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Alanis: The Ex-Worker;
Clara: An audio strike against a monotone world;
Alanis: A twice-monthly podcast of anarchist ideas and action;
Clara: For everyone who dreams of a life off the clock.
Alanis: Greetings, everyone, and welcome back to the Ex-Worker! So we announced last episode that this time around we’d be exploring an anarchist history of the American Revolution and its roots in white supremacy and capitalism. We’re still gonna do that, but not in this episode. For one, it’s an ambitious undertaking, and we’re still working on it. But also, there have been a lot of interesting and significant things happening around the world, and we have so much we want to cover that it easily fills an episode. So this time around, we’ll be taking a look at anarchists in struggle in several different countries, many of which don’t get much attention in the US, either from the mainstream or from radicals. We’ll look at the release of political prisoners in Belarus, the Suruc massacre in Turkey, and repression against anarchists in the Czech Republic.
Clara: We’ll also offer some more context on Korea to complement the call to flag-burning action we heard in the last episode, and look at a court ruling in El Salvador that opens up insight into terrorism discourses and the insecurity of the state in the 21st century. Plus, there’s listener feedback on Zeitgeist, conspiracies, and small-town anarchism, a CrimethInc. tour announcement, plenty of news, events, prisoner birthdays, and more. My name’s Clara…
Alanis: And I’m Alanis, and we’ll be your hosts. Don’t forget that everything we say in this episode can be found in the transcript we publish on our website, crimethinc.com/podcast, along with lots of links and references for the topics we discuss.
Clara: And we want to hear from you! Hit us up with your questions, comments, critiques, feedback, and suggestions to podcast at crimethinc dot com.
Alanis: All right! Let’s get to it.
THE HOT WIRE
Clara: First things first: the Hot Wire. With all the international events we’ll be covering in this episode, let’s kick things off with a global look at what’s been happening. Alanis, what’s in the news?
Alanis: Capitalist crisis is accelerating on the peripheries of Europe, and warfare in Kurdistan, Syria, Ukraine, and beyond is displacing more and more people. As a result, the flow of migrants into the European Union continues to grow, prompting social and political conflicts around how to respond. Police clashed with migrants on the Greek island of Lesbos attempting to board a ferry towards the mainland, while in Hungary thousands of migrants passed over police fences and began marching towards Budapest. A riot broke out at a migrant detention center in Valencia, Spain, Swiss police fired rubber bullets at pro-migrant protestors in Zurich, and a march of migrants without papers blocked roads in Milan, Italy.
Clara: An Occupy-style movement may be emerging in Moldova, where a massive demo of thousands of protestors in the capital city of Chisinau gathered in outrage against blatant government corruption, and some protestors have pitched tents in front of a government ministry. Somehow a billion dollars managed to vanish from the country’s major banks, prompting a government bailout, devaluation of the currency, and widespread drop in living standards. And Moldova is already the poorest country in Europe. These are some of the largest demonstrations in the region since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Alanis: In Santiago, Chile, indigenous Mapuche rebels and supporters clashed with police and with truck drivers who had driven from the south of the country to blockade roads and visit the presidential palace in protest against arson attacks against lumber trucks by Mapuche militants.
Clara: Two animal rights activists are facing up to six months in prison for - wait for it - holding a sign on the sidewalk against an abusive amusement park. Turns out that in Farmington City, Utah, thanks to a law passed just after September 11th, 2001, if you want to hold a sign in public in a vaguely protest-ish sort of way, you have to cough up $50 and complete a “Free Expression Permit Application.” Whoops.
Alanis: In slightly more encouraging animal welfare-related news, Costa Rica has announced that it’s becoming the first country in the world to shut down all of the nation’s zoos. Currently captive animals that would not survive in the wild will be cared for in rescue centers and wildlife sanctuaries, and no new zoos will be opened. Costa Rican Environmental Minister René Castro was quoted as saying, “We are getting rid of the cages and reinforcing the idea of interacting with biodiversity in botanical parks in a natural way. We don’t want animals in captivity or enclosed in any way unless it is to rescue or save them.”
Clara: What an astonishingly sane thing to hear from a government official.
Clara: Protests in Beirut, Lebanon against the government’s failure to deal effectively with trash have spawned a social movement called “You Stink” - best name for a social movement of this year, I think - with protests becoming quite massive. Police have injured hundreds of protestors at these escalatingly large demonstrations, which some speculate could threaten the Lebanese regime. They’ve expanded from their initial focus on getting the state to take out the garbage into much broader critiques of government corruption and politicians, in some cases with an increasingly radical edge. One activist was quoted as saying, “We are against all of the political class. The slogan is, ‘All of them, means all of them.’
Alanis: Wow. “Que Se Vayan Todos” all over again?
Clara: Uh, what does that mean?
Alanis: Oh, sorry. “Que Se Vayan Todos” means something like “Get them all out of here”; it was the slogan of the 2001 Argentinian uprising in which hundreds of thousands of people responded to a devastating economic crisis not by appealing to politicians or demanding new ones, but by totally ignoring them, forming neighborhood assemblies and occupying factories and reorganizing daily life on a horizontal basis. We can think of it as a precursor to a lot of the total disillusionment with all politicians and parties that increasingly marks the revolts of today.
Clara: Ah, gotcha. In other news, young people rioted against an NGO camp in South Sudan, while protestors in Nyeri, Kenya clashed with police while marching towards a government ministry to demand an effective response to a health crisis related to a nurse’s strike.
Clara: In an interesting and disturbing parallel with the situation in Rojava, Al-Jazeera has reported that volunteers from nearly twenty different countries have come to eastern Ukraine to fight against Russian and separatist forces in the ongoing conflict. Around a dozen volunteers from around Europe are fighting with the Azov regiment, a ultraconservative nationalist paramilitary group allied with the Ukrainian army.
Alanis: The French intelligence agent that blew up the Greenpeace ship “Rainbow Warrior” in 1985 off the coast of New Zealand apologized for the bombing, which killed photographer Fernando Pereira. Greenpeace had aroused the wrath of the French government by protesting their detonation of nuclear weapons on Polynesian islands. In a TV interview earlier this month, the former spy explained his actions by saying, “We had to obey orders, we were soldiers.”
Clara: 2000 marchers clashed with police at a demonstration against gold mining and resource extraction in the Skouries Mountains in Greece, as the culmination of the Beyond Europe camp, described as an anti-authoritarian and anti-capitalist gathering intended to retake the initiative in radical social movements after the betrayal of the Syriza government.
Alanis: Police raided a anarchist punk show at the Rumah Api social center and collective house in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, trashed the living space, stole all of the musical equipment and computers and other stuff, and arrested 160 people(!), detaining them all for three days and questioning them about connections between the social center and “terrorism,” whatever that means. Organizers from Rumah Api speculate that they were targeted either in connection with repression against the Bersih 4 demonstrations (which, the organizers point out, is insane, because they are anarchists and not interested in reforming the electoral system), or as scapegoats for various attacks against banks and corporations in the city over the last two years.
Clara: Just FYI, the Bersih 4 demonstrations were a series of large rallies held in major Malysian cities at the end of August, organized by a group called the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, demanding electoral reform, government transparency, and the resignation of the prime minister. They’ve been thoroughly liberal in their politics and thoroughly pacifist in their tactics, but have faced considerable repression from the Malaysian government nonetheless.
Alanis: Incidentally, keep this raid in mind when you hear the description of anti-anarchist repression in the Czech Republic later in this episode. Raids and roundups with vague, unsubstantiated terrorism charges to attempt to stem the tide of autonomous actions against government and capitalist targets? Sounds familiar.
Clara: Speaking of terrorism: the Supreme Court of El Salvador ruled that street gangs and those who fund them will be legally considered terrorists, which authorizes the state to take particularly repressive measures against them. To quote an article on Al-Jazeera: “The court said the… MS–13 gang and any other gang that attempts to claim powers that belong to the state would be considered ‘terrorists.’ It defined terrorism as the organized and systematic exercise of violence.” A 2012 truce negotiated between the state and several leading gangs broke down in 2014, and murder rates have skyrocketed, peaking at nearly 700 in the month of June alone.
Alanis: At present, El Salvador’s governing political party is the FMLN, a former Marxist armed guerilla group turned left-wing political party. Throughout the 1980s they fought a bloody civil war against the US-backed military government of El Salvador, until laying down their arms as part of a 1992 peace agreement. They’re now one of only two major electoral forces in the country, along with the right wing ARENA party, and they have controlled of the presidency since 2009. When current president Salvador Sanchez Ceren - a former guerilla commander - won the 2014 election, the defeated right-wing candidate appealed to the army to stage a coup to overthrow him, though the army declined.
Clara: Incidentally, the ARENA candidate had run on a platform of “harsher treatment of gang leaders and the formation of ‘military farms’ to intern young people who neither work nor study.” Ugh!
Alanis: So now the FMLN, in their tenuous hold on power, is in the position of repressing street organizations, some of whom claim to be the bearers of the revolutionary ideology that the FMLN has largely moderated in their rise to power. Members of the gangs see these contradictions. A leader from the 18th Street gang told a reporter, “It may not be the same as the civil war but it’s similar. They called the FMLN terrorists and negotiated with them. Now they call us criminals and terrorists.”
A worker for the international Red Cross described the aspirations of the gangs this way: “They want the government to do what governments should do - invest in the poor neighborhoods, repair roads, repair and equip health posts and schools and provide vocational training for youth, with start-up capital for small businesses. They also want an end to indiscriminate repression by the authorities.”
Clara: Hmm… Let’s not get too starry-eyed about these groups. We should be suspicious of both the negative perspective of the state that demonizes them as terrorists, and the positive perspective of either liberals like the Red Cross worker, who sees them as aspiring social democrats with tattoos, or radicals who see them as fierce autonomous threats to state control. Perhaps one meaningful lesson we can extrapolate here is that all states - including leftist-controlled ones - are increasingly desperate to define themselves as the only legitimate wielders of violent force. This effort is becoming more desperate because in the world today, power is increasingly fragmenting into non-state formations, ranging from local to regional to transnational. This includes multinational corporations, autonomous territories with militias like Rojava, online networks like Anonymous, and lots of other groupings. Some of these forces are more aligned with our values as anarchists, some not at all. But all of them challenge the state’s monopoly on the use of force, and so all will be either manipulated and appropriated when it’s strategic to do so, and/or repressed when it’s not.
Alanis: Left-leaning state regimes find themselves increasingly unable to achieve their goals, trapped between fascistic right-wing forces on one side and increasingly ungovernable masses on the other as economic crisis looms larger. (The Greek party Syriza is a textbook example of this.) On the other hand, more directly repressive or fascistic regimes are finding their control subverted by explosive uprisings and networked resistance. The concept of terrorism is part of the state’s toolbox of desperate ploys to maintain control through fear and internal division. The forces smeared with the terrorist label have nothing inherently in common, neither in terms of tactics nor ideology nor goals. But whether against Salvadorian gangs, Kurdish nationalist militias, Islamic fundamentalists, Czech anarchists, or others, in each case the state seizes an opportunity to defuse resistance by isolating a rebellious minority and deploying the politics of fear to keep the rest of the population in line. But as more and more forces arise to challenge the legitimacy of the state’s monopoly on force, the concept is likely to become even less coherent, until perhaps it will lose its power altogether.
Clara: We’ve also got a few updates to share on anarchist prisoners. Anonymous hacktivist and anarchist Jeremy Hammond has been held for weeks now in punitive solitary confinement and is supposedly being investigated by the prison’s internal police for some unspecified violation. He has had his communications with the outside world and visits from his family restricted. His supporters have asked folks to consider writing him a note to help him keep his spirits up; we’ve posted his address on our website. Stay posted to freejeremy.net for updates.
Alanis: And Michael Kimble, an anarchist prison rebel incarcerated in Alabama, has an opportunity to get out on parole this December. He’s asked supporters to help him out by writing letters to the parole board; check his website, anarchylive.noblogs.org, for his instructions on how to write an effective letter. We’ve also posted the link on our website.
Alanis: As this episode goes into production, the body count of folks killed by US law enforcement in 2014 has reached eight hundred and twenty one, and it is not slowing down. In response to the escalating fury against their murderous ways, cops and their supporters have been shrill in their protests that it’s actually them who are being targeted, that cops have one of the most dangerous jobs in society, and that all these Black Lives Matter protests and whatnot are responsible for increasing violent backlash against cops.
Clara: Is that the case? No, actually, not at all. Like not even a little bit. For one, only 26 cops have been killed in the line of duty this year in the US, which is actually fewer than over the last year. And Americans used to kill way more cops than they do these days. Up to the 1970s, over sixty cops would get popped every six months on average. This dropped dramatically through the 80s and 90s, and in recent years the average has only been a couple dozen every six months. In 2013, the smallest number of cops were shot in the US since 1887- the year after the Haymarket bombing! So we can definitely drop this notion that somehow Black Lives Matter is responsible for some imaginary spike in fatal anti-cop violence. Especially when you compare the numbers of cops killed to the numbers killed by cops - it’s not even close to being close. Just the raw data alone show how much American policing constitutes a war on the population.
Alanis: So how does being a cop compare in dangerousness to other professions? Well, turns out, it’s waaaay safer than a lot of the shit the rest of us have to do. In terms of death per 100,000 workers in different industries, it doesn’t even make the top ten list of most dangerous jobs. Loggers and fishers, the number one and two most fatal professions, are nine times and seven times more likely, respectively, to die on the job than cops. It’s twice as dangerous to be a garbage collector than it is to be a cop. So let’s call bullshit every time we hear someone whining about how heroic it is to protect and serve.
Clara: Because that rhetoric is not only annoying, it’s dangerous to our health, because when police are able to portray themselves as under attack, they can justify getting even more weaponry and surveillance equipment with which to attack and monitor us. In the latest horrifying development along these lines, politicians in North Dakota just passed a law allowing police to fly weaponized drones. According to the new legislation, cops can fire so-called “less lethal” weapons, such as pepper spray, tear gas, tasers, rubber bullets, and so forth from drones at crowds.
Alanis: Hmm. We’ve also been reading articles recently arguing that the replacement of human jobs by machines is going to be dramatically accelerating in the next couple of years. Does this mean that riot cops are going to start losing their jobs because they’ve been replaced by drones? Would that be a… good thing? I’m confused.
Clara: Well, probably they’ll pass laws making it so that we can be prosecuted for assault on an officer if we disable flying drones during protests.
Alanis: And then they’ll start naming highway overpasses after drones destroyed in the line of duty. “Welcome to the R2D2 XL–3000 Memorial Highway” and so forth.
Clara: Police drone benevolent associations will start spam texting people around the clock demanding donations so that police drones can have clubhouses and exercise facilities or whatever, and if people don’t donate they’ll find the GPS on their phones shut off so that they can’t be located when they make 911 calls…
Brad Paisley: Glory, glory, hallelujah… Welcome to the future!
Clara: Elsewhere in the good old US of A, three guards in the county jail of San Jose, California beat a mentally ill man to death as he awaited transfer to a mental health facility. This is not especially uncommon or noteworthy, as horrifying as it is. But what’s unexpected in this case is that the sheriff of Santa Clara County actually investigated it as a murder, had the three guards arrested and charged with murder, and went so far as to describe herself as disappointed and disgusted while apologizing to the family of the murdered man. That kind of response, if not unprecedented, is at least extremely uncommon, and while I don’t want to be unduly optimistic, it may indicate a challenge to the total impunity with which police and prison officials have usually been able to brutalize people. The three murderous guards were booked and locked up in protective custody in the very same jail where they had terrorized people just days earlier. And you can imagine how popular they were with their fellow prisoners; the Associated Press article noted that they were moved into an unnamed facility for their own protection shortly after.
Alanis: Speaking of uncommon prisoners, the president of Guatemala resigned and was taken into custody on corruption charges, marking the culmination of several months of protests. The New York Times reported his reception as he entered custody:
Clara: “When Mr. Pérez Molina left the courtroom, he passed a series of cells filled with those accused of being gang members and others facing their own hearings. Some of them began catcalling, whistling, throwing up gang signs and shouting threats.”
Alanis: Perez Molina was a graduate of the infamous School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia, the commander of a counter-insurgency team during the military dictatorship of Efraín Ríos Montt, on the CIA payroll, and eventually one of the most feared people in the country as the head of military intelligence during the brutal Guatemalan civil war. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
THE SURUC MASSACRE
Alanis: As we were finishing up Episode 39 on Rojava, a horrifying tragedy struck supporters of the autonomous cantons in the Turkish border city of Suruc. We originally wrote this segment to be included in Episode 40, but our wires got crossed, so we offer it here a little bit late. Here’s a statement we received from the Greece-based “Initiative of Solidarity for Rojava” describing the incident, titled “Solidarity is the Weapon of the People.”
Clara: On the morning on Monday, July 20th, the Amara Cultural Centre in Suruc, Turkey was hit by a suicide bomb attack. 32 people who had traveled to Kobanê to support the resistance against ISIS and the rebuilding of the city died and more than a hundred were seriously wounded. At the same time, a car bomb exploded in Kobanê city center. Some hours later, during the solidarity demonstrations in Turkey, people were attacked by police with water canons, rubber bullets, and stun grenades, and many were arrested.
It’s obvious that the aim of these attacks is to spread fear in order to stop the worldwide solidarity towards Rojava’s social revolution. We would like to remind the perpetrators that solidarity is the weapon of the people. We will stop neither the campaign for the reconstruction of Kobanê nor the struggle for social liberation in all the cantons in Rojava. We reiterate our solidarity to all those who support the ongoing process of social revolution in Rojava.
Signed, the Initiative of Solidarity for Rojava
Alanis: In an article that appeared on the Kurdish Question website, journalist Amed Dicle raised a number of troubling questions that strongly imply Turkish state complicity with ISIS in the Suruc massacre. He goes on to argue that activists and supporters must organize security circles for self-defense outside of the state.
Clara: At least five of the young people murdered by ISIS in Suruc were anarchists, including Vatan Budak, a member of United Anarchist Attack, who died from his injuries after 16 days in the hospital. The Anarchy Initiative of Turkey called for anarchists to show their anger and rebellion outside Turkish consulates across the world on July 26th.
Alanis: Meanwhile, the Turkish state continued to show where its priorities lay; even as ISIS slaughters Turkish youth by the dozens, state anti-terror police forces in the northwestern city of Eskişehir raided a house and arrested twelve, including one anti-authoritarian, on charges of being involved with the YDG-H (Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement), which is the youth organization of the Kurdish liberation movement. The Worker’s Solidarity Movement, an Irish anarchist group, reported that of the over 1000 arrests made by the Turkish state made in repressive sweeps in late July, only 140 were ISIS members, while nearly 900 were leftists and Kurdish movement supporters.
Clara: Meanwhile, the US and Turkish governments reached an agreement - why the US even gets a say in this, who knows - giving the Turkish state the green light for renewed military operations against radical Kurdish forces, under the guise of anti-ISIS operations. Hundreds of airstrikes have targeted so-called PKK camps, slaughtering the very fighters that have been the only effective counterforce against ISIS, while new evidence of direct military and financial support of ISIS by the Turkish government has come to light - confirming what the Turkish anarchists CrimethInc. interviewed last fall told us during the siege of Kobane. Meanwhile, there’s some indication that the US hopes to pursue a strategy of isolating the PKK from the “Syrian Kurds”, in hopes of grooming the PYD as a potential ally while supporting Turkish state repression of other radical Kurdish elements.
Alanis: It’s a literal and metaphorical minefield, and quite tricky to figure out what’s going on amidst all the backstabbing and secrecy. We’ll attempt to sort out what we can as we follow the unfolding situation in and around Rojava. But it sounds imperative for folks in the US to be visibly challenging the US’s military complicity with the Turkish slaughter of Kurds in the region, both directly and through their clandestine support of ISIS in a proxy war against the autonomous territories.
Clara: In recent weeks, the PKK has escalated retaliatory attacks against Turkish military and police targets, while the Turkish state has responded with more airstrikes and repressive measures. But on an encouraging note, three neighborhoods in Istanbul have declared themselves to be self-governing, announcing that they will defend themselves from state attacks and organizing their own security. As a speaker from one neighborhood initiative said, “The working people of Gazi have been oppressed, colonized, and massacred. But they have lived side by side for years even with different languages, religions and cultures. The time has come for this people to say ‘enough’ to the cruelty, torture and massacres.” We’ll attempt to stay up to date on these experiments with autonomy as well as the conflicts in the Kurdish lands in future episodes.
Clara: And now let’s move on to listener feedback. What’s in our mailbox, Alanis?
Alanis: Remember in Episode 38 when a listener wrote in asking what we thought of the Zeitgeist movement? Well, frankly, we haven’t bothered to watch any of their videos because we didn’t think it was worth the time. But we did ask if any listeners had responses or critiques to offer, and fortunately some folks wrote in. A particularly useful resource we’d like to highlight is a zine called “How to Overthrow the Illuminati.” It’s not a response to Zeitgeist specifically, but to the overlapping web of conspiracy theories that make reference to the Illuminati, Freemasons, the Anti-christ, and et cetera. It does an incredible job of breaking these theories down historically, showing their roots in reactionary efforts by elites to explain away revolutionary upheavals, and then offering very accessible and concrete explanations for how they misread the problems with our society and propose more accurate and liberating ways to understand them. It’s co-written by radicals from New York City and Seattle, and is particularly oriented towards folks from poor black and brown neighborhoods, tracing how in the wake of the defeat of the black liberation movement in the 1970s, conspiracy theories came to replace international revolutionary theories in popular circulation. It’s written from a definitively Marxist perspective, though an anti-authoritarian one, so I consider some of their economic analysis a bit outdated or simplified. Still, it’s by far the best resource I’ve seen for someone who wants to offer a clear refutation of conspiracy theory thinking, seeing the radical potential in the dissatisfaction that leads folks to seek such theories, while offering a concrete alternative. You can find it at overthrowingilluminati.wordpress.com.
Clara: About Zeitgeist specifically, there are a few anarchist critiques floating around the internet, though none that I think are definitive; we’ve included a few links on our website, crimethinc.com/podcast.
Alanis: We also got a letter with some feedback on Episode 38. Here’s what one listener had to say:
Clara: Ex-Workers: I wanted to write in and comment on your episode about Lake Worth. The folks living in Lake Worth are a bunch of badasses, there is absolutely no doubt about that. I really enjoyed hearing about them taking over their city government and thinking through the contradictions of anarchists taking power locally.
That being said, I hope y’all continue to profile other anarchists that are living in small towns with maybe more of a focus on people living in red states or extremely rural areas. As an anarchist that lives in a small town in Texas, I really appreciated this episode’s focus. However, I can’t help but notice the extreme differences between my day to day organizing reality and the described experiences of anarchists taking over a small town that the Earth First! Journal currently operates out of. I can’t help but feel like, “well duh, if we had the freakin’ Journal’s presence, and were guaranteed a constant flow of anarchist travelers and rad volunteers coming through, our shit would be way more rad too.” Where I live, you can’t even talk about climate change very openly without people thinking you are conspiratorial or an extremist, so openly identifying as an anarchist can become pretty challenging and frankly unstrategic at times. When you are organizing in such hostile territory, things like this crimethinc podcast and the EF Journal are key tools that I rely on to help radicalize folks in my community.
Again, I really enjoyed the episode, I just hope y’all continue to profile anarchists in places like Oklahoma, Alabama, Texas (not just Austin), Georgia, Louisiana, or Nebraska. Because we are out there! And we are trying really hard! And if a lot of folks living in bigger cities listen to this show it might also be pretty beneficial for them to hear about our efforts.
Alanis: That’s totally fair. We make an effort in our episodes not to just report on big-city anarchist experiences, but it’s definitely a challenge. We rely heavily on correspondence from our listeners, so it’s only thanks to folks like you that we are able to include small-town, red-state perspectives from time to time. So if any of you other listeners are tuning in from rural areas or small places in conservative states, we’d love to hear from you.
Clara: To get some more perspective, we spoke to an longtime anarchist active in the southeastern US. They mentioned that a decade or more ago there used to be regional gatherings that played an important role in making face to face connections between folks scattered across more isolated areas. The Southeastern Anarchist Network, or SEAnet, attracted folks from across the Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia, Florida, and the Gulf Coast to get together, meet each other, share skills and info, and strategize for more regional coordination. If you’re an anarchist in a town or city that has enough of an anarchist presence to maintain some infrastructure, but in a region where radicals are pretty sparse or spread out, you might consider organizing a statewide or regional anarchist gathering to see if you can connect the dots between these various places. Of course, if you do that, we’d be happy to promote it on the Ex-Worker and support it however we can.
Alanis: Another anarchist we spoke to on the Gulf Coast mentioned that an irregularly published anarchist newspaper called The Raging Pelican served as a valuable tool of connection with folks in small towns across Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. Having something physical you can hand to folks, leave around in libraries or coffee shops or community centers, and use to start conversations can prove pretty helpful, especially if it’s written with the region’s particular cultural and political context in mind. They also mentioned the frequent experience around half-connecting with a lot of people who are definitely antagonistic towards the government or resent aspects of their social and economic conditions, but often channel that through conspiracy theories, InfoWars-style programs, or white populist racism. Perhaps resources like the above-mentioned “How to Overthrow the Illuminati” zine could be helpful, especially if revised and adapted to local conditions.
Clara: In any case, we’re glad you’re out there; even when it gets lonely and isolating, remember that you’re connected to a vast international current that stretches to every continent and back through history, of folks passionately dedicated to fighting for freedom against authority in any and every situation. Part of why we’re focusing this episode on anarchist struggles in lesser-known parts of the world is to emphasize that we truly are everywhere, from the small towns of Texas to Belarus to Korea to the Czech Republic and everywhere in between. So hang in there - we need people like you! Let us know how we can support you.
ANARCHIST PRISONER SUPPORT IN BELARUS
Alanis: Last month, we read this announcement from the Anarchist Black Cross chapter in Belarus:
Clara: Today Alexander Lukashenko has signed papers to release all official political prisoners in the country. This includes anarchists Ihar Alinevich, Mikalai Dziadok and Artsiom Prakapenko. We would like to congratulate our comrades and thank everyone for the solidarity with them!
Alanis: That’s great news! But it got us wondering… Why did the president of a country bother signing papers to free some anarchists? What’s the context? We read in the New York Times that the president released “all six” political prisoners in the country. Can that be all there is to it? And, in fact, where the hell is Belarus, and what is going on there? Clearly we needed to do some research.
Clara: Fortunately, our friends at A-Radio Berlin, a German anarchist radio show, conducted a short interview with an Anarchist Black Cross group based in Minsk, Belarus. In this excerpt, which A-Radio Berlin recorded in their own voices for security reasons, ABC-Belarus discusses the background and political context of the political prisoner releases, and looks ahead to the upcoming presidential elections and how anarchists anticipate and respond to state repression.
A-Radio Berlin: On August 22, the Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko signed papers to release all official political prisoners in the country. This includes the three anarchists that were still imprisoned. We talked with Anarchist Black Cross Belarus about their release and the upcoming elections, among other things. You can find more information also in English on the website of ABC-Belarus, abc-belarus.org.
Hi there! On August 22, you brought the news that “Europe’s last dictator” finally released the remaining anarchist prisoners Ihar Alinevich, Mikalai Dziadok, and Artsiom Prakapenka. What’s the background of this decision?
ABC Belarus: Some of you may know that Belarus is sometimes called “the last dictatorship in Europe.” The country is under constant economic and political sanctions for violating human and political rights of the people, as well as repressions. The European Union and the USA have been demanding the release of all political prisoners since 2010. Since then, a lot of people were pardoned by the president and released. By August 2015 there were six political prisoners left in jail, including our comrades and an ex-candidate for the presidency.
At the same time, Lukashenko was getting ready for the new election planned for October 11th, 2015. This gesture was for sure an attempt to gain some credibility in European ranks and introduce another political thaw. Lukashenko has been using the same scheme every time he needs something from Europe. In this case he hopes for recognition of the election as transparent and democratic.
A-Radio Berlin: Were all political prisoners released? If not, who is still in prison?
ABC Belarus: Yes, all those internationally recognized as political prisoners have been released. At the same time, three more people were arrested at the beginning of August for political graffiti. They come from the so-called “ethnic anarchist” scene. We also support four anti-fascists who are not recognized as political prisoners by the international organizations, and an anarchist who prefers his case not to be public.
A-Radio Berlin: And just out of curiosity, what might “ethnic anarchists” be?
ABC Belarus: These are people who come from an anti-fascist football hooligan background, which lately has been influenced by a lot of patriotism and nationalistic aesthetics. They propagate anti-fascism and anti-authoritarian ideas, but at the same time stand against the Russian cultural oppression and promote the revival of Belarusian culture and language. This mix ends up in slogans like “Belarus must be Belarusian,” “Revolution in the consciousness is coming,” [or] “Peace to huts, war to palaces.”
A-Radio Berlin: How will the focus of your work shift now, if at all?
ABC Belarus: Actually, we were giving a lot of attention to the released comrades in 2010 and 2011, when support was most needed. Over time our support became equally distributed among the rest of our prisoners. That’s why we can’t say that we have lost a huge chunk of work with their release.
At the moment we are preparing for the new electoral campaign, which usually ends in new arrests and sentences. We also try to do more preventative work, educating activists about strategies to avoid repression and make the work of the police as difficult as possible.
A-Radio Berlin: What do you expect politically and repression-wise for the upcoming elections (due probably in autumn 2015)?
ABC Belarus: For now, it looks extremely suspicious that repression hasn’t started yet. Maybe the cops have decided to first deal with the ethnic anarchists and football hooligans; in the summer there were a few arrests. At the same time we consider this inaction rather tactical. The cops don’t forget about anarchists and their closest circles, which is proved by a recent raid on an open-air punk concert, and a few criminal cases which have been started after the solidarity campaign in January and February 2015. We feel that the cops are just waiting for the right time to use their blacklists and start arresting people on suspicion of participation in the soli[darity] actions. What concerns the elections, it is still unclear if there is any protest at all, because the opposition is split, and it is dangerous to call for the streets, looking back at 2010 when every candidate for presidency was arrested. Anarchists themselves are far from having a vast social base that can join our call to protest.
A-Radio Berlin: Many thanks.
Alanis: OK, great! Now we’ve got a bit more of a sense of why these prisoner releases happened. But we still wanted to dig a little further to understand the broader context. So: a little bit of background on the situation of Belarussian anarchists.
Clara: Belarus is one of the larger post-Soviet countries in Eastern Europe, bordered by Russia to the east, Ukraine to the south, and Poland, Lithuania and Latvia to the west and north. There’s a presidential election coming up this October, in which the reigning president Alexander Lukashenko will run against various opposition candidates. Now, Lukashenko is the first and to this date only President of Belarus since the collapse of the Soviet Union, originally elected in 1994 and serving ever since. As the interview mentioned, he is sometimes referred to as the “last dictator of Europe” because of the autocratic nature of his government, centralization of power, crackdown on political opposition, and so forth; Belarus is consistently rated among the most repressive regimes in the region according to various standards. At the same time, his approach has diverged from the brutal neoliberal policies of Russia and other post-Soviet states, with fewer privatizations, greater social welfare, lower unemployment, and so forth. He’s managed to stay in power despite tense relations with both Russia and the EU and US, which is fairly impressive; he’s gotten support from states like Cuba, Venezuela, Libya, and recently China - in other words, repressive regimes with some sort of leftist credentials. In the last year he’s tried to position himself as a peacemaker between Ukraine and Russia in the ongoing crisis in eastern Ukraine.
Alanis: Lukashenko vowed that Belarus would never experience the kind of potentially revolutionary unrest that took place in other post-Soviet countries during the early 2000s, like Georgia’s “Rose Revolution” and Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution.” Opposition forces inspired by these other regional uprisings attempted to mobilize during the last presidential elections in 2006 and 2010, and both times met intense repression from state forces. While traditional non-violent activism proved ineffective, anarchists in Belarus turned to more insurrectionary tactics in the late 2000s, including a wave of attacks on state buildings and a casino in the capital city of Minsk. In 2010 someone threw a Molotov cocktail at a Russian embassy, and a communique was released claiming the action on behalf of a previously unknown anarchist group called “Friends of Freedom” in solidarity with imprisoned Russian anarchists. Russian and Belarussian authorities used it as an excuse to round up and interrogate fifty-some anarchists and activists. Five anarchists received prison terms, including Ihar Alinievich, who was sentenced to 8 years in a high-security prison colony. None of them confessed to the embassy attack, leading some to speculate that it was done by a provocateur as an excuse for anti-anarchist repression…
Clara: …though we know that the “provocateur” accusation gets slung around any time militant action takes place, which often has the effect of further delegitimizing any ungovernable resistance. So we have to be careful with that line of thinking.
Alanis: In any case, Alinievich wrote a book while in prison called “On the Way to Magadan,” which became surprisingly successful and widely circulated in Belarus as a first-person account of state repression against radicals. We’ve got a link up to the English translation on our website, if you’d like to read it. So as a result of the book - as well as militant solidarity actions such as the anarchist arson attack on a KGB office in Babruisk, for which three activists received long prison sentences - anarchists have remained part of the public imagination in Belarus, despite this repression.
Clara: We reported in Episode 34 on police repression at a New Year’s punk concert this past winter, in which police arrested several anarchists for such crimes as “minor hooliganism” and swearing at riot police, and then arrested the folks who came to get them from jail. Around twenty radicals were arrested in the first two months of 2015 as authorities cast a wide net to try to map the networks of resistance in Minsk and beyond. And to add insult to injury, when Mikalai Dzyadok, one of the prisoners from the 2010 “Anarchist Case,” was just days away from being released, authorities tacked another year on to his sentence.
Clara: He was charged with “systematically violat[ing] prison rules by wearing sweatpants instead of the official prison robe and for walking around his cell after lights out.”
Alanis: Are you fucking serious? I mean, sweatpants may be a fashion crime, but one that merits a year in prison?
Clara: In Belarus, apparently so. So clearly the state has identified anarchists as a potential threat to stability during the election year, so there has been an effort to map out and repress anarchist networks so as to prevent any kind of Occupy or Euromaidan-style situation emerging in Belarus. At the same time, there’s an economic angle: the value of Belarus’s currency is declining, and its economic dependence on Russia leaves it politically vulnerable in the region. After Lukashenko’s repression of opposition forces during the 2010 election, the US and EU put sanctions on Belarus, which has had the effect of driving them more into the Russian orbit. But now Lukashenko is attempting to court better relations with potential creditors in the US and EU. As one pundit puts it, “In the midst of the economic crisis and close to presidential elections, it is important for the Belarusian government to create the appearance of political liberalisation to receive funding and praise from the West.” And sure enough, the US and EU predictably praised the action; the US corporate media decided to report the action as the release of “all six political prisoners” in Belarus - though as we heard from the comrades in ABC-Belarus, there are certainly still radicals in prison there.
Alanis: Of course, if a rebellious opposition movement begins to rumble as the election approaches, we’ll see how long this friendly face lasts.
Clara: Right. In any case, we’re thrilled to hear that our anarchist comrades are finally out, and we send our love and support to Ihar, Mikalai, and Artsiom as they rejoin their loved ones on the outside.
Alanis: We wanted to go into a little more depth about this case in Belarus because it shows an intriguing example of how these global forces of economic crisis and geopolitics both impact the lives of anarchists and can be surprisingly impacted by them. By all accounts the anarchist movement in Belarus is fairly small. Yet Belarussian anarchists are now garnering international attention, and the state has projected its fears of a so-called “Color Revolution” or Arab Spring-style uprising onto them. this is one of the important things we want to emphasize, and one of the reasons to do this podcast: anarchists can be influential far out of proportion to our numbers, and our actions can affect these global flows of power.
Clara: We’ve got a number of links posted on our website about the anarchists in Belarus, so check them out if you want to learn more, at crimethinc.com/podcast.
ANARCHISM AND REPRESSION IN THE CZECH REPUBLIC
Clara: As longtime anarchist prisoners in Belarus are finally rejoining their loved ones, a few hundred miles south and west, anarchists in the Czech Republic are facing an unprecedented wave of repression. This year we’ve shared some reports on anarchist activity there, including a report on squatting in Prague in Episode 33 and an announcement of raids on squats, homes and social centers in Episode 36. Those raids formed part of Operation Fenix, a coordinated wave of anti-anarchist repression that resulted in the very first terrorism charges ever brought in the country - in entrapment cases involving infiltrating informants and imaginary bomb plots. These cases show disturbing parallels with examples in the US, such as the cases of Eric McDavid, the Cleveland Four and NATO 3, all of which we discussed in depth in Episode 17.
To examine how this style of repression is unfolding across the Atlantic, we’re going to share an interview with a Czech anarchist, who discusses the roots of anarchist organizing in the country, explains why the repression is happening now and why it’s targeting anarchists, and offers suggestions on what we can do to show solidarity.
Alanis: We’re speaking with Sascha, an anarchist from the Czech Republic who’s going to be telling us about the current situation there in terms of state repression and resistance.
To get started, could you give us a little background about anarchist organizing in the Czech Republic? What kinds of struggles and actions you have had there in recent years?
Sascha: Hello, and thank you for inviting me here. I think to answer this question I will start a little bit from the background, because the Czech anarchist scene or the movement has a very different history from anything from the Czech borders to the west, because it all started basically at the beginning of the 1990s, after the so-called “revolutionary” transformation into neoliberalism. So from an illegal punk rock subculture, the movement developed into an anarchist movement, which through the 1990s started a flood of new topics, like feminism, anarchism, even things like animal liberation or radical ecology. And in the late 1990s, it developed into being part of the broader anti-globalization network, the anarchist network in Europe, which peaked in 2000 when the protest against the IMF happened in Prague, and it was actually the biggest anarchist event happening in Czech Republic. For example, it was the most British anarchists supporting a foreign event since 1936 [during the Spanish Civil War], just to show the size of this event. And I think what’s important, or what’s typical for the Czech anarchist scene, is that since the very beginning, since the early 1990s, is actually opposing and fighting against fascists in all forms, which mostly for the last twenty-five years used to be neo-Nazis and different groups, from boneheads in the very beginning to autonomous nationalists later. By using almost any means, the antifascist movement succeeded by kicking the Nazis off the streets in most of Czech cities. And if I would name some later activities [that] anarchists or the anti-authoritarian movement focus a lot on is to support refugees or immigrants and oppose this nationalist media, and give some solidarity to the people who come in from Syria or the Middle East. But at the same time, we’re facing the biggest wave of repression we ever experienced in our country.
Alanis: Tell us about Operation Fenix and the two major cases of entrapment that were revealed this year.
Sascha: Well, Operation Fenix (which in English is Phoenix) is a police crackdown which started at the end of April. it’s a nationwide repression against anarchists and anti-authoritarian movement, including the animal liberation movement. The 28th of April in the early morning hours, police started to raid several flats and a social center in the city of Most. They seized major servers and many electronic devices like cameras, USB sticks, computers. Eleven people were arrested in that very first wave but as well many more interrogated, and at the end of the day three people remained in custody. One of them was accused of possession of explosives, and it was the big case all over the media. And another two who remained in custody were accused of conspiracy, of planning a terrorist attack, which was supposed to be throwing Molotov cocktails on a train with military equipment. Police argued that they were going after the so-called Network of Revolutionary Cells, which is, according to their manifesto, an insurrectionist group claiming several attacks against property in the last two years (mostly police cars, toll gates, and other property of state control). What was the main police argument is that these people, and other people who were detained or arrested that night, were part of, or somehow connected to, this network of revolutionary cells. [But] in the end it showed that none of the people, [nor] any people interrogated since and in another case that happened since, were actually officially accused of anything connected with attacks that really happened or were being signed by the Network of Revolutionary Cells.
In June, there was another case of this repression; police arrested our comrade Igor, and two days later they put him in custody jail with the accusation of taking part in another attack, which according to media was supposed to have been three weeks before that; the narrative was that somebody threw a Molotov cocktail at the house of the minister of defense. All I know was three weeks before, when we were reading these things in the news, we were thinking that that might turn back against us, though there was no communique. And all these attacks seemed very unlikely, since none of the anarchist groups would ever attack on anything where, you know, this is a house with people inside. This is not a method being used by any anarchists in Czech history, ever. And there was no communique, and actually no actual fire; no firefighters were called. Some of these people might face life sentences in prison; in Igor’s case, I think it’s eight years top.
I think it’s as well important to say that Aleš, the person that was accused of illegal possession of explosives, which was like in the media, the headlines all over the Czech Republic that terrorist with explosives is hiding in conspiracy flat, was just released from remand a month ago. I think this just shows how the media works; their job is to sell and to have this sensation. When Operation Fenix started, we could read about all these “terrorists,” and Aleš hiding bombs in his basement, I don’t know what… and when he was released a month ago, there was actually not a single word in any newspaper. This just shows how all this repression will discredit and put a very bad light or very bad name on the anarchist movement, but when things show that he actually wasn’t a terrorist, or that’s it wasn’t how the first narrative was, no one says, oh, sorry, we were wrong.
I think as well it’s important to mention that this accusation of terrorism against anarchists in the Czech Republic, there has been no accusation of terrorism before that. No one has been before accused before of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, or white power terrorism, or anything like that. This use of terrorism as a term and as a crime, this is the first time we hear it in Czech history.
Alanis: How has the anarchist movement in the Czech Republic responded to this repression and to the charges against these folks?
Sascha: As I’ve said, this kind of repression is something very new for Czech anarchists and other activists, so unfortunately people weren’t totally prepared for that. Many activists stepped back. Most of the people would talk against the repressions but didn’t really know how to handle the support of the accused ones, thinking that if we would support them, people being labeled as terrorists, we’re going to be understood as terrorists too in the media, which first, can bring more police attention or put us in jail in the worst case, and second, will give us a bad name in public (and many activists are working on their popularity). I would definitely not blame anyone for having those feelings, because I totally understand that the risk of ending up in jail for a very long time, or the criminal police coming to your job and telling to your boss what kind of terrorist you are… that shit is scary! But at the same time, backing up from the detainees or the accused ones is just going to show the authorities or law enforcement that this is the tactic they should use any time they need. And turning our back to them will actually not help us in the long term. It might seem that it will help us those very first days when everything is chaotic, but that is not a thing that will help us in the long term. We need to build a very strong anti-repression and prisoner solidarity support movement - regardless of what they did or didn’t do. This case was a police entrapment, but at the beginning obviously no one knew about that. And people are asking like, oh, did really Martin and Peter and the others, or Aleš… We didn’t know they were planning this attack against the train! And some people would be like, no they didn’t, I’m sure it will show up they didn’t. Or talking about Aleš, oh, he had bombs at home, or didn’t…
I think these are not the questions that matter. We should ask ourselves, if somebody wanted to attack a train with military equipment, questions we should ask are: what is military equipment good for? And: how much damage or [how many] people’s lives or casualties [would happen] if military equipment on the scale of one train is gonna be used in a military conflict? Or: from what levels of society [do] the casualties usually [come]? And: who profits from wars?
And I think if we answer these questions, we come to the conclusion that actually attacking a military train - I mean, a train with military equipment that’s a cargo train, with no people - is going to save actually many lives in the end. I think asking these is much more important than trying to find out if they were legally innocent or not.
Alanis: These cases sound very similar to entrapment cases in the US, such as Eric McDavid in the Green Scare or the Cleveland 4 or NATO 3, but it sounds like this is the first time the Czech state has used these strategies for repression. In the Czech Republic, why are anarchists in particular the targets of this wave of repression? And why is it happening now?
Sascha: This is, as we know for sure, the first kind of entrapment ever used in the Czech Republic and definitely the first kind used against anarchists, and I think it is very similar to what we were hearing and reading about cases in the United States. I think what is just different is that no one really would expect, even a few days or months before Operation Fenix, that this would happen in Czech. When you were talking about that, people would be like, oh, you guys are just too paranoid. We live in central and eastern Europe; this is not happening here. Our scene is not any threat to anything, so why would this happen here? And people would really doubt that this could ever happen.
So therefore when it came out that the group that was supposed to plan this attack against a train was actually entrapped by two (at least two) police agents, undercover infiltrators, who actually brought this plan, and who bugged all their flat, made people speak about this plan and made them be arrested… When all this information was revealed, everyone was so surprised.
And to answer why this happened now, or why this happened against anarchists, there might be many different answers. I don’t think any of them are 100% right; I think it’s a combination of those. Some of those are just very practical, like: criminal police need to fulfill their budget, and they would be downsized of budget next year if they don’t gonna spend all the money and not gonna prove an activity. But still the question remains: even if they need to do that, why they would do that against anarchists, and not to choose another group. And I think the answer is that first, there is this new tactic being used by this Network of Revolutionary Cells, which started to actually address and sabotage property. As well, the Animal Liberation Front and Animal Rights Militia in the last two years started to be more militant, doing some sabotages on mink farms, releasing a lot of minks, saving animals and putting some property from fur farms or other animal industry on fire.
But as well the the movement is growing and getting more attention and more support. I think two major cases would be the squat Klinika, a movement in Prague which would be called in English “Squat and Live” or “Occupy and Live”. That’s a movement that has been squatting house by house for a couple of years, growing this tactic and giving squatting more popularity, and they squatted Klinika; and in the end after some fights and negotiations won this case, and now the movement in Prague is having a pretty big and decent squat, which brought a lot of attention and a lot of new people to the movement. Now it’s actually the core of solidarity with immigrants.
And there’s the second case of a restaurant called Rizkarna which in English is something like steakhouse, where the owner didn’t pay the wages and was bullying the employees for a pretty long time. There’s a brand new thing, like two or three years in Czech, which is networks of solidarity, or solidarity networks. And these two organizations, one from Prague and one from Most, was progressing at developing their tactics against this restaurant, from basic campaigns and then later they started to block the restaurant or sabotage it in some sort of public way. But then later, attacks also happened against the owner from this insurrectionist group. And I think all these things together, if they would connect, and if this movement would be growing and at the same time starting to be more militant, I think this can offer an alternative to people who are seeking alternatives in the economic crisis, which is happening. Unfortunately, most people are seeking alternatives in nationalism and offering solutions by racism. But I think it can be more danger for authorities if they would start to seek it among anarchists.
And there is one more answer, which is the fact that… I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the agents chose a train with military equipment to be the target. Nor is it a surprise that the house that which was attacked was the house of the Minister of Defense, because there is one more important fact, which is that Igor, the accused one, is a Russian citizen. And in the narrative of police and media it plays especially well in the political discourse of the Minister of Defense, which at the same time is signing contracts with US troops and US bases’ presence and US bases on Czech land, and trying to push for mandatory recruitment again, and being strongly pro-US, arguing that war with Russia is on the doorstep. The narrative in the media, and actually the official police narrative, was that the Minister of Defense is getting threatening emails and letters for the past months, which say something like, “Don’t fuck around with Russia,” and other pro-Russian stuff. And the narrative of the media would be that since Igor is Russian, he is most likely the one sending these letters to the Minister of Defense. You know, in the first case they were so much emphasizing how the terrorists are anarchists, and the political background was very important; in this case they said that he was anarchist, but at the same time much more they were emphasizing that he was Russian, and therefore pro-Putin. We could read in some media “pro-Putin anarchist.” They don’t seek for his political background so much as they did with the so-called “terrorists” from the first case, because it wouldn’t fit their narrative. The truth is that Igor was taking part in illegal demonstrations against occupying Ukraine back when he lived in Russia. And when he moved to Prague, he made a presentation about how not every Russian is pro-Putin, and there is actually pretty decent resistance against Putin’s politics in Russian Federation.
If we combine all of these arguments, somewhere there we find the answer.
Alanis: What kinds of solidarity can our listeners across the world offer for Czech anarchists who are targeted with repression?
Sascha: I would first of all mention a website which we run. The website is antifenix.noblogs.org. but it’s spelled ANTIFENIX dot NOBLOGS (one word) dot org. First of all, there are many things in English, and then there is a whole section up there on the top that says “information in English,” or “how to help” in English. There is a poster which first of all you can download, print and put it in your collectives, which says a lot about this case and how to help. And you can read a lot about this case. You can write letters; if you need addresses just hit us on email: antifenix at riseup dot net. And you can do any action in front of the Czech embassy, or basically any action in your cities, and just send us some reports. You can do benefits; unfortunately, this is just the beginning of a very expensive legal battle and we will need lots and lots of money. Actually, there is Martin and Peter, accused in this case of entrapment, and Igor, so we have three people in custody. Two of those are vegans, and they are not getting vegan food, and living actually in quite poor conditions, so we are sending them food. So again, if you have a spare dollar/euro/crown/zloty, or - I don’t know where all the listeners come from - we would very much appreciate any donations.
There is no limits of your creativity and fantasy; we welcome all kinds of action. From what I read from the detainees, from the prisoners, I’m sure that all three of those would appreciate any solidarity made by action. Recently it just happened that there was another sabotage in the fur farm in the south of Czech, which was dedicated to those being detained during Operation Fenix. So any kind of action that comes to your mind. You can do good old benefits, skate sessions, graffiti jams, you know, write a song… There are all these kinds of solidarities happening already in Czech, you can find it on the website.
Alanis: Sascha, thank you for speaking with us!
Sascha: Yeah, thank you very much for your time, and I hope that next time we can speak about something more positive.
BACKGROUND TO ANARCHISM AND BURNING FLAGS IN KOREA
Clara: Speaking of international solidarity, remember that call to action in our last episode where South Korean anarchists asked folks around the world to burn Korean flags - both north and south, mind you - as a way to draw attention to anarchists and rebels facing backlash there?
Alanis: That was seriously the coolest call to action I’ve heard in a long time!
Clara: Yeah, I think so too. And that’s why I want to take a bit of time in this episode to share some deeper context for how nationalism and radical politics shaped the relationship between anarchists and the flag in Korea. We’d like to share this excerpt that appeared recently on the CrimethInc. blog along with the Korean call to action, as a part of understanding the logic of state repression in other parts of the world as well as how right wing reaction and left wing indifference shape the terrain in which anarchists operate amidst popular discontent and economic crisis.
Alanis: Why Korea? Why Struggle on the Terrain of Nationalist Discourse?
Military conflict transforms public discourse into Left/Right or patriot/traitor dichotomies that effectively exclude anarchist perspectives. The Ukrainian uprising and subsequent Russian invasion form just one of many recent examples. This problem is especially acute in the Koreas, since the Korean peninsula is a hotspot in the lingering cold war and a point of confrontation for two major blocs, China and the United States.
Regarding the question of nationalism, Korea could be considered an archetypical nation-state, identified with a territory that has been stable for thousands of years, a unique language and culture, and a large yet homogenous population. If we are to confront the myth of the nation-state, a place like Korea is a challenge.
During the first half of the 20th century, self-identified nationalist-anarchists were at the forefront of the resistance to the Japanese occupation; a group of them even formed an important part in the so-called Korean temporary government at the end of the Japanese colonial period, though it never actually ruled. Their principal goal then was a united independence, as they could foresee the terrible consequences of foreign states—the “liberating allies”—making Korea into a client state, or, worse, dividing it up between the USA in the South and the USSR in the North.
Here, we will explore the complex historical relationship between nationalism and social movements in Korea. Western anarchists acting in solidarity with people in Korea should be careful not to be perceived as preaching a universalism that disregards local matters—that, like capitalism, dislocates everything. Our efforts could backfire, reinforcing a xenophobic nationalist collectivism. At the same time, fearing this makes many “foreigners” living here dilute their politics and restrain themselves to a passive ally position. This can be stifling; we hope collectively to find a way to overcome that.
Clara: The Forbidden Flag
March 1st 1919 marked the beginning of the 3.1 Manse Movement. Under Japanese colonial occupation, the expression of Korean national identity was repressed. The school system only taught the Japanese language and Japanese history. On this day, a movement to hold the Korean flag in public places began and was brutally repressed. Nevertheless, it ignited resistance. Korean nationalists-turned-anarchists developed a range of initiatives over the following decades—opening free radical schools, organizing self-managed and self-sustained rural communities on the periphery of the Japanese Empire, creating coalitions across the ethnic and political borders of the region, organizing guerrilla groups, committing targeted assassinations, and more.
The demonstrations that started on March 1, 1919 involved the display of the current South Korean flag and the slogan “Manse!” (만세, “Long Live”). Could we consider the burning of this Korean flag an act of re-appropriation?
Alanis: The Contested Flag
May 1980, Gwangju. For decades after the defeat of the Japanese Empire, South Korea was ruled by US-backed military dictatorships that claimed to represent the free Korean nation, as opposed to the North Korean “communist” regime. A strong social movement in the South contested this narrative, calling for another nationalism and democratization, culminating in a major insurrection. However, news of this rebellion was censored by the state-controlled media establishment. Even though the large city of Gwangju fought off the military for days of self-organized rebellion, the outside public informed by the mass media only briefly heard about a clash involving North Korean commandos.
Through out the 1970s and ’80s, social movements were largely united around these linked themes of nationalism and social democratization (with some accents of socialism); the only major conflicts were over whether to prioritize democratization (in the South) or independence, anti-US resistance, and reunification (with the North).
At the end of the ’80s, after continuing social unrest, the regime began to transition to a more liberal democratic form. The struggles of the preceding decades, such as the Gwangju Uprising, became celebrated hallmarks of the nation’s progress. However, the first democratic transition of the presidency to the opposition party in 1998—which many people saw as representing victory over authoritarian establishment—coincided with the onset of a major financial crisis and a painful structural adjustment program from the IMF. Following a decade with this liberal party in power, the party that ruled autocratically for decades has come back into power, this time more or less democratically, declaring it is time to end the ideological conflicts of the past. The current president is the daughter of the dictator who ruled South Korea for two decades.
Clara: The Burnt Flag
Spring 2015. The issue of further social democratization and national independence remains important—for example, in the struggles (with anarchists at the forefront) against the expansion of military bases and their connection to a global network. Yet the large demonstrations held on May Day this year exemplify the trend following the democratization of the ’90s towards a plurality of social movements: labor, feminism, queer, ecology. Besides a general sense of solidarity and opposition to the current regime, one of the few focal points seemed to be support for the families of the victims of a ferry accident last year, who are struggling for transparency against the authorities’ apparent cover-up. For many, this ferry incident symbolizes the sacrifice of the young generation to the logic of the system, to corrupt authorities, though there is hardly a clear understanding or unanimity around what precisely the problem is. This year’s May Day demonstration was preceded by a week of protests about this ferry incident. Culminating on April 18, violent clashes erupted as the police tried to isolate the families of the victims, who had been occupying a strategic public place near the presidential palace for weeks, from the rest of the massive crowd.
Nevertheless, while tens of thousands of people were gathered in the streets, while more than 70 police buses were damaged and more than 70 police officers injured, the incident that took the central place in almost all the corporate media was that one person burnt a national flag. Isn’t all this attention focused on a single burnt flag just the deplorable result of right-wing influence on the establishment seeking to divert public attention from more important issues?
The state used this incident to launch a search on the “affiliations” of the criminal, since burning the national flag is a criminal offense. However, much of the repression was not carried out by the state, but rather through voluntary, public, diffuse action. In the past, dissident political activities were either censored or scarcely reported on with blatant lies thanks to direct state involvement; however, in the current situation, intense exposure in the media “free market” and public discourse create the conditions for self-censorship. Although many lament the treatment of the accused and “personally” have no problem with what they see as a purely symbolic gesture, they do not want to engage in any kind of public solidarity action with the accused out of concern for what others will think and say.
The right wing, though it strongly disapproves, insists that this flag incident is part of a significant political movement. On the other hand, some leftists, even if they have sympathy for the accused, insist that it is not politically significant because it was a spontaneous individual act, not organized in any way. These leftists are afraid that giving importance to this act will play into the hands of the right wing and the establishment, or that it would be disrespectful of the families of the ferry accident victims, or something else of that nature. Even many anarchists doubt the strategic importance and choice of this kind of symbolic struggle.
This message is intended to start an exchange. Let’s figure out something new together.
“The state used this incident to launch a search on the “affiliations” of the criminal, since burning the national flag is a criminal offense. However, much of the repression was not carried out by the state, but rather through voluntary, public, diffuse action. In the past, dissident political activities were reported CENSORED AND WITH BLATANT LIES THANKS TO DIRECT STATE INVOLVEMENT; HOWEVER in the current situation, intense exposure IN THE MEDIA ”FREE MARKET" and public discourse create the conditions for self-censorship. Although many lament the treatment of the accused and “personally” have no problem with what they see as a purely symbolic gesture, they do not want to engage in any kind of public solidarity action with the accused out of concern for what others will think and say.
The right wing, though it strongly disapproves, insists that this flag incident is part of a significant political movement. On the other hand, some leftists, even if they have sympathy for the accused, insist that it is not politically significant because it was a spontaneous individual act, not organized in any way. These leftists are afraid that giving importance to this act will play into the hands of the right wing and the establishment, or that it would be disrespectful of the families of the ferry accident victims, or something else of that nature. Even many anarchists DOUBT the strategic importance AND CHOICE of this kind of symbolic struggle.
NEXT WEEKS NEWS
Alanis: And finally we’ll wrap things up with Next Week’s News. We’ve got an extremely exciting announcement to share, which is that the CrimethInc. “To Change Everything” tour is underway! It kicked off on September 8th and is going to criss-cross the US over the next two months, with a staggering fifty different events featuring an international crew of anarchist speakers! It begins heading up the east coast, heads through the midwest, cross the Rocky Mountains and reaches the northwest by early/mid-October, then heads south along the west coast before heading back through the southwest into the southeast. If you’re listening in the US, there’s a very solid chance it’ll be coming somewhere near you, so be sure to check out the CrimethInc. blog to see the full schedule of dates and places. Here’s the tour announcement to get you excited:
Clara: To Change Everything: The Promise of Anarchism ; An International Panel Discussion
This panel brings together organizers from Latin America, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and North America to discuss the significance of anarchist ideas and tactics in the 21st century. The participants will compare experiences from the wave of protests and uprisings that has swept the world since 2010—exploring the role of demand-based politics in both catalyzing and limiting movements, examining a variety of forms of repression, and critically evaluating experiments with direct democracy. They will conclude by assessing the prospects of contemporary struggles for self-determination in an era of globalized capitalism and state control. All of the presenters are contributors to a recent outreach and dialogue project, To Change Everything…
Alanis: As featured in audio form by the Ex-Worker in Episode 35. If you want more info on the tour or want to solicit them to come to your town, send an email to rollingthunder at crimethinc dot com. We’ll share report updates and reports on the tour in future episodes, so stay tuned.
Clara: On September 18th–20th, a gathering called “Connecting European Struggles” will take place in Malmo, Sweden; this year’s theme is “Feminism in the Crisis.” You can hear an interview with some of the organizers on an upcoming episode of the anarchist radio show The Final Straw; check out theFinalStrawRadio.noblogs.org to tune in.
Alanis: Way back in Episode 2, we spoke with an organizer with the Global Justice Ecology Project about their campaign against genetically modified trees. If you want to get involved, there’s a GE Trees Action Camp taking place in North Carolina on September 24–27th. Check out [GlobalJusticeEcology.org] for more details. http://globaljusticeecology.org/apply-action-camp/
Clara: If you’re in to nonviolent direct action, over in San Francisco on September 28th there’s a hullabaloo going on called Flood Wall Street West, where folks will rove around the financial district and“take mass direct action to shut down business as usual and emphasize the connections between the climate crisis, capitalism, exploitation and oppression.” Info is at floodwallstreetwest.org.
Alanis: Here’s an announcement from the No New Animal Lab campaign about an upcoming demonstration in Seattle in October:
The grassroots animal rights movement in the United States has been in a lull. The dominance of corporate NGOs, an increase in state-sponsored fear tactics, and an upswing in vegan consumerist feel-goodery have successfully turned what was once a powerful people’s movement into a small collection of groups scattered around the country. But things are changing. Next month, hundreds of people will descend upon the University of Washington (UW) campus to protest the construction of a new underground animal testing laboratory. Since November 2014, activists across North America and around the world have targeted Skanska, the company responsible for constructing UW’s planned animal torture facility. If it’s allowed to be built, thousands more dogs, monkeys, mice, guinea pigs, rabbits, and other animals will be imprisoned, tortured, driven to insanity, and killed. Through office disruptions, home demonstrations, lobby invasions, and direct action, the No New Animal Lab campaign has mobilized grassroots animal activists in ways that haven’t been seen in years. Construction of the lab has started. The grassroots movement has reawakened. Energy is building. Now what are we going to do with it?
Everything can change in one moment. The only thing that will stop UW and Skanska is you. On October 2, hundreds of people will converge at the University of Washington to stop the construction of the underground animal lab. Where will you be?
Alanis: And back here in the States, on November 7th and 8th, the Torch anti-fascist network conference will take place in Philadelphia. Check out torchantifa.org for all the details. Oh, and speaking of anti-fascism: some anti-fascists have released a call for materials to support the creation of a video documentary on the history of the antifa movement in the US, to be titled “No Fascist USA.” It sounds like a cool project; check out the call via the link on our website if you’re interested.
Clara: And last but never least, here are some radical prisoners who have birthdays this month:
Alanis: September 12th was Leonard Peltier, American Indian Movement activist framed for the murder of two FBI agents; and also on the 12th, Sean Swain, a true uncontrollable locked up in Ohio whose prison writings we’ve shared on the show before;
Clara: On the 26th, Greg Curry, a participant in an 1993 uprising in the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility that united prisoners across racial and gang lines;
Alanis: On the 27th, Brian McCarvill, an anarchist prisoner who sued the Oregon Department of Corrections over censorship of anarchist publications;
Clara: And on the 29th, Jorge Cornell, or King J, of the North Carolina Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation, leader of a street organization that faced repression for their gang truce and anti-police organizing.
Alanis: So that’s all for this episode of the Ex-Worker! Many thanks to Sascha for speaking with us, to A-Radio Berlin for sharing their interview with ABC-Belarus, and to everyone who wrote in with feedback.
Clara: Check out our website, crimethinc.com/podcast, for more details on everything we discussed plus a full transcript of the show, and always feel free to be in touch by email to podcast at crimethinc dot com. Thanks for listening!
Alanis: This episode is dedicated to Igor, Martin and Peter in prison in Prague, and to the memory of Alper, Evrim, Medali, Serhat, and Vatan, the five anarchists who lost their lives to ISIS in the Suruc massacre.
Never forgive, and never forget; stay strong, keep loving, and keep fighting.
Links and references from this episode of The Ex-Worker:
The 2015 “To Change Everything” US tour is off! Be sure to check the tour schedule on the CrimethInc. blog to see if they’re coming to a town near you, or email firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or to solicit a presentation near you.
Our discussion of the history and politics of flag-burning in Korea comes from this recent report on South Korea published on the CrimethInc. blog.
To learn more about anarchist repression and resistance in the Czech Republic, visit the Anti-Fenix support page; in particular, check out this printable English-language info poster and put up copies in social spaces near you.
To learn more about the release of anarchist political prisoners in Belarus, start with the ABC Belarus website, the A-Radio Berlin interview we excerpted, and this article on the anti-anarchist crackdown. You can also see US corporate media coverage and an insightful Belarussian pundit’s take. Also, check out released anarchist political prisoner Ihar Alinevich’s book describing his prison experience On the Road to Magadan and these two short films in English on Ihar and fellow released prisoner Mikalaj Dziadok.
Our coverage of the Suruc massacre mentioned a statement from the Greece-based Initiative for Solidarity with Rojava, journalist Amed Dicle’s questions on the Suruc massacre and calls for self-defense, Vatan Budak, the international call for anarchist actions against the Suruc massacre, repression of radical Kurdish youth in Eskisehir, Turkish state prioritizing of anti-Kurdish airstrikes over fighting ISIS and US complicity, the Irish Worker Solidarity Movement’s analysis of Turkish repression of Kurdish activists, and Istanbul neighborhoods’ declarations of autonomy.
In our listener feedback section we strongly recommended checking out the zine How to Overthrow the Illuminati, an accessible tool for redirecting conspiracy theorists towards revolutionary analysis of their conditions. Trigger warning: it’s pretty Marxist. But it’s still the best resource out there that refutes Illuminati/etc. conspiracy stuff and offers concrete radical alternatives for understanding our social conditions. If you want some more specific anarchist responses to the Zeitgeist movement, there are a handful (though none that we would strongly recommend): a discussion forum on flag.blackened.net; a scattered critique from anarchistnews.org in 2009 that addresses TZM’s “non-political” posturing and notion of capitalism; a libertarian municipalist/post-scarcity economics, i.e. Murray Bookchin-influenced, perspective; a Scottish anarcho-communist blogger’s take on it, and a libertarian socialist on YouTube. Good luck out there.
Also in the listener feedback section, we referenced a Gulf Coast anarchist newspaper called The Raging Pelican that served as a valuable tool for outreach and connection with folks in small towns across Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, as well as the Southeast Anarchist Network gatherings, which took place in Greensboro, NC in 2004 and Charleston, SC in 2005.
We alluded in the Hot Wire to the slogan “Que Se Vayan Todos”, which was a popular cry in the streets during the 2001 Argentinian uprising.
Anonymous hacktivist and anarchist Jeremy Hammond has been held for weeks now in punitive solitary confinement; his supporters have asked folks to consider writing him a note to help him keep his spirits up. Find his current address and tips on writing him here.
Support Alabama anarchist prison rebel Michael Kimble by writing the parole board a letter supporting his parole hearing in December; check out his instructions on how to write an effective letter on his behalf.
Events mentioned on Next Week’s News included the “Connecting European Struggles” ctake place in Malmo, Sweden - check out theFinalStrawRadio.noblogs.org for an interview with organizers; Global Justice Ecology Project action camp against GE Trees on in North Carolina on September 24–27th; Flood Wall Street West, in San Francisco on September 28th; the No New Animal Lab demonstration in Seattle on October 2nd; anarchist book fairs on the 2nd through 4th in Florence, Italy, and on the 24th in London, UK, and the Torch anti-fascist network conference in Philadelphia November 7–8.
Oh, and speaking of anti-fascism: some anti-fascists have released a call for materials to support the creation of a video documentary on the history of the antifa movement in the US, to be titled “No Fascist USA.”
Prisoner birthdays in September:
Brian Vaillancourt M42889
Robinson Correctional Center
13423 East 1150th Avenue
Robinson, Illinois 62454
Leonard Peltier #89637–132
USP Coleman I
Post Office Box 1033
Coleman, Florida 33521
Sean Swain #243–205
P.O. Box 120
5787 State Route 63
Lebanon, OH 45036
Greg Curry #213–159
Ohio State Penitentiary
878 Coitsville-Hubbard Rd
Youngstown OH 44505–4635
Brian McCarvill #11037967
Snake River CI
777 Stanton Blvd
Ontario, OR 97914–8335
Jorge P. Cornell #28152–057
FCI Petersburg Medium
P.O. Box 1000
Petersburg, VA 23804