Occupy the WSF

Global Square 2013 Tunis, photo via @CaseyJAldridge

Global Square 2013 Tunis, photo via @CaseyJAldridge

Dear people,

In 1999 the counter-globalisation movement burst onto the streets at the WTO conference in Seattle. Two years later, in Porto Alegre, the movement began to organize its own alternative summits.

Since then, every year, representatives of NGOs and social movements gather in a Third World location to discuss, to connect, to teach, to learn, to share.

The mainstream press generally ignores these summits, or makes only a brief mention of their existence. And admittedly, they don’t have a lot of news or entertainment value. Compared to the big economic conferences, where participants are empowered to take decisions which influence nations, regions and the world economy as a whole, a social forum has little to no impact. It’s more of a ‘process’, as participants like to say.

This year’s World Social Forum was held under the slogan ‘Dignity’ and started with a demonstration of about 30,000 people through the streets of Tunis. Afterwards, the delegates separated themselves from the populace and retreated behind the guarded fences of the convention grounds.

The Social Forum is for those activists who can afford the trip and the required registration: the alternative elite. There was no space for unaffiliated occupiers, indignados, immigrants, refugees or other people interested in building a better world without paying a fee.

So, local and international indignants organized a ‘Global Square’ counter summit to coincide with the WSF. Many Tunisians feel that their revolution has been betrayed, and they seized the occasion to experiment with a federated model of direct democracy. On the final day, they occupied the WSF. People sang the International in a dozen different languages. Some delegates of the Social Forum burned their accreditation in solidarity with the occupiers.

It was decided to march down the boulevards of Tunis to the place were a fruit vendor sparked the Tunisian revolution and the Arab Spring over two years ago.

At the spot, a General Assembly was held by about two thousand people. It was too big for everyone to participate, so the crowd split into smaller groups to discuss specific issues such as education, environment, debt, western economic interests etc.

There were no walls around it, there were no guards, and no fees. After three days of intense discussions, it was a brief demonstration of what democracy really looks like.

General Assembly in Tunis, March 30 2013, photo via @GlobalRevLive

General Assembly in Tunis, March 30 2013, photo via @GlobalRevLive


Family Values

Budapest, 1956. Photo via libcom.org

Budapest, 1956. Photo via libcom.org

Budapest, March 20

Dear people,

I could write something amazing about this, and call it ‘the tragic story of a second rate porn star’. It’s about my roommate. It really is tragic.

He told a me bit about the scene, about the characters that dominate this world. The actors/directors/producers who made it big. Like Rocco Sifredi, the ‘Italian stallion’, and Riccardo Schicchi, the godfather of porn. There’s a few more. And there’s the girls of course. Most famous is Cicciolina, a Hungarian born girl who got voted into the Italian parliament, as member of the ‘Love Party’ somewhere in the 90s.

Until a few years ago, this business was big. Just outside of Budapest there is an enormous porn castle, actually just a warehouse, where many European producers come to shoot. It’s divided into different sets. An office, a bathroom with jacuzzi, a living room with fireplace, a kitchen, hospital room, even a bedroom.

Yesterday, my roommate had a gig, he had to play doctor and patient with a French girl. Many of the girls are from the East, Russia, barely adult. They get coked up before the scene and fucked in all imaginable holes for 500 euro.

After having heard all this, by contrast, my other roommate took me to a queer-feminist hideout, called ‘KLIT’. I must say I was afraid that the ladies might bite, but they were actually very kind. They told me a bit about the current political situation here.

It may sound familiar. In Hungary, one single party controls enough seats in parliament to change the constitution at will. The party is conservative and nationalist, it’s called Fidesz. After one and a half years of preparation, they left a heavy party-political mark on the nation’s democratic institutions with a vote on Monday.

The power of the constitutional court will be limited, the family is officially defined as father, mother and kids, leaving no room for gay marriage. Poverty and homelessness will be outlawed. Political propaganda will be limited to the state television. There will be restrictions for university graduates who want to emigrate.

Aside from all this, the girls at the feminist cove also said that right wing groups have been targeting immigrants and gypsies in the country side, as well as gays and lesbians in the cities.

People in Hungary and abroad have been critciizing the changes in the constitution and demonstrating against them, especially the students. But it seems that even the student movement itself is infiltrated by the nationalists.

Another feature of the new constitution is the limitation of free speech where it touches ‘the dignity of the Hungarian nation’.

Like in Turkey. It’s typical for nations with an inferiority complex to feel the need to punish people who insult or poke fun of the national identity.

So at the risk of having the secret police pounding on my door, I will say that the Hungarians, like the rest of us, are bastards. Their culture is a mix of Turkish, Germanic and Slavic influences. It’s a country of barbarians, a river valley that used to be Atilla’s base camp when he ravaged Europe with his horde of wild Huns. After Atilla came the Magyars, the Hungarians proper, who ravaged Europe again, in a similar way. Then came the Mongols. You can still vaguely see their traits in the faces on the street.

The Hungarian language is incomprehensible to anyone else in Europe, except maybe the Finns. Their nation would later be absorbed by the Ottomans, then the Austrians. During the revolutionary year 1848 the liberals rose up against their overlord, the Habsburg emperor, a feat that was celebrated here last Friday.

The revolution was ultimately crushed with the help of the Russians. As part of the Habsburg empire, Hungary was on the losing side in WW1, and saw many of its countrymen fall outside its shrunken borders after the humiliating peace. As a nazi satellite, Hungary was also on the losing side in WW2. It was invaded by Soviets and rose up once more, unsuccessfully, in 1956.

Finally the country embraced liberal capitalism. So you see the same familiar brands you encounter in the rest of the world. You also see people sleeping in the streets and looking through the trash.

And now, by law, Hungarians are special. And their dignity not to be tread upon.

Many people fear that the Fidesz party is installing a dictatorship. Even from Brussels, EU leaders openly voice their concerns. And all I could think was: why have I never heard these concerns when Berlusconi made a mockery of the Italian justice system?

At the cove of KLIT, there was a small exhibition about the history of feminism in Hungary. Mostly photo’s, not much English. The first woman laureate, the first woman doctor, the first woman pilot etc. There was one image in particular that struck me, dated 4 December 1956.

Six weeks earlier the Hungarian revolution had swept away the communist government. It looked like the country might break away from the Eastern bloc.

For Moscow, this was a problem. The Soviet Union had been morally bankrupt since Stalin’s purges in the 1930s, but now Khrushchev had started a process of destalinization, maybe even reform. The Hungarian revolution forced him to make a decision. If he allowed Budapest to go its own way, then all the other satellites would likely rise up as well, and maybe even the Soviet republics.

So finally, he ordered the Red army to invade Hungary. By November 10th, the uprising had been crushed. The arrests and the persecutions would go on for a long time after that.

So what struck me in the photo, was the sight of these Hungarian women, mothers and daughters, who braved the Russian soldiers a month after the crackdown. They waved Hungarian flags, without the red star. They marched in silence, first to the Hero’s Square, then to the American embassy.

Famous Hungarian poet Endre Ady once said that Hungary is like a ferry boat, it goes back and forth from East to West.

The Brussels Business


Dear people,

This has been years in the making, a documentary about lobbying in Brussels, made by a friend of mine from Belgium. It can be watched for free on Arte in either German or French until the end of March. You can find the English version in the iTunes store.

Be prepared for a shocking experience. The story reveals how an army of twenty thousand corporate lobbyists prepares the policy of the European Union, which member states are forced to implement. It traces the links between big business and the European Commission to the foundation of the so-called European Round Table of industrialists (ERT) at the beginning of the 1980s.

The initiative was proposed by leading industrialists such as Pehr Gyllenhammar (Volvo), Wisse Dekker (Philips) and Umberto Agnelli (Fiat). It would go on to include the CEOs of all major European multinationals. During the late 80s, the ERT came up with a plan called ‘Reshaping Europe’. It was a combination of a neo-liberal economic agenda and a major infrastructural overhaul of the continent.

Without the press ever taking note of it, the plan has been copied and implemented to the letter by the European Commission ever since the days of Jacques Delors. Not coincidentally, the ERT convenes twice a year, a week before the European heads of governments do. They meet in secret, but not in some dull conference room or something. The real masters of Europe come together in castles, palaces, opera houses and any other setting fit for kings.

Check out the rest yourselves. If you want to know anything about what the EU actually is, how it works, and whose interests it serves, this documentary is a must.

Keep Reminding Them…

St. Francis renounces to all worldly possessions, by Giotto. Assisi, Basilica superiore.

St. Francis renounces all worldly possessions, by Giotto. Assisi, Basilica superiore

Budapest, March 16

Dear people,

I have started my 2013 Spring Campaign in the East, along the banks of the Danube. My plan is to travel South from here, see what’s cooking.

There’s not much to say about Hungary after just three days. But I can give you a mirror image by telling you about the people I met in the hostel.

One was a French woman who had flown to Budapest to go to the dentist, because in France it has become much too expensive. Another was a guy from China, who is teaching Mandarine Chinese here in central Europe. Another was an Italian porn actor. It seems Budapest is the heart of the European porn industry, but with the crisis, even this sector is suffering. He hadn’t been working in a month.

I talked to a few locals as well. Their stories are pretty much the same ones you hear from youngsters in Southern Europe. They get pretty good education, but they don’t find a job. Their only real option is to emigrate.

In other news, protesters have staged a house call at the prime minister’s mansion in Portugal to demonstrate against corruption and austerity, yesterday. In Italy, the Five Star Movement is under heavy pressure from the media and from a significant part of their own voters to strike a deal with the left wing gerontocracy and form a government.

The latest appeal to Beppe Grillo has come from a handful of Italian intellectuals. They urge him to be reasonable, to swallow his pride, and to seize the opportunity to finally reform Italian politics.

Grillo is in a difficult situation. If he makes a deal with the same people he has been rightfully bashing for the last decade, he will lose a lot of his credibility. He will be just another politician who sells out.

So he said no. He describes the intellectuals (among whom Roberto Saviano and Roberto Benigni) as ‘sirens’, and the M5S as Odysseus. He urges the representatives of the movement to close their ears with wax, and to keep following their course. On his blog he quotes the following phrases: “In Italy, a legal revolution has begun. Maybe they will succeed in stopping it, but not with the voices of the Sirens. Right now, we are at war, and if we die, we will do so on the battlefield of the next elections. It’s better to take a leap into the dark than to commit an intellectually assisted suicide.”

More news from Italy. Maybe you already heard about it. There’s a new pope, one that shamelessly dares to call himself Francis, after the man who was nearly excommunicated for denouncing the decadence of the church.

What’s next? I thought. Pope Galileo?

Anyway, I don’t really give a damn about the church, but after the press announced that mr. Bergoglio didn’t raise his voice when many of his compatriots were arrested, tortured, murdered and made to disappear by the Argentine dictatorship, I was surprised by the reaction.

The Vatican vehemently branded these insinuations as left wing anticlerical propaganda, which is definitely not the reaction of a self-confident institution. Hell, they are afraid. They are shitting their pants.

So, let’s keep reminding them of what this church thing actually is. Let’s keep reminding them of the Christians who burned the Great Library of Alexandria. Let’s keep reminding them of the Catholic pogroms against the Jews. Let’s keep reminding them of how crusaders slaughtered Muslim men, women and children after they conquered Jerusalem. Let’s keep reminding them of all the innocent women who were tortured and burned or drowned for being ‘witches’. Let’s keep reminding them of the Holy Inquisition. Let’s keep reminding them of the church’s lifelong support for dictatorships everywhere. But most of all, let’s keep reminding these freaks of the thousands, hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of children who were sexually abused in the name of the lord, and who are still being abused to this day. Maybe not so much in Europe or the U.S. any more, but you can bet that these practices are still continuing in the Third World.

So whether you consider yourself left wing or right wing, believer or not, you have every reason to be anticlerical, and proud of it.

Photo via ximene.net

Photo via ximene.net

¿Dónde están? No se ven…

"They leave us without future" photo via @jozusu

“They leave us without future” photo via @jozusu

Dear people,

Protests keep rocking Spain. This time it was the unions. They demanded a change in economic policy, in Spain and in Europe.

The event was largely ignored by the indignant networks, and when it wasn’t it was just to show that “our demonstration was bigger than yours.”

This is the reason. Many people in Spain, especially the indignados, don’t like the big unions. I suppose it’s for the same reason why unions are disliked in many other countries. They tend to sell out for self interest. They tend to lack commitment to real change.

Last Sunday’s protest was organised by UGT and Comisiones Obreras. In 15M demonstrations it’s customary for people to chant about these two particular unions, in resentment. “Where are they? We can’t see them…”

Well here they were, in sixty Spanish cities. They brought tens of thousands of people to the street in Madrid alone. I wonder how many of the hardcore indignados were present.

That’s it from Holland for now. I’m leaving soon. See you all out in the streets this spring.

Review of a Revolutionary Week

Demonstration against austerity in Portugal. Photo via @OCongres

Demonstration against austerity in Portugal. Photo via @OCongres

Dear people,

It has been quite a week. As the revolution goes, three things in particular were worthy of note.

First, the death of Stéphane Hessel.

Hessel was a former diplomat, member of the resistance in France during WW2 and one of the drafters of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1948.

Two years ago, at 93 years of age, Hessel became an idol with the youth when he wrote a pamphlet called Indignez-Vous!, translated into English as ‘Time for Outrage!’

The pamphlet sold over two million copies in France alone. The Spanish translation was a major inspiration for the movement of the indignados.

As a member of the National Resistance Council, Hessel recalls the ideals that the Council adopted on 15 March 1944, and on which it wanted post-war society to be founded. These included “a comprehensive plan for Social Security, to ensure livelihoods for all citizens”, “a pension that allows old workers to finish their life in dignity”, “the return to the nation of the major means of production, common sources of energy, wealth of the subsoil, insurance companies and large banks”, “the establishment of genuine economic and social democracy which evicts large feudal economic and financial interests from the direction of our economy.” And, not in the least, a society where the press is free from corporate or foreign influences.

Over sixty years later, Hessel concludes that our society is not the one that was envisioned by the members of the National Resistance Council. Despite decades of booming economic growth, ours has turned into a society of suspicions against immigrants and expulsions, one that challenges pensions and social security, and where the media are in the hands of a few powerful people. Ours, in short, is not a society of which we, as human beings, can be proud.

Hessel denounced indifference as the worst of all attitudes, and he called for “a true and peaceful insurrection against the media that only offer our youth a horizon of mass consumption, of disdain for the weakest, of generalised amnesia, and of all-out competition of everyone against everyone else.”

He made an appeal to all youngsters. “To the men and women who will make the 21st century, we say, with affection: to create is to resist, to resist is to create.”

In 2011, his call to rise up took the world by storm. The spirit of resistance lives on.

Thank you, Stéphane Hessel. May you rest in peace.

Photo Wikipedia

Photo Wikipedia

Number two, last Saturday March 2 was another day of massive protests in Portugal. In thirty cities there were demonstrations against austerity. Over a million people took the streets, which is more than ten percent of the population. Imagine thirty million people demanding the resignation of President Obama on the same day. That’s about the scale of the protest.

The demos come a week after equally massive demonstrations of the ‘Citizen’s Tide’ in Spain. It looks like it’s going to be a hot spring on the peninsula.

Third, and most entertaining, is the elections in Italy. Without kidding, I’ve been rolling over the floor laughing. It’s a farce, but it’s all dead serious.

Immortal Berlusconi made yet another come-back. He had been declared politically dead by many commentators who don’t understand a thing about Italy. He might not have won parliament, but he did win the senate, which could give him enough political leverage to keep his ass out of prison.

But the real winner of the election is comedian Beppe Grillo, leader of the Five Star Movement, a party-political version of the indignados.

In the foreign press, Grillo has been called a populist and has been compared to any other populist in Europe. This is not just bad journalism, it is intentionally misleading.

Beppe Grillo and the movement he inspires is one of a kind, at least for the moment. I remember the very beginnings of his political campaigning. It started in theaters, it went online through his daily blog, then he came to the squares to decry political corruption, in favour of participatory democracy. Grillo exposed politicians of all parties in a way that nobody ever dared to do from a pulpit. He had been banned from television, he had been ignored by the press, but thanks to the Internet his movement reached millions of Italians who are fed up with business as usual.

In 2009 he supported civil lists in local elections. His party won the mayorship of Parma and other towns. In 2012 he made a breakthrough in the Sicilian local election. Now, in the run-up to the general elections, he drew a hundred thousand people to his show in Milan, eight hundred thousand in Rome. He inspired people like only a black preacher with a gospel choir can do. The man is a phenomenon. Last week, his movement became the single biggest party in Italy.

It’s hilarious. A few years ago, when I left the Beautiful Country, Grillo was a troublemaker that politicians loved to ignore. Now they are begging him to support the formation of a government.

With enormous satisfaction, Grillo told them to fuck off. All his opponents have been in politics since the age of the dinosaurs, they have to go, and before they do, they have to account for all the income they received over the years. They created this mess, the citizens themselves will have to clean up. Grillo’s party will only support bills that reflect the movement’s principles. They will not support any government. The representatives of the M5S have been chosen through preliminary elections on the movement’s website. They are tied to a code of behaviour which obliges them to respect the electoral program they were voted to enact. They have renounced to more than half of their income, and they will refuse to use or accept the customary title of ‘honorable’. Instead, echoing the French Revolution, they will address all representatives as ‘citizen’.

On the day the M5S entered in the Italian parliament, they opened the doors to the public, saying ‘this is your house’.

The first demands of the movement have to do with the clean-up of Italian politics. Two mandates should be the maximum, parties should not receive public subsidies, and no condemned criminal should have the right to be elected.

The left wing party, if it is to form a government, will have to be supported either by Berlusconi or by Grillo. They know that Berlusconi will eat them alive, so they grudgingly prefer the other clown.

It’s going to be very risky for the new M5S representatives. The Italian parliament is the most dangerous place in the country. The crime rate at Montecitorio is much higher than the crime rate in the most lurid outskirts of Naples. The new parliamentarians and senators will be thrown into a pit full of snakes. These creepy lifeforms have been lurching in the shadows of power for ages, they know exactly how much one is worth, they know who is selling, and they know who is buying. Ethics are not an issue in Italian politics, and the worst thing that can happen is that the M5S movement is torn apart by the existing parties and massacred by the press.

With Beppe Grillo and his movement gaining notoriety, some commentators have tried to understand what is going on, some others are dismissing this movement all together. They say that Grillo is dangerous. They accuse his internet strategist Gianroberto Casaleggio of having a secret agenda. The writers collective Wu Ming published a shameless declaration in which they accuse Grillo of being ‘one of them’ politicians as usual, without presenting any credible basis at all for their accusations.

Instead of giving in to this crazy need to always have an opinion, on whatever subject, I urge people to shut up, and watch. Beppe Grillo’s movement is a first attempt to bring direct e-democracy to a real parliament. His newly elected representatives are in a position to make or break a government. Let’s enjoy this, let’s see what’s going to happen, and learn from it.

Grillo riding the wave.

Grillo riding the wave.