Goodbye, and see you again!
  Three Years of World Summit Process - a Personal Farewell Greeting
  By Ralf Bendrath
16 January 2006. When we started in the summer of 2002 to get the internet activists in Berlin interested in the summit, nobody had an idea of what would become of it. Most of us - including myself - felt at home in German politics and only had contacts to some international colleagues in our respective areas of expertise. Nobody really knew how such a UN summit process works. My first encounter with the international WSIS community was the Pan-European preparatory conference in Bucharest in November 2002. Unforgettable until today is the answer we got from the friendly conference hostesses when we asked where civil society would meet: "This is not civil society - this is information society!" Andreas Gebhard and I, who had been sent there as some kind of German reconnaissance team, still were lucky and shortly afterwards met Karen Banks, Sean O'Siochru, Robert Guerra, Nick Moraitis and many others, and we got a warm welcome. On the third day, I already had written my first statement on the changes we wanted in the "security" chapter of the Bucharest Declaration.

When Olga Drossou at the Heinrich Böll Foundation decided to fund a website following the summit process from January 2003 on, I became one of the editors, together with Arne Hintz. This meant a lot of work, because writing articles and analyses (more than 800 by now) about such a complex process required following about 20 email lists and a number of websites at the same time. On the other hand, this job put us in the comfortable position to inevitably know what was going on, where political conflicts were developing, and who the central actors were.

Of course, with this background, we could not keep from getting actively involved in the politics of the summit process. Arne became co-coordinator of the "Community Media" working group, and I took the same position with regards to "Privacy and Security". Because of the funding for the website, we could be present at all important preparatory meetings and get actively involved there. The highlights surely were the months of November in 2003 and 2005. In early November 2003, Arne had written a smart analysis of the role of civil society in the "multistakeholder" process of WSIS, and building on this, I convened a strategy working group of civil society at the extended PrepCom3. Here, we prepared the decision by civil society to stop contributing to the official summit documents and instead write its own summit declaration. Arne also was one of the leading forces in preparing the alternative summit event "WSIS - WE SEIZE!" in downtown Geneva. In November 2005 - still at the summit in Tunis - I volunteered to help developing a joint assessment of the summit outcomes by civil society. Somehow I ended up coordinating the global consultation process for this for a whole month after the summit, always simultaneously facilitating at several fronts. This, too, worked in the end, and the document, like the 2003 alternative summit declaration, was official accepted by the UN as an independent contribution of civil society to the summit.

Based on the generous funding by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, we have not only written and learnt a lot and moved some things, but also found many new friends. It is impossible to list all of them here, therefore I won't even try. But I hope to see many of the dedicated participants again somewhere. It is worthwhile to keep on fighting for a just and human information society. And with such great allies it is even much more fun. See you again!

  Ralf moderating the panel "Civil society at WSIS: What was and what's next?"
at the side event of the Heinrich-Böll-Foundation in Tunis

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