. Between 1,500 and 2,000 demonstrators, who had been stopped by police and army on their way to Davos had blocked stations, railway tracks and even the motorway. One of Switzerland's major traffic axis was totally interrupted for hours. Some telephone lines had also been cut.

Only after these interruptions had been ended and demonstrators dispersed were those remaining in Davos allowed to board a special train, taking us down to Landquart. This train was followed by two helicopters, hovering above the train for almost the entire stretch of about one hour, very James Bond-like. At times, one of the helicopters flew alongside the train allowing us to wave hello to the pilots.

Back in Landquart everything was quiet and Swiss Federal Railways sent an extra train to take us down to Zurich. Over the train loudspeaker system we were kept up to date on the demonstrations that had started in Zurich after the first trainload of demonstrators had arrived back.

I had hardly stepped off the train in Zurich main station when rubber bullets were flying all around us. It was the beginning of a long night of riots in downtown Zurich with police using tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets and demonstrators singing, shouting, dancing, trying to march towards Rote Fabrik where they were going to have the final party. It all ended with burning cars, smashed windows and so on. Damages are estimated at several hundred thousand Francs.

Today, Monday, everybody is upset: Demonstrators, police, politicians, hotel and restaurant owners, local inhabitants in Davos and Landquart. Having read most newspapers and listened to various radio and T.V. stations it looks like the vast majority believe that police actions were much exaggerated and that massive police presence, with masked and heavily armed forces, police tanks, helicopters etc. had contributed to a climate of aggression and fear. Efforts to protect the WEF had disregarded fundamental constitutional rights, right of free movement, right of free assembly and right of free speech. Various cases will be taken to court. It is being said that the constitution has been violated and that, in fact, a state of emergency had been imposed on much of Switzerland. A majority of the population is not willing to accept this again and it may well be that the WEF is not going to happen in Davos ever again.

Some thirty demonstrators remain in custody, most of them foreigners who will probably be deported to their native countries. These coming days we will find out how parliaments, the public and media react to what has happened. The "Spirit of Davos" much praised by WEF organisers is probably gone for good. Whether or not Swiss officials and politicians want to accept this "dictatorial regime" (quote from Swiss tabloid) ever again is uncertain.

See also:,,,,
Richard Wolff, International Network for Urban Research and Action, ZYrich Nordstrasse, 151 8037 ZYrich Switzerland,

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