Global Retreat

The Real Reason the Forum Bigwigs Are Here: The Swiss Didn’t Want the Hassle

That noise may have been a faint buzz in Geneva, but in Zurich and Graubünden, the canton that hosts the Forum, it was deafening. Esther Maurer, the Zurich police chief, a Social Democrat who is also a city councilmember standing for re-election on March 3, continued to balk at sending officers to Davos unless two conditions were met. First, the officers must not be needed in Zurich. Second, the Forum would have to change its format to become friendlier to demonstrators. Those seeking dialogue should be offered the opportunity to join the discussion, rather than being shut out, Maurer said.

Late in October, the Forum dispatched two board members to New York to pitch Mayor Giuliani on holding the meeting here. McLean recalls: "The mayor looked at his advisers and asked, 'Does anybody think this is a bad idea?' " On November 7, Klaus Schwab held a press conference at the Waldorf announcing the Forum's "solidarity" with New York.

When the Forum announced that it would leave Switzerland, negotiations took on renewed urgency. The parties agreed to bring the meeting back to Davos in 2003. Esther Maurer's conditions were met. The Swiss government and the Forum endowed a foundation called In the Spirit of Davos, which aims to "institutionalize a dialogue with demonstrators," according to Economic Affairs Minister Couchepin. Swiss Justice and Police Minister Ruth Metzler-Arnold called a meeting of the 26 provincial police departments, and the security costs were redistributed.

Protesters and police face off in the East Village.
photo: Julia Xanthos
Protesters and police face off in the East Village.

But major questions remain for the demonstrators. They have succeeded, so far, in rocking the foundation of the World Economic Forum. Do they want to join the party? Or will the Forum be driven out of Davos forever?

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