- 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:
- A very clear rejection of capitalism, imperialism and feudalism; all trade agreements, institutions and governments that promote destructive globalization.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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 did not made any provocations. Perhaps they all had joined SAC29. 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.