Δευτέρα, 5 Ιουλίου 2010

Exit France-Enter Spain

Finally my boarding time had arrived. I was due on the old TGV for Montpellier, where I would board the Talgo to Barcelona Estacion Franca. The quick trip to Montpellier was a beautiful experience. Though the trip lasts only a little more than an hour, the terrain is varied. The train goes past agricultural farms, villages and bridges. It is one of the most beautiful scenic train routes in Europe, only compared to the routes between Athens and Thessaloniki, Miranda del Evro and Bilbao, Leon and A Coruna, Rome and Bologna, most of the Scottish Rail Highlands routes, and the ride between Narbonne and Barcelona. Montpellier itself is a beautiful small town, very traditional in its looks, but also modern. I only wish I could stay longer, but unfortunately I had to make a 15 minute dash to the ticket counters and back toward the lines, to buy the ticket and catch the connecting train to Barcelona. In the end I arrived at my seat with a sigh of relief. It was not as movie-like as my connection in Milan, but hell it was frantic.. Once I had boarded the train, it started to move. I was at the nick of time! I was rolling again towards Barcelona. Again I was looking around with awe. The scenery of the south-western coast of France can be breathtaking. As the sun was striking noon, we were passing through sandy beahes, lakes , marinas and coastal towns. The water looked crystal clear. Near the afternoon we had finally reached Narbonne, and I was reliving the my past trip. Now the train was drifting into the mainland, getting ready to start crossing the Pyrinees. Soon we where into Perpignan, in the French part of Catalunya. I was listening to Fermin Muguruza, the illegalised Basque singer yelling Maputxe , when we had finally arrived at the border crossing of Portbou. As the train was slowly progressing toward the Spanish part of the station and a border patrol was checking us, I watched a group of Morrocan, Senegalese and Mauritanian immigrants where sitting at the blazing sun, handcuffed, desperate and scared. Fortress Europe on the rise, that is. Instead of what is written on the Statue of Liberty, what European governments are saying is, “I do not care what happens to them, as long as they do not step on my soil”. And, Southern Europe being the frontier, this is what one can see on it’s borderline. Houndreds of hopefulls, in a desperate dream of finding a way out for their future. People who are almost doomed in their homelands, trying to make it for a breakthrough. And in the process, some of them being caught by authorities and thus facing an uncertain future. Meanwhile the train has been handed over to RENFE, and we are now crossing through the Catalan landscape towards Barcelona. I see familiar names and places passing by. Girona, Figueras.... Amparanoia are playing Buen Rollito through my earphones, and I am reaching Barcelona, to chase away the ghosts of my last stay there…..

A very French overview, thank you!

As I was leaving France, Nicola Sharkozy was reaching yet another all-time low in opinion polls. Since then, Sharkozy has not reemerged, and he seems to be sinking further deep. While his popularity is still sinking, attacks left and right and unpopular decisions make him even more vulnerable to the public’s eyes. Then and now are virtually unchanged. The criticism remains virtually the same, with Sharkozy coming under attacks for racist politics, corruption, cohorting with African Despots and, of course, leading a provocative lifestyle while the public has to battle set-after-set of measures by means of spending and wages cuts and privatisations. Thank god that French Unions still maintain their fighting traditions. On the other hand the political figures of the Left, though maintaining a militant form of speech, they are usually turning into reformist proposals, and mild criticism of capitalism when ti come to publicly expressing their ideas or drafting a political program.
Yet, despite the fact that the popular right is at a loss, the far right doe not stand to gain. And that is because Sharkozy stole part of its audience by putting racist and nationalist ideas in the centre of his politics. Despite it all the ones that make gains are on the left. And while the left itself has significant gains to show, the most of them turn towards the centre left . And that does not have to do with the question of ideas. That has to do with proof of being the lesser evil, i.e. the Socialist Party. And this does not really go without consequences. Recent mistakes and the emergence of the NPA (New Anticapitalist Party) and Olivier Bezancenaut, made the Socialist lose some face in the polls. Yet, for the NPA to become the government, or a widely heard voice in France, there are bold decisions that have to be made. A carefull plan on alliances, a clear and steady political programme, and putting forward strong socialist ideas. This, however, remains to be made. It seems as if the politics of the major players in NPA, have to do more with communicational tricks than political substance. But activism without providing a political program does not constitute a political answer, some groups within the NPA argue. Yet the party elite seems oblivious to these voices and the party does not take steps to produce anything but appearances of its leader on strikes and demos. As if politics is only a matter of PR, and not of communicating your ideas to the public.
And with the economic crisis looming over France, noone knows what will happen next and how……

Rainshowers and Politics-This is Ghent

The view after leaving the St Peters station does not do Ghent any justice. In fact the first buildings you encounter look pretty dull, especially in the middle of the night. Nothing was moving in the streets, and, thank god there was Burt with his van, who was available. So we crossed the town to the place where the social meeting was taking place, in order to find the Greek and the Cypriot delegation. when we reached the place, they where already gone, and en route to the student halls where we were lodging in. Another jump on the van, and off to the halls. There, since I did not have any key whatsoever to the room, I had to wait for some more time, for my roomie and the rest of the group to arrive. While I was waiting near the tables, a group of Americans was partying on the floor. They offered me a drink and a way to come into their company, but I had to refuse politely. I was too tired from the two-day trip, and I needed a lot of sleep. After a few more minutes of waiting, the greeks had arrived, and I was sleeping next to my designated partner.
The morning came with a shower of rain. And , along with that, we had to walk a few kilometres into the center of Ghent, to reach the place where the conference was taking place. And, due to me being awfully late in waking up, we had missed breakfast. Bad bad bad. I had to endure about 15 people staring at me. We walked through the heavy showers, got lost on the way, but finally made it to the building, with a sigh of relief. That was the end of our troubles. We arrived just as the procedures where starting, and the other delegations where coming in. Among us we had a few of the “stars “ of the conference. Lucy Redler, a member of the local Parliament of Berlin, with SAV and WASG, Peter Taughee the Secretary of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, members of the SSP,people from Socialist Resistance in Kazakhstan, Shiri from Sri Lanka, and, last but not least, Joe Higgins, then TD representing the Socialist Party in Irish Parliament.. The conference was a good paradigm of the way the CWI behaves internationally. Open, democratic procedures, where all opinions are heard, and disagreements are taken into account, sometimes even answered when there is an answer to counter them, or adopted as proposals when they are solid. Splits are uncommon, since decisions are discussed extensively in branch meetings (in the beginning), and slowly move their way into the central committee, so that every angle can be discussed and covered, disagreements and problems can be solved. And this means few people living the organisations, and the danger of splits being minimal, since members take a decisive part in decision making, not just being “forced” to listen to directives from the top. In this conference , all important matters are discussed, but, more seriously, members from different countries share experiences from fighting the good fight, and methods of intervening in movements, workspaces and schools. The same goes with propositions and working around campaigns. What you see in this conference is the core of this international. People from various backgrounds who are taking up organizational tasks, or play a certain role in movements, trade unions and coalitions of parties and organizations. And this because back in their workspaces they are recognised as good fighters with solid ideas and good-working proposals.
All this conference work left me small amounts of time to cruise around town and get its feel. But, on the other hand, I think that I got a lot of its atmosphere. Ghenk may have a surreal weather (all four seasons appearing within the day, Vivaldi would go mad if he was living there), but is not, by any means , dim. Though it is a typical Flemmish place, the population is mixed. There are Germanic people, Italians, Arabs and Congolese living there. Plus it is the city with the biggest population of Turks in continental Europe, bar Germany. In one instance a group of Turkish men approached us with the intention of selling us contraband merchandice, but they where , almost instantly, leaving with a negative response. The food around is excellent, especially if you are fond of beer and French fries. Mind you, French fries are actually a Belgian trademark product, they are not French at all. As for the beer, Belgium has a tradition for Monastery-type brands, and a speciality for blended bears. Forbidden Fruit, Hoegarden, Duvell and Lucifer are the most recognised brand names around.

Nevertheless Ghent is picturesque, and its downtown area has no resemblance to the monstrosities around St.Peters. It is full of small-time bars and shops, that live off the students living there. Ghent and Leuven are famous for their Universities. Yet Ghent is also some sort of a stronghold for Flemmish Nationalism. Ethnic tensions in Belgium are on the rise. The French-speaking South is going into an economic crisis, while the neuvau-riche Flemmish North is very prosperous. And the Northerners want autonomy by way of a loose confederation between the three states (Wallonia, Flanders and Brussels), so that they do not have to pay for the newly poor South. It is the victor’s nationalism, a bourgeois us and them, like the type of nationalism Angela Merkel is trying to awaken now in Germany. We are cool, they are bums. This was shown when, one night after exiting a bar and moving towards our home, a Flemmish nationalist stomped on one of our comrades. Thank God the cops arrived in time, and Belgian police have a very strict policy on law and ordrer. whoever breaks it, be nationalist or anarchist, rich or poor, is arrested. Same thing happened when tensions between members of the cwi and a neofascist group rose one day later. Though they where having batons as part of their uniforms, they never got to use them. The Police arrived swiftly and apprehended them for carrying illegal weapons! Could one see that happening elsewhere? Furthermore this surprised all the Israelis, Greeks, Swedes, Cypriots and Russians within the group. If this was happening back home, the Police would surely turn a blind eye on them, if not openly support them. The police arresting them seemed to be too much of a far fetched scenario. Meanwhile even the Swedes where getting pissed of at the weather. I have not seen as much rain anywhere else, to speak the truth. The days passed, and I was starting to get tired and short-fused. Though I had fun, the weather was getting to me. I needed to return to Spain. So I decided, that the day after the end of the conference, I would jump on the first plane available going south. Spain, Italy, Southern France, Portugal, I don’t mind. On the last day we partied hard, I almost drunk like a bore. After that we left for our last night of sleep. At noon we left Ghent for Brussels, where I would leave the rest of the group and go my way into Spain again.