[Pga_europe_process] (4/4) 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 03:23:18 CEST 2004

Security issues

In the evening, some pretty serious security concerns raised. Some Polish girls were sexually harassed by local kids, locals also recognized Croatian accent of one participator and she was threaten because of her nationality. Stuff was also stolen from the tents. Earlier in the day someone claiming to be from Serbian Blood & Honor section had also promised to bring his crew in the evening and storm the conference. 

Things looked bad. Most of the people had left for squat party, and we could not find anybody doing security from the so-called Emma team. For sure it was very good that local kids were let to drink beer in the conference area every day (unfortunately but almost unavoidable consequence of which was that some genderqueer people felt pretty uncomfortable - outreach from the ghetto comes with a price), but about all of the local kids were having gopnik/derzy/jogging suit wear and it would not have been any trouble for any nazis or thieves to infiltrate among them. There was an idea to do some patrolling in the camp area to discourage thieves, but I did not found anything to be used as a weapon, nor a single person organized enough, so I went for another business. 

Actually I understood that in previous evenings Emma team had done pretty good job in de-escalating drunken arguments with local kids that were unavoidable. Hippie approach for security for sure works better to a certain limit, even if we managed to have some 10 person black-block macho crew to "defend" the conference site in Wednesday evening, things could have pretty easily escalated and I do not think we would have been much of a physical contest for local kids in case they decided that we are a nuisance altogether. And really I guess the biggest problem of the Emma team was lack of people. 

In another hand, there are things to be criticized as well. Good for the PGA, that even fluffiest types were not happy with the moronic punk who called the cops, they fortunately left soon without causing trouble. There is no excuses for ignoring concerns of harassed Polish girls (I did not saw this myself, just heard about it) - Laure pointed out correctly that stiff reaction would have been much more likely if these girls had been from some more "important" scene. Also, since things were indeed stolen, announcement that "nothing happened - people just are paranoid" cannot be seen as anything else as primitive, manipulative and authoritarian crowd control tactics. I found it also outrageous that there was no reaction whatsoever to threat of an all-out nazi attack. That would hardly be just a promise in Russia. Of course a likely result of distributing information would be a useless panic, but at least some minimal precautions should have been made - for example tents from surroundings of the school could have been moved to football field, which could have been easier to defend. 

Actually somebody in fact saw cars around site loaded with nazis - perhaps a raid was planned, but plans changed since they realized that it would not be a fair fight. At least in Russia nazis usually prefer to attack white people only if they are offered a proper resistance. 

I do not know in detail about the situation in Serbia, but at least in Russia we may not give 100% security guarantee for any activist event - although big attacks are seldom seen. And shame on somebody from abroad who would demand such a guarantee - you either adapt to local realities or stay home. Personal security is one of the many privileges you must compromise in order to maintain revolutionary politics. 

But of course things are very much different, if you are responsible for more than your personal security only. I would not recommend taking your children to any such events (big and open, which attract public attention) in Russia, and Serbian PGA conference organizers should have also considered in prior, whether they may really fully guarantee security of children or not. BTW, I wonder what happened to crcche-pool - such a thing was planned and even volunteers were asked in the website, but seemingly it never got realized. 

Among local kids, especially Roma seemed to like us. However they came only in the evenings, so I suppose they understood us being a big party only. Talking about accessibility of activist cultures, "consensus hippie" seemed to be specially accessible to Roma, they even had a common jam with Rhytms of Resistance. I was not participating to this Roma outreach part, so I may only comment what was told to me. 

Final spokescouncil - PGA campaigns

Thursday morning it was time of the final spokescouncil. This form turned out to work very, very good - a positive surprise compared to hellish final plenary in Leiden. There were perhaps a dozen or so affinity groups, 10-20 persons in each of them. Each of them had a spokesperson, only one accepted to speak in the central ring (a couple of times reasonable exceptions were made to this rule to clarify fine details of opinions inside the group). 

Almost all the time when serious concerns raised, they were similar between a number of different groups. This helped to economize time even more, since some groups did not had to voice their concerns at all. Preliminary discussion inside affinity group is pretty much required to formulate concern so that it was understandable and relevant for everybody - this is the main benefit of a spokescouncil. 

Our affinity group ended up being a rag-bag of various outcast elements - West Essex Zapatista, East-Europeans and some weird Austrian types. Many of us however went to support miners' strike to Kostolac 80 kilometers north from Belgrade, and much of the rest could not bear discussion to the end of the spokescouncil, so in the end our affinity group was perhaps two persons. I heard miners' strike was great, besides bosses, miners were also fighting their own union. Miners were totally excited for "anti-globalists" coming to support them, and those who went were really sorry that they were only one mini-bus. I however preferred spokescouncil, since for me it was a very interesting laboratory example of direct democracy. 

Actually, contents the final spokescouncil were perhaps less interesting than the form. Main proposal for PGA campaigns was "Global Estafette" (relay), born from discussions about going beyond summit protests and global action days. Idea is that instead of one day actions, actions would spread from country and city to another as a relay. 

But hold on, what is this? What is the analysis on the global action days it is founded on, in which sense it is going beyond? Is the point just have the next days thing, next cool way to have your face to telly? Is the only problem with global action days that it is "yesterday's thing", and people are already "bored" with it? Is our movement some kind of entertainment factory? This is how I sometimes feel like, when trying to have apathetic kids to move their asses to some action, or what seems to be all too much asked, to do something themselves. 

Although at times we will have to play with the rules of the system, ultimately PR, advertisement and selling things are in a fundamental controversy with what we are. I like paki.tv more than indymedia especially because it is totally primitive, rough, true and it does not play games. It gives a fuck about rules of the design!

Action days (used to?) show how small groups in many different cities may together sum up to a much bigger than one may ever see in a protest in some particular place. They were our weakness turned to a strength. They were not just a nice trademark some activist copywriter released one day, but a result of objective condition of class (and other) conflict in world of today. 

Most of the texts criticizing "summit hopping" scream for their lack of content. Especially for Americans, "community organizing" is buzzword of the day, although it may mean anything up to all-out reformism - usually content does not has to be defined at all in the context. Yes, Black Panther Party members were killed for campaigning for issues like zebra crossings and breakfasts for the children of their communities, but that does not mean that those issues are revolutionary today. Yes, we should work with issues which are relevant to society at large, but often it is not all too clear what is the possible input our movement could give to such issues, how do those issues relate to global change, are our means really those which people involved see relevant, and are means those people would like to use our means. We need more honest attempts of analysis, less concept-dropping. So "community organizing" is in the list of words banned in 2005!

I am afraid media and spectacle value of "Global Estafette" would be much less than that of global action days, but shortcomings (spectacle much for the sake of itself) are more or less the same. And most of the people do not figure out what estafette means anyway (when writing this, name of the action has been changed to Global Chain Refl-Action - not too clear either). 

But whatever, we will see which kind of concrete propositions come out from this project, and after that we will consider participation in Moscow. Theme "Taking it back" is still a way too abstract, and may mean almost anything. Let us take Yo Mango for example - a friend of my friend spent a couple of years ago 3 months in a Sankt-Petersburg jail when cops tried to squeeze some money for her after an unsuccessful attempt to steal a packet of coffee. For sure people shoplift in Russia as well, but that has more to do with extreme sports than carnival, youth culture or popular resistance. 

I think beautiful words and abstractions are the least scarce resource of our movement. Currently Abolishing the Borders from Below - journal is attempting to launch a special number on "reappropriation" in Eastern Europe, collecting various phenomena which one could interpret as appearances of this one abstract concept. If it happens to be on the ground, perhaps "taking it back" may work in Russia as well. It is both shortcoming and benefit of the PGA format that there is no moral imperative for all participators to execute common actions. 

Only global action days proposed in the draft were around 8th of March (international women's day), 12th of October (for "Bolivarian revolution"), and around G8 6th-8th of July. First was not too clear - how this would be different from what Women's day is now already? There was not any answer for this unclarity, but eventually (according to minutes) all propositions got endorsed in a chaotic manner, with exception of the Bolivarian action day, revised version of which got passed in the end of the spokescouncil. 

Together with another delegate from Russia, we proposed PGA endorsement for international action day against the war in Chechnya 23rd of February, which is both day of "defender of the fatherland" (sort of macho equivalent of women's day which is unpolitical in Russia), and anniversary of Chechen deportation to steppes in 1944. There were also some other proposals - 20th of April (beginning of the invasion to Iraq, 1st of May (international day against flexibility), Palestinians asked solidarity in general - but for some reason these four were just noted as proposals in the minutes, and eventually there was no discussion should European PGA endorse these calls as a whole. Understandable given the time restrictions, but really also a mistake of the facilitators. 

Final spokescouncil - cooperation, access and all the rest

Second session of the spokescouncil was about "PGA relations with other political/activist organisations and structures such as NGO's, trade unions, social fora, political parties". Day before I had shortly visited group which had later on drafted this proposal, which was a total mess of "proposals", "ideas for discussion" and "announcements of upcoming events", without a clear distinction between these. There was for example a proposal to call interested groups and individuals to compile a manual or reader on how to deal with these organisations. This was pretty shady, given the "non-representation" policy of the PGA. So it was agreed that this reader will have a subtitle "inspired by the PGA". Logical next question was if anything may be published as "inspired by the PGA" - answer was YES. You bet that organisations as informal as PGA will hold together only as long as some seriously rotten eggs do not jump to the board. 

Eventually, the following a concrete proposal was extracted from all that mess - 

"PGA should not allow people to become isolated or excluded in the PGA process because they belong to certain organisations that may be less situated within PGA hallmarks, but put the emphasis on people's behavior within the network and at conferences. However, people from such organizations can only participate as individuals, will not be allowed to promote their organization through PGA, and must respect the PGA hallmarks when participating in PGA. Leaders and representatives of such organizations are not welcome in PGA, and PGA process meetings are only open to people who agree with the hallmarks."

(in above resolution "PGA" means "European PGA"). 

Another logical question was asked - could any nazi could show up, participating as an individual respecting hallmarks by self-definition? But really this was nitpicking - I would do my best to attack physically any fascist scum showing up in the conference, whether my action was endorsed by some spokescouncil or not - so no point in blocking the proposal. And it is really impossible to draft universal "one size fits all" guidelines for dealing with authoritarians, for example our organization (Autonomous Action) had to make recently such a strict resolution against any cooperation with authoritarians that it might be difficult to follow it in practice in popular local struggles. 

In this conference there was a leading figure for German PDS party, she was exposed in the daily newspaper and soon after that she left the conference. I think this was absolutely correct way to deal with the issue, since it was obvious that she was not presenting herself in an open manner, and thus could not have any "honest intentions" in participating to the conference. I do not understand how some people could be disappointed with this. I would also like to note that outright naivete among (Western) European PGA participators the resolution above reflects is due to their local situation - for example in Russia fascists from National Bolshevik Party would show up in any event participation conditions according to this criteria. For West-European PGA participators a scenario of nazis showing up is a fantasy, whereas in Russia it would not only be possible but likely as well.

Next section of the spokescouncil was "Suggested steps to take in cases of physical/psychological violence". This sounds pretty abstract, but obviously drafters of the document had sexual harassment in their minds. Perhaps they should have been more specific, for example psychological violence may be about everything, up to wiping ones ass with PGA hallmarks. 

When I saw this text, originally written by Stockholm Anti-Fascist Action, first time in the process list, it must be said that I did not liked it. This was because of certain ambiguousity, which could have been interpreted that it supported presumption of guiltiness of the suspected offender. However in the process it became clear that this was not the case, a number of other affinity groups raised concerns similar to ours and eventually it was agreed that the text would be rewritten for the following event in order to eliminate this ambiguousity. Really I think that with voiced amendments, text was pretty good and deserved to be applied outside European PGA as well, and to be translated to different languages. 

Fourth section of the spokescouncil was structure proposals for European PGA. Although many points were marked to be concrete proposals about which decision had to be taken, really they were sort of ideas for people to do, without anything what could basically be disagreed about, such as "The next PGA conference in Europe will be organized through a process of open preparation meetings, by the next conveyor and an open international preparation group". What could one possibly disagree with? In Leiden, there was an ambitious program to reform PGA structure which was left halfway due to time constraints, but this was not continued in Belgrade. It seems to me that European PGA has now a stable structure, and no radical changes are to be expected during next years. 

Last section of the spokescouncil was "Global process proposals". Biggest section was about endorsing 4th Global PGA Conference to be organized in Nepal 2005. There were only few concrete proposals, such as about contacting disappeared South African conveyors, and creating a global list of conveyors which would be easily available in the web, and about making an informal "inspired by PGA" newsletter about European Conference 2004. All of these were pretty common sense, for sure no any controversial issues and conflicts. 

So what remained was the clean up and "outreaching event" in the evening. A famous anarchist once said that "If I cannot dance for it, it is not my revolution", but I think it is too much asked if one has to dance after 5 days of totally exhausting conference program. Maybe I was just dead tired, or maybe the final evening party really was as boring as I found it. Talks were boring, videos were stereotypical, music was crap and I had already got an overdose of hippies during the week. Only nice thing was the inflatable yellow plastic PGA on the stage which we could punch. 

Issue of activist subculture is pretty delicate and I will not get too deeply to it here. I have referred loosely to "consensus hippies" in this document, but really West-European activist culture is something which goes beyond "hippie" and has also many other roots than 60's protest movements. Any community of people always, more or less unconsciously founds norms and discussion paradigms which separate it from all other communities. Paradoxically, it seems like commonness is always founded on exclusion of the others. If one demands that activists should give up their culture, for most of the activists it would not make any sense to be an activist anymore. Such a thing as "normal people" just does not exist, and all groups arguing against "life-stylism" have just as exclusive subcultural habits as the others. 

For example, I do not like samba so I feel alienated from all this samba stuff. However if Rhytms of Resistance played breakbeat or bhangra beat, things would be totally different. So in the end, it is too much asked to always have the party your way. 

So how about a final judgement, how I managed to satisfy my 5 interests in regards to PGA conference? As for convergence if ideas beyond "one struggle" rhetorics - well, I am not impressed. But to be honest, I did not expected too much. As for finding people to help us in case of some problems with authorities - not too many, but at least something concrete. As for benefits to Eastern European organizing - I suppose all of those East-Europeans who participated should judge themselves. One of the local organizers was at least very upbeat right after the conference. At least we launched one new international project - the Anarchy Bus. To find about general interest to organize with similar but more strict principles than PGA, we at least got a very clear answer - there is no demand. As for the decisionmaking - not bad, although more attention should have been given to rising concerns in prior to final spokescouncil. 

As for the European PGA in general, way is clear to forward, and I will stay involved according to my personal possibilities. Next step is to find new European conveyor, and to make evaluation what really went wrong with Resnik issue and other problems. 6 years is a respectable age for a grassroots network in this hectic video age, and although Global PGA has been in stagnation since 2001, European and Asian processes are all but dead. PGA does not attract anymore such attention as it used to, but this may be a benefit as well since it allows going beyond brandmaking - more introspection and better focus on what is actually done. 

Antti Rautiainen

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