Strasbourg: a Testing Ground?

an analysis of the legal follow-up work to the No Border Camp in Strasbourg, July 19-29 2002.

Of course you’ve heard of the No Border Camp in Strasbourg! Maybe you were even there. But are you aware of what happened afterward? Are you aware, for example, of the legal follow-up work that was necessary?

This text was written by some people who helped with the il-legalteam, and by some people who stand in solidarity, who were not a little astonished at and tired of finding themselves at a loss to manage the follow-up work for a camp that gathered almost 3,000 people in all.

So let’s start with a little concrete information on this famous follow-up, so as to have a common starting point for our discussion.

One of the first defendants served three months in prison from August through October, of which one month was spent in solitary confinement. Seventeen people occupied an administrative branch office of the Ministry of Justice, to protest this arbitrary isolation and to get the prisoner a visit. The anti-terrorist police forces came to arrest them; they spent a day in prison and were charged with hostage-taking, a crime that carries a sentence of five years without parole. The final sentence condemned them to 15 days of prison, suspended sentence, for “home invasion” — two preceeding hearings having allowed the prosecutor to drop the charge of hostage-taking. Three people from the collective who were outside the building that was being occupied were violently arrested by the police, whoc accused them of resisting arrest. They will have a trial on May 15.

After this, two germans had a trial on February 25 on charges of having stolen and destroyed french and EU flags during the camp. They were sentenced to one month, suspended sentence. The french man who had his trial the same day was faced with a similar situation; he was charged with carrying weapons, which were actually only tools used for the camp. These three people decided to make an appeal, which, according to the lawyers, will not take place until a year afterward. Finally, two germans came to trial on February 28 for resisting arrest; they were given ten days, suspended sentence, and a fine. Finally, a spanish man was sentenced to two months, suspended sentence, on a charge of carrying weapons.

This sounds like a fastidious list: it is. Even more so when it’s necessary to help take care of it in a concrete way. The people from Strasbourg who are still active, and the people from the il-legalteam are simply tired of managing the trials that have followed the camp, without being able to get out of this logic of “managing” repression, because of the small number of people standing in solidarity. An excellent example of this is this week of trials in Strasborug. It was decided during the debriefing meetings in Freiburg to hold a week of action to make public the thematic of social control. Posters were produced. However, besides the anti-expulsion collective in Paris, the people of Strasbourg, and a demonstration that was held against the forced “special registration” of immigrants in Philadelphia, USA, no actions were held. The majority of the people who had trials that week were german, but there were no reported solidarity actions from Germany.

On top of this relatively heavy work and this isolation from our supporters comes the repression that touches all those who put active solidarity into practice: the State continues to criminalize everything and everyone it can slap the “No Border” label onto, such as the 17 people charged with “hostage taking” for a simple office occupation. So it’s important not to forget the context in France, where one one hand the State follows a more and more “security”-driven ideology; the Minister of the Interior promulgates despicable new laws on “internal security”; and on the other hand the State tries to keep all public dissent that refuses to fit within the State’s framework of compromise and negotiation under its thumb. The psychological tension is therefore extremely strong, because of the repression and the isolation: local as well as international solidarity is almost non-existant!

The critique that this text forumulates is, of course, directed toward those who came as “consumers” to Strasbourg, but also to those who launched the idea of the camp, and who organized the camp, but who appear unconcerned about the consequences that the camp could have on the lives of the people who got arrested, and on the local political reality of Strasbourg. In effect, instead of having createda positive dynamic for the activists in the city, a climate of lassitude and tension was put into place. This question of follow-up is also omportant for all those who look to Strasbourg for eventual future camps and counter-summits, such as the villages against the G8 in Evian.

But this text doesn’t just aim to make the individuals who came to Strasbourg feel guilty; it’s an attempt to bring to light the reasons for this demobilization. In effect, beyond the question of individual responsibility, it seems that it was the structure of the camp — or rather the non-structure of the camp — was equally responsible in bringing about this state of affairs; the problem of follow-up to the camp seems not to have been taken into consideration during the preparation of the camp itself. In fact, after the dissolution and exodus of the camp, it’s somewhat by accident that certain people found themselves in charge of organizing solidarity with the accused people, either because they lived in Strasbourg, or because they had been in contact with the legalteam. But it was always a matter of individual circumstances, and the problem of solidarity was never taken into consideration and considered in a collective manner.

Furthermore, this problem of structurelessness was posed during the camp itself. Because it was one of the only goups to be clearly functioning, many participants of the camp went to the legal team for answers to questions that clearly went beyond the framework of legal support; so people came to ask us what they should do. In fact, from the start of the camp, the legal team found itself having to fill a vaccuum, created in part by the failure of the “barrio” model. This role continued after the camp broke up. If Strasbourg can be considered a testing-ground for an attempt at non-authoritarian organizing, then it’s clear that the model has a long way to go before it’s perfect! Especially on this essential point: as soon as the explicit structures fail to be in place, implicit poles of power recreate themselves, which permit everything but a collective, non-authoritarian self-government. However, it is true that the question of which structures to have remains completely open. (see “The Tyranny of Structurelessness” by Jo Freeman, 1970)

It is not the object of this text to discuss this question deeply, but beyond the future choices that will be made, we must realize that certain tasks cannot by directly treated and resolved by a general assembly that dissalves as fast as it gathers. One example of this is legal work. But it is also not our object to argue in favor of commissions of specialists, but only to see how it would be possible to put groups into place that are responsibly for certain tasks while keeping the important lines of communication open with the rest of the people in the camp, both during and after the camp. In fact, it seems that it is especially the relationships and the transmission of information between the different structures that needs to be rethought. There again, it seems that this type of question ought to have been posed during the preparation. For example, it would be good if the groups involved in the preparation of the camp got concretely involved in the camp’s follow-up work, notably as far as legal follow-up goes, to keep abreast of the changing situations, to relay information, and to organize solidarity actions. To do this assumes the putting into place of a network for the exchange of information that is a little more clear and precise than a simple Interet lists, eventually with clearly-designated people to relay information. (one example of this is the Europe-wide antirepression project currently forming under the European Association of Democratic Jurists)

Finally, despite everything, it is really too bad that the Strasbourg No Border Camp now only exists in the form of legal consequences and follow-up work. Perhaps we should thank the general state of repression for having given us an opportunity to create a dynamic, as small as it is, that without such repression might not even have been born? This is especially sad when you think that the Strasbourg camp had planned to create a Europe-wide dynamic around the question of migration politics. Despite all this, we are not even capable of assuring the minimum among ourselves: solidarity with those of us who have been arrested. It would have been nonetheless possible to use these trials to recreate a dynamic around the thematics of the camp such as, for example, social control or the SIS, had the engagements for the February week of action, which we had planned in Freiburg, been respected.

A few people engaged in the anti-repression work after the No Border Camp in Strasbourg.