[Pga_europe_process] (2/4) My Belgrade experience - 3rd European
Peoples' Global Action in Belgrade 24th-28th of July 2004
itasitihki at tao.ca
Thu Oct 28 03:22:53 CEST 2004
I also find West Essex Zapatista argument that all these issues are rooted to institutional racism inside PGA very problematic. Call me behaviorist, but if someone is ignorant how may I know is she/he ignorant because she/he is a racist, or just ignorant? Accusation of racism is a demonizing accusation, which leaves little room for mediation. How may one negotiate with a racist?
In other hand, even if I perhaps do not find these concerns relevant, it is not reason to dismiss them without discussion. I do not know what was happening inside LARC, but it must be said that West Essex Zapatista was presenting their concerns in e-mail list in an open manner, and they were ready for discussion. I have no reason to oppose them having their way in issues of gender questionnaire, reader or whatever. If people just had not time to discuss these issues a proper manner when there was so much work to do for the conference as they claimed, logical solution would have been to remove that fraction of the gender working group which could deal with each other from the "inspired by PGA" framework altogether, to a completely autonomous entity. It seems to me that eventually no questionnaire, nor reader was published - apparently because of this conflict, at least I did not saw one. Maybe people should have had their thing published without the "inspired by PGA" label. Maybe people should not be too much sticked to their "inspired by PGA" label, since this seem to a source of much of the controversy, and problematic issue in general as one could conclude during the final spokescouncil. To be honest, I do not really have ideas how conflict around gender reader could have been resolved, the whole discourse is just way too alien for me.
There was men's meeting in the conference, I only attended unsuccessful attempt to have a second part in lunchtime of Wednesday. No women tried to join us, but I suppose there would not have been any attempts to exclude them if some wanted to join.
Another WEZ concern worth of mentioning is that of transparency of finances. Up till now, I still have not seen a report about spending and financial sources of the PGA conference in the process list - "thousands of euros" mentioned above is just my estimation. Among long list of WEZ concerns, Asim from WEZ also claims to be excluded from Asian PGA convergence just because he is from Pakistani Diaspora in England and thus not living in Asia - personally I find centralizing inter-continental communications inside PGA unacceptable.
I did not recognized any attempt to clear these concerns during the conference. Originally I understood that one purpose of the Emma team would have been to mediate these issues, but it seems they were dealing with "external" threats instead.
There are many reasons why authoritarian forms of organization have defeated anti-authoritarian ones during last 3000 years, but one small aspect might be that in authoritarian organization someone usually bears a final responsibility for failures. Authoritarian organization may always escape revolving its organizational paradigm by discarding this person. But when anti-authoritarian organization fails, as European PGA conference failed to mediate these conflicts, responsible is just the abstract "whole". Everyone was either busy with other issues, wanted to keep the caravan going or just did not bother to figure out what was all that fuss about. This is something what anti-authoritarian organizations should definitely deal with to justify their superiority in the first place - PGA Wintermeeting would be a good place to start, and I think discussions about Resnik issue and all other West Essex Zapatista criticisms should be in the program.
Although my attempts to understand these processes may seem to be clumsy at least and waste of words, for my self-respect it is important to make a better try than for example that of Richard from Oxford Indymedia - ignorance of his account about Belgrade is absolutely stunning! He even claims that West Essex Zapatista wiped their asses with hallmarks because they were disagreeing with them in the first place. Some people seem to be positive and upbeat so hard, that reality must be ignored altogether! In general text of Richard is interesting also because he seems to represent not only totally antagonist to me tendency inside PGA in regards to general mood (in axis of positive vs. negative), but in regards to his interests and activities in general. I do not see much point in travelling 3000 kilometers to see some videos, I do not even have a fucking television at my home! I get my news from A-infos, Indymedia and Infoshop.org only, that is why I hear about all the important events in the world only one week afterwards, or not at all.
Unpredictability makes it more interesting
Next program I participated was presentation of the Tusovka-newsletter, however nobody came to make a presentation. So we were a group of most various people, some of whom knew little about this project and rest knew nothing. I seemed to know the most (although not too much) of this idea of Olga S. and Alain to publish about globalization-related themes in Eastern European in English and Russia, but as far as I knew, this project hibernated 4 years ago already.
Program projection was one of the more chaotic sides of the conference, obviously hand program given the first day had to be taken with a grain of salt. It was based on forms people filled about workshops they could make when booking for the conference, but it was not adjusted according to time preferences of presentators, and database was outdated anyway. So if an event happened to be in the program, it was most likely announced in wrong time and place. Fortunately, cartoon and markers have been invented. Although some people did not figured this out during the whole conference period, all program could be found in form of hanged announcements in one wall (except the day when all of it was spoiled due to rain). This system could have worked out an excellent way. Since it is obvious that there will be plenty of cancellations and ad-hoc chances anyway, I hope that in the future hand programs are banned as waste of forests.
Still I am pissed that someone took my program and did not give it back, since until this day I have not seen any attempt in internet to list all workshops which took place during those days in Belgrade - this person is to be blamed for me writing only about part of the program I personally participated. Shame on you! (Perhaps he stole it in order to make this report a bit more brief).
Rest of the Saturday we had meeting of correspondents of the Abolishing the Borders from Below with editorial collective. I wrote minutes about parts of these discussions, so I will not refer it there. In prior conference organizers were really delighted for us having our embedded meeting, with condition of it being open to everybody. In the end, it was not open and attempt to organize open presentation Tuesday evening did not really worked out, but nobody criticized us for this.
Saturday evening our loose affinity group set up our program schedule, which included second part of the Abolishing the Borders from Below - meeting, a couple of discussions to be organized in Athenaeum of Belgrade anarcho-syndicalists, planning meeting of an anarchist bus tour around Eastern Europe, and foundation of a new anarchist international. Most of these ideas popped up in Alternative Eastern-Europe mailinglist in prior to conference. In course of the conference, many other people also decided to add something, so in last days there were much many workshops organized than during Saturday, when it was at most two parallel workshops. Good lesson for next such event is to have ones own stuff in the very beginning, in order to attract more people and to have a chance to participate to most interesting stuff which is concentrated towards the last days.
Sunday morning I visited presentation of students from Sumy of Ukraine, in hand program this was marked for another day, so presentation lacked participators. I was surprised to learn, that same people actually put up a quite decent anarchist samizdat (Anarh Akbar) I was familiar with before, and actually we had accepted their group to our federation (Autonomous Action) year before, although since then contact had withered - seemingly their interests had developed to another direction. Students of Sumy struggle against unification of three local universities to one for various reasons, for example it is expected to boost already flourishing corruption. Struggle has a mass character, and has faced pretty harsh repression (a tent camp was attacked with an unknown chemical poison, march to Kiev was stopped with heavy-handed arrests). 3 months later, it seems that this conflict may be seen with intensification of oppositional currents in Ukraine in general - something which seems to be happening in Belarussia as well, although to a lesser extent. Especially in Ukraine repeat of Serbian and Georgian scenario is possible, not that it would necessary change things to much better direction from anarchist perspective, but any unrest gives some opportunities. In Belgrade I had much good intentions to organize some support for Sumy efforts, but now it seems there just will not be any time - sorry!
Sunday was my distro day. I attempt to bring to such events as much Russian underground press and literature as I may carry, since it is seldom accessible to interested people outside of Russia. This is actually quite a pain, since after carrying that 10 kg one way your main concern will be avoiding carrying it back - not to talk about groupies who insist on having free copies since they contributed years ago. And since nobody may read it anyway, I ended up distributing most to Serbo-Croatian, Macedonian and Bulgarian speakers for free since they maybe could learn one day. And of course, almost all Western materials had very Western prices and no trade with Avtonom - with notable exception of Anti-systemic Library posse (the notorious West Essex Zapatista), who gave all their shit for free. Big respect! Organizers of such events should always remember us poor distroers, and to give one program slot for book fair only.
Sunday afternoon we discussed anarchy bus tour project. Idea is to have a couple of tours in different Eastern European countries with a bus during 2005, mainly visiting countries and cities with "emerging anarchist scenes", small groups which would benefit from such a visit which could encompass street actions, video screenings, discussions and lectures. Of course, everything should be preferably connected to some local struggles. Idea is pretty clear and ready as it stands - thus this workshop was mainly presentation of the idea. Perhaps there was a small collision of concepts as well, when a more ngoist point of view met with the anarchist one (in questions of grants, public image and so on). No doubt that certain common, coherent political concept should be worked out, but I hope nobody felt excluded in the starting line. Also, some people we perhaps would like to cooperate with maybe do not align to "Anarchy" label, but what can you do - for example "Councilist bus" or "Horizontal bus" sounds way less cool.
Monday was to be our day in Athenaeum of anarcho-syndicalists. It was unfortunate that it was to be Monday - gender day had some of the most interesting discussions coming up. I got brief taste of the "dealing with violence inside the movement" workshop by Sydney people, until I had to leave for the city, and I really liked what I heard.
We wanted to organize something in Athenaeum anyway, in order to have contact with local anarcho-syndicalists from Anarcho-Syndicalist Initiative (ASI) as well. (Note that their website asks a password if you are a lifestylist. Try names of pioneers of Serbian anarchism!) Moreover, in Tuesday it was to be strike of electrical workers and in Monday they came to anarcho-syndicalist place to present their cause to "anti-globalists" as we were presented to them by anarcho-syndicalists from ASI, and to ask for our support. Since I had some business in the city, I missed this presentation and did not really got what was their cause. However, I suspect that workers were right and bosses were wrong.
Besides activists, a number of inter-activist conflicts were also converging to Belgrade - I already referred conflict between West Essex Zapatista and rest of LARC/PGA conference organizers and inside-DSM! conflict between Resnik activists and those who preferred Jajinci for the conference location. Third, and most longstanding conflict is between Anarcho-syndicalists (ASI) and the section of DSM! who eventually ended up organizing the conference in Jajinci. To this third conflict I give least attention, since there is no place for mitigation. I do not even find it necessary to go into details to political differences between these groups (although I indeed find them political, not personal as some claim). Long time before the conference, anarcho-syndicalists had made their conclusion that PGA is a hopeless structure not to be debated with. I may understand people who get annoyed for some bullshit getting hanged to their Wiki, but when you get to know Rata off-line, you learn that he is the most funniest sectarian there is - so I will forgive him a lot. But thinking back now, I am sorry that I did not took effort in the spot to sit down with certain DSM! figures, asking detailed answers to certain accusations of anarcho-syndicalists - it might take several years until I have the next opportunity, since e-mail is simply too worksome means of communications.
No matter their small size, both ASI and DSM! had contacts to trade unions organizing protests and direct actions around Serbia, and there seemed to be a sort of rivalry which of them has more such class struggle credentials. I doubt political differences between ASI and DSM! are reflected to these contacts, actually I think it is more or less haphazard whether some group gets hooked up with ASI or DSM!. One meeting of workers' collectives linked to DSM! was organized during PGA conference, but for non Serbo-Croatian speakers it was not really possible to follow its dynamics, and I heard that short time reserved for questions of internationals did not helped a lot to clarify the real situation in the country.
In some sense such a rivalry is understandable, I am not friend of false unity and I want to respect peoples' right to organize according to their own principles. At some point this rivalry however got a big ridiculous, when some people were clearly disappointed when we were inviting people inside PGA conference to support action of striking workers linked to anti-PGA ASI.
I was a bit worried that people in general would be annoyed us announcing inside PGA conference events to be organized in premises of the ASI. It is still a mystery, who added to our announcement that these discussions were to be "anti-PGA" - for sure none of us did that, West Essex Zapatista were suspected by someone from, but they denied the charge. We erased this line from the announcement.
In the end, people were interested about our event, and especially many indymedia activists wanted to join our sectarian hit discussion topic "Indy- or anti-media? Against ANY journalism..." which was first in program. I wrote a summary of this discussion as well as about less witty "'Terror"&"human rights' as bourgoise concepts", so I will not refer them here.
Monday evening after dinner in the PGA conference area, there was a spontaneous discussion in the tent outside about strike which was coming up next day. None of the people discussing were local, so there was a big confusion in front of the coming up action and all these local conflicts. In course of this discussion I got to a rather stupid argument with a long-time PGA activist from London. I hope that he has changed his mind since, but then he was arguing that by inviting people to demonstration of the strikers next day, I was breaking PGA hallmarks, because action was organized by authoritarian trade unionists where according to hallmarks, PGA is for horizontal organizing. I hope shortcomings of this argument are obvious to everybody, but perhaps at the next conference some discussion on what hallmarks really mean would be at place.
Another, more legitimate concern was about respect to organizers of the conference. Since they registered us as temporarily residing in Serbia and Montenegro with their own names, they could get some personal problems in case we got arrested. In another hand, people were not told about this setback when they were asked to be registered, and probably many would have preferred not to register if that would require refraining from a solidarity action. Sure, demonstration came without a warning in prior and organizers could not warn people about it, especially when it had not connection with the PGA conference. Many people did not registered and they did not had any problems when leaving Serbia - in another hand, one participator from Ukraine had spent 10 days in Yugoslavian jail 5 years ago when attempting to leave country without a registration.
This was a more complicated matter, but in the end I think support to strikers was more important than concern about uneasiness for individual people organizing the conference. Although local organizers did not endorsed the action, at no point they asked us not to participate. It must be noted that this was not just some marginal lefty cheerleading, but strikers had personally come to ask for our support. And I doubt that they saw a big difference between ASI and PGA - for them it was all just a bunch of anti-globalist freaks, so does not really make difference if they did asked help from ASI or PGA. And in the end, the very person who had registered people in her own name was in Tuesday's demonstration and liked it, so I hope nobody had hard feelings in the end.
No matter bad weather prospects and all these arguments and confusion, I counted 60 of us leaving for the strike from the conference site 7 AM in Tuesday. And on our way, a cold rain started pouring down, and almost nobody had a decent gear. But when we connected with the strikers 8 AM, mood made a total turnaround - TOTALLY AWESOME! Sound system was boasting only best possible revolutionary Serbian pop music straight from the charts, including pro-syndicalist hip-hop, even occasional "commandante Che Guevara" could not spoil the mood. Whistleblowers and dancing people gave a drive one could never imagine to see in a trade union demonstration in Northern part of the Europe. We got a great welcome, and strikers cheered at our huge banner with text "International workers' solidarity", written in Bulgarian, English, Serbian, Greek and Spanish languages. It was really unfortunate that Rhytms of Resistance samba band ever made it to the demo, since that was a place to be for them.
We were partying for a long time in front of the building apparently most guilty for pissing on the workers, after which we went on blockading main road of the city center, surrounded by buildings bombed by NATO back in 1999, for hours. Coppers were cool, and did not made any provocations. Groups of strikers kept arriving from other parts of the country, and around midday there were some 800 electricians in the street party, joined by maybe 150 supporting miners. After four hours in cold pouring rain and my shoes soaking wet, I had to shamefully retreat - only most hard-line sectarian anarcho-syndicalists could support strikers until evening, when it was announced that bosses had fulfilled all demands.
Some of us paid attention that a number of strikers greeted each other with chetnik (Serbian nationalist) three-finger greets, also one of the hit songs played was told to have a homophobic line "..these days faggots have rights, but workers have none...". There is no excuses, but in the big picture it all makes sense - unlike liberals claim, there is no continuum other end of which is "civilized humanist western values", and other "barbarians", which include Arabs, Balkans and whatever. In reality, when legitimization of the system collapses, there always happens a polarization where both anti-authoritarian and extreme reactionary alternatives attract people. You always see the same dynamics - in Germany of the 20's, in Spain of the 30's, even in Italy of today. What matters is who finally wins - us or them. My visit to Croatia after Serbia and talks with local anarchists there proved to me once again that national revolution is a graveyard of any revolutionary workers' resistance.
We all had been skeptical of Rata's boasting that Serbia is in the verge of a social revolution until we saw it in our own eyes. And even if Rata failed to deliver us the revolution he has promised, it may well be that Serbia could become another Italy, where radical workers' resistance is light years ahead rest of the Europe. It is something very special, that trade unions in Serbia, with all their inefficiencies, are open to groups such as ASI and DSM!, and actively seeking cooperation with them. And no matter the one homophobic line, even kinkiest of us were well received in the demonstration (although this might have been because they confused us with members of Prodigy).
It took about 3 days for my shoes to dry, and I do not know why I did not get sick. After one hour or so at the camp, I went to fight with hostile Linux operating system in order to print materials for the workshop about repression in Eastern Europe we had called two days before. Free software community defeated me this time, and workshop had to start without these papers. Workshop was not too popular, it attracted 3 persons and one family. But it is not always about the quantity, and this way we had more chances for interaction. I told mostly about harrassing of our editorial collective of Avtonom in Krasnodar, and people had some ideas about NGO's to contact for appeals. I should have told also about Tomek Wilkoszevski jailed in Poland for 15 years for self-defense, but maybe I forgot.
Around 5 PM, we had our second Abolishing the Borders from Below session. We were late from the schedule, so few people who came to presentation we had planned to start after meeting dropped in one by one during the discussion. I thought presentation would have been interesting for more people, but this was the rainy day when all the workshop calls in the wall got destroyed, perhaps people had also problems in finding classroom number 5. It was well hidden in the basement, and I guess no-one else called workshops to be organized there besides me.
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