Germany: Reportback from the 2012 No Border Camp in Cologne/Düsseldorf

Here follows a critique of the No Border Camp in Cologne and Düsseldorf —the event isn’t finished until later today, and its official end is July 22th.
Expectations were high for the latest No Borders camp, held on July 13–22 in Cologne, to put into action a lot of what had been claimed by activist communities on the subject of the refugees’ struggles for decent treatment. But when the moment came, it was choked by the institution itself.

From the very beginning it was clear there was an ‘invisible hierarchy’ at the camp, which did everything in its power to destroy the autonomous anarchist nature No Borders had nurtured over the years. But this should maybe have come as no surprise when it is considered the camp was co-funded by the European Union through its Youth Action fund and a Social Democrat-connected union. The revelation, which was hidden in the smallest print they could muster, was seen as a necessary prerequisite for the heavy rains that fell on the camp during its 10-day duration and for the circus tent that was hired for the event.

From the outset, a clear initiative was observed to drive attendees to a more liberal mainstream political expression rather than one which was radical, consensus-based and acting in solidarity with each other through affinity groups and spontaneous self-organization. This notion of hierarchical control became more and more evident as time progressed, until at the end most activists either left the camp altogether as early as the second day, devolved full authority to their affinity groups, or went along with the hierarchy with a hopeless shrug of the shoulders and a look forward to their own individual aims of mainstream political careers.

However, the most blame has to fall directly on the shoulders of the organizing committee, which rarely conceded on their aims to make the camp a social gathering accepting of all rather than a base from which to launch consistent attacks against the State’s tyranny in what concerns the rights of refugees in the European continent. Rather than provide a good starting point to see where the camp would go, they made a conscious attempt to direct the central assembly towards their liberal aims. There was never any way to reason with them, but rather a constant re-affirmation of their position which even included negating the opposite view even existed (something which was incredible to see being played out before your very eyes).

One of the main topics where this attitude was seen was that of having a bar at the camp. From the first night this bar was installed close to the entrance under the bridge. At first it was said the bar would only operate at certain times on certain days, but instead it operated every night from 6pm until past midnight. Soon, various refugees (whose demands had been published on the website in an effort to ensure the camp was going to be at least ideologically run for their needs and requirements with the rest of us supporting them in solidarity) started to voice their disapproval of the bar, which made them feel unsafe and insecure. They said having people who were drunk would dilute the efforts of the camp to create mutual solidarity, and lead to more racist interventions by individuals in a social setting. Indeed, some arguments erupted as people’s drunkenness got the better of their rational minds and started to settle back into mainstream cultural and racial prejudices without any challenge to their behaviour from those surrounding them.

However, when this matter was brought up at the main assembly, those who ran the bar made fun of the claims, acting always in a defensive way, never looking to compromise but always asserting they were right. They never attempted to empathize, but just said it was necessary to run the bar for the good of the camp, not only at the expense of the refugees and those in solidarity with them but also trampling over everyone’s right to decide how it was run. The bar continued dispensing drinks until the end of the camp, despite calls from the security group to close it, but the gradual boycott eventually led to its abandonment.

Similar stubbornness was expressed over issues as important to the activist community as veganism (despite advertising it as a vegan event, they refused to keep their word), but also antiziganism (pictures of Roma tinged with racial prejudice were displayed at a workshop) and authoritarianism (organizers rarely sought consensus but instead made vertical decisions, consistently denying the need for affinity groups).

Some attempts were made to change the power structure that the camp seemed to be intertwined with, mainly in the form of an alternative assembly which eventually led to the actions at the French consulate in Düsseldorf, where 11 people were detained for trespass and resistance to the police. The action was coordinated in order to have solidarity with the ‘accidental’ death of Noureddin in Calais nearly two weeks previously. But within the fragmented nature of the camp only a select group of people were allowed to participate or even know about it. Formed mainly by a group of people who got together to exclusify its members and alienate those around who wanted to participate in their actions, they created their own clique of young rebels who just wanted to upset the authorities under the guise of solidarity. This led to another vertical organization with the distrust and lack of cooperation giving them a reason to exclude others from the occupation of the French consulate.

Another action to occupy the Green party HQ was more successful in receiving support, with around 50 people eventually being removed by the police with others in support outside. The action was carried out in solidarity with four refugees who had been on hunger strike for the last two weeks in the centre of Düsseldorf. Their actions, along with other groups around the German State, intended to highlight the lack of basic human rights being granted to refugees, who are not allowed outside 30km from their detention centre, which resembles little more than a prison, without basic sanitary facilities and regimented eating times. Some activists showed solidarity with them by sleeping at the open verandah, which was constantly hassled by the police to stop them lying down for more than an hour.

Press attention for both actions on Friday could have helped the cause of the refugees, but even the final day’s march on the airport would have little effect in creating the galvanized approach to No Borders struggles that would have made the camp a success.

The sour taste in the mouth of the few committed activists who remained until the end, having travelled far and wide to attend the event, meant most of them just wanted it all to end as soon as possible rather than dwell on all those issues any longer.

The organizers were equally bitter and tried everything they could to assault all those who tried to speak against their self-imposed authority. While in other camps, like Bulgaria, these conservative projections had been overcome, or at least challenged, here in Germany, with its evolved leftist structures, the blur between anarchist self-organization and the social control of the Marxist Die Linke within the establishment only served to further disempower attendees.

A new self-critical slogan was birthed at a camp which served to quell the rage over the harsh and cruel conditions many refugees were kept under within Fortress Europe (some suggested Frontex was on the same funding sheet as the No Border Camp-Köln): ‘No Border, No Nation! Stop the vacation!’ Despite the obvious humour, it reflected a concerted attempt by the powers-that-be to create a festival-like atmosphere at the camp which co-opted it into white-ist capitalism, with live music and hierarchically run workshops replacing direct action and horizontal organization.

Already there are plans for a No Border Camp near Berlin next year, returning to No Borders’ anarchistic roots. If things are not radically different, breaking from the German-centric way they were here in Cologne, it will be hard to convince the rest of the movement their activists are anything but autonomous hipsters who strive for anything but mediocrity and social inclusion within the mainstream political discourse.

—written by comrades who participate in the project of contrainfo, and attended the nbc köln.

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