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Afterthoughts on the No Border camp in Ukraine (August 2007)

a french anarchist | 30.10.2007 18:25 | No Border Camp 2007 | Analysis | Free Spaces | Migration | World

written on sept. 22, 2007

Afterthoughts on the camp which took place in western Ukraine a month before the repression of the No Border camp in Gatwick (UK)

The Little Chief and the Cops
Inconsistencies and Nonsense at the August 2007 No Border Camp in Ukraine

- A special context...

There was a No Border camp in Ukraine last August, from the 11th to the
20th, not far from the Slovakian, Hungarian, Polish and Romanian borders,
near Uzhgorod (approximately 150,000 residents):

We were nine persons travelling from Germany in two vans. We got into the
No Border mood at the border between Poland and Ukraine: many hours of
waiting, unending lines of cars and trucks, and people that were not
really pissed... it all seemed to be quite usual, and after some
discussions with Ukrainians and Poles, we found out that indeed it's
usually far worse!

We arrived in Uzhgorod on August 10th and it took us nearly two hours to
find the camp: we are hopeless at speaking Ukrainian or Russian and there
was nobody we could find in Uzhgorod who spoke any English, French or
Spanish (while this unsettled us, it is somehow pleasant to see that
those three languages' imperialism did not take hold of the entire planet... We
should know some Ukrainian or Russian).

After looking all around town, we found the camp on the Kamyanitsa side,
on the other side of a bridge and a small wood. It was a charming place
although with a totally bumpy ground (it was hard to find a decent place
to sleep...). The field belonged to the Uzhgorod University (it seems the
few wooden houses there served as a holiday resort for local students “in
Soviet Union time”).

The following lines will mostly put forth criticism of what we experienced
during these few days, but I have to mention that for me, by and large,
the camp has been a time of joy, curiosity, encounters, gaming,
reflection, discovery... But it could have been more enticing still,
especially in terms formal collective organisation and political direction
of the camp.

- no justification for lousy politics

Right from our arrival (the day before the “official” camp opening) we
found out that a lot of people were already there, but also that the brave
group which was in charge of setting up the camp is not that much united:
we could already feel rather strong political divergences on camp
organisation issues, and it would only get worse from then until August

Among positive things, let's mention the DIY dry loo and showers (in
addition to the river we could bathe/wash ourselves in and to the “old
school” dry loo of the Uzhgorod University). The organisation was quite
good regarding food, wood (to carry and cut in order to sustain campfires
at night – there was no collective lighting, except on occasions when the
electricity generator was on), the cleaning, etc. However the food was
often in the charge of people from different Food not Bombs groups, which
was nice because it gave us the opportunity to eat “Ukrainian style” or
“Russian style” but somehow means that few people from western Europe
took part in the cooking (which is quite a pity).

On July 21st, an anti-nuclear camp had been attacked by neo-Nazis in
Siberia. An activist had been killed, others severely wounded:

Of course this event had been taken into account in how the No Border
camp had been organised. Even though we were much more numerous (between 300
and 400 of us) than at the Siberian anti-nuclear camp (who were about
twenty), it was important to think about how to respond in case the camp
would come under attack.

The problem is that for some people in the group setting up the camp this
concern translated into an overbearing fear: fear of a neo-Nazi attack,
fear of police repression, fear of uncontrolled acts putting an end to
the camp, and so on.

Besides this fear, it had been decided to focus on “workshops and
meetings” at the camp rather than actions in town (in particular, any
idea of taking offensive direct action seemed unwelcome – we had been warned
before even coming to Ukraine). While this could be criticised, at least
it gave room for dense and sometimes gripping workshops (notably those
about people without papers' situation throughout Europe, including
eastern European countries outside the “European Community” such as
Ukraine, Russia, Moldova, Belorussia, etc.).

But this decision to have a rather non-offensive camp came together with
other, much more annoying, decisions: the few events planed in town (in
Uzhgorod) were co-organised with NGOs (non-governmental organisations)
such as Amnesty International. Why was it so annoying? Because most NGOs
are so much into acting legally and cooperating with authorities that the
police had been asked to “protect” the No Border camp! And indeed,
when we arrived at the camp, we saw two police vehicles and some armed cops at
the entrance, with different uniforms (there was three different kinds of
police – local and regional cops, special police, etc.). Why did this
kind of “protection” get accepted? I'm still wondering. We haven't been
able to get a better understanding of how NGOs managed to impose this police
presence at the camp's entrance...

What's for sure is that very soon we saw cops on foot patrol around the
camp. Each time, Ukrainians or Russians would ask them to get out of the
camp, which they did, but this thing could happen many times during the
same day (seemed like the cops passed the word to each other – or were
obeying orders from above...). It took three to four days before the cops
stopped penetrating the camp and kept “to the entrance”.

- Shall we feed the cops...

But even among us (on a political level this “us” turned out to be quite
muddled) the willingness to drive the cops out as far away as possible
from the camp wasn't shared by all: some among us were feeding the
cops at the camp's entrance! And on top of that with food intended for the No
Border camp's participants...

For most people in the camp, it was just common sense that feeding the
cops was both absurd and stupid, a total political aberration unless we
considered ourselves some kind of Christian hippies...

During one of the customary morning general meetings, the issue was
raised: “Apparently, some people here are bringing food every day to the
cops stationed at the camp's entrance. Since we have more important
matters to discuss, we would like to take no more than a few minutes to
decide whether or not to keep feeding the cops.” The camp being stuffed
with anarchists, all-time enemies of the police, many people thought the
decision not to feed the cops would be quite quickly taken, so blatant
was the case. However, some people (including a sort of Ukrainian “anarchist
leader” from the group who had been setting up the camp – something
which, in addition to his irritating charisma, gave him some kind of bogus
legitimacy and influence when taking difficult collective decisions)
managed to turn this issue into a bogus debate and after two hours
“discussing” no decision had been taken yet...

Some “pro” arguments were:

- “I went to feed the policemen at the camp's entrance. It is my
decision, and even if you decided otherwise, I would still do it because it is a
personal initiative.”

- “It wouldn't be an anarchist behaviour to prevent him/her from feeding
the cops, because you would infringe on his/her freedom of action.
Everyone does what he/she wants.”

- “These cops are human beings like us. It is only natural to feed them.”

- “Feeding the cops, in the present case, is a contextual decision, not
ideological. These cops are good local guys who are in the police because
it is difficult to find any other job around here, but actually they are
nice guys (...). If we feed the cops, it is because then they will
recognize us during the Food not Bombs actions in town, and they'll be
cool with us.”

- “We criticise those who don't treat people like humans, for example who
deport immigrants, but we are not doing any better: by refusing to feed
them, we don't treat the cops like humans.”

- “I am an organiser/someone in charge of the camp, and we should feed
the cops because they are good guys from the village [this guy was from Kiev,
more than 600 km away]. If we don't give them food, they may be violent on

- “It is not these cops' fault if we have to feed them, it is their
superiors who ordered us to feed them.”

Since our arrival, we had been sensing some sort of over-cautiousness
leading participants to the camp to keep quiet, to avoid being careless,
but there it was downright “let's be submissive to the pigs' orders and
everything will be fine...”!

- ...or shall we eat them?

During the discussions of this depressing morning meeting many classical
arguments were raised against the “humanist anarchists” who wanted to
feed the cops... Still, it was a hard time for us who didn't think we could
have made so many kilometres to sink this low (it looked like a student
general meeting at the start of a social movement in France, with all the
kind naivety of students who had never faced the cops yet)... Speaking of
kilometres travelled, we should mention here that in the whole camp there
was almost nobody from Uzhgorod or somewhere around, thus no-one who
could actually guarantee the local cops were so exceptionally nice... Let's
also mention that there were both western and eastern Europeans among “pros”
and “cons” (overall, there were mostly Ukrainians and Russians at the
camp, as well as a lot of Germans, and some people from all around Europe
– Lithuania, Poland, Belorussia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Austria,
Romania, Moldova, Greece, Finland, Netherlands, England, Belgium, France,
Spain, Portugal, as well as from New-Zealand, Israel, Palestine, Canada,
United States, etc.) and that all discussions were in English or Russian
(with simultaneous translation for the few French people who wouldn't
speak either English or Russian – confirmation of the French tradition of
being hopeless at speaking foreign languages...).

Among the “cons” arguments, mostly in response to the “pros”:

- “What a strange way of seeing self-management and anarchy to pretend
that any personal initiative is above collective decisions taken in
plenary meeting... If so, why do we even gather here ?”

- “Everywhere in Europe, and here in Ukraine too, cops repress the people,
send them to jail, and sometimes even kill them. They control people's
papers and deport them if they are illegal migrants. They are paid to do
this and everywhere they follow orders. Do you really think feeding them
will incite them to be disobedient?”

- “You are pretending these cops are friendly because for now they haven't
had anything to reproach us because we are quietly staying here but if,
like in other No Border camps, we were undertaking direct actions, they
might be less friendly... Feeding them or not will not make them friendly
or not.”

- “If their superiors tell them to evacuate the camp, even if we gave them
food all week long, do you think they will refuse to do it? Moreover, five
or six cops supposedly made friendly by food wouldn't be able to prevent
lots of other cops coming here and doing their dirty job of expelling us.”

- “In Lyon, in France, the Food not Bombs collective called itself Food
not Cops, as it was clear to everyone that the cops are the enemy.”
[Besides, a huge majority of participants in the various Food not Bombs
collectives on the camp – mostly from eastern Europe, with the exception
of Paris and London – were clearly opposed to feeding the cops. Food not
Bombs actions are very often confronted to police restrictions, when
it is not outright repression]

- “The police are not here to protect us but to keep us under control, to
maintain order. All cops are a paid to do this. If I came all the way to
here, it is with a view to bring down borders, cause trouble for the
capitalist state order. Not to feed those who maintain this order and
these borders.”

- “You say it is not anarchist to prevent people from feeding the cops,
but is it anarchist to feed the armed force of the state?”

- “If someone here decides on his own initiative to feed the cops, then I
might as well of my own initiative decide to poison the food to be served
to the cops...”

Between the “kind humanists” and the “nasty rebels”, there was no way to
agree... No collective decision came out of this bogus debate. This
division surprised us, but we have taken note of it.

- There is no thing such as a good cop – not here, not elsewhere – not
yesterday, not tomorrow

Some people, not wishing to leave the camp despite their deep disagreement
with those who considered cops to be people just like the others, chose to
respond in a slightly provocative way, by displaying some openly anti-cop
placards (in English, Russian and French) all around the camp, stating:

“In this No Border camp,
some of us fight the real enemy...
some others feed the real enemy...
Is this an anarchist camp or a hippie camp?”

“Eat cops, not animals! Food not cops”

“Don't feed the cops...
But eat the cops...
Hit the cops...
Hate the cops...”

“A good cop is a dead cop”
Eldridge Cleaver (Black Panther Party member)

“When causing trouble for the police and more generally for advocates of
public order, we can leave behind the usual feelings of resignation and
powerlessness. Smashing things and turning the pacified town into a riot
place is a form of creation, and conversely. All of us are more or less
aware that it is becoming impossible to live in a world where we would
make our own choices without totally destroying the world as it currently
stands. Thus, when we are destroying what oppresses us, we are opening a
space where we can create new types of social relations.”
Les enragé-e-s ouvrent le bal (Grenoble, France, 2006)

In the same time, a tarpaulin appeared on a tent which read “Gegen
Hippies” [“Against hippies” in German] in big letters.

These placards allowed to continue the debate rather “offensively” even
though it was just words... Only one of those placards ended up torn, the
others remained until the end of the camp.

Anyway, the little relation with the cops quickly deteriorated since those
who were there “to protect the camp” soon showed their true nature,
insulting and threatening people at the camp's entrance, more or less on
their looks, directing sexist remarks (going as far as rape threats) at
people bathing naked in the river... Sometimes, tanked up with alcohol,
the cops acted aggressively towards isolated people coming back from town
when they were about to cross the bridge to the camp. In the end nothing
serious happened but this didn't feel like the Uzhgorod cops were any
different from Paris or Barcelona cops. Or were the cops just really
hungry and unable to express it another way?

- When anarchy means not caring about collective decisions

The camp was taking place from August 11th to the 20th. On Tuesday
morning, it was decided in plenary meeting that no journalist would enter
the camp until it is over. Journalists could only be received by those
wishing to do so on the outside of the camp, and would only be allowed
inside the camp on the last day, under certain conditions.

The decision seemed clear, even though it was surprising given how we
disagreed on whether or not to feed the cops... But the aforementioned
“anarchist leader” from Kiev wasn't there, and though we were supposed to
be mostly among anarchists, it helped (a huge work is actually needed to
organise against leaders among the anarchist movement, let's face it).

But on Thursday morning, at the end of the plenary meeting, while many
had left to other businesses, the aforementioned “anarchist leader” from Kiev
(let's call him M. to make it short) arrived and announced that
journalists were about to come to the camp at 13 – that was just an hour

Some people reacted, but M. retorted that it was Thursday and that the
camp was nearly over, that Friday was the day of action and that there
would be fewer people on Saturday, and blah de blah. A great way to
totally ignore a decision taken collectively by consensus two days before
while still pretending to care about it.

Finally, the journalists did come on Thursday at 13, without much
rebellion from the camp's participants... Everybody seemed quite
indifferent to this or were somewhere else. The sun was beating down
strong and many people were at the river, or were talking in tree shade,
far from the passing journalists.

- When an anarcho-cop criticises anarchists who take direct action

On Friday morning, despite pacificatory speeches inciting to the utmost
caution, two actions took place simultaneously outside the camp: on one
part, about forty people made a quick appearance in front of the gates of
the migrant detention centres around Uzhgorod (to show our solidarity to
those held within – this was done without having any problem with the
cops) and on the other part a “No Border” demonstration of 200 to 300
people in Uzhgorod itself. This demonstration which began right out of
the bus which had taken us to town, as we quickly went and occupied the
premises of the “Migration Office” (where detention centres, political
asylum demands, etc. are administered) for about twenty minutes, just
long enough to hand out fliers (in Russian) to all “human beings” in the
building (as well as outside – and afterwards the flier was also
distributed during the demonstration), to hang banners from the windows
and the roof, to replace Ukrainian flags with anarchist flags, to put
writings here and there on the outside walls, and then leave for a
downtown demonstration.

This was a rather quiet but lively demonstration (what a pleasure to shout
out slogans such as “No borders, no nations, fuck deportations [of people
without papers]” in Russian or Ukrainian for me who is still haunted by
the memory of shouting slogans in English in 2002 at the No Border in
Strasbourg – slogans that passers by were not able to understand at all!)
somehow followed by very quiet and outnumbered cops (something we won't
complain about). On our way, a few graffiti were sprayed on some walls.
The demonstration finally ended under a blazing sun in the centre of town,
and the cops were still very few. The atmosphere was quite relaxed, many
people were buying ice-creams or quenching their thirst some way or
another (food in Ukraine is about six times cheaper in Ukraine than France
so we sometimes had the odd feeling of being bourgeois on holidays...).

On the square where the demonstration had ended, a European flag was
hanging on a monument... Someone climbed and took it off, and brought it
back to the ground where it was joyfully burned, without anyone
protesting. On this square there also was an orange marquee advertising
the Ukrainian president Viktor Iouchtchenko's party (general elections
were planned in Ukraine by the end of September 2007). An anarchist
graffiti was written on it in Ukrainian or Russian, in a happy and
cheerful atmosphere all along. Nonetheless, we saw M. (once again) in deep
conversation with cops, looking worried... He then came back to the large
group of demonstrators sheltered in the shade to tell them that all this
had quite irritated both nationalists of the orange marquee and the cops
(whose heart only beats for peace and order). According to him the cops
were asking we all disperse... An improvised general meeting then quickly
took place and it was decided to stay grouped (rather than to split) on
our way back to the camp. The demonstration was over anyway. Actually,
the pressure from the cops really was trifling...

But just a few hours after we were back to the camp, M. came and called
for an exceptional general meeting by the central campfire (by then it was
full night). What was it all about? To criticise those who had made
graffiti and burned flags “because of whom we are under direct threat of
attack by local nationalists”. Yeah really. It wasn't time to rejoice
about a rather good day – or at least a day gone without any trouble – but
once again to tremble with the fear that these small excesses might have
provoked terrible retaliations against the camp... For many minutes M.
bombarded us with that, with his headlamp lit on his head, like a gleaming
incarnation of God amid ignorants unable to figure out the consequences of
their acts. Not far from asking us to denunciate the “criminal elements”
(graffiti makers and flag burners), he overtly reprimanded their acts.
After that, he recalled the so-called conditions that had to be respected
(on the decree of some local nationalist leader) in order for the camp not
to come under attack by the Ukrainian nationalists (softer than neo-Nazis
but not so soft...) and pointed out that none had been taken into account
(anarchist flags should have been removed, we should not have gone to the
village near the camp, and there were other absurdities I can't
recall...). In short, this guy doubly was a pain because he certainly had
some kind of influence on a good part of the camp participants (and most
of those he irritated were not sufficiently “united” and/or just scorned
his behaviour – which certainly is anything but a solution!) and because
he kept telling loads of bullshit which progressively showed how much
someone like him actually has nothing to do at a No Border camp (and yet...).

- Time for conclusion...

That's it. This story is not comprehensive and it is of course quite
“subjective”. Besides, as I said at the beginning of the text, I had some
very good times there, I don't have only criticism: I encountered many
people, activists from Ukraine, Russia and elsewhere, it made me feel like
coming back again, still with a desire to bring down all borders
separating us... And there were those times that may seem more futile but
are nonetheless greatly appreciable, like the hardcore gig at the camp
(and the really great discovery that a circle pit is not necessarily a
place for young males to act macho, since that night it was more like the
fun and laughter of a deca-dance which everyone could join in), the
improvised games (something a holiday camp manager might call a “vehicle
for encounters”), the football tournament (which we didn't have the
opportunity to finish) and the feeling you could fall in love at every
moment (without it happening, but this is another story...).

All this brings me to conclude by mentioning something which may seem
anecdotal but impressed me in a positive way, the fact that quite a lot of
people at the camp refused drugs, alcohol, tobacco and other addictive
products (whether they claimed to be “straight-edge” or not). In my
opinion it really had an impact on the overall atmosphere of the camp as
participants were generally paying more attention to each other. There
wasn't even a bar serving alcohol on the concert night, like it is almost
always the case at gigs in western Europe, so there wasn't anyone totally
drunk and sleeping on a corner of the floor, for example... “Despite”
this, there was joy, energy and nonsense.

Meanwhile, their borders keep getting more solid and more complex.

So does our solidarity.

- Elsewhere on the Web:

Message from participants at the Ukraine No Borders camp (August 14th

Actions at the Ukraine No Borders Camp (August 18th 2007)

Photos of the camp, actions and Uzhgorod (August 2007)

a french anarchist


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