|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
8 - 14th
WE'RE ON OUR WAY . . .
This time next week more than 400 vegetarians, from 34 different countries around the world, will be converging on a place that most of us had never heard of until recently: Florianópolis in the south of Brazil.
The following countries will be represented: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, England, France, Germany, Greece, India, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Scotland, Singapore, Syria, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, The Netherlands, Trinidad and Tobago, United States, Uruguay (Israel, Iran and Syria all together - vegetarians can show a better way!)
IVU has been co-ordinating World Vegetarian Congresses for almost 100 years, every 2 or 3 years (apart from war years) since the first one in Dresden, Germany in 1908 (centenary coming soon!) - but the 36th WVC is the first ever to be held in Latin America, indeed it's the first ever in the Southern Hemisphere.
This remarkable achievement is due to the vision of Marly Winckler, IVU Regional Co-ordinator for Latin America, President of the Sociedade Vegetariana Brasileira (Brazil VegSoc), and the chief Congress organiser (see: http://www.ivu.org/members/council/marly-winckler.html). For several years Marly has been running an email discussion list for Latin America (in a mixture of Spanish and Portuguese), setting up websites, and bringing people together throughout the region. The ultimate result of this is 12 Latin American countries being represented at this Congress, despite the economic difficulties they all have to cope with.
During the Congress there will be a meeting to extablish a Regional Organisation for Latin America - UVL (Unio Vegetariana LatinAmerica). IVU has been delighted to assist in this process by using its limited funds to offer free membership to many Vegetarian Societies in the region, giving financial support to kickstart the Brazil VegSoc, giving grants for free Congress places to a few volunteer leaders of Latin American groups, and providing a guarantee against the financial risk of organising this Congress (it looks like that risk has paid off, but the guarantee was essential as the Brazilian Society coud not have taken that risk on their own).
All of this is only possible because IVU has many Members and Supporters in the wealthier developed countries, particularly in Europe and North America. If you would like to help in this work please consider joining or supporting IVU yourself, as an individual or as a group - see http://www.ivu.org/members for full details.
If you are unable to join us in Brazil next week then do visit the Congress website http://www.ivu.org/congress/2004 soon after November 21 and we should have reports, texts of talks and photos appearing in large numbers.
This is also the first WVC where it has been possible to pay the registration fees online by credit card, via the IVU website - that sounds simple with online trading being so routine these days, but it has proven to be surprisingly difficult for an international (and multi-currency/multi-lingual) event working on a modest budget. We're pleased with this progress and hope to improve the facilities even further before we head for India in 2006.
WE'RE ALL NUTS ABOUT BRAZIL!
The 36th IVU World Vegetarian Congress has come and gone - Brazil is a wonderful country and few of us wanted to come home again. The final tally was about 500 in residence, representing a record breaking number of 32 different countries. The most frequently heard comment was: "this is the best food ever" (100% vegan of course), and many said that the location was the best ever too - the Costao do Santinho was in an idylic spot on Santa Catarina Island where the tree-covered mountains meet the sea. It has glorious beaches, an amazing variety of wildlife along the woodland trails and facilities of a very high standard in the resort itself. Add to that a tantalising choice of up to five lectures and two cookery demos at every session (in a mixture of English, Portuguese and Spanish), plus dance and fashion shows in the evenings, and there really was something for everyone.
But this Congress may turn out to have been of greater sigficance, and we need to go back a bit to put it in perspective. The previous 35 IVU Congresses have all been inspiring for those fortunate enough to attend them, but just a few have achieved a wider role - 1908, 1929, 1957 and 1975 are the most obvious of those. That last one, 1975, was held at the University of Orono, in Maine, USA, and was the first IVU Congress ever to be held in North America. About 1,500 visitors were in residence, still a record outside of India, and recent commentators have seen it as the launch pad for organised vegetarianism in the region. There were veg groups in North America before 1975 of course, the first being as far back as 1850, but they were generally rather small and isolated, along with a large number of even more isolated individuals. After Orono hundreds of veg societies sprang up, along with a dozens of conferences, festivals and publications - many of them founded by people who first met at that extraordinary Congress.
It doesn't always turn out that way of course - there were high hopes that the 1999 Congress, held in Chiang Mai, Thailand, would have a similar effect for the South East Asian region as that was the first there too, but there were never more than a few ripples from it. This isn't the place to analyse why it didn't reach its full potential but it does remind us that we have much to learn about such things.
The 2004 Congress already shows signs of having a much wider impact than just one week in Florianópolis. Until the last few years Latin America was rather a 'dead' region for IVU and this was the first time that anything on this scale had been attempted there. It was always going to be a gamble, but the IVU International Council provided as much support as it could, both practical and financial. The Council then, crucially, stood back and allowed the Brazilians space to run their own show - the result is that all the vegetarian leaders in Latin America will have gained enormous strength and confidence from the stunning achievement that was Florianópolis 2004.
The Argentine Vegetarian Society led the way by holding their first, and highly successful, National Congress just before the IVU event, now they have the support of the Vegetarian Union of Latin America (UVL), launched during the Brazil Congress and which is already planning another meeting in Bolivia next year. The new Union was announced during the IVU General Meeting by one of the Spanish speaking delegates, demonstrating the solidarity between the Spanish and Portuguese speaking veg communities.
The dazzling cruelty-free veg fashion shows, held during the Congress, attracted huge audiences from outside the Congress itself and are now set to become an annual event in their own right. But the biggest result of this Congress has to be the wonderful number of young Brazilians in attendance, a great inspiration for the future and the Brazil Vegetarian Society (only founded last year) is now well into planning it's own National Congress in São Paulo next year.
We'll have to wait and see if Florianópolis achieves the full 'Orono effect' for Latin America, but the indications are very promising. It is just possible that, in years to come, those of us privileged to be there will be able to look back at the time we witnessed one of those rare moments that changed the course of vegetarian history.