Wednesday, 28 July 2004

Belgrade missive

More news from cock-up central...
Val arrived on the train early but remained asleep. She then realised the train was moving to Athens and had to hurl herself and her luggage off the moving train and possibly cracked a rib.
Jim the accordion player was fined 1000 (about a tenner) on the local bus because he punched his ticket wrongly. Serbs are quite jobsworth.
The first co-ordination meeting got off to an exciting start when Fabian, one of the LARC (London Action Resource Centre, an anarchist meeting house in London) drivers, decided to register his protest against the organisers, (actually they don't like being called that because the PGA isn't an organisation so there) by squatting in the middle of the meeting, taking down his trousers and wiping his arse on the PGA agenda.
Half the people walked out. The next morning it was announced at breakfast by a beautiful French punk lesbian that there were "subversive infiltrators" at the conference. Tee hee.
We did the first drumming workshop in the camp but mostly adults, Serbs and PGA conferencers turned up. The workshops were supposed to be for the Roma community. Val 'mestred' (conducted) and did really well.
We were then asked to play for five minutes to open a plenary meeting (I've learnt a lot of jargon here, this means a general meeting for the whole conference). However we changed mestres without realising that there were differences between Amsterdam RoR hand signals and London ones, and we sounded like a lurching drunk.
Due to the lack of kids at the first kids workshop we went to another small school 4 km away to do 'outreach' with Roma kids. Loads of kids turned up and some of them were excellent drummers and dancers. First of all they divided themselves on gender, the girls went for dancing and the boys for drumming. Later a few girls drummed too but no boys danced however.
We decided to do the rest of the workshops at the school, to the disappointment of the Serbians who had come to the first workshop. The Serbians are reluctant to mix with the Romas; there are huge prejudices against Romany people in Serbia.
On the second day with the Romas a meeting was arranged and also a cultural exchange. I did not attend because certain rowdy members of the samba band, yes you know who you are, kept the whole camp up all night with loud singing. I was too tired basically.
Instead I attended a 'process meeting' where I complained about the family unfriendly policies. The promised 'kids space' did not materialise properly and was manned only by the parents of the few kids here. It's a vicious circle because people with kids do not turn up to these conferences because it's not family friendly. In fact I've been bringing up this issue in every meeting I've attended. The bulk of the people here are between 18 to 30, childless, squatter punk types but white and middle class of course.
While writing an article on this for the daily newsletter I was confronted by one young punk saying "people who have children shouldn't come to these conferences." 
"So when you have a child you will give up activism?" I asked.
 "I will not have children. I have made a choice." He replied.
"How old are you?" I asked.
"23".
"What!! You've made a choice not to have children and you are only 23 ! For a start it's not you that's going to decide, it will probably be whatever girlfriend you have and at 23 you don't know anything." I splutter in frustration at his arrogant ignorance. And this guy thinks he's an anarchist? 
People admitted that the European PGA tends to be an alternative youth ghetto while claiming to represent the global situation. Globally 90% of people have kids so how representative are these people? I was told the worldwide PGA meetings are quite different. There will be one in Nepal next year. Do you reckon the samba band will fund a trip out there, just askin'...
I turned up later to the Roma/samba cultural exchange and it was a riot, a mad mix of gypsy beats and samba, and everyone was dancing in a frenzy.
The meeting was apparently very productive which is more than you can say about most of the meetings here. The Roma described the prejudice against them and how most of their kids are illiterate and rarely finish primary school.
I have attended a few turgid meetings here. They are slow because you have to wait for translation, and often I feel that people are saying the bloody obvious but with academic jargon.
Then the heat stopped and the rain started. My tent turned into a lake within minutes because I left it open and I found my back pack floating in it.
Have felt slightly suicidally depressed every morning ever since.
This was worsened when someone received a text saying the weather is lovely in London.
I feel that the samba band are really doing something useful rather than all the talking shops going on here. Although there's been squabbles and we have all gotten really tired and wet, it's been worth it.
Tomorrow is the last day and we are playing a street party in Belgrade for what is called "the visibility day". i.e. the day when we emerge from our camp and show Belgrade that we are here.
There have been rumblings also though because some people have felt that proceedings and decisions have not been transparent. There haven't been enough general meetings. For instance yesterday the electrical workers asked us to come on their demo but the Serb organisers discouraged this saying they would get into trouble. This pissed alot of people off. In the end some people went and it passed without incident.

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