Davos 2022: At the World Economic Forum, there is no ‘business as usual’

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DAVOS, Switzerland – Russia occupied a central location in the Swiss mountain town before the epidemic prevented a gathering of the world’s political and business elites – literally. Anyone walking along the original Davos Promenade will encounter a wooden building that, if you squinted, looks like a traditional dacha. The “Russia House”, as it was called, was part of the Kremlin’s soft power play at the World Economic Forum and served as a venue for cocktail parties and merry panels on investment opportunities and tourism in Russia.

This week, more than two years after the forum convened, Russian business and political authorities were not explicitly invited – both as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine as well as Western sanctions following the forum’s policy stance. . No Russian oligarchs will be allowed on their private jets. At the forum’s Fresh Juice and Espresso Bars, no Russian delegation will rub shoulders with their official opponents.

Meanwhile, the Russian House has been seized by the Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Pinchuk and converted into the “Russia War Crimes House”. The photos taken during the conflict in Ukraine are set to feature evidence of rape, executions and other atrocities, along with a series of discussions on Russian human rights abuses.

It’s a symbolic transformation that sets the stage for this week’s activities. For the first time in the forum’s half-century history, the gathering will take place in the shadow of war between European countries. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will deliver the first speech by a head of state on Monday and will attend a number of other events in his war-torn country’s capital. A significant delegation from Ukraine will be physically present in Davos, including the foreign minister, two deputy prime ministers, five members of parliament and the mayor of Kiev.

Other headliners include German Chancellor Olaf Schulz and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, both of whom are expected to speak at length on the Ukraine crisis. Scholz’s earlier announcement that the war marked “a turning point in history” or Zeitenwende in German, was being expanded in Davos, with the guiding theme of this year’s rally focusing on how governments and businesses could “turn a corner in history”.

The mood reflects a broader conviction in the West – in the United States of course – that we are entering a new era in world politics. In her column for The New Yorker on February 24, the date Russia launched its aggression, Susan Glasser argued, “It presents one of the grip-point moments of every decade or two – a transformative event, not just for Ukraine and Europe, but for Washington.” , Too, will be redefined by American power and purpose [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s decision for next year. One will be before February 24 and one after. “

But there is no shortage of other crises, many of which are interrelated. Countries are still struggling to recover from the epidemic. Although some parts of the world still need to be vaccinated, the volatile economic headwinds caused by the epidemic have put pressure on global financial markets and raised fears of a recession in the United States, as my colleague Ava Bhattarai reports.

The war in Ukraine only exacerbates the food crisis in the developing world, with rising slate prices causing fuel and grain shortages in various countries, such as Tunisia and Sri Lanka.

“The return of the war, the epidemic and the climate crisis, all these disruptive forces have derailed the global recovery,” Klaus Schwab, the forum’s founder and executive chairman, told reporters at a briefing last week. ‚ÄúThese problems must be addressed in Davos; The global food crisis, in particular, needs our immediate attention. “

As a matter of practice, the forum will try to focus on proactive and positive solutions to these challenges.. It sees itself as an essential vehicle for cooperation between policy makers and the private sector. The annual gathering – which is uncommon in the spring due to the epidemic – is regularly stunned by critics as an elite talk show in the mountains, avant-ski. This caricature often undermines the actual commitment and efforts made by forum participants and organizers, including projects to help “improve” millions of workers in the global economy and US Climate Ambassador John F. Kennedy. Launching a major venture in partnership with Kerry aims to decarbonize the supply chains of some of the world’s largest companies.

Last year, the forum created its programming as a “great reset” around recovering from an epidemic, suggesting that the global experience of coronavirus presented a narrow window for governments and businesses to “re-imagine and reset our world,” as Shoaib says. . .

Adrian Monak, managing director of the forum, told me the initiative was “an attempt to keep policymakers in a positive mood.” But it has also provoked reactions from Western right-wingers, who have linked the notion of the “Great Reset” to the baseless conspiracy theory of the epidemic plan to impose new measures to control the world’s elite population.

This week, those gathering in Davos may be confronted with how little power they have to count on many of the world’s cyclone crises, ranging from the colorful climate change to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. “There is no such thing as normal business,” WEF President Borge Brande told reporters last week. “We must now come together and … go to unknown territory.”

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