Wednesday, 4 August 2004

The journey home from Belgrade

Did you know that Serbian hairdressers are called 'frizzy'?
Did I say that there weren't enough general meetings? Well they made up for that with a marathon last day General Meeting that lasted a bum-stiffening six hours. We formed into spokes, that is, affinity groups who each chose a spokesperson. I guess that was to increase efficiency and stop individual rambling. We, as a samba group, are a natural affinity group but some others had to join up with people they didn't know.
There were five agenda points and each spoke had 20 minutes to discuss each point, after which a vote would be taken. Unfortunately some of the agenda points clashed with each other. For instance: the first agenda point discussed proposed Global Days of Action some of which were accepted and some not. Then the second agenda point asked if we were an organisation or a network. We were a network! So how can we endorse certain days of action and not others if we aren't an organisation? Doh.
We also discussed for the second agenda point whether the PGA would allow people from NGO's and political parties to come to the conference. As a group we decided that they could come to the conference but not join in the process unless they agreed with the PGA hallmarks. Still following? Well, there could be a situation where a fundamentalist Islamic group wanted to come. They may have valid points to bring to the conference but they obviously wouldn't agree with the PGA hallmark that rejects sexism.
This also brought up an incident whereby the conference newsletter "outed" a woman from Germany who was affiliated with a political party. The article written was rather nasty and they also published a photograph of her. She left the conference that day feeling very upset...
This brought us onto the third agenda point: what to do when someone has been the victim of physical or psychological violence. Do they exclude the perpetrator? Do they just believe the victim (who could, in rare circumstances, be falsely accusing the perp)? One woman came from another affinity group to ours very upset, almost in tears, saying that she had been the victim of violence at the conference. Despite asking for help, nothing was done. With our encouragement she then spoke up again, she had tried to before but she was ignored. (The gender 'reader' given out on 'Gender Day' spoke about how when women speak at meetings they are ignored until a man restates what they have said, in other words the word of a man is worth double that of a woman even at activist meetings). She complained that all these fine and pretty words at a meeting were worthless if they were not implemented!
I reflected about her coming over to us rather than staying within her affinity group. And I realised that it was probably because we were the most female-dominated affinity group as the samba band has many women.
Sorry I cannot report on rest of the general meeting because I popped into the kitchen to make us some coffee and all hell had broken loose. The food at the conference had mostly been provided by RAD, a workers collective. Their business had been privatised but now they had formed their own collective.
The first couple of days the food was okay but the vegans had managed to dominate the menu. And I tell you, 5 days of unidentifiable vegan brown Serbo-slop with mystery chunks (some kind of soya) can be a little wearing.
Plus the kids won't eat it, due to depressing colour and 'bits' in it.
Well unbeknownst to everybody in the 'autonomous kitchen', RAD weren't coming anymore. The autonomous kitchen had to provide all the food for 200-300 people at rather short notice. (It had apparently been announced but none of the kitchen crew knew, and they had downed tools and said no way can we prepare food for so many at such short notice).
So guess who ended up organising this lunch for 200-300 people? Me.
I tried to vary the menu a little, add some colour. But there weren't many ingredients or cookers. After quite alot of panic, plus realising there weren't enough plates, forks etc so we had to use cups, we did succeed in the following menu: garlicky tomato sauce, pasta, brown rice, lentil soup, soya chunks in soy sauce, onion and garlic, fried potatoes.
There were also rumours flying around that a local Nazi youth, (apparently one of the Nazi big cheeses was actually living in the village where we were camped) had been kicked out and had been seen calling out for back-up from his mates.
There was one exciting meeting the day before, that I sadly missed, called by the anti-Deutsch group, literally, the anti-Germans. These are 3 young Germans who feel such guilt about the holocaust that they embrace Israel and the U.S.A. They had put up notices all around the camp saying that they felt the PGA conference was anti-Semitic and that the U.S.A were good because they defended Israel. As you can imagine, their meeting was somewhat lively, many people walked out in disgust. Irish Greg voted that meetings' facilitator the best of the conference.
I went to one meeting called "Breaking out of the activist ghetto" But they didn't seem to be discussing anything remotely relevant, rather they were discussing tomatoes and strawberries. Weird.

THURSDAY NIGHT~ we went down to the students cultural centre in Belgrade for our 'visibility' day. The students cultural centre looked like a palace, not the usual sodden-carpeted back room...
Some Indymedia films were shown then we started playing... it was great, such a buzz. You could feel everybodys excitement especially when we went out into the street and stopped the traffic. The police came and were particularly shocked by my daughter playing her caixa (snare), drumming her little heart out.."Where is the mother? Where is the father?" they kept asking. Then someone pointed me out to them, playing an even bigger drum. The next day there was a picture of us in the papers.
The police said that we were not allowed to play in the road so somebody argued that if at the crossing, we kept pushing the button so that there was a continuous 'green man', then we had every right to play in the road, for we were just "crossing" it.
The police did not pursue it. Many Serbs came up to me afterwards and said that is just what we needed..."colour and life on the streets of Belgrade, after 10 years of war".
So the next day we were returning home: we were going to be efficient, get up on time, have our tents and sleeping bags packed, be up at 5 and at the bus by 7 sharp. Yes!
No! A message was received in the middle of the night that one of the minibuses had broken down and was on the other side of Belgrade. Many worrying hours passed, the Serbian RAC was called, the people with the bus had no mobiles, etc etc.
Finally the bus was fixed and we set off, tapping out a tune on the sides of the bus, at 1p.m., six hours later than planned...
The journey home was hot and sticky. Believe me, 3 days in a mini-bus ain't a holiday. Points of relief: we stopped for a beer in Hungary and were offered free schnapps..we stopped at one of the Germans' mums house and were given coffee and sandwiches. Even the slightest slowing down of the minibus led to the smoking contingent leaping out and desperately inhaling nicotine. The buses became increasingly whiffy, due to feet, rubbish and Diego's cheese.
We played accordion and that weird big tambourine thingy that Greg has, on the ferry. A merry band of minstrels...
Some stuff occurred on the ferry and the ride back to London, where I finally lost my rag...but this is not the place to air it..
Back at LARC, the others went for a curry, I took all the drums in my van back to Kilburn, will see you guys on Wednesday at practice.