The dark side of Camping

Camping can be so nice. Crawling out of dewy plastic in the early morning, with a pinch of sleep still in your eyes, braving the unbearably hot sun, yet invigorated and ready to take on the day with as much indifference as possible to the ongoing struggle with nature. Surely everybody knows that the secret of success is to fight the laws of petty bourgeois civilisation with minimal equipment and therefore gain a flexibility that is capable of suspending the otherwise ruling power relations for a clearly defined amount of time.

But camping can also become a torture, only bearable with a high degree of sarcasm and humour. Nine o'clock in the morning - first barrio meeting. Points of the agenda are illegal beer sales, homemade jam and the use of fresh greenery for campfires. The same discussion enriched with no less substantial issues like common barricade construction and useless empties collection is to take place in the inter-barrio two hours later - at the earliest!

When the results of the supposedly radical-democratic decision-making process have been ventilated within bigger or smaller group connections, the sun has already reached its afternoon zenith. It's high time for the actions: a rabble of some hundred, possibly even like-minded people, heads for the inner-city of Strasbourg with disequilibrium in mind. That means careless, indiscriminate and random demolition of everything that might be seen as the emblems of this symbolic European capital's political meaninglessness: flags, monuments, anything - not to forget that most hated spawn of surveillance and control society; the video cameras, that with 70s charm adorn the facades of many of the public buildings in the city. Nobody is able or willing to say why, but the drive for pointless demolition lasts just as long as the police allow it. In the middle of the week, when the lascivious vigilantes had given up on their pretense at reserve the fun was over. Even so the affects remained. When other venturous activists set off for some shy street theatre actions or some perky percussion concert they were quickly captured by the CRS riot police and confronted with two humble alternatives: being sent back to the camp or to prison. The abyss that came to light during the ten days of the first Europe wide No Border Camp from the 19 to 28 of July in Strasbourg is cause for reflection. After the experiences from more than a dozen successful noborder-camps on all kinds of nation state borders, how could such a political travesty, such a strategic and tactical disgrace, occur? How is it possible that approximately 2,000 to 3,000 activists from over twenty different countries were willing to turn themselves in to those smirking police operation controllers, and allow themselves to be processed into a zero-tolerance soup, so delicious and tasty for the mainstream media, that it no doubt made mouths water as far away as the metropolitan Ministry of the Interior? In one sense surely the noborder-camp in Strasbourg was an indisputable success. As is usual for such events there were tons of interesting meetings, valuable exchanges and some exciting debates. But there was more: this experience of ten days in tents revealed a pathological immobility that would not have been visible, if the process would have been overall more felicitous, and followed the usual course of the informal getting to know people, the usual excitement of networking spiced up with smart activism and the euphoric backslapping in the end.

After the positive experiences with other camps on different external European frontiers during the summer 2001, many were hoping that the event in Strasbourg would be part of the jump towards a common European praxis. A praxis that could take on the unified European regime of frontiers - not just in respect to content - but also to give proof of the common self confidence that evolved through all of the different approaches and that enabled it to aim at no less a target than the Schengen Information System (SIS), one of the most important instruments of European migration policies. Giving up on this goal was probably the worst of the missed opportunities of the No Borders camp, something that was perhaps already visible in the preparations for it. Without even paying lip- service to the diversity and the dissimilitude of the participants, the whole political potential of the heterogeneous mixture of people was sacrificed on the altar of a hypocritical mass consensus. It was bound to turn out this way: with such a lack of commonly shared content, that veered between up-to date anti-Semitism debates and compulsive sexism discussions, from special eating habits to preferences in techniques of street- militancy, such a consensus was only possible through the depiction or evocation of an external antagonistic and repressive machine. Whereas a Europe wide camp with its broad make-up would have been the perfect chance to move beyond the adopted rituals of limitation on movement and indecision disguised as basic democracy, and diffuse that into many different and relating potentials, the tragedy of Strasbourg lay in the overwhelming incapacity to communicate. If the keyword 'multitude' is understood to mean more than just the sum of all attendees, the actual challenge seems to lie in relating the different movements to each other as effectively and reasonably as possible. The intention of the noborder camps has always been that this struggle does not remain academic, but will lead to actions and ad-hoc-interventions that, although prepared by a few people are performed by and borne out by as many as possible. On a European level such intentions demand constant development of new organisational models adaptable to constantly changing situations. The issue is no longer to express a common way of struggle, nor a unified picture or one-dimensional solidarity, neither an ostentatious unity nor a secretly unifying sub-culture, but the profound understanding and the absolute will, to recognize the internal differences and create flexible groups, where different approaches connect with each other reasonably and for mutual benefit.

It's about political communication in the best sense: networking understood as situational negotiations that are based on the possibility of changing ones own standpoint as well as the standpoint of the other. Rather than being based on some spurious qualifications of good versus evil, this approach instead seeks out the basics of a reasonable and practical temporal togetherness. It is not particularly important whether the miserable failure was due to the hegemonic striving of some of the smaller or bigger groups, who are experienced in manipulating ad-hoc meetings and manage to lever a horrible position into place from the outside, or due to the mania of an increasingly grotesque political correctness that is at best capable of creating multilateral non-aggression pacts in issues like anti-Semitism, sexism or racism. Overall the situation revealed how far the introverted and self-referential politics of philistines and holiday-revolutionaries inhibited a constructive debate. A detailed debriefing of the actions of the noborder camp would come up with frustrating results. From the first to the last day the roles were set and the winners were clear. The ridiculous blockade of the bridge was unwarranted, and thus our trump card in the necessary case of defending the camp was spoiled. Moreover the intended demonstration turned out to be a failure, forced to be a hide and seek game. From the beginning on one thing seemed to be pretty evident: the only surprises in the whole affair would come from our adversaries.

Last summer at Frankfurt airport the sovereign noborder activists had been able to leave the dirty work for the police forces. They did not need to block the airport themselves but allowed it happen - the alleged guardians of law and order did that for them. This is not just a metaphorical meaning; the action left the practical problem of mediating the airport blockade to the authorities. Their only way out was to demonise the activists as being even more terrible rogues than imagined before. But instead of a black bloc that justified the police blockade by wanting to smash the whole airport, the noborder camp was triumphant with a classical concert, pink-silver cheerleading and excellent negotiating skills. On this basis many different forms of actions could result in a productive togetherness that didn?t even have to be planned and discussed in detail, as long as the common intention existed to extend the scope for action instead of narrowing it. There are several reasons why the opposite principle was dominant in Strasbourg. But there is no excuse for such political naivety in the face of the dramatic turn-around on the first night of the camp that was so sneakily conducted. Whilst most of the people were still busy with the constitution of infrastructure and putting up their tents, one committee took it upon itself to decide to abandon all mediation of the aims and background of the noborder camp. Cooperation with media was totally dismissed due to ideological motives and this was not just to apply to the mainstream media but was also intended to make any kind of public relation work impossible. Negotiations with representatives of the police or the municipality met with disapproval just as much as visits to the camp by journalists, no matter whether they were from Indymedia or the local press. Clearly, the manner in which the whole event is perceived from the outside will necessarily shift if the simple attempt to mediate ones own positions will be dismissed as opportunistic. : calls for freedom of movement might easily be interpreted as calls for freedom to muck about and act the fool. Who is protesting on the streets and why, which actions have been chosen and for what reason? The history, background, aims and ideas of the camp were concealed. Therefore the press relied on the statements of the police and the mayor. Residents and passer-bys have been left alone to interpret the unintentional Dada of slogans like 'freedom is illegal'. Whoever thinks that the non-participants should not get a chance to comprehend the protests and to form their own opinion about them, is not just acting negligently and irresponsibly, but are steeped in vanity: pretending to be militant and thus degenerating into shallow expressionism where the only goal is to express one's difference, one's pretense at a radical sensibility and one's crude and awkward search for identities.

But the foolishness of the media ban counts double: because one of the most impressive accomplishments of the noborder-camp was its amazing communication structure of involving a radio station and tent studio, internet cafes and mobile workstations, workshops and lectures, video projections and diverse live-streams. But this unique effort of media activists from different countries was derided as a maverick one, spitefully called 'silicon valley', rather than seen as an integrated part of the camp that could actually have been useful in daily camp life for internal as well as external communication. In general it was amazing how popular a neo-romantic motivated anti-capitalism had become: the dislike of every means of payment as the reincarnation of the evil, up to the sign language specially developed for plenary sessions (so that the debaters won't interrupt each other but show hand signals like brokers). Prevalent in those ten days in Strasbourg was a hermetic culture of immediacy that was neglecting and dismissive of every form of artificial or technical supported mediation, due to the fear of it being a hindrance on some amorphous idea of natural self-development. More important than making new contacts - getting to know and understand one another - was to translate every word into three to seven languages. And the less actual communication there was, the greater the longing for the unifying force of repression, to be the victim of that omnipresent conspiracy called globalisation and to stand on the right side of oppression.