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international bordercamp strasbourg

After Strasbourg - Before Leiden

Evaluation of some overall political aspects of the no border camp in Strasbourg and the work of the European emancipatory networks [1].

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16.Aug.02 - The No Border camp was a quite intense and complex event that mirrored the current state of the European emancipatory networks, their political practices and the debates within them. The following text tries to draw some general conclusions from the activity of the past years and the Strasbourg no border camp for the upcoming European People's Global Action conference in Leiden.

About the context and moment in which the camp took place

In line with the spreading malaise of capitalism and crisis of social democracy at the end of the 90s, the months before Strasbourg were characterised by an accentuation of the general crisis world-wide: The financial collapse and uprisings in Argentina, the end of the new-economy bubble, plummeting stock exchange values, rise of the extreme right ... The public discourse was very much dominated by the generalised "war on terrorism" and the manufacturing of social fear in order to legitimise the power structures which are shifting from Welfare State to Control-State...

The more cracks there are in the neoliberal credo and the more conflicts there are among capitalist interests, the more protectionist measures, neokeynesian policies and initiatives of market control are being welcome by large parts of the ruling class. The political discourse of groups like ATTAC becomes increasingly superfluous, at the same time the illusion of the Tobin Tax for instance is publicly recognised by their own supporters. [2]

The counter summit protest dynamic, has remained quite impressive up till now in terms of the frequency of the mobilisations and their regional character (i.e. anti EU summit in Barcelona with 500.000 mostly local people in March 2002) and has had an undeniable success in terms of delegitimising institutions like the WTO or the G8 and strengthening social struggles throughout Europe and beyond. The combination of an offensive character in the mobilisations and the contradictions in the capitalists interests, gave the mobilisations a lot of visibility. Many people have become politically active inspired by all these events, especially young people, and especially in the last year.

However given the predictability of the mobilisation, the visibility of these ritualising events decreased enormously, increasing the repression and reducing their political impact. There is a widespread self-critique and questioning within the networks around the aims and effectiveness of counter summit mobilisations, their dependance of institutions calendar, dangerous spiral of repression, instrumentalisation by authoritarian agendas etc...

So far the "antiglobalisation movement" in Europe is more of a superficial (sometimes spectacular i.e. Genua) expression of deeper social changes, the growing dissatisfaction with capitalism and the resistance to socio-economic changes. To a large extend, the "movements" are carried more by the work of "activists" and networks rather than by real social dynamics. Precisely dynamics from "the South" like the indigenous struggle in Chiapas, the uprisings in Argentina or student strikes in Mexico from which we have been drawing so much inspiration should give us an idea of how far reaching such processes can be, compared to the networking we are doing here in Europe ! This is not a reproach to the active ones, but rather a call to on one hand remain sober as to our self-perception and not running into the risk of either considering ourselves already as an "anti-capitalist" movement or act as some kind of "avant-garde" expecting other people to become more or less the way we are already. Pre- considered concepts of what social movements should look like can even inhibit social processes rather then stimulate them. And on the other hand to be aware of what potential social dynamics could look like, and see the necessity to communicate outside our networks. [3]

about convergence in Strasbourg and communication outside our networks

The Strasbourg no border camp was the opportunity for anti-capitalists, anti-racists, self organised migrants, sans papiers and groups working in the French banlieues to come together.

Several initiatives within the camp reflected positive attempts to intervene in real social dynamics like the struggle for free movement, the situation around the banlieues in France or the migrants strike against Arcade.

- The struggle for free movement has been subject of self organised migrants / refugees groups like The Voice and anti racist groups in Germoney for a few years already. Despite continous work and some incredibly good mobilisations like the caravans and the days of action against "Residenzpflicht " in Berlin in May 2001 [4], it has failed to draw migrants and large sectors of society into the struggle. The camp in Strasbourg definitely contributed to give international visibility to the struggle for free of movement within the networks and to anchor it as a central demand, but just like the camp in general, the action in front of the European Court of Justice had very little visibility to have a wider social echo. The struggle continues: migrants and refugees are currently having a caravan through Germoney...

- the work in the banlieues and with MIB (Mouvement de l'Immigration et des Banlieues) was very inspiring. It gave international visibility to a situation that was not know beyond France. The political discourse of MIB and the way to denounce an ongoing colonial relation of oppression from the French State upon the banlieues, the migrant community and the "jeunes issus de l'immigration" is a an inspiring one which will hopefully start spreading outside of France. The contact between "activists" and MIB/migrants was definitely fruitful but will need a lot of improvement. The no border camp happening in Jena right before Strasbourg dealt precisely with this aspect by bringing together as many migrants as "activists" together in one camp. In Strasburg an MIB activist made the following remark: "many people with a foreign look were directed to us, it was a bit odd to see that the MIB stall was considered a consulate for migrants/sans papiers within the camp".

- the action against ACCOR - smashing of their offices - was a protest against the fact that ACCOR is involved in making money out of deportations. It was also one of the few actions trying to directly refer to a migrant's struggle: the current strike of migrants against their exploitation by the cleaning company Arcade which is mostly active within ACCOR owned hotels [5]. The success of this action as a form of intervention and solidarity will need to be evaluated with the feedback from the migrants in strike. It had visibility, but mainly in combination with the general criminalisation of the camp. Did the message get accross ? Was it the appropriate way to do it ? What did the migrants think of it ? The answers will help drawing conclusions for the future.

The issue of communication is addressed again in the framework of repression and use of the media further down.

Anti-State discourse

Another success was that the fact of joining anti-capitalist struggles with struggles against the border regime and against social control. This meant that an anti-nationalist and anti-State critique was more explicitly articulated within the "antiglobalisation" political discourse . "No Border" left out most of the groups like ATTAC, neo- keynesianists and groups that seek social change through State reforms or global governance. At the beginning of the camp the media labelled the No Border participants as anti-globalisation activists (in French anti-mondialisation) for free movement and against the border regime ! ATTAC Strasbourg was of course scandalised (both because of the anti State discourse in combination with anti-globalsiation and the property destruction) and publicly dissociated from anything that had to do with "no border" and the camp. Anti-capitalists struggles and struggles against the border regime are mutually dependant to leave out nationalist and pro-State tendencies. Co-operations and more interconnected activities should be multiplied.

about enemies and collective identities

As opposed to a counter summit, the no border camp was a mobilisation that chose the place, time and content of the mobilisation autonomously from the leaders agenda. There was no target as clearly defined as a G8 or a WTO summit to stop, even though many tried to promote such a common "enemy" in the SIS, the Schengen Information System, and mobilised accordingly.

This meant that the collective identity or what was going to unite people at the camp had more to do with our own strength and less with the fact of having a common enemy, thereby creating a situation of less "external pressure" and different from the "all of us together against the evil summit".

The counter summit mobilisations in the last few years were very much centred around such a mass psycho-social dynamic which has been projecting people's dissatisfaction and hate into "evil multinationals" (Monsanto, Mc Donalds...) or institutions (WTO, IMF, banks...). It definitely helped raising wide political awareness about policies, power structures and relations of oppression. But if the political awareness and political analyses remain superficial these dynamics can be dangerous and are very easy to manipulate by authoritarian agendas (trotskist groups, right wing...)

In worst cases, dissatisfaction and social relations of oppression are personified into single figures (evil capitalists, CEOs, Bush,..) or groups of humans. The psychological need to attribute a face or a concretely tangible group of people to such anonymous forces or abstract things difficult to understand such as "globalisation", "the market", "capitalist oppression", "the power of banks" ... is familiar. These individuals surely play a key role and have a serious portion of responsibility in today's injustices, but they are nothing compared to the structures of oppression from which we want to liberate ourselves. Such mechanisms of personification flirt with anti-semitism and have been instrumentalised in the past by nazis for instance and human history is full of such awful chapters.

In Europe, much of the generalising dissatisfaction with capitalism and social democracy is being canalised by the right wing. In fact the work of emancipation should be about making such dynamics impossible, about creating new social relations rather then projecting hate onto multinationals or people.

Emancipatory social movements should focus on developing a culture that unites people around the values they share, around respect and diversity rather then around the common enemies they have.

What many people within the Strasbourg noborder camp tended to do was in fact attempting to reproduce the situation of a clearly defined enemy (the police repression) by raising the level of conflict, in order to confirm their own identity ("us against the evil").

About Patriarchy [6]

The same logic reflected also a tendency to reproduce a patriarchal pattern: the camp itself was the place for reproductive work (child care, cooking, building...) and outside was the place to do the important work that requires muscles and testosterone in the fight to save the world from the evil. The situation was illustrated pretty well by a cartoon-poster drawn by a "men's group against patriarchy" which was posted all over the camp

Cathy Levine a feminist activist in the 70s wrote: "Men tend to organise the way they fuck - one big rush and then that ‚bam, slam, thank you ma'am', as it were. Women should be building our movement the way we make love - gradually, with sustained involvement, limitless endurance - and of course, multiple orgasms."

The camp raised the level of confrontation right from the beginning of the week rather quickly, leading to a situation very much dominated by having to deal with repression and the total criminalisation of the camp by Wednesday evening. If you follow Cathy's logic here the noborder camp "came too early", rather then having multiple orgasms during the final action at the end of the week.

Joking apart, it is clear that the emancipatory networks need to go beyond the big rush of single successive counter summits and need to develop sustained structures and strategies. The fact that the Strasbourg no border camp autonomously chose it's own date, place and political framework reflects positive developments.

About repression, cohesion and communication

We all know it: in the last year international co-operations of police forces have been intensified, new anti-terrorist laws have been passed at the European and national levels criminalising the protest activities of counter summits such as blockades of summits, train occupations, border crossing and equalling them with terrorist activities. The necessary juridical framework has been created, people have been prevented from crossing borders, home raids have been made and severe punishments in court have happened, but so far large mobilisations have not been massively repressed making use of these anti-terrorist laws.

In France, more concretely the criminalisation process is directed towards the banlieue population (jeunes issus de l'immigration), political activists and the free rave parties. This may be leading to a similar situation as in the UK in the mid-90s with the "criminal justice bill" which brought together criminalised environmental direct action activists, squatters, ravers and travellers, and lead to forms of action like Reclaim the Streets!

The enormous police array and criminalisation attempts are disproportionate compared to the direct threat represented by the protests. In fact the State repression machinery seems more directed to nip the dynamic in the bud, preventing the ideas and inspiration to fall on fertile ground. The protests could potentially create a climate for wider and deeper social protest dynamics if they inspire people to take own initiative and translate their dissatisfaction into acts. These wider dynamics could represent a much more serious threat to capitalism and State governability.

In terms of the camp, the French State was going through a whole electoral campaign very much centred around security laws. However the negotiation process of the campsite proofed to be much more straight forward than what French activists were expecting it to be, showing how an international mobilisation can constitute a strong political power relation.

As counter summits have tended to become the experimental fields of State repression (crowd control methods, new gaz and weapons...), the no border camp made no exception, the French State used the opportunity to test so called "flash balls" (new kind of rubber bullets) which were being used for the first time in Europe against these kind of protests. An activist that was hit had a serious leg injury that required hospitalisation.

It is true to say that social movements shouldn't let themselves hi-jack by intimidation and remain offensive. Paranoia is destructive and repression shouldn't paralyse our acts. However the experience of Göteborg, Genoa and post S11 showed that the risk of a raid of the camp was quite real, and it was present in people's heads. Many of whom had experienced Genoa and the Scuola Diaz didn't want to see such a scenario being repeated. Many people left the camp on Wednesday evening after the conflict and Thursday morning, and another wave of people left on Friday evening and Saturday morning, but about the same amount people arrived in those days so that the participants remained being around 2000 at any one time.

But rather than being afraid of repression, many people were afraid of the confrontational dynamic people from the camp were taking. The lack of public support and poor visibility in the media didn't contribute to secure people. The lack of cohesion within the camp participants was very visible.

Those who use militant tactics and raise the levels of confrontation should evaluate the situation carefully. The tactics shouldn't be applied if there isn't enough strength and support to deal with the consequences. The rise in the level of confrontation should always be evaluated with a feedback of those involved in higher levels of risk, in the case of the camp people without legal status and children. The collectives in Strasbourg had emphasised that they preferred not to have a "hit and run" situation and wanted to focus on local outreach to the banlieue population, this was not taken into account.

Our political activities continue also after the camp, in general such steps should be evaluated in terms of the cohesion and the support there is in the networks or the movements, as the subsequent repression will hit everyone, "vanguardist behaviour" should be avoided.

Communication and media

The best way to deal with repression is increasing the public support and visibility. However the camp's capacity of communication (and the capacity of the emancipatory networks in general) to the outside was extremely low, both through the official media and with the general public. The camp was politically and geographically very isolated, turning itself into the situation of another banlieue.

The use of the media was already a visible deficit throughout the months of preparation. There were difficult debates during the preparation, some general concepts were developed but the lack of a grassroots culture in the use of the media and in the capacity to communicate outside of the ghetto dominated the situation. There was no proper media group or infrastructure created beforehand and hardly any preparation work done by the groups at local level (collecting contacts, making press info packs....). Although there was a lot of "mediaphobia" at the camp, the disappointment shouldn't be simply projected onto the mediaphobics ignoring the structural flaws. Even independent and alternative media activists had a hard time doing their work during the camp. The networks tendency to reproduce a ghetto and the lack of outreach capacity is a serious deficit to be dealt with at all levels.

The networks should be careful that the "black-black type activism" does not become just the fruit of an image projected by the media (and also the movement's own media) that has more to do with an aesthetic appeal and a superficial political awareness rather than with real struggle and conveying a political message. If the networks cannot reach out to others and we do not generate new social relations then all we do is just ultimately fashion.

Summarising some points:

People from around Europe came to the no border camp with different expectations, different political cultures and practices. The camp wasn't able to successfully balance the different expectations in terms of action, self organisation and local outreach. The mixture of a self organised action camp and a sort of mini conference was a very difficult thing to balance and in order to be carried out more successfully would have required more clearly commonly shared and defined goals, more cohesion within the participants and more mutual trust.

But the "clash" experienced in Strasbourg all in all reflected positive developments within the emancipatory networks which will surely come up again locally and at the European Peoples Global Action in Leiden August 31.8-4.9 (see

The networks need to deal with:
- the improvement of grassroots local work: skill sharing, learning languages, the use of media, communication capacity out of the ghetto
- more reflection about how social change happens, evaluate the experiences of the counter summits, the camps and the local work, and draw conclusions about what the best strategies to follow are.
- think about how to intervene in real social dynamics


[1] what is often referred to as the"antiglobalisation movement" is a very diverse and heteregenous movement. The term "emancipatory networks" is also not clear. We are all subject to the same relation of oppression. The term tries to refer to the left libertarian spectrum of people, anti authoritarians supporting the PGA hallmarks and sympathising groups and individuals. [back]

[2] (German) Check out article in TAZ 20.7.02 "Ende eines Höhenflugs" and the interview "natürlich gab es viele Illusionen" [back]

[3] German text again. Recommended reading ! "Zum Stand der Bewegung" Wildcat-Zirkular Nr. 64 - Juli 2002 - S. 9-22 And also "give up activism", an evaluation text written after J18 in London (1999) [back]

[4] in May 2001, more than a 1000 migrants from throughout Germoney committed civil disobedience by converging in Berlin for 3 days, camping in a public square close to governmental buildings, running workshops, doing small actions. They publicly handed a letter to the German parliament saying they did not recognise the Residenzpflicht law (forced assignation to live in a very restricted area) and wouldn't respect anymore. The final day ended with a demo of several thousand people supported by many people in Berlin. The days of action were totally invisibilised by the media and the police, and did not generate wider dynamics around the country. [back]

[5] updates about the migrant's strike against Arcade here: [back]

[6] the contribution here is very limited and addresses only one aspect. Activities like the no border camps have experienced situations of sexual harassment, illustrating how much we need to deal with the issue within our own structures. Several initiatives regarding this issue have been launched which I hope will spread more information about their work and conclusions. [back]

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