The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, a non-profit foundation based in Geneva, kicked off in Davos, Switzerland, on Sunday. The meeting is very famous for the high reputation of the participants: every year it brings together politicians and entrepreneurs from the most important companies in the world to talk about economy and society. This edition of the forum will be the first held in person since the beginning of the pandemic, and the fact that it takes place in May is unusual: it was supposed to take place at the end of January, like every year, but the arrival of the omicron variant has led the organizers to postpone it forced.
Not only the date is different for this edition of the Davos Forum, which meets in January 2020 in a world that has changed a lot compared to the last edition: because of the pandemic and above all because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which many challenges the principles on which the Forum is based, such as globalization and free trade. So, for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, not even a Russian politician or businessman will take part in this edition.
In terms of the program, the Davos Forum is not much different than before the pandemic. Although the event officially starts on Sunday, the day is mainly dedicated to welcoming guests and the bulk of the activities start on Monday: conferences, congresses and panels where more or less famous people take turns, from heads of state to billionaire entrepreneurs less well-known journalists and experts. Of the 2,500 invited speakers at the forum, 50 will be heads of state and government and over 250 ministers from around the world.
The first significant difference will be the total absence of Russians and Russians at the event. Russian President Vladimir Putin has been a frequent guest at Davos (most recently in 2021, when the event was streamed), and the influence of Russian billionaires and entrepreneurs has always been palpable at the forum and beyond because, as Bloomberg notes, the oligarchs ‘ Nightly parties were among the richest, most extravagant and coveted.
Klaus Schwab, founder and still organizer of the forum, defined Vladimir Putin’s voice as “essential” as early as last year and has been a strong advocate of the fact that dialogue with the Russian elite is necessary to lay the foundations for a richer and create richer policies peacefully.
But after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Schwab and the other organizers decided to exclude all Russian guests from the event. Although the decision is largely justified, it is in many ways a bitter defeat for the Davos Forum, whose philosophy rests on the fact that communication between political and business leaders, exchange of ideas, interdependence and free trade are the keys to a more prosperous and peaceful world.
More generally, the New York Times wrote, many of the principles that Davos has symbolized for years, such as “globalization, liberalism, market capitalism, representative democracy, appear to be under attack.”
The pandemic has prompted many governments to adopt isolation policies, to the point that certain countries – some of which are fundamental to the global economy, like China – have effectively been closed to foreign visitors for two years. The world trade crisis has thrown into serious trouble the entire globalization system on which the world economy is based. Furthermore, as the Economist noted, the pandemic coincided with a very severe crisis in global democracy, with many countries turning authoritarian and others where freedoms have shrunk.
The war in Ukraine has amplified all these phenomena, making them more obvious and complicated. “We live in a different world,” Schwab said in an interview with the New York Times. “Even when we last met in 2020, we had a lot of serious concerns. But now we have two more events [la pandemia e la guerra, ndr] which have really accelerated the seriousness of the situation”.
All of these factors could set the Davos Forum apart from previous years. This was also stated by Børge Brende, President of the World Economic Forum, in a video released by the organization, who explained that we had not seen so much “geopolitical and geoeconomic upheaval” in decades.
What makes this year different?
– World Economic Forum (@wef) May 21, 2022
It is certainly not the first time that problems and changes for the Davos Forum have been discussed.
The forum has long been criticized as a gathering of rich, powerful and famous people who have big intentions but do nothing. A few years ago, the term “Davos man” was also invented to refer to the billionaires who attend the forum, speak about the environment, justice and equality, but then in their daily actions are one of the main causes of inequality and discrimination.
In addition, for years the Davos Forum has been considered less and less influential, mainly because of its alignment with the political and economic model of the West, although there are countries in the world that do not adopt this model or do not actively adopt it, such as China increasingly important. As Schwab himself said, we are witnessing the “fragmentation of the world”.
The Davos Forum will not necessarily lose its importance and centrality. Hundreds of the world’s most important personalities will again take part this year and various speeches are eagerly awaited, including that of the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, who will speak via video link from Kyiv. But the pandemic and war have changed many of the optimistic assumptions and projections on which the forum was founded.