SWITZERLAND: Davos Scales Back Glitz

Publisher Name: 
New York Times

No Bono, no Angelina.

With capitalism in crisis, the 2,500 business and political leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this week will find less starpower than usual.

Organizers say the five-day event that starts Wednesday will focus on work and on shaping the world after the crisis ends.

But with dozens of world leaders and finance ministers, and heads of
the some of the world's biggest companies in attendance, this year's
gathering may have trouble looking beyond the world's current economic
problems. But the forum's head says they need to try.

''We are still in the midst of the crisis, let's face it,'' said
Klaus Schwab, founder of the 39-year-old forum. ''But we will look also
at the world after the crisis, because this is a transformational
crisis and the world certainly will be different afterward.''

There will still be receptions with canapes and champagne, but no A-list Hollywood stars such as previous guests Angelina Jolie and Sharon Stone.

Even Bono, the U2 frontman who has prodded the wealthy for years at Davos to give more to the poor, is not coming.

''Bono has a day job, too,'' said forum spokesman Mark Adams. ''He's finishing an album.''

Adams said there will still be actors, writers, designers, and
architects. This year, they include singer Peter Gabriel, Chinese
martial artist Jet Li and Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan.

''If there's a change, it's a shift eastwards as we are bringing in
artists from different cultures around the world,'' Adams said. ''I'm
sure there will be a different tone this year and a sense that we need
to get down to work. There are 230 working sessions and that's what
people are coming for.''

The economic crisis that emerged out the collapse of securities
based on shaky U.S. mortgages poses challenges for an event that has
championed market-driven approaches combined with sound global
governance to the world's problems, ranging from climate change to terrorism.

Some forum participants are themselves mired in the problem, even as they try to propose solutions.

Struggling Citigroup Inc.
lost billions on risky securities. Nevertheless, it helped the forum
produce a risk assessment report for the annual meeting and says it is
sending at least four executives to Davos.

Marcel Rohner, chief of Swiss bank UBS AG, and Societe Generale
Chairman Daniel Bouton are among the other leaders of banks receiving
public funds whom the forum says will attend. Its latest lineup from
Jan. 22 also lists four representatives of Bank of America Corp.

It costs over $50,000 (euro38,500) to send an executive to Davos. At
the top level, the forum's strategic partners give $435,000
(euro335,000) and can send five people. Despite the obvious pain some
of its members are suffering, the forum says it is coping well and
expects 21 more participants this year than in 2008.

Appropriately, perhaps, one session has been titled ''Update 2009:
The Return to State Power'' and will assess governments now taking a
stronger role to address the crisis and what will be their ''true
impact during a global slowdown.''

Other debates will focus on energy, climate change, free trade and development assistance.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is the first of over 40 heads of state or government present to get on the stage; Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin then gives the keynote address. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso and Mexican President Felipe Calderon are also slated to attend.

It's not clear what presence the new U.S. administration will have,
because the meeting comes shortly after the inauguration of President Barack Obama amid Senate confirmation hearings of key appointees.

Heads of the world's biggest central banks will be present with one notable apparent exception: U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. Obama's choice for Treasury secretary, Tim Geithner, still faces Senate confirmation and is not currently slated to attend.

The forum says National Security Adviser James Jones and Lawrence Summers, head of the National Economic Council, will be in Davos, as will former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore.

Protecting the leaders will take hundreds of police, as well as up to 5,000 soldiers for a security tab as high as $7 million.

The anti-capitalist and anti-globalization groups who oppose the
forum have yet to gain approval for a demonstration in Davos and have
been banned from protesting in Geneva. Some may take to the streets
anyway.

''As the subprime crisis shakes the whole world, plunging the United
State and Europe into recession, as the people are currently paying the
bills of capitalism, the economic and political elite are meeting once
again in Davos,'' reads one call for protest by an anti-forum
coalition. ''To the streets against the forum, for a different world!''

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