“I came to this camp as an anarchist and left as a Bolshevik” (Tag at NBC dialectically summing up identities and organisational problems at NBC 2016)
In August 2016, many individuals, groups and organisations from all over Europe and beyond participated at the No Border Camp 2016 (NBC) in Thessaloniki, Greece. The idea was to protest against the European border regime, the right-wing shift in Europe and the massive death poll at European borders and to stand in for freedom of movement, solidarity and an alternative to capitalism. As Beyond Europe, we were part of the local organisation in Thessaloniki which organised the camp and were also involved in mobilisations from other countries to Thessaloniki. In the following, we want to remember the hard facts of the camp, why we went there, re-construct the many actions happened in and around Thessaloniki during that time and our political conclusions as Beyond Europe.
1) Hard facts
– Why a NBC in Greece? https://noborder.beyondeurope.net/be-call/
– When and where? 18th-25th July, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece
– How many came? 2000 people taking part at the camp, amongst them 200-300 refugees
– Where from? Greece, Italy, Germany, France, UK, Czech Republic, Spain, Slovenia, Turkey, Syria, Denmark, Morocco, Bulgaria, Poland…
– Who? Anarchists, communists, anti-authoritarians, hippies, autonomous, antiracist activists, theory-nerds, action-junkies, political camp(aign)ers…
– What? Several actions, some workshops, solidarity kitchen, tag-battles, good moments, bad moments, stress, overdose, empowerment…
– Conclusion: a proper No Border camp – with all its beauty and ugliness
2)What happened? A Beyond Europe chronology
– Protest tours to the refugee camps Softex, Paranesti and Xanthi. 200 people from the NBC went to Softex, about 1000 to Paranesti and Xanthi. These were important public interventions; we were able to get into limited contact with refugees living (or rather held) there. Those camps all over Greece are symbols for the Left administration of the misery referred to as the “refugee crisis”. These camps are hidden in the middle of nowhere, because a left government would rather mask the concentration of refugees under terrible and inhuman conditions – unbearable heat, miserable food and no space are just some of the issues worth mentioning. The No Border Camp could at least make the condition in these camps publicly known. We forced the government to justify how it is handling this crisis – unmasking itself as “pragmatic” administrators rather than people true to the ideals they won the elections with.
– BE and friends: occupation of ERT 3 and spontaneous demonstration of refugees from the camp. In our own kick off for the NBC, we occupied the state TV channel ERT 3 and were able to place a three minute input in the evening news. Not only did we explain as BE why we take part at the camp, but refugees from Syria and Morocco took the mic. A Turkish comrade also state that within the turbulent times in Turkey neither the coup nor the Erdogan government and its shady deal with the EU are to be preferred. After the action there was a demonstration with 200 people back to the camp, where refugees kicked off another demonstration to the central square in front of the university.
– BE & friends: protest tour to embassies with an intervention on the radio. A 500 people strong demonstration protested first in front of the German embassy in order to criticize Germany’s leading role in the finance-political bribe of Greece as well as their central influence on expanding the deadly border regime of the EU. After that the demonstration went to the French embassy to send out a signal of solidarity with the movement against “labour reform” and permanent state of exception in France. In the end we had a live intervention on the radio broadcast of ERT 3.
– LGBT*-intervention at the camp. a banner drop and a demonstration with 200 mainly LGBT* took place through the camp in order to protest against ongoing sexual harassments at the camp, mainly (but not only) caused by the dealers at the entrance of the university. The intervention was good and necessary, nonetheless the situation especially for LGBT* did not get much better throughout the camp and turned out to become one of the biggest problems.
– Action at International Organisation of Migration (IOM). 200 people threw paint at the walls of the IOM and went in to create some chaos in its offices – one of the biggest profiteers of the world-wide deportation-business. The action was well intended but was twisted hard by the media – which reflected negatively on the camp.
– Migrants’ pride demonstration through Thessaloniki. 5000 people took part in this very powerful and empowering demonstration through the city of Thessaloniki. This was maybe the strongest point for a (positive) impact of the camp in the public. It turned out to be a practical antiracist coming together of different political cultures and a moment of solidarity on an eye-to-eye-level between refugees, citizens and international activists from the camp. A refugee bloc led the demonstration and created an impressive atmosphere for the whole demo.
– Occupation of the refugee-squat “Hurriya”. With the creation of this new refugee-squat, one of the central political aims for this camp was met: to establish something which could last even after the camp was finished. The place was running well and the first refugee families were already moving in. Unfortunately, alongside two other squats in Thessaloniki, this place was evicted by a big police operation shortly after the camp disbanded.
– Demonstration in solidarity with Turkey. 500 people went to the Turkish embassy to set a first international, progressive sign against the military coup in Turkey. The message was clear and right: “No to the military, no to Erdogan, let’s not forget about the scandalous deal between Erdogand and the EU to fight off refugees”.
– Direct action in Kastanies at the Greek-Turkish border. One of the most prominent actions of the camp took place at the end, when many people were tired or left or fed up by a disagreement over the form of protest to be used two nights prior to this action. Nonetheless, 300 people took the long journey to Kastanies and wanted to get to one of the most important European borders, the one with Turkey. There were clashes with the police with impact in international media.
3) Organisational Issues and Political Conclusion
3.1 Fundamental political problem: no vision of an alternative, no strong positive signal
On the camp there was no feeling for the alternative society we want to live in and we stand for: a society based on solidarity, the needs and wishes of people, self-organisation with freedrom of movement for all. The camp lacked structure and organisation big time. In concrete terms: a kind of “camp-goup” was asked for, but it was missing all the time. Why? The Greek local structure lacked presence as such until it came to prominence towards the end due to conflicts with other local groups. The space therefore was not at all empowering in the sense of “We live an alternative here”, but chaotic, unsafe and for some (especially women) threatening. Apart from the actions, there was no feeling of common purpose, momentum etc. Refugees were there – which is good – but they were not really integrated in the camp structures and aims.
3.2 No central communication
The lack of structures demonstrates that no communication took place across the entirety of the camp – which is highly problematic. The General Assembly was neither a platform of decision (rather of catastrophic “discussion”) nor did it have any kind of authority. With the camp proceeding, it did not even take place on a daily basis. Thus, many especially unorganised people who took part at the NBC had no place at all to check the vibes, the beat and the choreography of the camp. They could not even have a place to articulate their needs, criticism, suggestions for improvement, etc.
3.3 No choreography, no dramaturgy
Speaking of choreography: there was none. What was planned from the camp as a whole? Three even more planned protest tours to the hotspots and the demonstration. Furthermore, there were some workshop-topics on some special days – for example the networking of the structures for solidarity along the Balkan route. The decision to squat the university without formulating certain standards for the use of this space beforehand was also irresponsible. In the end, theoretically and practically there was a rather random anything goes, without a dramaturgy, without a climax, without a visible narrative with a finale. We wished that and fought for the fact that the action at the border with Turkey would send a huge signal out to the world about our fundamental disagreement with the migration and border politics, but it did not.
3.4 “anti-authoritarianism” vs. anti-authoritarianism
How to handle such a lack of structures? To answer this question, we had to discover whether this was an “accident” or the result of the political will of others. Having discussed whether this was really not intended and/or expected, we belieeve that the lack of structures was a consequence of a destructive understanding of “anti-authoritarianism” which stands for chaos and a vacuum of responsibility. In the end however, necessarily there was a coexistence of smaller structures at the camp: the Basque comrades, the caravan people, Beyond Europe, some local Greeks speaking in the name of the local assembly. Possible lessons from this experience of failure could be: to openly declare the nonexistence of a central structure; abolish the general assembly in this form; make every structure or bigger group present itself formally; make transparent when and how they meet and only have a coordination assembly for the most urgent stuff – carried and facilitated by the structures. This is not undermining anti-authoritarianism at all, but getting things done in an honest and anti-authoritarian way.
3.5 Beyond Europe and friends
Especially concerning the problematic organisation of the camp listed above, it was important for us to make our political mark. On occasion of last year’s camp we organised in Ierissos, comrades criticized us for being very closed in certain situations. We took this critique very seriously and tried to open our political process at the camp. In the end we had some very powerful and productive assemblies organizing various contributions to the camp. We could not have done this alone and want to thank all the comrades who made this possible by working together.
3.6 Good mobilisation
With 2000 people attending the camp (amongst them up to 200-300 refugees permanently being a part of it) we can say that this year’s NBC had good numbers. Furthermore, it had a very international character, including within Beyond Europe. We must not forget that the camp went for a long time and was not really good for working people. Greece is also not geographically easy to reach from all over Europe. In Germany, just at the time of the camp there was exam period. All in all, we can say that the mobilisation went well. This is because the issues that they highligthed still contribute to one of the most important topics, and make Greece the ideal political ground for such a camp to exist.
3.7 Impact on Media and publicity
A crucial political problem of the camp was its complete anti-attitude towards media (only own channels were fed). Given the tense political climate that the NBC was situated in, we think it is important to use media – especially when they come over and want statements by the participants of the camp itself instead of making up stories. We should have fought to defend our motivations for organising and participating in this camp. Otherwise one risks reproducing a self-fulfilling prophecy or a negative tautology. We saw this – the following logic – take precedence at the camp:
– our standpoint as antiauthoritarian anticapitalists is marginalized in the public and in society
– to change that (and for many more reasons), we do a antiracist camp at times of a continental right-wing shift politically and discursively
– we refuse any contact with mass media because they are the media of the ruling class
– the same media reports negatively about us and increases the mistrust of locals to our cause.
This is a dead end and a big mistake for camps like the one in Thessaloniki 2016. Concerning our own media work as Be as one functioning structure, we can instea say that we had some successes in shifting the atmosphere especially with Thessaloniki locals this year and we had even better experience in Ierissos 2015. In the last days of the NBC and during the eviction-operation afterwards, several press organs cited our voice and our position – allowing us to spread our reasons for attending to make our political impact.
3.8 NBC 2016 – between success and failure
We have discussed very intensely how to characterize the NBC in one word. The camp was long and full of moments – positive and negative, empowering and disillusioning. This makes it very hard to rate success or failure on a scale. On the one hand, the NBC was a coming together of activists from all over Europe and hundreds of refugees active in the camp. It was a rebellious coming together. This fact may seem banal, but is one that many NBCs fail to fulfil. The other important question is: What stays? Of course we did not change European border and migration politics – this big struggle is still going on. But we wanted to reach smaller – symbolic, but powerful – aims. The occupation of the refugee accommodation “Hurriya” was just that, even if just a start: Make not one, but two, three, many “Hurryias”! The joy over meeting this goal boomeranged hard when the left government executed an eviction-operation where not only “Hurriya”, but also “Orfanotrofeio” and “Nikis” were evicted. It is obvious that this operation must be evaluated in conjunction with the NBC, even if it was a long-standing plan. On the one hand, this underlines the impact the camp had beyond our own circles – an experience, which is far more than evident for many activists in Europe and therefore an element of success. On the other hand, the material andamongst us speak of failure with regards to the NBC. Nonetheless, we do not regret the decision to be part of this project. Just remember, how the powerlessness and resignation during all the fatal political development in the “summer of migration” 2015 (right-wing shift till deep into the “center of society”, mass death in war and at borders of Europe) turned into the urge to come together and act. This spirit – which led to this camp becoming reality – has not lost the reason and justification for its existence. In fact, we seee that this spirit is needed now more than ever…
4) See you in 2017…
The struggle continues, of course. The critique we practiced in this evaluation is not to piss someone off, but to clear things up from our side and move on to the next challenge that will bring us together. 2017 will hold one event, already; the G20-summit in Hamburg (Germany) will be not only a coming together of the crème de la crème of global politics’ assholes (Trump, Erdogan, Putin and so many more) but a big coming together of anticapitalist struggle. In November 2016 …umsGanze! organized a congress on technology and capitalism where also some discussions about the G20 summit took place. Any mobilisation around the G20 must be transnational and must address, in some way, the importance we all came to give to technology after the congress. Because of this, the port of Hamburg represents a symbolic focal point that is sufficiently far away from the Red Zone where liberal and neo-populist/protectionist politicians are going to carve the new world. This alternative focal point looks at logistics as a global system on which we have come to depend, and which might represent the weakest link of capitalism in our respective areas.
As we already know, the introduction of new technologies changes labour processes. Whilst the consequences for workers are usually for the worst, from the point of view of communist strategy technology presents some possibilities for a life in which labour is not so taxing on humanity. Inthis spirit, the global logistics system is regarded as the weakest link of contemporary capitalism since it blurs the boundary between production and distribution of commodities. There are plans already that the radical left in Europe will target the port as the symbol of Hamburg’s logistics and its infrastructural surroundings throughout the whole city this July 2017 on occasion of the G20 taking placein the city.
Targeting the port of Hamburg is a symbolic attempt to shift the focus away from global leaders and politicians and to clearly direct our critique against capitalism as such. More important still is the fact that any attack on logistics must be international. Comrades with some experience of organising in this sector pointed out how important it is that we analyse the political and technical conditions of work in logistics. Local knowledge and participation will be the lifeblood of any action. Hamburg G20 should only be the symbolic focal point of a growing international exchange.
We would be setting ourselves up for failure if we do not know the answers to simple questions, such as: does your local logistics centre use just in-time production, or is it organised by a local or national HQ by human workers? Questions such as these are crucial, since centres using just in-time production are likely to be much more vulnerable to demonstrations and occupations, whilst ones that are centrally coordinated could find ways to redirect goods to other centres – perhaps making central metropolitan offices of logistics companies more appropriate targets.
In terms of movement building, the European radical left is concerned not to fall back into a privileged model of summit-hopping activism. Because the nature of logistics is to be able to redirect goods on a global scale at a short moment’s notice, any attack on this system must support small scale local actions across the world. Furthermore, we will try to come out of the defensive position antiauthoritarians see themselves in politically and try to develop our vision of Europe from below beyond state, nation and capital – which, when ready, we want to share, discuss and improve together with our many friends and comrades we made at the NBC 2016.