<alter-ee> Some reflections on Krynki NoBorder camp 2003

Aleksei alter-ee@lists.most.org.pl
Mon, 21 Jul 2003 09:17:44 +0400


Some reflections on Krynki NoBorder camp 2003

Local activists already wrote a comprehensive report on the camp, so
I will just try to add some reflections here.

Anarchists of Bialystok succesfully organised camp in 2001, and decided to
repeat camp this year. And why not, succesfull projects deserve to be
repeated. Unfortunately, anarchist movement and activist movement in general
often works with the logic of the spectacle, where projects which are not so
fresh anymore do not attract that much people, whether their content is more
actual than ever or not. So number of participants in this camp was only
half of that of 2001, 150 people (or more optimistically 200 people). In
other hand there was much wider international presence than before,
organisers counted 16 countries (and forgot at least Ukraine, from where
there were people). 2002 camp was in Wizajny, I was not there so I may not
compare - I have heard that this camp was more discussions than actions.

Besides numbers, the difference with camp of 2001 was that this time
practically all organising work of the camp fell to shoulders of local
people for various reasons, one for example being international anarchist
meeting and antiborder conference many people were busy organising in
Warsaw. Most of the time of the local people went to solving logistic
questions, so the camp program was quite empty when camp began - but people
quickly self-organised many workshops, such as on making paintbombs, womens
meeting, evaluation of Warsaw anarchist meeting, on theme "oppressed nations
of Europe" and some others.  Actions in 2003 were also better than in 2001.

Oppressed nations

"Oppressed nations of Europe" took place in morning of Friday the 4th, I
could not listen it to end since I had to left for Bialystok. In the
beginning it was called by free Caucasus committee of Krakow, but soon
somebody wanted to talk about kurds and basques as well. As for the
presentation of the Chechen situation goes, I respect that people in Krakow
keep up working with this mostly forgotten theme. But this presentation was
a primitive lecture of the most elementary history of the conflict, and did
not touched any of the difficult questions anyone following the tragedy has
to deal with. But I had to leave and there was no intention to have
discussion about these issues (such as sensible solutions of the conflict)
from the beginning, so I decided to leave difficult questions for the next
time.

Event hopping

I would not complain that there was too little program in the camp. But I
was surprised that for many people 5 camp days were too much, although it is
about nothing compared to Russian Rainbow Keepers protest camps which last 6
weeks in average. People in West seem to be so hectic that they have to rush
directly to climax of the camp (which was Saturdays action in the border),
and after that to run away quickly in order to find some even cooler vibes
in some other country. First full camp day, Thursday 3rd of July was quite
lame because most of the people had not come yet and thus there was little
program - and in afternoon of Sunday 6th of July most of the people had left
already. So effectively the five day camp was only two days, Friday and
Saturday.

Demo in Bialystok

Demo of Wednesday 2nd was nice, although mostly repeating the one two years
before. We managed to create less huzzle than then, since police was better
prepared. A megaphone would have been a good thing to have, but it was still
having a holiday in Warsaw after Monday's demo against visa regime. Visiting
Belarussian consulate was a good idea, not only because authoritarian regime
of Lukashenko must be protested but also because this was in a quiet street
with excellent acoustics, and it was possible to have a speech without
megaphone.

Chill out day

After demo we left for Krynki to set up the camp, and next day was the much
needed chill out day after quite stressful week of travelling and meeting in
Warsaw. Some people were hanging banners and and posters in Krynki, but I
was just funkin' around in the part watching that they won't get stolen...
nice job since locals were more supportive than against, and would not do
such a thing. Evil border guards were maybe more of a risk, but they had a
quite low-profile presence this year after the ridiculous show-offs we had
two years before.

Support of local people has been characteristic to all Polish border camps,
but participation has been almost none, with some expections (such as local
children joining to actions of this year). This is not so surprising, many
local people have relatives, friends or neighbours working in border guard
to whom they have to maintain loyality, and although campers might be
symphatetic and interesting, they are for sure also crazy, look strange and
little bit scary. This time local people for sure got lots of information,
but maybe there would still be some undiscovered ways  to increase
involvement in some suitable way. There was for example an idea to organise
general meeting (or assembly, or plenary as you like to call it) about
tactics of Saturdays demo in the center of Krynki and to invite all local
people so that they could see how our camp makes decisions, but that did not
get realized. Maybe good, since some would have discovered that direct
democracy and anarchy will never work;-)

Problems with process

I have been in Polish camps twice before, 2000 and 2001 - both times after a
very stressful period in my life, and I was happy to just observe and join
actions without any special planning or organising effort. This year I had a
bit more energical mood, so I tried to make more effort to participate to
camp organising. So I saw much more problems in the process which seemed to
me a very smooth and effective the previous times, although I would suggest
same problems have been around since the beginning. The main problem was
that general meetings were quite badly facilitated. I am sure no one had
malicious intentious to control camp, I think disease was first of all lack
of practical facilitation skills and partly also attitude of many camp
participators to general meetings as informational, not organisational
events.

First problem was the translation, which was simultaneous. I think a good
simultaneous translation would be the best alternative, but now when
translation was missing things, at times incorrect and behind, Russian and
English speakers had much worse chances to participate than Polish because
direct replying is much more different when discussion is lacking behind.
Non-simultaneous translation gives more equal opportunities with a time
cost.

Second problem was decisionmaking and planning in the general meeting. For
example when we began making camp schedule in the first general meeting,
someone turned on the sound system aggregator and everyone took that as a
sign of end of the meeting. In the next day most of the people also
dispersed when the discussion about Saturday tactics had not even started
yet. It also happened more than once that some propositions which were maybe
something too new for most of the people just got ignored.

Facilitation

Among many others, tasks of a facilitator are to take account that people
with limited language abilities may equally participate, to structure
discussion so that every proposition will be discussed and nothing ignored,
that decisions on one point will be made before moving to second one (or at
least it should be generally acknowledged that decision on that point may
not be made right now), and that meeting will not finish until all the
relevant concerns have been handled. I do not claim that camp organisers
completely ill-performed in this respect, these are not at all too clear
things. General meetings with dozens of people with different languages are
a completely different issue than usual meetings with few people known to
each other where everyone speaks the same language. It could have been much
worse, for example I heard that in Thessaloniki such a thing as translation
just did not existed. I do not claim that lack of these skills is something
characteristic for Bialystok or Polish scene in general, it is more like a
global matter. Good facilitating has been a very rare or unexisting
phenomena in all of the scenes I have been a member of.

Action of Saturday

I still have no really idea how Saturdays big action really got planned,
since Thursday evenings meeting which should have planned tactics did not
handled the issue, and neither did the Saturday morning meeting. Somehow
different affinity groups making program just appeared more or less
spontaneously. And they managed to make a great action, for example guerilla
theatre which was in the Krynki center managed to explain everything what a
conscious person has to know in a compact manner, for example European
Union, border regimes, consumerist culture, dangers of genetically modified
organisms and events in Genoa G8 2001. The border action later on was also
nice although more repeating that one we had two years before, but there
still was many nice new details, such as local children making anti-border
drawings to street in front of the border guards. Affinity groups which
organised these actions consisted of Polish, so this spontaneous
self-organisation effectively excluded non-Polish - again hardly maliciously
but still no good.

Mutiny

After Thursday evenings general meeting there was a lot of discontent among
foreigners, and a spontaneous meeting to plan tactics of Saturday was set
up. Many people wanted to do something more radical than just symbolical
performances, such as illegal border crossing. There was a long discussion,
but in the end few Polish participating to this discussion managed to
clarify backround of their tactical choices for Saturday which were not
clarified in the general meeting. Civil disobedience just does not really
make sense since border guards have live ammunition, and most likely they
will prefer using it to some physical contact if their orders and warnings
are ignored. Guards are not trained to handle this kinds of situations. And
consequences if someone got caught in the Belarussian side of the border
could be unfortunate.

However this extra meeting was necessary to get that minimal consensus about
Saturdays action which could not be reached in the general meeting. Some
ideas to improve facilitation also popped up, but they were not realised
since many of the people who participated to this session left camp the next
day - some to Bialystok, some to Wijazny.

Anti-occupation action

During this night session we accidentally heard about American ambassador in
Poland coming to Bialystok the next day, 4th of July, to open week of
American culture in Bialystok. Local anarchist had not planned any actions
connected to this one since their hands were so tied with the camp.

Some people thought that action must be organised. I was a bit hesitant to
join since it was clear that action could not be open for everyone since
camp was the main thing and there was the logistical problem between Krynki
and Bialystok as well. Anyway when people were leaving for Bialystok in the
morning I decided to join in order to save effort of explaining the idea for
some more people.

After changing the plan many times, it happened that we were exactly the
optional amount of people for this action, 3 Russified Finns and one girl
from Tel Aviv, with locals giving backup but not participating to action. We
managed to sneak in to the gallery where the presentation took place, one of
us even heard security talking to phone about "anarchists are coming" since
some of us did not managed to hide their camplook  that succesfully. Still
they did not removed us, too bad for them. We had banner "Stop okupacija
Iraku", fliers in Polish and those of us who did not get confused with words
shouted in Polish language, which none of us spoke. I failed to shout and
tried distribute leaflets and grab the mic in order to make some crap
freestyle speech in English, which would have been embarassement since even
the American ambassador spoke in Polish in the event. Fortunately security
saved me from the embarassement, and everything was over in 15 seconds. We
were arrested for 2 hours without any juridicial proceeding, good for Poland
since in Finland we would have got probational prison sentences for 2
months.

Apology of the vanguard

I did not liked that this action had to be closed one, still we got some
nice media and we managed to make our point. Local people maybe could not
make such action even if they tried, their faces too familiar to coppers.
For sure some local people had to sacrifice lots of effort with making
leaflets and escorting us, but we just took what was rightfully ours since
Mira's husband Punch had been working to earn some cash for Bialystok
anti-fascists and Black Cross in the support concert in Helsinki less than 3
months before;-)  Later on S showed us massive tear gas thrower with 10
meter range which had been partly financed with Helsinki money. This had
helped up a lot in beating up a leading local nazi few weeks before, so
Helsinki money had ended up to the very right target!

Thank you to all camp organisers

I liked this camp the most among those three I participated, maybe just
because I happened to be in an excellent mood. I think it would be fine to
have Polish bordercamp in Krynki or some other place every year as long as
there are borders, but we should also take into account that diminishing
numbers mean exhaustion of the border camps as a form of the protest. Event
may still have a big significance in somewhat provincional city of Bialystok
where anarchist movement is struggling with emigration to richer cities and
to West, but if form of protest will not change significance will be
increasingly local, not global one.

Moving eastward

There has been 2-3 years of talk about a bordercamp in Ukraine and Belarus
and people outside these countries are more and more eager to move protest
there. But in Western Ukraine anarchist movement practically does not
exists, and in Belarus interest to bordercamps has declined almost to zero,
only one person from Minsk came to this years camp, no-one came from Grodno
which is almost in a walking distance.

It is true that Belarussian movement is much weaker than that of the Poland,
but much of the organising work could be done outside Belarus. Some of the
people who have been involved in organising the Polish bordercamps from the
beginning were involved in organising the anti-nuclear march in Belarus in
summer 1998, although they were not living there then either. After
bordercamp I spent week in Belarus talking to people, some were sceptical,
afraid of repression, others were very supportive for the idea but still
sceptical, burned out and refocusing their interests. But in camp it was
decided that we will still scan the situation, and if possible make some
preliminary decisions in the next conference of the Noborder network.

Antti Rautiainen