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Europe

Did Attac's Success Come Too Soon?

Globalization critics Attac appeared to be an alternative power to reckon with after the G8 summit in Genoa in 2001. Has the hype died down since because Blair and Chirac now share their demands?

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Protesting "predatory capitalism"

It's odd with Attac. They're young, sassy, alternative -- a classic youth movement -- but they seem to do everything right. They have clear aims: control of international financial transfers and debt relief for the poorest countries. They don't tear themselves apart in endless battles between various factions as the left so often does. And they know how to write a press release and that some people are more likely to make a donation if, in return, they get a receipt to write it off their taxes. Did Attac become too professional to remain a media darling for long?

Political scientist Dieter Rucht said that's not the reason Attac now fills fewer newspaper columns. "After Genoa the newspapers made Attac bigger than they are in reality," the expert on new social movements said. "At the moment it's shrinking to a relatively normal size."

Polizist setzt Tränengas ein

A policeman hurls a tear-gas container towards anti-globalization protestors on July 21, 2001 during a demonstration in Genoa.

The demonstrations at the Genoa summit and the violent response of the Italian police against them made Attac into the new global protest movement's spearhead -- and a martyr -- overnight. Ever since then the summits have taken place in the seclusion of the countryside, and police have focused on de-escalation rather than confrontation. Neither are conditions conducive to Attac keeping a place in the debate.

Finding their stride

But Attac co-founder Peter Wahl sees positive aspects in attention being averted from the network. "The breathing space did us good, to consolidate our work." In any case, Attac continues to grow stronger behind the scenes.

The German branch had fewer than 1,000 members before Genoa, but their numbers have grown steadily since then and have now reached 16,000. In France, the group is even bigger than the Green party.

Indeed, France's president, Jacques Chirac, was the first head of state among the Group of Eight countries to advocate Attac's main demand -- application of the so-called Tobin tax, a 0.5 percent tax on short-term currency speculation.

And at the G8 summit at Gleneagles resort in Scotland, the world's most powerful countries are expected to agree on debt relief for poor countries. "Of course, that's because after the Iraq debacle, (British Prime Minister Tony) Blair wants to distinguish himself in developmental policy," said Rucht. "But without movements like Attac, the issue wouldn't have made it on the agenda so quickly."

Gleneagles Hotel in Schottland Tagungsort G8-Gipfel

Gleneagles Hotel



Taking on the world

Attac will have to be careful not to dissipate their energies since the group sees itself as a network, rather than an NGO or pressure group. As long as they share Attac's main concerns, the group welcomes anyone who wants to join, Christians and anarchists alike. But those concerns continue to grow.

"Attac now deals with energy policy, the water business, tax evasion -- it's becoming a variety store," Rucht said. However, embracing more issues may just be a sign that Attac, like Europe's Green parties, is evolving from a small, flexible protest group to an official party.

But Peter Wahl rejected the notion. "Then we would give up everything that makes us special," he said. "Parties are mainly interested in retaining power. For us, however, it's conceivable that we will one day stop, when our aims have been achieved." That would still take quite a while though, Wahl added.

For the time being, Attac is focused on increasing their clout. In the future, they want to work closely with established and financially strong organizations, like the trade unions, as they did during last year's demonstration against German labor market reforms. This to is a novelty for the left, notorious for shunning alliances.

"Attac has really got things going," Rucht stressed. "And combining utopias with pragmatism -- no one will be imitating them very quickly anyway."

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