<alter-ee> A report on International anarchist meeting in Warsaw 27.-30th of June 2003

Aleksei alter-ee@lists.most.org.pl
Mon, 21 Jul 2003 09:17:46 +0400

A report on International anarchist meeting in Warsaw 27.-30th of June 2003

With some 250 participators together with the parallel anti-border
conference, the first East-European anarchist meeting in five years became a
success. Especially fascinating was the scale of the Eastern-European
involvement - besides masses of Polish practically all anarchist tendencies
from the European side of Russia were present, as well as plenty of people
from Minsk and Kiev, almost all once so hostile to each other Czech groups,
people from Slovakia and Romania, lots of people from Lithuania and even
more East-European immigrants from Western Europe. From other countries at
least Canada, Germany, Italy, USA and Finland were present, organisers
counted 20 different countries.

Arrangement with the anti-border meeting, which took place in the same
building the same
time was quite confusing for many, especially when relations between
organisers of the anarchist meeting and (also anarchist) organisers of the
antiborder conference developed from hostile to open warfare during the
events. I will write another article on this theme for Alter-EE subscribers
and other concerned because I just love to stick my nose to other peoples
business, but in this article I just want to mention that I still believe
that intentions of the both parts were honest, although pursued political
aims slightly different. I believe none was parasiting the other. Besides
chaos there was also clear synergy. It is no doubt that vast majority of
people came first of all for the anarchist meeting, but many also attended
antiborder workshops, enriching the conference. Antiborder conference had
applied for grants, which was useful for the anarchist meeting for example
as far as sleeping arrangements were concerned. I am sure both groups could
have made it also without each other, but with cost of quality of the

Best always comes last

Best event of the anarchist meeting was the evaluation which we made at the
Polish border camp 5 days afterwards, too bad for those participators who
did not came to the border camp. I will write another article about the
border camp, but this particular discussion influenced a lot my opinions
about the event in general. The evaluation was just enough days after the
end of the meeting for people to formulate their impressions, and not so
long time afterwards that people could forget them. We could only start
evaluation discussion 23:00 in the evening after a long day of action and
people were very tired, which was very good since everyone was now sitting
peacefully, too tired to  run around doing other business or to booze or to
make noise. We could still continue almost 2 hours, so I will try to fool
people to late night workshops in future as well. Only big minus was that it
was outdoors around campfire, and thus it was too dark for taking any notes.

Anti-sexist workshop

First event of the anarchist meeting were the parallel anti-sexism and
anarcha-feminist workshops. Difference between these was clear to few or
none of the participants, since both of them were mixed - maybe the
confusion was an intended provocation by organisers. I ended up to
anti-sexism discussion, where we had 21 men and 6 women - the
anarcha-feminist meeting had maybe same numbers with opposite relation.
Discussion began late, and round of presentations took more than one hour.
This was because everyone was asked to tell about their opinions and
feelings about anti-sexist work, as well as about expectations on this
workshop. No convergence of ideas was reached, as one could expect in a room
full of people from very different traditions as far as the anti-sexist work
goes. Moderators (two German and one Polish) had some ideas in prior, but
were somewhat afraid to govern the course of discussion which meant that it
did not lead much to anywhere. For most of the people issue of sexism is
related to very personal experiences, so discussion was sort of endless list
of most various appearances of the problem people had seen around them. For
some various other kinds of psychological violence in personal relations
than sexist seemed to be closer to their personal experience.

Evil men

Actually German moderators were unhappy, since many people put up arguments
of relating oppression of women to more general issues such as mutual abuse
in personal relations. I suppose these kind of comments would have
considered blatantly anti-feminist and reactionary in big section of the
German scene. I agree that there was at least one person around to whom
feminist argument was a completely blind spot. But I am sure 10 years before
it would not have been one person but all of the room. The original
intention of the German moderators seems to have been enlarging so-called
pro-feminist men network to Eastern Europe, but this idea ended up as
completely ignored. One reason being that it popped up towards the end of
the discussion. This was a shame, there are things I would have liked to
talk about the pro-feminist men network, I have followed a bit their
organising in Finland from outside and I have some questions I would like to
ask, but seems like I have to wait until the next opportunity. And I had to
translate, and when one is translating it is really impossible to take an
active part to the discussion. Some people who participated to the parallel
anarcha-feminist meeting complained that most of the time went to argument
about having or not having separate groups, which was a hot topic for some
Russian MEN involved but generally passe for many participators.


Failure to maintain the schedule was a really big minus for the meeting. The
difference between big (50 persons) and huge (250 persons) events is that in
big events it might be someway collectively spontaneously decided when it is
time to begin a discussion, but in huge events the mass inertia is just too
much and if there is no discipline and no-one wants to be authoritarian,
program will never start. Every morning program began like 90 minutes late,
which was very annoying since the whole schedule got fucked up and it was
impossible to know when there will be food and when workshops will start
later on during the day. I am sure that if organisers were authoritarian
enough the first day, later on people would have learned that if they are
not in the workshops the right minute, they will miss something. It should
be ones own problem to be around in time. We could have began any workshop
when 5 people were around, this way people would have learned that they
won't be waited. And what is the point to formally began program 10 AM, if
everyone thinks it is impossible that early anyway?

Evil liberals

Friday 27th was the only day I participated to parallel anti-border program,
I had to translate to a Belarussian for a while in a lecture about "New
forms of fascism and anti-Semitism in Poland", made by some Piotr from
Warsaw. He was a totally annoying liberal who made points like "The very
pleasant thing in the Polish society is that unlike Germans and Russians, we
have always been in the centre, extremists such as fascists or communists
have always had just a minor support over here". The point of these "new
forms" was that mainstream Polish parliamentary politicians like nowadays to
use sort of non-direct anti-Semitic rhetoric, for example slogan "I am 100%
Polish" means actually that a Politician is proud not to have any Jewish
blood. Whatever, fuck this guy, I hope I will never have to see him again.

N-word always scores biNGO

First working group in Saturday 28th was the Eastern-European Networking,
something which really should have required some preparation and pre-planned
concept. I counted almost 30 different groups or initiatives present, so
having all of them presented would have required the whole day. It was a
good innovation to have presentations in randomised order, but we still did
not got very far because we began so much late. But it is a question how
much it makes sense in general to have presentations in such a massive

There are two kinds of people, those who understand better written, and
those who understand better spoken information. Those who prefer spoken
information may read countless articles, but they are always happy to hear
exactly same things spoken since they process spoken information much
better. But since I process written information much more effectively, it
was no surprise to me that all presentations in the meeting together gave me
a minimal among of new information, adding to what I had read from internet
or journals already. Spoken information is always less intense especially if
it has to be translated to two languages.

One idea that came to my mind already few days before the meeting was to
have "continuous presentation", that every participator was given half hours
of time to present their group activities, theoretical backgrounds and
history in a working group which would be continuously taking place during
the whole meeting time. Presentation order would be available in schedule,
so that people could attend to presentations of groups interesting to them,
and hear much more in depth about their ideas than just the usual 5 minute
superficial torso. Maybe we could implement this the next time, although in
general I think interests of those preferring written information are in an
eternal controversy with of those preferring spoken word.

No expectations - no disappointments

One reason why I am so happy with the Warsaw meeting is that I had not much
of any expectations, or any ideas of common projects I wanted to get
realised there. For example 5 years before in East-West meeting of Prague I
proposed setting up a news bulletin about East European issues, but when
time was ripe for that it emerged in form of Abolishing the Borders from
Below-paper, completely independently from the networks which once organised
the anarchist East-West meetings. I think Alter-EE list and ABfB paper
already completely fulfil the demand of information networks in the Eastern
Europe, next step should be creating networks connected to some projects. Of
course working group on networking was a good place to promote these two
existing initiatives, but inviting people to ready table is never the most
creative approach, there are always much more people willing to start
something new than to join already existing initiatives concept of which
they may not formulate. But no one had any other ideas except these two
already running initiatives. We also decided to split to smaller more
concrete groups, but only group proposed was the anti-repression one.

Evil chekists

I was to moderate it (I am afraid I do not qualify to title of facilitator),
but I just ended up delivering a lecture about the trouble we have lately
had with chekists in Krasnodar, Yaroslavl, Ivanovo and Moscow. This was not
my intention, since we have not yet set up a proper counter-repression
strategy in Russia (when writing this we still are working on it), and I had
nothing concrete to propose to people at that point. I would rather had seen
some kind of emergency response network set up by people who participated,
and a general discussion about anti-repression/Anarchist Black Cross
strategy in Eastern Europe. But unfortunately no people with experience or
ideas on anti-repression or Black Cross activities from Poland (where are
many very active Black Cross groups) or from elsewhere came to this
discussion, so I ended up being the lecturer. All the remaining program of
Saturday I missed because I was doing distro. A good hint for the next
meeting would be to spend one half of a day to a book market, so that people
do not have worry that everyone gets the literature they were looking for,
and do not have to miss so much other program.


In Sunday 29th the first working group was about anarcho-syndicates and
workers' activists. It started that much late that I had to leave in the
middle in order to make it to presentation of the Navinki editors, just when
it was about to get interesting. Of course the syndicalist working group was
again mostly presentations, and since less new information since most of the
thing has been covered in internet and ABfB in the past, the essential new
information was foundation of active Casual Workers Union by some Belarus
Anarchist Front people from Minsk, they had even had some successes.

Navinki presentation was something unusual for me, a pleasant lecture. This
was mainly because Pavlyuk (editor in chief of Navinki) is such an excellent
speaker, among two of the best I know from  the former Soviet Union. Good
speakers are a rare phenomena in the anarchist movement of today. Although
everyone should know it already, Navinki is a satirical paper published by
an anarchist collective (with nihilist tendencies;-) from Minsk. Lukashenko
is running libel charges against Navinki, which will most likely lead to
closure of the paper. Already now Pavlyuk has had his parents (!) property
confiscated due to inability to pay his fines given after the libel court of
the spring.

Learn Belarussian or die

I have always trouble in maintaining serious face when explaining to someone
that Navinki is an anarchist paper which needs support of the anarchist
movement, since there is absolutely nothing serious in Navinki. This is also
the reason why Navinki has been so tremendous success in Belarus, at times
it has been printed 5000 copies which very few anarchism-related periodicals
may beat (only Norwegian Gateavisan and diy-ad financed Profane Existence
come to my mind). I would have liked to have a sort of brainstorming about
organisation of the support campaign, I was in a need of funny and creative
ideas since supporting Navinki with serious face would not make any sense.
Such ideas did not really came out in the discussion. I have some ideas
anyway, such as to organise besides the usual picket a counter-picket as
well, where dressed up KGB agents distribute Belarussian roubles (value of
which is 1/2000 $) to everyone subscribing petition against "obscure"
Navinki. Another idea is to organise parodical studying circles of
Belarussian state-ideology in construction, just as Maoists, Hoxhaists etc.
had their wacko studying circles back in the days.

Enough talking shit

Besides presentations, another disturbing thing in the international meeting
are the demonstrations. When idea about this international meeting came up
in the aftermath of 2001 Polish bordercamp, one of the reasons I thought we
needed such meeting was that in bordercamps it is never really enough time
just to sit down and discuss ideas and projects, since people are all the
time running around and huzzling about the next days actions. There are
number of Polish I have known by face since the 2000 border camp, but with
whom I still have not had time to have a discussion with...
but what happened in Warsaw meeting was that anti-border people organised
support demo for abortion ship on Saturday, many people spent most of the
Sunday in planning mondays anti-visa regime demo and since many people got
arrested on Monday, all the meeting program remaining on Monday had to be
cancelled. So people still had a chance to spend most of the meeting in
demos or in planning them, if they liked.

Anarchist movement in Poland as well as in most of the places is very young,
and most of the people prefer doing concrete things to discussions. Much
more people had opinions and ideas about the demonstration tactics than were
participating during the other discussions, and atmosphere in demonstration
planning meeting was much more electric and inspiring than during all other
workshops. I also prefer being in a movement which prefers doing against
bare talk than the contrary. But really I have 365 days in a year to
organise (maybe little less spectacular) demos, but only once in five years
I have 4 days for an East European anarchist meeting.

I admit it was cool anyway

Ok, this visa policy demo was part of the concept of the meeting from the
beginning, and everyone except me liked the idea a lot (I also liked idea
but with reservations), and vast majority except a vocal minority liked the
realisation as well, so I wont be whining on that anymore. And in the
beginning date was definitely very important and symbolical, last day of
visa free travel for people from non EU candidate countries. Although demo
was not legalised, we successfully marched a long time, distributed a plenty
of leaflets and banner we hanged from the bridge was there the next day.
Eventually we got surrounded, few people beaten up and 16 arrested. Demo
definitely made a wrong turn, and even worse went to a sidewalk where it
could be surrounded. This mistake might have had something to do with the
fact that first 20 persons were non-Polish who had little idea about the
road, a clear tactical mistake. In another hand I do not think we could have
walked much more without siege attempts by police. Well disciplined and
trained demonstration force would have quickly dispersed in beginning of the
police blockade and regrouped 500 meter further on the road, but I guess I
wont see anything like that during my lifetime. I will write more opinions
about demo tactics in another text dealing with dirty laundry of the meeting
and anti-border conference. I also wonder why so few people from Warsaw came
to demo, half of the 150 people were foreigners and I suppose most of the
rest from other Polish cities. But anyway, demo was ***** so enough about

Culture sucks

Only fraction of the participators participated to daily evening program,
maybe not so bad since at least there was always space. The performance of
Sunday evening was quite horrible, all performance cliches with masked
person staggering around on after-trip, raw meat and bones... only good
thing was the music which was nice free jazz.  However that evening I had
enough sense of humour to watch the trash to its end. Theatre of the next
evening was not much better, but who cares.

To conference or not to conference

The question remains do we really need such events. It is easy to see point
of a project meeting gathering 30 persons around a concrete issue, but what
is a sense of collecting 200 anarchists to some spot? Identity-building
without any contents? Comment I hear most often after such events is that
maybe workshops and presentations were not that useful, but people managed
to make lots interesting connections and meet lots of interesting people off
program. But if that is the main goal, it would require much less effort to
invite just my 30 friends to a closed meeting, no effort needed for booking
lecturers since everything could be discussed in a pub in informal
environment, no any promotion work necessary. Or maybe to have a big and
open meeting, but without any program or lectures so that everyone could
hang around in corridors 24 h/day. And even if bigger events were necessary
to connect with people about whom I maybe had never heard before, I still
wonder if these kinds of corridor networks were the way I want anarchist
movement to organise, even if they were as effective as their capitalist
equivalents WEF, TABD and Trilateral commission have proven themselves to
be.  Networking based solely on personal relations is at first vulnerable,
because people may get repressed or leave anarchist movement, and all these
connections disappear with them and must be built from zero by the
followers. At second, it creates decisionmaking procedures which are not
democratic and transparent for the movement in general, if the most
interesting and important discussion in such meetings are informal you must
know the right people and be in the right place in the right time to
participate to them.

Opportunities and expectations

In another hand, never before have we had so developed communication and
transport mechanisms which allow us to organise events for 200 people. 100
years ago anarchists meetings were just for a handful of delegates from each
country, maybe now we could at last organise a completely other kind of
international movement, a movement where everyone is a leader? Well, I still
doubt that there could ever be any constructive discussion with 200 persons
participating, but maybe there could still be some more effective means to
use the opportunities we have today.

For me, the best point which came out during the evaluation was the vast
variation of expectations people had when coming to the meeting. People from
ABfB collective had discovered this when they were making a videotape with a
more in-depth interviews of the meeting participators. Even more, they had
discovered that many people had no any expectations whatsoever, which also
became evident to me when many people were not saying anything in the
workshops. It is not necessarily a negative thing, but somewhat irritating
anyway.  I think taking into account peoples expectations beforehand is a
very crucial thing for a meeting to be a success, we should experiment some
methods such as asking people to fill a blank about their expectations when
they announce interest to participate.

One person from Russian delegation noted me that some people from Russia,
who were first time participating to some international event seemingly had
inflated expectations. Actually size of the event is also a dangerous factor
of alienation, everyone who comes has some story to tell but it might be
no-one is interested to hear it, at least if you are not able to grab right
person on the right moment. We should think mechanisms to have everyone feel
that they are wanted, welcome and important.


It is fact of nature that most organising among human beings is based on
inter-personal dynamics, so attempts to organise otherwise might be doomed
to fail.  It still remains to be checked, if it is possible to collect 30
persons strangers to each other to one working group, so that they could
left the room 2 hours later with some positive results. In this anarchist
meeting I did not encounter such a miracle, so we must continue
experimenting the next time.

When I voiced these concerns in our evaluation meeting five days later, I
was soon responded by one Russian enemy of our mode of organisation as if I
was about to form some 4th international. Others were less hostile, but
still stressed the importance of personal contact. Although I think
formalisation and delegated meetings may solve problem of informal
hierarchies in some cases, I do not think they could be applied in the
East-European context. Language barriers would create huge demand of
translating bureaucracy, movement is yet way too little developed, has way
too local and particular approaches. Organisations are created by demand,
organisation for sake of organisation is just empty fetishism. Besides there
already exists a number of anarchist internationals, although they are not
very interested to network in our area, have different approaches than we
have (such as that of exclusively forming workers syndicates) or are
inward-looking in general.

Theory which solves everything

I would illustrate my model of natural development of international
networking with the following linear hierarchy of phases:

information space >> identity >> solidarity >> common projects >>
organisation >> ? >> revolution

The very first phase is creation of the common information space for the
East-European area, I think this phase is now completed with Alter-EE list,
ABfB newsletter and increase of international contacts in general. This has
been a drastic development since launching of the Alter-EE some 7 years ago.


Second phase is creation of some East-European anarchist identity, idea that
there exists a specially East-European anarchist movement with some special
kind of struggles which would be the common ground for further common
projects. I think this anarchist meeting might have been a milestone in this
development, it was definitely an event with a distinctively East-European
character. I may already see some special common factors in the
East-European movement. The factor I value the most is the attempt to create
a specific anarchist subject, even if weak, instead of being just a drop in
the ocean of the "left" as often is the case in the Western Europe. If
anarchist movement was just one left flavour without its own identity and
subjectivity, it would be deemed to disappear. Although voices calling for
left unity are regularly raised in the East as well, they are still a

Of course this state of affair is partly due to necessity as well, since in
East-Europe the "progressive segment" of the society mostly just does not
exist. At times it makes things difficult, since left allows some channels
for anarchists to have dialogue with the larger part of the society, but in
another hand I have seldom seen as positive articles in the mainstream media
about our actions as in the extremely neo-liberal and conservative Polish
society. Often the forces which try most violently to marginalize and
destroy us are those of the left, as the murderous attack Swedish social
democrats launched in Gothenburg 2001 and during its aftermath shows.
Everyone keeps talking about reaching out for the wider society, but
reaching out is pointless if it comes with a price of giving out our
militancy. And as for the militancy goes things are doing quite well in most
of the East Europe, and as for the reaching out goes many people are very
serious with that. Examples of anarchists drifting to NGO activity have in
general been quite scary, I admit that there do are some non sell-out NGO's
around in the East-Europe, but they are less and less every day. Especially
in Russia our task is to prevent emergence of the pacifying civil society at
any cost.

Solidarity and common projects

Common identity and interests create solidarity, which gives way to common
projects and initiatives.
This is the phase right now, right now we have common identity and
solidarity, but common projects are still few. This of course depends on the
concrete circumstances as well, many struggles still have a very local
character and that will be the case for a long time. Paradoxically
globalisation has also brought temporary decentralisation of the economy in
some sense, in time of closed national economies corporations managed to
oligopolize to an extent that they were present everywhere in the limits of
a certain nation-state, but after disappearance of economic barriers many
actors have only limited area of presence in the economic space which is
most of the planet, and for example a company with which anarchists are
engaged in some conflict in Poland maybe has not any Russian representation
to attack. In another hand chances to have solidarity actions are abundant,
since anarchist are getting into trouble in some spot of the planet about
every day. This abundance would require some coordination and setting up
priorities, I really wonder if it makes sense to make a fax appeal alert if
few anarchists got arrested in Warsaw or Bialystok for 3 hours for a minor


For me, other word for transparent and democratic means of common
coordination and setting up common priorities is the organisation, fifth
level in my linear development of networking, which as I stated before is
yet out from our reach. It is already details to which extent the
organisation has to be formalised, I suppose it is always easier to agree in
general that we need some coordination and ability to set up priorities than
on the question of formalisation.

Two steps forward, one step back

In reality for sure the development will not be linear at all, with all the
dirty laundry in the aftermath of the meeting I would suppose that if we got
two step forward this time, we went at least one step back soon after.
Polish movement was the only one in East Europe which had both necessary
material resources and connections to organise such an event, and so much
shit has been flying in the air that it will take years until anything
similar will get organised in Poland again. In general I was a bit surprised
why so many people in the evaluation discussion called for a similar kind of
big international meetings as often as possible, I suppose we do not want to
repeat failure of anarchist East-West meetings of middle-nineties, who
partly collapsed because they were organised annually, a way too often.

To be continued

As for the continuation, my idea is to organise a more specific and concrete
meeting the next year for a smaller audience, for example around
anti-repression issues, or around structural adjustment in Eastern Europe,
or noborder organising in East Europe, or maybe EU enlargement (in the last
case we would not come from Russia). Workshops in future international
meetings should have much more substance, and only way to have this
substance is that there is a continuous process in creating their agenda,
preferably a small international group of people organising around the theme
around the year. Many people gave positive feedback that the meeting program
was organised interactively through internet, and it is very unfortunately
that I had no way to participate to planning more actively. Besides this,
several people in the noborder camp were very much willing to organise a
Noborder camp in Ukraine or Belarus, unfortunately none of this people are
from Ukraine or Belarus, so we will see what comes out from that. As for the
Polish camp, yet there is only an idea to organise a music festival against
border in Poland, border camp as a form of protest is loosing some momentum
in Poland and it is unclear if they will continue in their present form (see
a separate article on border camp for this discussion).

Antti Rautiainen