What the flyer does not tell is that almost all people there present are putting into practice their first political action ever. A bit into the background standing against a wall, several members of the Art and Activism Caravan are watching with a smile on their mouth that uncovers an inner feeling of proud, occasionally helping a hand or giving some advice when necessary. They had been leading different workshops during the last week with these people. The workshops ranged from silk screening to banner and costume making to video production, street theatre and rebel clowning.
Together with my British colleague in the AA Caravan, I have been giving a workshop on rebel clowning during the previous four days. As it was the case with almost all the participants in the other workshops, these kids didn’t know anything about activism or political engagement before they subscribed to one of the workshops. Due to the young age and a complete absence of experience on activism it was therefore clear for us clown trainers that an approach was needed, which is quite different from what we are used to as we normally give workshops to a much more mature public that have more or less a shared background on direct action in ‘Western European Style’.
In an idyllic park near the lake at an old amphitheatre we had our first introduction to the basics of rebel clowning. Deriving from the faces of many Albanians wandering by, it must have been quite a sight to see their local youth making doing silly movements and making even more silly noises. They would not understand that these exercises were meant to find, as we say, their inner clown. While some individuals showed to contain a large potential as a clown, it was however sometimes very difficult to get them to cooperate as a group. It went as far that forming a circle as a basic symbol of equality proofed to be difficult whole in the beginning. It will for certain be connected to their young age. But it might as well be part of a larger problem within Albanian society where people are not used to formally associate themselves as this used to be something that was actively discouraged by the government. Civil society organization took largely place within a government controlled framework during the communist era. Even today, the organization Mjaft! (Enough!) that is hosting the caravan is the only existing civil society association with political aims, focusing on civil rights and building democracy. However, I was at the same time often astonished by these young people and their capacity to analyze problems within society and their awareness of the fact that it was because of their lack of cooperation that many exercises failed in the beginning. But since failure is an essential part of learning, learning is exactly what they did after a few days. The final action idea on the issue of water was something that arose from the minds of the participants themselves. Quickly thereafter the groups from other workshops joined into the preparation for this action. Nevertheless I found out that the level of cooperation that they reached after these few days was still very fragile. During the final action meeting at the evening before the action a dispute within the group almost made the whole event collapse. However in the end the group came back on track again, which resulted in this beautiful action the day after.
While our stay will probably not have been long enough to establish a permanent autonomous direct action group, we might have inspired quite some participants and we may as well have lowered the barrier for them to take action again once the opportunity arises.