[Pga_europe_process] (3/4) 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 03:23:04 CEST 2004

Contaminating from the basement

Party we had planned was about to begin. Evil Rata dared to come to conference drinking Coca-cola with no remorse, and he was rightfully assaulted for this - there was some loud yelling and coke was splashing all around. This was the revenge he deserved for all the spam e-mails he sent against the PGA. There is a speculation however, that really he was assaulted by a Pepsi salesperson, who had infiltrated the conference. This salesperson was singled out by watchful conference security, and she was forced to scrub floors. 

Eventually party evolved to anti-PGA conference with header "What is wrong with the PGA - class struggle anarchist perspective". There was a strict face-control, only stalinists (with moustaches), trotskists (with eye-glasses) and sexists from Resnik were allowed. They know how to shake it in Gdansk, but headspin on the table has to be practiced some more. 

This all made establishment anxious, and entrance to our conference was barricaded. Or perhaps it was because groundfloor was pacified for sleeping. So there was a conflict, fortunately we could agree to investigate the noise concern, and really most of the noise in the gym where people were sleeping came from groundfloor through windows, and not from our autonomous anti-PGA space. So we could have continued the party, but some of the key people had to leave for the city already. Much of the rest of the party people were in a lengthy Balkans meeting, which was commented afterwards to have been excellent, with exception of the decision to have Balkans PGA meeting to be organized by some neo-Bolsheviks in Thessaloniki, which is very hardly reachable for all non-EU people anyway. 

Since people remaining in the counter-summit were Resnik drunks listening Turbonegro, I made a tactical switch to side of the PGA establishment, I dissolved anti-PGA conference and locked up the classroom number 5. Room had to be cleaned up a lot early in the next morning, so I wanted to have some sleep after toughest day of the conference. But wild rumors about the anti-PGA conference had been circulating in the camp already, and I heard that some Danish people came half past midnight, about one hour after end of the counter-summit to search "where that good party is?". 

Wednesday 10 AM it was time for the "Anarchist Mystery Organization", again in Classroom number 5, scrubbed clean from beer, chips and other icky things. We had decided to found a new anarchist international with Laure, since we are not content with any of the existing ones. We had drafted a program in train from Warsaw to Belgrade. But it was not only about sucking best PGA blood to our coming up international, but also to discuss difficulties which appear in international cooperation in general and in Eastern-European coordination in particular - we hoped also to have a discussion with people who do not like founding new formal organizations as much as I do, and people who do not see demand for such organizations in the first place. Call for the working group we had drafted 3 days before was the following:

"Anarchist Mystery Organization"

"-How should anarchist cooperation be organized in Eastern Europe?

-Is there a middle way between creating organizational fetishism/micro bureaucracies, and informal networks lacking solidarity and ridden with untransparent informal hierarchies?

-International activist meetings - practical help or identity building?

-Come and have your own international!"

Already 2 years ago in Leiden I had made an analysis, that such organization as PGA which just networks vastly different projects without setting any common priorities and with minimal political coherence lack solidarity, since foundation of the solidarity is in sharing - sharing of common ideas and projects. For sure, PGA conferences also serve a certain purpose as they are now. There are few possibilities to meet so many different and interesting people involved in grassroots movements. Since change of the millenium, social forums and the like have practically taken over the so called "anti-globalist" movement, and PGA is a sort of relic from the times when things were better. Probably it would be impossible to found something as wide as PGA right now in case it collapsed - so it is worth of support. Of course it is important to visit any events like European Social Forums where one may meet thousands of critical people, but personally I hate even the idea of going there and hope I never have to. I do not want to put down efforts of comrades who have worked hard to get alternatives visible inside Social Forums, I am sure that they have had good intentions, but there is no way our movement may develop in being just a small tumor in the disgusting social democrat whole, all talk about "contaminating" the event is just way off the ground. It is just very harmful to have any illusions about such a possibility. Our movement lives and dies depending on its existence as something on its own. I remember the enthusiasm when PGA was founded in Geneva 1998, it inspired movements all around the world. Just lately I heard that for example Indymedia charter is founded on PGA hallmarks, and I am sure there are many other examples. Nothing alike has been left from all those alternative events inside social forums. 

In practice, necessity of PGA got proven pretty concretely, since I was the only person in the Anarchist Mystery Organization workshop. 50% of our projected international got lost with the transport. If there were other people with concerns in regards to PGA within the conference, they had other concerns than we had. Right now, it there is no way to have more coherent common denominator than PGA concept is. 

On Eastern Europeans and "lack" of them

Next workshop I participated was "Breaking the activist ghetto". This was one of the few which were properly prepared in prior, and discussion paper had been released already one month before the conference. A person from Glocal group of Hanau which had called the workshop also made excellent notes, so there is no need to go to detail with the discussion. 

I only attended the first part of the working group. I had wrote a reply to paper of the organizers, but it got lost to the cyberspace. So I made my point orally - I think the whole "activist ghetto" - discussion is a West-European one, since at least in Russia we do not have such a ghetto. Any activity immediately collides with the mainstream society, which makes things difficult but is an interesting challenge in the same time. 

"Activist ghettoes" make sense, just as any ethnical and cultural ghettoes (for example Roma, gays) which different communities have founded around them for the sake of protection. Existence of such ghettoes is to big extent the reason that anarchism still exists in the first place, and has not withered away as countless once widespread libertarian movements before it (such as narodniks and council communists). In practice, projects which attract most people in Russia seem to be those which aim to building of such ghettoes. It seems like ghetto must be built first in order to be destroyed later on. 

Small support for my thesis was the fact that there were almost no East-Europeans in this discussion, so it seems like being in a ghetto is definitely not a concern for East-Europeans. A couple of times during the conference I heard concerns about small number of East Europeans, after conference I heard that somebody from UK had even asked "but do you really think that people from Eastern Europe are actually here?" - this had provoked some Polish to propose all East-Europeans to paint their faces green during one conference day in order to gain "visibility". Really this concern was unfounded, since actually there were quite a lot of East-Europeans around, perhaps one fifth of the participators, maybe even more. Compared to size of the movements, East-Europeans were just as well represented as West-Europeans. Of course there were also failures, such as neighboring Romania - Yugoslavia had lately issued very costly visas for Romanians, and an extra effort should have been made to have any Romanians in the conference. I also did not meet any Czech people, scene seems to have a crisis there. But most of the other countries of East-Europe with any "horizontal" activism were present. 

Of course, in ideal situation, PGA should not network only small activist groups but also mass movements. But we should be realists, in past there have been some Eastern-European NGO-like structures hooked with PGA, but they did not gave anything for the process. It is better to have small, horizontal groups than big ones for whom hallmarks mean nothing. 

However, East-Europeans were often attracted to very different program than West-Europeans - this is one of the reasons why some West-European complained about lack of them. There was a sort of division, where West-Europeans were for example media-activists or "pink & silver", and East Europeans came from small revolutionary anarchist groups (with many exceptions for sure). This difference is also reflected to activist culture in general, Laure wrote a good rant about difficulties of East-Europeans to access Western European jargon and discourse, which I do not feel necessary to repeat here - I try to make this text available online with this one. In some discussions, lack of East-Europeans was about total, whereas in others they were a majority. 

After lunch in Wednesday I joined PGA process discussion for a while and I just could not resist temptation of counting share of East-Europeans present. From more than twenty people in the room, only three raised hands - among them, one person living in the West with East-European origins, one person from West living in the East (myself), and only one "genuinely East-European". Obviously, bringing the PGA conference to Eastern Europe had not made a big change what comes to involvement of East-Europeans in the process. Even local organizers from DSM! were so busy with all the shitwork that it seems like none of them actually participated to the process. One has to do even much more to have East-Europeans involved to PGA - to form personal contacts, support East-European initiatives. 

One of the many criticisms by West Essex Zapatista towards Belgrade organization was for lack of the East-Europeans in the process of preparing the conference. Of course, more of $$$ and scarce time could have been invested for this, but I think this concern was not really just, all the information was there all the time for any East-European to hook with it. For sure call got translated to Russian a way too late, but that was because some Minsk people halted the translation without bothering to tell anybody, and eventually Sumy people translated the text on their own initiative. 

Even if one day we had an unlimited amount of cash, many people do not like begging for it - actually, those who like begging are often least useful types from point of view of the international activist networking. And visa procedures are humiliating. When I told about these problems to a person from Eurodusnie, he was immediately ready to pass me a pile of cash to get Russians to the next European PGA event with the least required begging - that was nice, but I do not necessarily want to be the money man. These are really complicated questions, in the end totally transparent and egalitarian application procedure might be an oxymoron. 

Some credit for lack of Eastern European involvement is also due to some (former ?) Rainbow Keeper activists, who machinated an intrigue in Geneva 1998 against some trotskists from Voronezh in order to gain "Eastern European conveyor" - label, but eventually did very little to justify such a title. 

West Essex Zapatista have also attacked the whole global PGA process for lack of African involvement. But in general I think network should not be judged according to its "might" and "width" only. Actually I think it is pretty much authoritarian leftie idea to have branches everywhere, no matter what the local priorities really are. Such a thinking plagues even libertarian circles, for example a while ago I was approached by a member of a legendary revolutionary syndicalist organization from USA about perspectives to have their branch in Russia. When I told my honest opinion about applicability of their concept of organization in Russia, correspondence was finished. No further interest for exchange of ideas. When someone else from the same organization will contact me another time after a couple of years, the same history will probably repeat itself (to be honest, I am personally also not very interest about bilateral exchanges which some groups propose since it takes lots of time... I rather have such exchanges in multilateral way, for example in Alter-EE e-mail list). 

I think Africans are able enough decide on their own if PGA concept is necessary for them or not. Of course if the problem is lack of information there, there is something we should do. In East Europe, one of the reasons of lack of the networking is that groups and organizations are just not yet ripe of being able to really benefit from international exchanges. Local shit must hold together first. When Andrej Grubacic from DSM! asked me if I knew any groups in Eastern Europe which could be the next conveyors, only one Polish one came to my mind - but even they have little awareness about PGA and actually are pretty notorious for monopolizing such international communications, so perhaps I would not even like to see them as conveyors. I could have founded PGA infopoint in Russia right after Leiden, but I did not wanted because I would have been the only person doing the work. Fortunately, Epicenter infoshop from Sankt-Petersburg announced their willingness to become a PGA infopoint in the final spokescouncil, thus saving us from embarrassment of still not having a single infopoint in the whole Russia (in whole Eastern Europe, only other infopoints are in Sumy of Ukraine and Lyublyana of Slovenia). 

I think one should be just as concerned about discrepancies of Western-European involvement than about lack of East-Europeans or Africans. For example during whole conference, I met only one person from Italy. There were 4 from Ukraine, so 

Italian radical left was perhaps 1000 times less represented than Ukrainian, since Italy has the biggest movement in the world (both relatively and absolutely). Perhaps involvement of authoritarians from Leoncavallo in PGA for a while discredited network in eyes of rest of the Italian scene, and when Leoncavallo for some reason made conclusion that they may not use PGA in their search for hegemonies and lost their interest, nobody else hooked up in their place. 

>From Western Europe, UK was best represented, probably due to longstanding Reclaim the Streets - involvement in the PGA. Big UK involvement is very good, since although British "anti-globalization" scene has been much smaller than continental one, it has been much more free from all the kinds of authoritarian institutions. Besides former and current RTS activists, there were many people for example from Dissent! and Wombles, latter group is particularly symphatic to me. There were also many Germans, but few of theme were interested about the process. There were even some anti-German morons tearing down exhibition of photographs of Palestinian children. It would be nice if next European conference was in Germany - that would be a good opportunity to settle some scores with those types. Some French groups have been much involved in the process during last years, but besides them few people came from France. It seems like French scene is more fractionalized, and it is pretty hard to form alliances - this is perhaps why some French seemed to be particularly sensitive to criticisms which could discredit PGA as a whole. Spanish were around, but they could have been more, taking into account size of the movement there. Dutch involvement was not unsurprising, taken that as previous conveyor Eurodusnie had spend a lot of effort to help DSM! to put the 3rd conference up. Austria is perhaps not the easiest place to be radical left, but Austrians were around and they were among the coolest people in the conference. Danish and Finnish were relatively well presented, but at least latter without involvement in the process. Besides Italians, Swedish were particularly badly represented - I only met 3 persons although Sweden has a relatively big anti-authoritarian scene. Traditionally Swedish have been pretty autonomous though, without big effort to network internationally. 

Busy Wednesday

PGA process discussions continue most of the time during European conferences, and they draft proposals for the final plenary/spokescouncil. In Belgrade, I was only participating to one session, this splitted to different groups - I chose one which discussed about relations of PGA to European Social Forum, Socialist Workers' Party and other such vertical organizations. There were not too many people in this group, and they were almost exclusively British - little surprising given where the then next ESF was about to take place. PGA has a pretty strict policy of non-representation - only final plenary/spokescouncil of European conferences may make decisions in the name of European PGA, and there is for example no way for somebody to "negotiate" with ESF or whatever in the name of the PGA. Already in Leiden it was clear that this raises a problem with visibility, "promoting" PGA is pretty difficult and this is why it is often not accessible to people that could be interested. But changing existing policies is not really possible, since they lie very deep in the concept of the organization in general - so in some sense discussions in our working group were a sort of waste of time. Everyone was pretty much aware anyway that ESF and SWP suck, although there were perhaps different levels of optimism how much some sort of involvement in the former may make change.

This was only time in the conference I was in a group mostly crowded with people speaking English as their motherlangue, and it made a big difference. Person which speaks better English immediately sounds more clever and well-argued, even if she/he was talking about most trivial things. This may have much more deeper influence to power structures than we even imagine. In this conference, I attended no workshop with any translations, they were just not asked - it might be a pretty bad sign if everyone without proper English skills have already now been in practice excluded from PGA events. In Leiden there were still a number of non-English speakers, in Belgrade just a handful. 

After process discussions, I joined anti-repression workshop. It was initiated by people doing Aubonne bridge solidarity work for person who got almost killed when police made him drop from a bridge during latest Geneva protests. This was interesting, because initiative is from completely different networks than European Anarchist Black Cross, to which I am connected. I think one of the biggest problems of our movement is lack of anti-repression work with a long-time perspective. There is very much work to do, but it is not very spectacular and of little interest to society in general - this is why "spectacle activism" has been pretty averse towards anti-repression issues beyond setting up temporary legal teams during the summit protests. Incapability of the "spontaneous movement" to organize anti-repression work is one of the main reasons I have argued for a more coherent, formal way of organization. Not that our "less spontaneous" efforts in Russia have been much more successful either. 

However, this workshop was a bit of disappointment. Apparently, people who originally wanted to present Aubonne bridge project did not came, so presentation had to be made by another person who seemingly had other concerns and was not too much in the mood. Maybe half of the people had not any previous experience with anti-repression work, they just came to listen. As for people already active, there were a couple of very local German initiatives, Wombles who had worked with cases of British repressed after Gothenburg and Thessaloniki protests, and people from Thessaloniki group of Antiauthoritarian movement of Greece. Little doubt that solidarity work in Greece is at completely another level - solidarity movement for Thessaloniki 7 surpassed anything what could have been imagined in rest of the Europe. Greek people also proposed questions that could be discussed, but facilitator hurried to finish working group according to the schedule. I do not think maintaining the schedule was a good idea - we could have discussed the issues such as who should be concretely supported and how on our own even if she had to do her business elsewhere. After Thessaloniki, there were 3 separate anarchist supporting campaigns in Greece, totally conflicting around these questions and without any coordination of activities, so Greek people certainly had some insight to relevance of these questions, although British could just shake their heads and say "Greece is Greece". I still have not had time to join the e-mail list of Aubonne bridge network, so I do not know how much it is currently active. Mostly this network attempts to be a sort of information clearinghouse and to do fundraising, fine tuning of politics is up for each involved group to do on their own. 

My 6th working group of Wednesday (counting the men's network meeting in lunch which ended up just changing e-mails), and last of the whole conference, was the Dungeons and Dragons one. Although board game variant is pretty primitive, it still took about one hour to learn the rules. I found it surprisingly gender-correct, 2 of the four characters are female. Their sexual orientation was not defined though. 8 year old dungeon master preferred a ready scenario to improvising, so we slained all the goblins pretty easily since it was the first level. Non-violent conflict resolution was not an alternative. However we were denied opportunity to loot the treasury in a somewhat unfair manner, perhaps there was an anti-consumerist message dungeon master wanted to deliver us. 

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