ALPSIDE DOWNED: Davos of the People

BERN, Switzerland (MindaNews / 25 January) – Davos is a small city in the Swiss alps of about 283 square kilometers, most of it forested or used for agricultural purposes. But this time of the year, Davos makes the headlines as venue of the annual World Economic Forum or WEF.

And the world only takes more notice when dominant news organizations like CNN report extensively on the goings-on at the WEF. For example, CNN program host Richard Quest devotes his entire program “Quest means Business” interviewing the VIPs attending the event and making sense of the annual program.

Davos has a permanent population of 11,060, most of it in the tourist industry. And, I imagine, the residents are busy taking care of their visitors who are mostly millionaires, moguls in business and industry or leaders of state leaders with their delegations.

Much of the hype about Davos this year is the arrival of Donald Trump, the second sitting American president to attend after Bill Clinton. There is anticipation over the clash of Trump’s “American First” policy as against the global trade cooperation outlook of the other world leaders attending the WEF.

There are side stories on where Trump will land ( Zurich or Geneva) and where he stays (Swiss media sniffed out the Hotel Intercontinental in Davos because of an unusually large American security delegation which reserved an entire floor weeks before the event).

And the Swiss media is generally downbeat in their reports about the coming of this American president, some focusing on concerns over the chaos that will come with flight restrictions on Air Force One’s landing, or the traffic in the mountain roads leading to Davos which got record-level snowfalls in the past weeks. Or the tumult when anti-WEF protesters (from leftist and some anarchist groups) clash with the police security. Not that protesters can get close to the venues– roads leading to Davos are blocked by police and protest groups will be content to staking out the airports for arriving delegates.

There are sidelight news items in the tabloids about the black limousines converging on and overwhelming the local carwash stands, or of guests and tourists happy over the abundant snow in the ski resorts.  There are reports of anti-WEF protests, such as the thousands of anti-Trump demonstrators in Zürich this week holding up “Trump not welcome” or “Trump go away!” placards. Or the failed scheme of the environmental protection group Greenpeace to inflate a smuggled 4-meter diameter protest balloon using a remote-controlled air compressor. (The balloon smuggled atop the Davos Congress Center was crushed under 2 meters of snow!)

And how does the WEF—and the coming of the big shots to Switzerland—impact on the 15,000 or so Filipinos living in Switzerland? Not much. The only ones most concerned are the Filipinos driving for the embassies in Bern which are sending delegations to Davos. They worry about the sub-zero cold and the challenging road conditions in Davos. Lodging and eating out is more difficult for them, with hordes of WEF delegates, the delegations and media competing for the resources of the city.

When the Philippines sent a delegation to the WEF in 2008, the embassy staff and local hires had to scramble to find accommodation outside the fully-booked city for the delegation, and had to organize meals and trips to the venues for its members.

I think the theme for the 48th Annual Meeting of the WEF this year, “ Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World”, holds little significance for the majority of the people living or working in Switzerland. The annual meeting of the WEF is mostly shrugged off as an annual forum of the few rich talking about the problems of the rest of the world. Davos remains the playground of the global elite, and the voice of the people is rarely heard in Davos.

What perked up heads this year, however, is a report of the UK-based OXFAM, which released a new report a day before the WEF opened on January 23. According to OXFAM, 82 percent of the wealth generated last year went to the richest 1% of the global population, while the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world saw no increase in their wealth.

That should have made an interesting topic for this year’s meeting. But then, that is not in the agenda of the rich until their party in Davos ends on Friday the 26th. (Mindanawon Abroad is MindaNews’ effort to link up with Mindanawons overseas who would like to share their thoughts about their home country and their experiences in their adopted countries. Brady Eviota wrote and edited for the now defunct Media Mindanao News Service in Davao and also for the SunStar Cagayan de Oro. He  is from Surigao City and now lives in Bern, the Swiss capital located near the Bernese Alps)