Davos returns under Ukrainian cloud after Covid break
Paris (AFP)- The world’s political and business elite will gather in Davos next week after a two-year Covid-caused break, with the war in Ukraine set to dominate the exclusive Swiss mountain peak.
The world has changed dramatically since the last time the World Economic Forum took place in person at the ski resort in January 2020.
At the time, US President Donald Trump and climate activist Greta Thunberg headlined the show and the coronavirus had yet to spread widely outside of China.
Since then, the outbreak in China has turned into a pandemic that has rocked the global economy, Trump lost the US election to Joe Biden, countries have suffered weather disasters related to climate change, inflation increased and Russia invaded Ukraine.
After a virtual forum in 2021 and the postponement of this year’s face-to-face event due to the Omicron variant, the WEF returns to its Davos haunt on Monday under the theme “History at a Turning Point”.
But the cheerleading hub of capitalism and globalization will lack its usual scenic snowy backdrop – and the usual Russian contingent.
President Vladimir Putin spoke at the online meeting last year, but organizers decided to exclude the Russians this time as Western powers imposed sanctions on Moscow over the Ukraine dispute.
Instead, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will address the summit via video link while a dozen officials from his country will attend in person.
WEF founder Klaus Schwab said it would be “the most timely and consequential meeting” since the forum was founded more than 50 years ago.
“Russia’s aggression against the country will be seen in future history books as the collapse of the post-World War II and post-Cold War order,” Schwab said during the interview. a pre-summit briefing, adding that Davos will do everything possible to support Ukraine and its recovery.
WEF chairman Borge Brende said excluding Russians from the forum was “the right decision”.
“We hope, however, that Russia will follow a different path… in the years to come to start respecting the UN charter and its international obligations,” Brende said.
More than 50 heads of state or government will be among the 2,500 delegates ranging from business leaders to academics and civil society figures who will take part in the four-day meeting.
Among the biggest names are Germany’s new chancellor Olaf Scholz, European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg and US climate envoy John Kerry.
As war eclipses the meeting, the forum will also feature panels on everything from climate change and rising energy prices to global supply chain issues, gender inequality, poverty, football and the metaverse.
This year’s reunion, however, lacks some of the star power of the past. Some, like Chinese President Xi Jinping, spoke virtually in January.
“I’m sure it’s kind of a bummer,” said Adrienne Sorbom, co-author of “Discreet Power,” a book about the World Economic Forum.
“I think the quiet diplomacy that the forum organizes is one of the things that is really at the heart of the forum and what Klaus Schwab considers its greatest achievement,” said Sorbom, professor of sociology at Stockholm University. .
Although the forum’s relevance is questioned every year, it continues to attract titans of industry and government leaders, as well as some of its biggest critics.
When Sorbom took part in Davos in 2014, “business leaders were saying, ‘if you’re not there, you don’t exist'”.
“Anyone who wants to be somebody has to go,” she said.
The forum produced important moments.
It hosted the first ministerial meetings between North and South Korea in 1989 as well as talks between South Africa’s apartheid-era president FW de Klerk and then dissident Nelson Mandela in 1992.
The forum, however, regularly comes under fire as evidence of the warm relationship between the political and corporate elite.
“At this Davos, at this festival of wealth, I think we are going to see how deeply unequal our world has become,” said Nabil Ahmed, head of strategy at global charity Oxfam.
But Oxfam, which lobbies for taxes on the wealthy, is also a Davos regular.
“I think it’s important to go to Davos to challenge power, present hard facts, speak directly to these governments and companies and amplify the voices they’re not listening to,” Ahmed said.
“That’s why we’re going.”
© 2022 AFP