[Pga_europe_process] (1/4) My Belgrade experience - 3rd European conference of Peoples' Global Action in Belgrade 24th-28th of July 2004

Aleksei itasitihki at tao.ca
Thu Oct 28 03:22:40 CEST 2004


This is html version of the article. If you prefer text, check out a-infos (if they publish it). 
Text is also available in http://www.kolumbus.fi/antra/BELGRADE.htm
 
My Belgrade experience

- 3rd European conference of Peoples' Global Action in Belgrade 24th-28th of July 2004

To cut long story short, PGA is a network founded 1998 in Geneva, which is united according to the following 5 hallmarks:

  1.. A very clear rejection of capitalism, imperialism and feudalism; all trade agreements, institutions and governments that promote destructive globalization. 
  2.. We reject all forms and systems of domination and discrimination including, but not limited to, patriarchy, racism and religious fundamentalism of all creeds. We embrace the full dignity of all human beings. 
  3.. A confrontational attitude, since we do not think that lobbying can have a major impact in such biased and undemocratic organizations, in which transnational capital is the only real policy-maker. 
  4.. A call to direct action and civil disobedience, support for social movements' struggles, advocating forms of resistance which maximize respect for life and oppressed peoples' rights, as well as the construction of local alternatives to global capitalism. 
  5.. An organizational philosophy based on decentralization and autonomy. 
Currently PGA networks mostly in continental and inter-continental levels, conference in Belgrade last July was that of European continental network. PGA has several webpages. http://www.agp.org is for the inter-continental network, http://www.pgaconference.org has some documents and links related to the continental European organizing. 

Best of the discussions and workshops I attended in conference last July have already had their minutes published. More than report of "work done", attempt of this text is to give some general picture, reflect on off-program business (such as corridor intrigue), and continue the discussion I began two years ago (this far with myself only) about purposefulness of such events in general, in article I wrote about 2nd European conference of PGA in Leiden. 

My main interests relating to conference were

-To see whether such a multitude of most diverge activists could find a convergence of interests which goes beyond superficial "one struggle" rhetoric.

-To meet with people who could help our group in case shit hits the fan some day. 

-To see whether good intentions, which influenced bringing the event to Eastern Europe in the first place, could give any concrete benefits to Eastern European movements I am networked with or participate to. 

-To see if there is a demand for a bit more narrow, but more coherent than PGA model of international organizing in Eastern Europe. 

-To analyze dynamics of decisionmaking of an organization, which attempts to be as little organization as possible. 

Nobody ever commented my article about Leiden, but indirectly I understood that some people interpreted me putting down the whole thing. This would be a rude simplification. But definitely there were moments I was sort of lost there, and I have learned some lessons since then. 

Conference is useful if you know how to use it

First lesson is to make ones own program. Framework of the event may be organized normally or disastrously, but it may never make a success alone - it is the content which matters in the end. And since people have so diverge interests these days, you should ever count someone else to organize according to your interests. Good ideas for workshops are the best way to contribute, since organizers will be so much burdened with logistical questions that you should not count on them. More cooks, better the soup will be. So together with a couple of friends we announced a number of discussions and workshops on the spot, which had us busy about half of the time we were there. Some of them gained wide interest from others as well, few themes flopped since they were of interest for us alone. 

Some other groups which have applied this approach in the past have been accused for an attempt to hijack the whole event - one example people from European Social Consulta in Leiden. Although I was not too much into ESC project which apparently got a flat landing soon after Leiden (now they seem to only exist in Spain), I think it is PGA which should serve movements, not movements that should serve PGA. In Belgrade, this approach was taken to its extreme by Venezuelan Chavists, who had their recruiting events every day from morning to evening, all the area plastered with their placates and announcements. I have a lot to learn from them what comes to promotion. They gave about zero contribution to the process, except a resolution project to support "Global Day of Action in defence of the Bolivarian Revolution of Venezuela and the Pachamerican struggles" 12th of October for the final spokescouncil. 

After bitter disappointments with all 3rd world "national liberation" and "anti-imperialist" movements during last four decades, it is little surprise than in the final spokescouncil this Chavist resolution raised some uneasiness. At first, initiator was unwilling to amend the call since it was already distributed independently from the PGA, but having an instinct of a skilled politician, he soon realized that there was no any other way around. Eventually they rewrote the text with one person from Wombles who originally demanded to make it completely anti-state, against US intervention without any support for Chavez. In the end I did not saw any big difference between the original text and the new one, but I decided not to block it. For sure there was not anything that an anarchist would oppose in principle, just the ambiguousity which cleverly hid how much the initiative was just typical leftist cheerleading of authoritarian regimes. 

This is one of the reasons I am pretty critical about consensus - if it was vote, I would have had a fair opportunity to make my point and lost a vote. But now I had to shut down, since it was about principal disagreements which could not be mitigated. Since much time was spent for the issue, and there was nothing directly contradicting PGA hallmarks, it was clear that accepting some lame statement by consensus was much lesser evil than major disappointments caused by a block. 

With all the setbacks of the anti-imperialist movement in the North, in its heyday it was a true mass movement, something which cannot be said about anarchist movement during the last 60 years. I suppose much of the PGA has been founded on networks which date back to those years, so if one decides to participate, one should not complain about a couple of fruits with old best before - dates in the basket. 

Perhaps more than half of the people hanging around in events like PGA conference do not have any coherent political ideology, so little surprise that I met typical "you have not been there..." arguments in discussions. For sure, as happens with any shifts to "left" in the power structures everywhere, Chavism in Venezuela has also given impetus to tendencies which want to push processes further from the old school latino populism, but this does not change the fact that weakest link of the "Bolivarian revolution" is Chavez himself. I am sure that the party will be over the day when CIA finally gets the guy - this is why all real change must come from below. For sure I have not been there, but I do not have to spend all my time and money for travelling to places like North Korea, Cuba, USA or Venezuela to have an opinion about their regimes. Anarchists are few, but strength of the movement is that we are almost everywhere, and Venezuelan anarchists around El Libertario - journal are particularly symphatic and well-argued, so I will buy anything they state unless serious reasons to do otherwise appear. 

Some bad excuses for a parasitic behavior

Talking about ethics of participation, I do agree than one should try to give something for the logistical side (security, food, cleaning, technology...) as well. This time I ended up giving nothing, and for my only defense I may say that I really tried to contribute to the content side and in the end I ended up sleeping in average 6 hours every night anyway, getting totally exhausted in the end even without doing any shitwork. 

When I understood that Belgrade organizers were attempting to repeat Leiden spectacle, I was very critical at the beginning. And not only because I would probably find more effective ways to spend thousands of euros in Eastern Europe, but also because I supposed that lack of the local activist infrastructure, and infrastructure in general would lead to a total logistical disaster. But this disaster did not happened. I bet many people from Western Europe found everything totally chaotic, but really there was much less chaos than I expected, and even this chaos was partially due to reasons extraordinary, such as a very bad weather during 4 days of the 6 day conference. 

I really liked the food in the conference. Food supply was outsourced to a local collective kitchen suffering from serious financial problems, and they fulfilled the order better than one could have expected, given that traditional Balkan kitchen is not too vegan. But since participators were in advanced level what comes to conference kitchen philosophy, they were also aware of possible shortcomings of the outsourcing - so there was also autonomous kitchen for those who wanted their food more according to _______ (add your favourite -ist here), self-organized ideals. I am all for that, but there was too little time anyway, so I just paid for the food and ate what was served. Most of the people did the same, so autonomous kitchen faced frustration and co-existence of collectivism (autonomous kitchen) and mutuellism (monetary exchange between collectives) was not so smooth all the time. I hope this was not a final argument for mutuellism in longstanding debate between these two, but an important and interesting experiment at least. 

What comes to payment for food, there was an ugly incident, where guests from probably most impoverished country of Europe (Bosnia) were accused of being parasites for not paying for the food. Or more exactly, their company, a dedicated parasite, was accused and they took complaints as being directed for them as well. Originally they came to perform in an event closed down by coppers in Resnik, and after this food incident they got such a bad taste from PGA that they did not showed up in conference site another time. 

For sure, they could have gone to register, given a fair price according to ecorates, and paid for the food a price they could have afforded. But since they had little experience about such events, there was no clear call to do that anywhere (even more experienced people got confused) and they were not that much for the PGA conference anyway, that just did not happen. But I do not think that is necessary a reason to insult anybody. This incident inspired Parasites Global Action webpage, which I think is meant to be more a satire than an attack against PGA. 

I think organizers of such events should just take into account, that some people (a minority of participators) just do not register in principle. It is not for rational, but for emotional reasons. Or even more likely, they are just chaotic. To count amount of food needed, one may add a certain percentage of chaotic people to number of registered, or just estimate the need according to portions served in the previous meal. It was nice that there was enough trust and no control tickets were gathered in meals, but there could have been a pot for those who would like to pay for the meals without being registered. 

As for myself, I like registration and I always do it. I got a nice yellow card to stick to my chest, where I may write my name and organization. Nobody besides me was going around with such a card after the first day of the conference. Such a card makes me feel important, and people come and say "oh, you are the guy who writes those too long reports we have read in the internet". Small yellow card is my pledge of allegiance to PGA, so it is an excellent way to annoy Rata as well!

No beef but activist beef

First program I participated was supposed to be a training for facilitation of consensus decisionmaking in Saturday morning, but it ended up being mostly yelling and accusations. This was a pretty confusing situation, since I had missed the scenario day before where PGA hallmarks (or exactly speaking it was the conference reader) were used to wipe ones ass - this had pissed some people off quite a bit. Conflict dates back to the preparation process of the conference, which had plenty of frictions. One debate which escalated in a needless manner in e-mail was about men only spaces - a group called West Essex Zapatista was suggesting these were intended to exclude women from important decisions. Another major disagreement had been should the conference be organized in Belgrade suburb of Resnik, or suburb of Jajinci. Arguments for Resnik were that it is an impoverished working class area where many local activists were living and had contact with local community, in another hand school and kindergarten in Jajinci, where conference was eventually organized, had superior capacities. 

None of the sides (Resnik vs. Jajinci) were willing to give up, so given the consensus paradigm of the PGA, I think the resolution to split the conference to two parts was the only possible solution. Workshops were to be held in Jajinci, and evening parties in Resnik. For sure this was pretty inconvenient, although both suburbs were in South side of Belgrade it was pretty big distances and bad traffic between them. Personally I did not visited Resnik at once during the conference. 

I may not comment whether this split decision was made with a good process, since I did not participated to preparation meetings. Resnik people and West Essex Zapatista supporting them claim it was not. Originally, evening program was planned to be organized in Resnik every day - however after second evening party local activists got harassed by the cops, and they had to cancel rest of the program. A pretty serious complaint raised - Resnik activists claimed that they were not given funds to organize program and support against repression by the conference organization. As far as I know, this claim was not handled proper manner at any moment in the conference, and obviously the issue must be taken up in any possible coming up evaluation meeting, if European PGA seriously claims it is living up to its hallmarks. 

Although I may not comment the preceding process, sorry show I saw Saturday morning inspired me to raise some new concerns about the so-called "consensus processes". I have a feeling, that always so volatile consensus process gives extraordinarily strong demands on which kind of behavior could be considered as correct, and which not. People, who do not fit the narrow "well-argumenting, polite peace hippie" model of behavior may quickly get ignored, excluded or even attacked. Actually, West Essex Zapatista people were labeled as crazies already before beginning of the conference. I do know, that after Leiden conference all European PGA shitwork has fallen to very few shoulders, and when pretty aggressive comments are flying around in e-mail one may easily get pissed. Making whole PGA responsible for shortcomings of the process by such a provocative manner as wiping ones as with the hallmarks may as well be the last drop. 

But although I like PGA hallmarks, I am fine with wiping ones ass with them - that is a pretty cool punk thing to do in case you want to underline your message that something is wrong with the process. In another hand, I may forgive lack of humor for people totally dedicated for the PGA process, since I respect people who take their shit seriously. In Saturday morning, things did not got too violent, actually attempts to move someone out from a workshop physically in a non-violent manner, when this person is resisting non-violently, may look pretty funny. In the end, people who were most pissed with the West Essex Zapatista questioning consensus processes inside PGA left the room to have workshop in another place. At this point I was confused and did not followed the workshop any further - my only connection to West Essex Zapatista was from a number of angry e-mails, and I could not really figure out what these conflicts were about. In another hand what I had just sawn was indeed pretty far from the hippie consensus ideal. Later on, I learned that off-line West Essex Zapatista are much nicer people than I had judged from their e-mails, and some of their criticism are indeed well-founded. However I must admit that in this conflict I am partial, since anyone giving me Black Mask & Up Against the Wall Motherfucker anthology for free gets my loyalty! 

I suppose most of the humanity will not fit the scheme how consensus is currently expected to work in the PGA/related scene. Many people may react too emotionally, or without enough emotions, or aggressive manner - in the end, wiping ones ass with PGA hallmarks is no way the most radical way to express ones emotions. It makes me wonder if consensus culture of West-European activists is like the Culture of science fiction books of Iain Banks - something which destroys everything except itself with its all-encompassing love. I know all too well that there is no way to replace consensus in the PGA process, and often it is best of the worst alternatives in other frameworks as well. And main input the whole consensus school has given to radical theory is anyway putting emphasis on the process instead of the result - so my critics should be seen more as guidelines for the future. 

Besides ignoring people who do not really fit into the hippie consensus culture, labeling them as "crazies", "aggressive" or "paranoids", another problem is labeling all conflicts as personal ones. Actually, I think real political differences are more often put down as personal problems, than personal rows are claimed to be political. Also, problems which are concern of everybody were claimed to be minor local skirmishes. For example Andrej Grubacic, a key figure of Drugaciji Svet je Moguc! (DSM!, Another World is Possible! - current European PGA conveyors who put the 3rd conference together) put West Essex Zapatista criticisms as internal London Action Resource Centre (LARC) rows, and conflict between Resnik and Jajinci as an internal DSM! issue. I do not accept this - although some of the distrust I originally found difficult to justify in West Essex Zapatista e-mails may have its roots in frictions inside LARC, most of the concerns they raised were about the process in general, and thus an issue of everybody. 

Where I found concerns raised by West Essex Zapatista dealing with the Resnik vs. Jajinci issue relevant, it is not necessarily the same with the gender reader and questionnaire issue. Concerns raised by Fabian from WEZ in April in regards to gender questionnaire seemed to me minor issues relating to language of the document. Personally I try my best to use politically correct wordings in my texts, although sometimes it is very difficult due to all inconsistent sex-distinctions which Indo-European invaders have imposed in Europe. For example, I do not really understand what is racist in the use of word "ghetto" when referring to close-knit activist communities. I think often stress to language issues is just a way to escape problems more difficult to deal with. It is also not a big deal for me if European map in PGA page or in the conference poster has a big part of Eastern Europe missing, I do not think that is a real issue. Plus I do not think there was a burning necessity to translate all materials to Russian - that would have been good, but availability of materials requires lots of work and is not a guarantee of getting some PGA presence in Russia. 



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