[Pga_europe_process] The dark side of Camping

Tapio Laakso tapio.laakso at iki.fi
Wed Jul 7 11:24:47 CEST 2004


I think we all should read this text "The dark side of Camping" about no
Border camp in Strasbourg 2002 so things in Belgrade would go different

The dark side of Camping
Submitted by fls on Tue, 09/23/2003 - 16:09.

Camping can be so nice. Crawling out of dewy plastic in the early morning,
with a pinch of sleep still in your eyes, braving the unbearably hot sun,
yet invigorated and ready to take on the day with as much indifference as
possible to the ongoing struggle with nature. Surely everybody knows that
the secret of success is to fight the laws of petty bourgeois civilisation
with minimal equipment and therefore gain a flexibility that is capable of
suspending the otherwise ruling power relations for a clearly defined
amount of time.

But camping can also become a torture, only bearable with a high degree of
sarcasm and humour. Nine o’clock in the morning – first barrio meeting.
Points of the agenda are illegal beer sales, homemade jam and the use of
fresh greenery for campfires. The same discussion enriched with no less
substantial issues like common barricade construction and useless empties
collection is to take place in the inter-barrio two hours later – at the

When the results of the supposedly radical-democratic decision-making
process have been ventilated within bigger or smaller group connections,
the sun has already reached its afternoon zenith. It’s high time for the
actions: a rabble of some hundred, possibly even like-minded people, heads
for the inner-city of Strasbourg with disequilibrium in mind. That means
careless, indiscriminate and random demolition of everything that might be
seen as the emblems of this symbolic European capital’s political
meaninglessness: flags, monuments, anything - not to forget that most
hated spawn of surveillance and control society; the video cameras, that
with 70s charm adorn the facades of many of the public buildings in the
city. Nobody is able or willing to say why, but the drive for pointless
demolition lasts just as long as the police allow it. In the middle of the
week, when the lascivious vigilantes had given up on their pretence at
reserve the fun was over. Even so the affects remained. When other
venturous activists set off for some shy street theatre actions or some
perky percussion concert they were quickly captured by the CRS riot police
and confronted with two humble alternatives: being sent back to the camp
or to prison. The abyss that came to light during the ten days of the
first Europe wide No Border Camp from the 19 to 28 of July in Strasbourg
is cause for reflection. After the experiences from more than a dozen
successful noborder-camps on all kinds of nation state borders, how could
such a political travesty, such a strategic and tactical disgrace, occur?
How is it possible that approximately 2,000 to 3,000 activists from over
twenty different countries were willing to turn themselves in to those
smirking police operation controllers, and allow themselves to be
processed into a zero-tolerance soup, so delicious and tasty for the
mainstream media, that it no doubt made mouths water as far away as the
metropolitan Ministry of the Interior? In one sense surely the
noborder-camp in Strasbourg was an indisputable success. As is usual for
such events there were tons of interesting meetings, valuable exchanges
and some exciting debates. But there was more: this experience of ten days
in tents revealed a pathological immobility that would not have been
visible, if the process would have been overall more felicitous, and
followed the usual course of the informal getting to know people, the
usual excitement of networking spiced up with smart activism and the
euphoric backslapping in the end.

After the positive experiences with other camps on different external
European frontiers during the summer 2001, many were hoping that the event
in Strasbourg would be part of the jump towards a common European praxis.
A praxis that could take on the unified European regime of frontiers - not
just in respect to content - but also to give proof of the common self
confidence that evolved through all of the different approaches and that
enabled it to aim at no less a target than the Schengen Information System
(SIS), one of the most important instruments of European migration
policies. Giving up on this goal was probably the worst of the missed
opportunities of the No Borders camp, something that was perhaps already
visible in the preparations for it. Without even paying lip- service to
the diversity and the dissimilitude of the participants, the whole
political potential of the heterogeneous mixture of people was sacrificed
on the altar of a hypocritical mass consensus. It was bound to turn out
this way: with such a lack of commonly shared content, that veered between
up-to date anti-Semitism debates and compulsive sexism discussions, from
special eating habits to preferences in techniques of street- militancy,
such a consensus was only possible through the depiction or evocation of
an external antagonistic and repressive machine. Whereas a Europe wide
camp with its broad make-up would have been the perfect chance to move
beyond the adopted rituals of limitation on movement and indecision
disguised as basic democracy, and diffuse that into many different and
relating potentials, the tragedy of Strasbourg lay in the overwhelming
incapacity to communicate. If the keyword “multitude” is understood to
mean more than just the sum of all attendees, the actual challenge seems
to lie in relating the different movements to each other as effectively
and reasonably as possible. The intention of the noborder camps has always
been that this struggle does not remain academic, but will lead to actions
and ad-hoc-interventions that, although prepared by a few people are
performed by and borne out by as many as possible. On a European level
such intentions demand constant development of new organisational models
adaptable to constantly changing situations. The issue is no longer to
express a common way of struggle, nor a unified picture or one-dimensional
solidarity, neither an ostentatious unity nor a secretly unifying
sub-culture, but the profound understanding and the absolute will, to
recognize the internal differences and create flexible groups, where
different approaches connect with each other reasonably and for mutual

It’s about political communication in the best sense: networking
understood as situational negotiations that are based on the possibility
of changing ones own standpoint as well as the standpoint of the other.
Rather than being based on some spurious qualifications of good versus
evil, this approach instead seeks out the basics of a reasonable and
practical temporal togetherness. It is not particularly important whether
the miserable failure was due to the hegemonic striving of some of the
smaller or bigger groups, who are experienced in manipulating ad-hoc
meetings and manage to lever a horrible position into place from the
outside, or due to the mania of an increasingly grotesque political
correctness that is at best capable of creating multilateral
non-aggression pacts in issues like anti-Semitism, sexism or racism.
Overall the situation revealed how far the introverted and
self-referential politics of philistines and holiday-revolutionaries
inhibited a constructive debate. A detailed debriefing of the actions of
the noborder camp would come up with frustrating results. From the first
to the last day the roles were set and the winners were clear. The
ridiculous blockade of the bridge was unwarranted, and thus our trump card
in the necessary case of defending the camp was spoiled. Moreover the
intended demonstration turned out to be a failure, forced to be a hide and
seek game. From the beginning on one thing seemed to be pretty evident:
the only surprises in the whole affair would come from our adversaries.

Last summer at Frankfurt airport the sovereign noborder activists had been
able to leave the dirty work for the police forces. They did not need to
block the airport themselves but allowed it happen - the alleged guardians
of law and order did that for them. This is not just a metaphorical
meaning; the action left the practical problem of mediating the airport
blockade to the authorities. Their only way out was to demonise the
activists as being even more terrible rogues than imagined before. But
instead of a black bloc that justified the police blockade by wanting to
smash the whole airport, the noborder camp was triumphant with a classical
concert, pink-silver cheerleading and excellent negotiating skills. On
this basis many different forms of actions could result in a productive
togetherness that didn’t even have to be planned and discussed in detail,
as long as the common intention existed to extend the scope for action
instead of narrowing it. There are several reasons why the opposite
principle was dominant in Strasbourg. But there is no excuse for such
political naivety in the face of the dramatic turn-around on the first
night of the camp that was so sneakily conducted. Whilst most of the
people were still busy with the constitution of infrastructure and putting
up their tents, one committee took it upon itself to decide to abandon all
mediation of the aims and background of the noborder camp. Cooperation
with media was totally dismissed due to ideological motives and this was
not just to apply to the mainstream media but was also intended to make
any kind of public relation work impossible. Negotiations with
representatives of the police or the municipality met with disapproval
just as much as visits to the camp by journalists, no matter whether they
were from Indymedia or the local press. Clearly, the manner in which the
whole event is perceived from the outside will necessarily shift if the
simple attempt to mediate ones own positions will be dismissed as
opportunistic. : calls for freedom of movement might easily be interpreted
as calls for freedom to muck about and act the fool. Who is protesting on
the streets and why, which actions have been chosen and for what reason?
The history, background, aims and ideas of the camp were concealed.
Therefore the press relied on the statements of the police and the mayor.
Residents and passer-bys have been left alone to interpret the
unintentional Dada of slogans like “freedom is illegal”. Whoever thinks
that the non-participants should not get a chance to comprehend the
protests and to form their own opinion about them, is not just acting
negligently and irresponsibly, but are steeped in vanity: pretending to be
militant and thus degenerating into shallow expressionism where the only
goal is to express one’s difference, one’s pretence at a radical
sensibility and one’s crude and awkward search for identities.

But the foolishness of the media ban counts double: because one of the
most impressive accomplishments of the noborder-camp was its amazing
communicational structure of involving a radio station and tentstudio,
internet cafes and mobile workstations, workshops and lectures, video
projections and diverse live-streams. But this unique effort of media
activists from different countries was derided as a maverick one,
spitefully called “silicon valley”, rather than seen as an integrated part
of the camp that could actually have been useful in daily camp life for
internal as well as external communication. In general it was amazing how
popular a neo-romantic motivated anti-capitalism had become: the dislike
of every means of payment as the reincarnation of the evil, up to the sign
language specially developed for plenary sessions (so that the debaters
won’t interrupt each other but show hand signals like brokers). Prevalent
in those ten days in Strasbourg was a hermetic culture of immediacy that
was neglecting and dismissive of every form of artificial or technical
supported mediation, due to the fear of it being a hindrance on some
amorphous idea of natural self-development. More important than making new
contacts - getting to know and understand one another - was to translate
every word into three to seven languages. And the less actual
communication there was, the greater the longing for the unifying force of
repression, to be the victim of that omnipresent conspiracy called
globalisation and to stand on the right side of oppression.

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