Anarchist Federation report from the 10 year Balkan Anarchist Bookfair, Ljubljana, Slovenia on 24-26 May 2013

Anarchist Federation report from the 10 year Balkan Anarchist Bookfair, Ljubljana, Slovenia on 24-26 May 2013

Here is a report by the Anarchist Federation participants at the Balkan Anarchist Bookfair that took place in Ljubljana, Slovenia on 24-26 May 2013. See also, Joint statements made during the bookfair:

Celebrating ten years of the Balkan Anarchist Bookfair. Ljubljana 24th-26th May 2013

The Balkan Anarchist Bookfair, which has rotated between the countries of ex-Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Greece, took place this year in Ljubljana, Slovenia over three days – 24th-26th May. It has been interrupted three times over the last ten for political reasons in the region, and so this was actually the seventh. Previous bookfairs have been in Croatia, Greece, Bulgaria as well as Slovenia. Below is a report from the perspective of Anarchist Federation and Sparrows’ Nest participants.

The organisers were the Federation for Anarchist Organising (FAO), of Slovenia, who are a sister federation of the AF in the International of Anarchist Federations (IFA) and who Nottingham AF and Sparrows’ Nest people know very well. It took place in the radical quarter of the city known as Metelkova, where the FAO also run a great Infoshop. There were something like 20 stalls from organisations and distributors from the Balkans and well beyond.

The purpose of the Bookfair, aside from selling books and papers in Balkan languages and in English, is for anarchists to organise against nationalism. Anarchism in the Balkans has arisen as much out of the desire to create region-wide networks which can support the struggle against nationalist ideology by the various groups and federations within these artificially created borders. Balkan anarchists attending the bookfair were Macedonians (organisation: Black Bloc, which is very new and considering itself speculatively to be anarcho-syndicalist), Serbs (ASI-IWA and independents); Slovenia (FAO-IFA and independents), Croatia ( MASA-IWA and independents), Greece (Libertarian Communist Group of Athens – associated with IFA; and Eutopia, from Athens and Thessaloniki) and Bulgaria (FAB-IFA and independents). In addition, IFA federations of France (FA), Italy (FAI), German-speaking (FdA) and Britain (AF) attended. For the full list of countries from which participants came, see the reports produced by the workshops and General Assembly of the Bookfair.

Of course the current Economic Crisis makes it even more important that anti-nationalism is confronted now. Anarchists from counties affected by the warfare born out of the breakup of Yugoslavia are seriously concerned that the collapse/break up/withdrawal of the EU in the region will bring new wars, and so ‘internationalism’ is not some vaguely laudable intention, but absolutely essentially and immediate in their organising.

In Slovenia specifically, there was an uprising recently in Maribor and Ljubljana. It began in Maribor and was sparked by political corruption. Corporate property was destroyed and police attacked a huge demonstration, actually tear-gassing people including children from the air via helicopter! Far from being put down, the uprising spread as a result. This took place in April. From the bookfair, a demonstration was initiated in relation to the uprising and two hundred anarchists took part in an energetic march into the city centre. It has rarely been as easy to give out anarchist literature in the street and have it received enthusiastically. Chanting was in Slavonic languages, French, Spanish, Italian and English, and was against the state, police, capitalism, nationalism and for ‘Full Anarchism’. This has built on anarchist support for self-organised striking dock workers in the last couple of years. Anarchism has never had a higher or more positive profile in Slovenia.

The organising group had made great effort at an early stage to include other groups in making up the excellent programme of bookfair meetings which included workshops, discussions on specific themes and a couple of presentations using slides. Discussions were framed by well-planned introductions which were often based on documents read out in English and in some cases had multiple introductions that complemented each other. In many of the workshop facilitators would ask for a country-specific viewpoint from the participants. All of this made for structured but open debate and a high-quality sharing of experiences, based on practical examples placed in the context of different economic or political circumstances.

There were three workshops with a focus on patriarchy and anarcha-feminism. The first was women-only and took place in the lesbian space, Tiffany, and addressed ‘Sexism in our Movement’. It focussed on issues and solutions specific to political activism, and Safer Spaces was amongst the most tried and tested and valued of these. It was kicked off by some members of the Ljubljana Lesbian University who wanted to talk with an international audience. The same structure was run also the following day for a mixed audience, in part because some men requested it. In the event no men came, although we had set the chairs up on the veranda and established a very informal environment. One reason for this might have been that there was a tension between men who wanted to genuinely understand more about sexism from a women’s perspective, who seemed to be men who reflect on this issue anyway, and men who felt unhappy about a women-only space. They were a small minority however; I don’t need to tell you their objections, but some had genuinely not encountered this in anarchism before and were confused. This was a shame though because there was a stated need to address sexism in some antifa circles, as introduced by an Italian comrade. The low turnout from men might have been in part because the following session was on anarcha-feminism in the movement and they perhaps thought it would cover similar ground. It was initiated by the organisers and was kicked off by us. It took a historical perspective on the emergence of British anarcha-feminism in the Thatcher era and the fact that we face much the same sexism within and outside of our movement as we did then. Safer spaces and women-only spaces (real and virtual) were discussed. Safer spaces are the norm for many European bookfairs and it is likely that the lack of such a policy at some UK events will make some attendees feel less secure (as was the case at Saint-Imier until FdA initiated one). Women are very vocal in Balkan anarchism, and the Slovenian federation is about three-quarters women anyway, which makes it a refreshing group to work with for other women.

The other workshop in which the AF was involved was a presentation by the Sparrows’ Nest anarchist library in Nottingham, in which the AF is involved. It concerned the digital library project and was entitled ‘What is in @?’, referring to the completion of the scanning and uploading of the first alphabetical section of the Nest’s ‘public archive’. It was attended by about 10 fans of archives and historical materials relating to our movement.

There was a well-attended General Assembly each day which gave a forum for involvement in bookfair organisation, which as a result was much wider than the organising group. Reflections on the structure and processes as well as the political content were made, which over three days meant that the participants were part-running the event. The General Assembly was also used to initiate joint statements and the march through the city. The assemblies were well attended and had the function of providing the opportunity to gauge how everyone thought the event was going.  An Infopoint (with rota list) and daily volunteer meetings were used effectively to involve bookfair participants in practical work such as cooking, cleaning and organising the book and meeting spaces. This all made for an atmosphere of explicit self-organisation.

Balkan anarchism is completely accessible to anyone with English. This is the language that anarchists from the various countries speak amongst themselves. Even though the languages of ex-Yugoslavia are closely related, most anarchists are under thirty and the nationalist education system that they were educated in has stressed the differences  and they find it easiest and more inclusive to use the English that they learn at school. Most of the activists are fluent or near-fluent in English. This makes it easy for English-speakers to have discussions as in-depth and ideologically specific as we can in Britain.

It being a three-day event, most meetings were allocated two hours. As well as allowing for very in-depth discussions, these were serious, theoretical, ideological and highly constructive. Whist the groups identify with different traditions, they are avowedly anti-sectarian and identify differences between themselves mainly in order to learn from other traditions about matters such as how receptive industrial workers are to different modes of industrial organisation, which sorts of ideas and language make anarchism more accessible in social struggles, and so on.

Balkan anarchism is as open and friendly as it is dynamic and serious. The plan is to hold the next one in Bosnia or Athens. Why not watch this space and go along?

See also, Joint statements made during the bookfair: