Opening Night – Bernardo Sajs

(University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) Internet in the Slums.
Discussion with Geert and Tracey.

How do you see situation in Brazilian slums?
We need attention for the fundamental issues that lie behind the problems. We have fallen into a trap. There is a field of Information society, and a lot of NGOs have been devoted to democratization of internet etc. but this was wrong.
There is the issue of digital inclusion, but what about Africa where people are digitally illiterate. What about Latin America? What does it mean to give to each person free internet if he can’t read or write? There is space for this issue, but we can’t see this as a space in itself. It should be part of an integrated effort to fight poverty.

NGO’s are in crisis. Civil society is a part of power structures, economic structures.
Let’s go beyond de digital divide and look at technology as part of an agenda of fighting poverty.

Fighting poverty is not a global issue. It is most of all a national problem. Let’s fight inequality at home… We need nationalist strategies for globalisation.

Let’s stop speeking about global civil society, there is no such thing… We have national civil societies, related to national structures. Good intentions are not enough, the basis is politics, is confrontation, is dialogue.

Public space should be the confrontation of ideas. There should be confrontation within civil society. Discussion should be open to everybody.

Whe should try not to stay in the “anti- something” basis. We are anti everything, except against human rights. But everybody is for Human Rights, even Bill Gates… We need confrontation of ideas within civil society. We should have representations within civil society. We should need to be aware of the differences. We need to leave the anti-discourse.

We need to recreate our relationships with other social actors, also within civil society. E.g. universities. Civil society seems only activism, but there is also an important critique happening at the university.

We need open discussions and less demonisation of the market.

Discussion with the public:
If civil society doesn’t exist, how can it be in crisis?
Not fond of term civil society. Is there an alternative?
What role has civil society in WSIS?

There is not ‘one’ actor that is called civil society. Difficult to speak in the name of civil society. It should be expanded. Civil society does not substitute the long tradition of representative politics.