Despite some valiant struggles, the Police Crackdown bill passed in the UK a few weeks ago. It’s not only a frontal attack on the right to protest, but also includes racist restrictions on Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller communities. The law is not an English aberration, but part of a pattern of laws passed or in the works across Europe.
France went first with a law that barely veiled its islamophobic contents with a call to French republicanism, whose colonial nature couldn’t be more obvious. On top of this the new loi securite general is every cop’s wet dream: further militarization of equipment, “privacy” protections for cops to avoid scrutiny, more severe penal codes, and a vast increase in surveillance.
Meanwhile, the Mitsotakis government in Greece is doing its best to undo decades of anti-authoritarian struggles, by destroying some holy cows of the movement, such as allowing cops on campus and creating bureaucratic hurdles for demonstrations.
A similar restructuring has been taking place in Germany, where due to the federal nature of the state, these attacks have been very different depending on the region. While some states went the path of relatively liberal reforms, such as Berlin and Schleswig-Holstein. Others, such as Bavaria and Northrhine-Westphalia (NRW), have been militarizing their police forces and clamping down on protests. As an active participant in the protest against a new “Versammlungsgesetz” (“assembly law”) in NRW, we have been pushing back against this latest attack.
This isn’t the first attack on the freedom of assembly in NRW however. 2018 saw the introduction of a new police law, which, among other things, gave tasers to the police, allowed cops to spy on our phones and computers, added more CCTV surveillance, and significantly increased the time one can be held without a trial. It notably also added further legroom for racial profiling, a practice that is rampant in this country, as even the UN has noticed.
The massive protests against this couldn’t prevent the law and the protest alliance quickly devolved into the internal squabbles the German left excels at. Still, the government seems to have learned more lessons from the process than we did: The new Versammlungsgesetz is focused solely on the (radical) left and its most prominent movements: Antifa and Climate Justice. Which makes it a lot easier to push it through parliament, without any concerned liberals losing too much sleep over it.
The law contains all kinds of nasty stuff: Criminal penalties for disrupting fascist protests, outlawing displays of militancy through similar clothing (e.g. Black bloc or the white vests worn by Ende Gelände), and less oversight for undercover cops. Aside from this headline-grabbing stuff, the already farcical situation of having to register a demonstration in Germany is becoming even more bureaucratic: It can’t be done via phone and only on weekdays. The right to assembly – supposedly guaranteed in the constitution – is becoming more of a joke than it already was. The coalition government in NRW claims to primarily be targeting fascists by making sure they can’t intimidate the public with their demonstrations. A ridiculous lie: Most examples in the accompanying commentary of the law come from the climate and the Antifa movement. It is the latter that is holding back the fascist threat and not the cops who are at best enabling it and at worst are in cahoots with Neonazis.
Normally this whole charade would have gone its usual course: We would have protested honorably, the media would ignore us and the government would push its authoritarian fantasy through parliament. If we were lucky maybe the Greens or the Social Democrats would discover their backbone (elections are coming up after all) and fight to make some cosmetic changes.
Unfortunately for the state government, the largest demonstration against the law so far (~8000) in Düsseldorf a month ago was overshadowed by massive police repression. People were kettled for 9 hours in the blasting heat and for some time weren’t able to go to the toilet and were denied access to water. This usually wouldn’t interest anyone in the media, but this time the cops beat up the wrong guy. As the police were attacking and beating protestors, a DPA journalist was caught in the melee and beaten by the pigs, even as he told them he was a member of the media. This caused some outrage and the state government has announced it will reevaluate the law. Meanwhile, the minor coalition partner of the Christian Democrats suddenly noticed, that the law they were previously more than happy to pass, might infringe on people’s rights!
So where does the radical left figure in all of this? While we don’t care about liberal platitudes at the same time this law would significantly reduce our maneuvering space. To have a realistic chance of defeating it we will have to hold our nose and enter coalitions with people, who, in other circumstances, have no issue with talking about outlawing Antifa or destroying the environment. Still, our chances for defeating this law are better than they ever were, thanks to the blatant stupidity of the cops. We have to seize the momentum and launch a dual attack:
Notis Mitarakis, the Greek Minister of Migration and Beate Gminder, Head of the European Taskforce for Lesbos and acting head of the EU task force on Lesbos visited Moria 21 on the island of Lesbos end of November.
by dunya collective from Lesbos (Greece)
It had the looks of a well-rehearsed show. Business as usual: In his speech Mitarakis emphasized that the camp was clean, save and orderly. He spoke of a “structure that has no traces of the chaos of Moria” and declared that flood protection measures had been completed and the camp was adequately prepared for winter. The camp could now function independently from the health care system of the city of Mytilini.
The minister continued by explaining that together with IGME1 the soil had been analyzed – a detail that could be of importance, since the camp is located on a former shooting range which makes contamination with lead and other heavy metals likely. With this step he reacted to the concerns of NGOs and media reports.2 EU commissioner of home affairs, Ylva Johansson, had stated after the fires in Moria in early September that conditions were indeed inacceptable. “Conditions in Moria, both before and after the fire, were unacceptable. Men, women and children living in overcrowded camps with poor sanitation and little access to health care.”3 Trusting Mitarakis’ comments, it looks like we are not about to recreate the same conditions. But the perspective of the people who must live in the camp is very different. It was not without reason that they quickly named the new camp Moria 2. A short overview:
I There are very few showers that only run with cold water, so-called bucket showers. Camp inhabitants have to improvise and build their own showers to wash themselves. There is neither running nor hot water. People have no other option than doing their laundry and washing themselves in the ocean.
II The quality of food is as bad as it was in the old camp Moria, the same catering company “Elaitis” brings the food. Food equaling three meals is distributed once a day. The food is of very low quality and in the evening it is often times spoiled already.
III Health care is insufficient. Many of the inhabitants do not trust the doctors anymore. There are long waiting hours and inhabitants often only receive paracetamol as a treatment. There is hardly any psychological care. There is an epidemic of scabies that was already a big problem in Moria 1.
IV The location of the camp is exposed to the north. The tents are thin. Wind and weather pull at them and cause enormous noise. Many inhabitants complain about sleep deprivation because of this. It is also cold at night and the tents are not heated. The use of radiators is officially forbidden, as is open fire.
V Electrical installations are insufficient and in many cases seem improvised. There has already been a fire in Moria 2, apparently caused by an electrical short. Inhabitants extinguished the fire, not the fire brigade.
VI There is very restricted access for the press. Journalists can only enter the camp with special permission and accompanied by police or camp personnel. These permissions are hard to come by. Of course, protection against COVID-19 is important, but these measures were already in place before lockdown. They aim at avoiding images of the ugly truth of the camp reaching the public.
VII Inhabitants often describe the camp as a prison. At the entrance there are metal detectors. Drones surveil the camp and there are 300 police officers on duty, working in shifts. On top of that, the possibilities of leaving the camps are heavily restricted. Lockdown has impacted the camp tremendously and now inhabitants can only leave the camp once per week for four hours maximum. This results in enormous psychological pressure.
Many do not now what is next to come. The repeating questions we encounter are: Will they decline my asylum application? Will there be a transfer to the mainland? Will I receive asylum? Will I be homeless? Will Germany take me in? What have we done to deserve this treatment? What will happen to me if I stay here? Will there be a new camp? Will I be allowed into the new camp? Will the camp be closed? How long do I have to stay here?
What do we know about the construction of a new camp that the EU task force is involved in? After his tour of the camp, Mitarakis underlined that Moria 2 was only temporary and together with the EU commission, a new, closed camp was in the works. “In the following month we will quickly work towards the creation of a more permanent, closed, controlled structure, in cooperation with the European Commission”, Mitarakis stated.4
Mitarakis has made similar statements before to online portal “Infomigrants”: “These camps will have double fencing, they will have a secure gate. Asylum seekers will be allowed to exit and enter using a card and a fingerprint at a dedicated time through the day. Camps will be closed at night – it’s a policy we are already implementing in the temporary camp in Lesbos. And also the camp will have a fully closed ‘pre-removal section’ for the people that have had final decisions and need to be returned to their countries of origin.”5
Doesn’t this contradict the statements of EU Interior Commissioner Ylva Johansson? She always stressed that a new building would be an open multi-purpose camp.6 But she also spoke of controlled entries and exits. Maybe Mitarakis is just not shy about speaking openly about his ministry’s plans. He simply does not see the necessity of being reserved when it comes to this issue. After all, the construction of such a prison camp is fully in line with the political agenda of the ruling Nea Dimokratia party. The ultra-conservative Greek government wants to show strength and score points with the extreme-right voters. It already did so with the eviction of the PIKPA on Lesbos.7
It looks as if the question of the construction date and exact location of the new camp is about to be resolved. All of the sites proposed until now are far away from the city or villages. Apart from the fact that housing people in camps for any length of time is inhumane, a camp in the middle of nowhere and without proper connections to public life has close resemblance to a prison. Social exclusion via spatial segregation is a popular tactic in European-Greek asylum policy. The question now is whether there are two different versions of one and the same camp in play, or whether Johansson deliberately used nicer words when speaking to the media to distort reality and calm public opinion.
Mitarakis talked big in September, announcing that the new camp will be completed before Easter of 2021. These plans can already be considered failed. There have been differences to be settled in regard to the location, which stalled the process and required new negotiations. “It is not easy to speak with the local population”, Gminder said to the press.8
This is why the visit to Moria 2 was only a small item on the agenda of the two politicians. The actual reason for the visit to the island of Lesbos must have been the agreement on the building site for a new camp. The two politicians met with officials of the European Commission as well as the Greek Ministry of Migration and technical advisors in Mytilini to discuss the project. The proposed location, directly next to a waste dump in Vastria, has already been rejected by the EU.9It would only damage the tarnished reputation of the Nobel Peace Prize winner further. The site proposed by the mayor of Mytilinis, Stratis Kytelis, and Charalambo Athanasiou, the representative of Nea Dimokratia of the respective prefecture, was the last one still on the table. After the meeting it was announced that this is the location they had now agreed upon. It is a private property called “Eleftherakou estate”, located about two kilometers to the east, near the landfill. The owner will cash € 70,000 of rent per month. The property belongs to the administrative district of the island capital of Mytilini.10Gminder and Mitarakis were confident that construction will start before Easter 2021 and the camp will be completed in autumn of the same year.11
We now know that a new camp will be built close to a landfill in the middle of nowhere. We do not know how open or closed the camp will be. But its location alone makes it a prison. It has also become clear that the current camp is a rather long-term “temporary structure”. Refugees will have to live there for another full year. This is an enormous psychological and physical burden for them. Europe has the responsibility of fairly allocating the people needing asylum. Particularly rich countries such as Germany are in a position to do so, but they obstruct this process politically. The new camp and the new EU migration package show what the phrase “No more Morias” actually means: The show must go on.
1 Hellenic Survey of Geology and Mineral Exploration. (https://www.igme.gr/)
6 Ylva Johansson in a conversation with German ARD, at 13:12min https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHVi99NdLME
7 PIKPA was a unique project offering shelter to particularly vulnerable refugees, without violence, police or fences. It was operation under the principle of “community organizing”. In the early hours of October 30th the project was evicted against the will of its inhabitants who were transported to Karatepe 1 camp. This camp is to be closed at the end of December. The refugees do not know what will happen afterwards.
The is a translation with some modifications of a text by Cerveaux Non Disponibles.
The ban on broadcasting police actions centralizes all fears, but legalizing drones and surveillance technology is just as damaging to freedoms and democracy.
It is a subject that is little discussed and yet concerns us all. The text provides in these gaps to legalize facial recognition in the public space and the real-time exploitation of information about people. The video stream would be processed live by the police command, as mentioned in Article 22. The text does not mention the term “facial recognition”, but it should be noted that all amendments aimed at clarifying the practice were rejected. An example is amendment n°CL340 which explicitly provided for the prohibition of facial recognition. Rejected! The spirit of this law is to put the entire public space (especially cities) under permanent control. Without blind spots, with all the technology of algorithms and their freedom killing uses in data collection on a daily basis.
The State has lost the battle on police violence since the yellow vests, especially through the profusion of images made available to all on social networks, which have become a true self-media for any individual or collective that finally finds a voice.
The purpose of this law, which provides for 1 year of imprisonment and a 45,000€ fine for broadcasting that “undermines the police” is to limit freedom of expression in order to regain control of a republican narrative that has been completely eroded. In order to regain a hegemonic discourse, the hundreds of arbitrary acts of violence, daily racism, almost permanent impunity, as well as the dirty work that the police carry out on behalf of the State have become realities that must be hidden at all costs.
@TaoualitAmar Twitter photograph Hannah Nelson, arrested by police on 17th nov
Today, the forces of law and order already regularly intimidate professional journalists or simple witnesses who film. The police are already exercising a judgmental practice in the field through the physical and psychological violence they exercise. Imagine their zeal if this law were to be passed… If the National Assembly gave even more power to those who already abuse it with impunity…
Without an image, how many crimes and violence would have been hushed up or would not even have reached the gates of a court? Judges themselves say it: images are useful and without them, the police version always wins.
Let’s remember the importance that images have had for several cases:
This law also poses a major technical problem. Implicitly, it would sign the end of live videos showing police officers. If in their great leniency of falsely naïve playmobils the LREM (Macron’s party) deputies have suggested blurring the faces of police officers, let us recall that it is currently impossible to blur faces in real time. And that, in general, blurring a face on video is a complicated technique that is not within everyone’s reach and that would in fact restrict many images. If, however, this abject law were to be respected…
Last but not least, it should be noted that the police are not worried by the diffusion of their faces, which they have already been in the habit of masking for a long time (as well as not wearing their numbers), and although we have seen barbaric acts committed by them, this has not been the subject of popular reprisals to date. The argument of police protection is not based on anything and is mainly a bluster that makes the oppressors look like the oppressed.
Other aspects of the law should be addressed, such as the extension of the carrying of weapons in public places, even when not in use, or the increased role of private companies in policing.
The journalist Nnoman (his video) is being beaten by police.
What is striking in this text, which was passed on November 17 in the National Assembly, 2 years to the day after the yellow vests began, is its martial aspect. Do we realize that in the same law there is a state response to social protest and one against terrorism? This law intends to globally manage these problems in the same way. The repressive outcome of the November 17 demonstration is particularly strong, especially for the press.
The terrible image of a system that only responds with violence and intimidation… including on totally harmless demonstrators.
But the thousands of people present around the National Assembly could feel the anger rising and that no water cannon will be able to extinguish.
“The last warning for journalists: leave the premises with your press card or you will be arrested.” Quietly, the police muzzle the press covering a press freedom rally… All this knowing that they are being filmed. The law has not even passed and France is already in a totalitarian country. And it’s hard to see how the trend could be reversed. Neither petitions, nor demonstrations, nor the UN will be able to stop the fascinating drift.
At least 7 journalists have been arrested, threatened and/or beaten. Journalists who were covering a rally for freedom of the press and demonstration. It is extremely serious what this government allows itself! In particular, photographer Hannah Nelson was arrested last night and spent the night in police custody.
A Beyond Europe call to keep up the pressure and fight for solidarity.
After the fire that destroyed the misery camp of Moria, those who have nothing are not only left in the ashes of the monster of European foreign policy, but are now also being trampled on.
The refugees who did not manage to flee from the camp and escape to the city were not provided with blankets, tents and water, but with tear gas and the sticks of the Greek police. The cops tried with all their might not to let the refugees leave the camp, while what little they left behind remains was burned the next night. Trapped on the island’s streets around the camp, they were surrounded by riot police, left alone, without sufficient food, water and medical care. Helpers, NGOs and journalists were largely kept away, leaving the people defenceless against the heat of the day, the cold of the night, the arbitrariness and violence of the police and the attacks of local fascists.
For the verdict of the ultra-conservative Greek government under Nea Demokratia had already been passed. The guilty ones were those who had been locked up for years in the hell of Moria in disregard of human rights, and those who tried to alleviate the greatest suffering or to make the conditions public. Their guilt was investigated where there was nothing left to investigate, in the remains of Moria, already pushed together by bulldozers. But the Greek propaganda must be confirmed, on the one hand to distract from their own guilt and on the other hand to curb the biggest fear of the European Union. The fear that the fire that destroyed Moria will spread to the countless other places in the EU, based on the same inhuman policy. Whether in Lampedusa, Cyprus, Spain or along the entire Balkan route, the border regime has created places that are not far behind Moria. Where people are imprisoned without dignity, without opportunities and without any perspective. Moria is not the only powder keg that the EU has created in recent years.
While the people of Lesvos are suffering, the European politicians responsible for this catastrophe are extremely concerned. However, lip service is still paid without insight and concrete measures to help. Under the leadership of Germany there is a diligent haggling about responsibility and ridiculous contingents, legitimized with excuses and the search for common European solutions.
Despite their situation and the repression, many people are still demonstrating. They demand freedom and do not want to be resettled in a new closed camp under any circumstances. They are disappointed and tired of the promises of European politicians. Many understand all too well by now that they have become a plaything and are being used as a warning to break the idea of the Summer of Migration 2015, the idea of a Europe of human rights, whose ashes are carried away by the wind, sinking into the Mediterranean.
The Greek state is trying to blackmail the refugees into the new closed camps through lack of supplies, the continuing great danger of Covid-19, the threat that their asylum procedure will be suspended and permanent police arbitrariness and violence. How long their resistance can hold under this pressure is uncertain and therefore it is up to us to support their struggle and make it ours.
The refugees clearly show that they do not want to be numbers anymore and that dehumanization has come to an end. They want to fight for their rights, their future, their security and their lives. A fight for the foundation of our society that shows whether human rights are universal or remain a privilege. Because in this world of exploitation and competition, on the last islands of wealth, there is not enough space for those who seem superfluous.
Moria is a magnifying glass for the mistakes of the capitalist society we live in, and an example of how the smoking remnants will only be preserved by increasingly authoritarian measures of the state. A foul and dirty deal with despot Erdogan was made and inhumane camps were created with no concept at all. No wonder, since a bunch of European states are led by far right or right-populist governments, who hijack international decision making to impose their idea of society: authoritarian on the inside, locked up for the outside.
From 2015 till now, the EU did not even come close to find a common strategy to deal with refugees arriving at European borders. Those refugees, the people, who have to flee their own countries from war, ecological, social and economic catastrophes. The effects of global capitalist businesses, which make many parts of Europe rich.
Throughout Europe, there have been various solidarity actions in favour of evacuating the camps, not only in Moria, but on the whole external borders of the EU. But neither the pressure in the streets nor the public discourse was enough to make the rulers act effectively, which they simply do not want.
This Sunday on 20.09. people will again take to the streets in countless cities. We must not try to keep up the appearance of the European values, which were burnt in Moria, but to stand up for something completely different. A society that is based on solidarity and equality and that creates livable spaces everywhere without destroying the basis of life of the people.
After all, Solidarity is the key. Today, it is vital to stand up for solidarity and freedom of movement for everyone. These buzzwords used to be our own labels for assuring ourselves of our own radical views. In these times, solidarity and freedom of movement are still radical. They are ideas from which we can advance a radical critique of capitalism. The difference is that many more people are open to these demands, because after years and years of tens of thousands killed at borders such as in the Meditarranean, the critique of the status quo goes far beyond the usual suspects. When we take solidarity and freedom of movement to the streets today, after the disaster of Moria, it is not to be a small and hopefully radical voice in the discourse, but it is to change something politically: Evacuate now. End the camps. Fight the Fortress.
See you on the streets!
Short-statement on the gathering of Beyond Europe – Antiauthoritarian Platform Against Capitalism in Nicosia (Cyprus) from the second to the fourth of March 2018
Last weekend antiauthoritarian groups from all over Europe came together in the divided town of Nicosia on the Island of Cyprus, located in the eastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea. Some of us hadn’t seen each other since the riotous nights of the G20 summit in Hamburg in July of last year, while many met for the first time. In 2013, when the platform Beyond Europe was formed, we were riding a wave of emancipatory unrest all over Europe, the United States of America and Northern Africa. This unrest was reacting to the economic crisis of 2008 and how it was handled politically. Today we are facing a different beast. It has risen out of the crackdown of this wave of unrest by the cooperation of neoliberal and authoritarian regimes. What we find as a result of the normalisation of the crisis through the policing of the social and militarization of the police-force is this: A massive resurgence of nationalism and populism in their many intersections with the various guises of authoritarianism and patriarchy. Going back to the recipes of the past, their promise is the promise of an easy solution. Politicians of all colors keep telling us that what separates us are the irreconcilable ‘natures’ of our ethnicities, nationalities, identity cards and genders, of our belonging. But if three days of discussions with fifty people from five countries and eleven cities has proven one thing, it is that this is a lie.
Under global capitalism, more connects us than it separates us. The culturalisation and naturalisation of bourgeois politics and capitalist economy does not solve one single contradiction arising from them. It simply displaces and externalises them. In this way it hinders progressive politics. Its discursive and material prominence is a danger for the safety and livelihood of everything different. The changed situation thus demands of us to take critical stock of our previous attempts. We are still few, weak and isolated. Our own reproduction often depends on the system and the mechanisms we seek to overcome. And we struggle to make our different histories as movements and the circumstances under which they were formed productive. But in a world divided by borders and classes, brutalized and depraved, we are far more surprised by how much common ground there is among us – how similar our desires for a different world are, and how careful we sometimes can be with each other. In several working groups this weekend – on labour and digitalisation, eco-social-struggles, feminist politics, the authoritarian formation and the rise of new fascisms – it became clear that our answer cannot be retreating into a position of self-defense. Even though they were won only by and after hard-fought battles of social movements, liberal rights or the social-democratic welfare state would not be able to counter Nationalism and Capitals even if they were tenable in the current situation. Nationalism and Capitalism are implicated in liberalism and social democracy, managing their on-going proceedings and enacting their exclusions. Instead, we need to expand and proliferate our struggles over the collective self-organisation of our lives: In the household and the neighborhood, the factory, the call-center, cyberspace, on the school-yard or the lecture hall, the fruit plantation, the coal mine or the hospital. The social and democratic experiment of Rojava, erected and defended admit the horrors of the Syrian war, surely is one example. The movement of #blacklivesmatter is another.
Together we will have to figure out what is to be done with so many issues and only very limited resources on our hands. This will take some time and we warmly invite you to join the discussion. This much is clear: It is only together that we can overcome the obstacles erected between us and the construction of a better life – be it the exploitation of our work, of our life or of our environment for the sake of profit and power. Whatever its form, Capitalism will continue to produce misery, surplus populations, war and the destruction of the Earth. So antiauthoritarian politics will have to change, but our goal remains the same: To move beyond state, nation and capital, be it in their national or supernational European incarnations. We won’t accept anything less. – Beyond Europe, Nicosia, 4.3.2018.
On this 8th of March, Beyond Europe takes an antiauthoritarian, anti-capitalist and anti-nationalist stance in the feminist struggles. This means that we are moving beyond traditional borders and radicalizing hegemonic narratives. The traditional approaches that link patriarchy either only to the state or capitalism need to be overridden so that they can be considered antiauthoritarian.
By drawing attention to the facts that patriarchy is the oldest system of oppression but also has the ability to move beyond borders and norms, we call upon its authoritarian structure.
Let’s fight authority on all its levels: from the local to the transnational. Join us in solidarity by supporting your local groups which strive for feminist demands.
We, as Beyond Europe, gathered today outside the Archibishop´s Palace in solidarity of feminist struggles. Particularly, we aim to support the demands for reproductive justice in Cyprus, since abortion is still illegal. There are currently initiatives for decriminalizing abortion in the law and Church of Cyprus is one of the forces who are actively against abortion as well as other political and wider eco-social struggles.
Here you can find the petition that gathers signatures for supporting the decriminalization of abortion in Cyprus: https://secure.avaaz.org/el/petition/Kypriaki_Voyli_Proothisi_tis_protasis_nomoy_gia_tis_ektroseis/?fLcxxab
Here’s the link for the initiative: fb.me/abortionscy
MY BODY – MY CHOICE! OUR RIOT – OUR VOICE!
It’s kicking off in Iran. Millions have taken to the streets in anti-government protests. Twenty people are reported dead, more than 500 arrested. But the dynamic is not declining. Unlike 2009, this period of protest has much more potential, because Iran’s no future-generation – like here in Europe – has nothing to lose and is willing to risk everything.
There is a saying in Iran: Every thirty-ish years, there is a regime change. In 1979, a people’s revolution chased away the Shah, this was before the Islamists around the first supreme leader Khomeini took over the state violently and transformed it into the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI). Exactly 30 years later, in 2009, the country saw its last big uprising, orchestrated by and around the “reformist” current of Iranian real-politic – a movement which gave not only reformists, but all who wanted change a plausible reason for hope for improvement. But in the end, neither the controversial former conservative president Ahmadinedjad and the current supreme leader Ali Khamenei nor the principles of the Islamic Republic were touched. The movement was cracked down on. Is the cycle of regime change broken? Recent events in Iran give us hope that it’s only delayed. This movement – certainly in its beginning yet – has far more potential than in 2009 because in some crucial points it differs vastly from the 2009 movement. It is making the Islamic Republic’s elite shake and gives all of us who want to see the Islamic Republic gone and the people in Iran living in dignity and freedom a reason to hope.
First of all, very briefly: what is happening in Iran right now?
We are witnessing the transformation of social revolt into a more and more radical social movement all over the country. This is the biggest protest-wave the country has seen in eight years. The aim of it can be summed up as “Bread, Work, Dignity, Freedom” – and large numbers of the millions in the street are demanding nothing less than the end of the Islamic Republic.
The reasons why it’s kicking off are complex and have been growing for years, if not decades. In the news, it is said the spark was escalating egg prices and unemployment. Indeed, inflation in Iran is disastrous and combined with harsh austerity politics it outreaches the level of wages and incomes by far. In many cases these conditions push not only the unemployed, but even the masses of precarious employed Iranian to the edge of surviving. This is why Iran is at an unrest for a long time: the state funded organisation Isargara counts 1700 protest actions of social character only between March 2016 and today – be it wildcat strikes by factory workers or actions by pensioners and public sector employees – despite harsh prosecution against (radical) unionism and any kind of similar organisation. The end of the previous, hurtful UN-sanctions did not bring back economical recovery except for some corrupt Mullahs and their economic-military complex, the Revolutionary Guards.
But, the state’s economic struggle isn’t the only problem for people living in Iran. The increasing authoritarianism under Ahmadinedjad was not really stopped by the current president Rouhani, who is considered a reformist, and at least a moderate type of guy. The religiously motivated, authoritarian pressure on daily life, especially the harassment against women and alternative young people, the executions in the name of Allah etc. have not declined at all. The pollution especially in big cities is so bad that some blocks at some hours are only to sustain with masks. Last but not least many Iranians are furious that the expansionist IRI sponsors ideologically related struggles in the region, like in Palestine or in Lebanon with billions of dollars, but does not give a dime about the suffering people back home.
But what is different now compared to 2009 – the year of the last uprising, which did not succeed?
The character of the protest and what it’s all about. 2009 was a genuinely political protest in the sense that it was concerned with “real-politic” in Iran. It was orchestrated around and within the “reformist” current, with the former candidates for presidency Mousavi – the same man by the way, who was premier minister under Khomeini during the mass executions against about 40.000 political opponents at the end of the 80s. But we will come back to the desperation of Iranian reformism later. However, the founding moment was the election within an autocratic and totalitarian regime, which implies, that the reformist wanted to take power within the Islamic Republic and – if possible – do things better slightly. More democracy, more individual freedom, less harassment, slight opening towards the West – all perfectly capable within the Islamic Republic, who have tolerated these changes already in 1997 during the last reformist candidate Khatami.
Now, the whole situation is turned around. The reformists are in power in the form of Rouhani, but the problems are the same, if not even worse. This is why the demands are more existential and the struggle, the conflict, is far more fundamental. It is not about choosing between different currents within the ruling class, but rather against the ruling class itself. In fact the first rally of this protest cycle on 28th December 2017 in the city of Mashad was organised by conservative hardliner and Rouhani-rival Raisi, but quickly got out his hand. The people are fed up of being used as negotiation masses between the reformist and the conservative currents of the real-politic – none of which are able to solve fundamental, existential problems. This was expressed during one of the first demonstrations in the current protest cycle at Teheran University, when people shouted “Reformists or Conservatives – the game is over”.
The subject of the struggle. The 2009 uprising was led by the urban, educated middle class, which was not suffering existentially in a material sense, but ideologically. They were – and they had every right to be – fed up with the aggressive, authoritarian development under Ahmadinedjad, whose administration massively increased the attack on genuinely democratic and individual rights like freedom of the press, assembly, opinion and so on. He manoeuvred Iran into a more and more leading role in opposing the West (who, despite the sanctions did not get tired of doing massive business with the IRI, though) and mobilising the country and regional allies as the West’s counterpart – as kind of an “anti-imperialist block of the 21stcentury”. While Ahmadinedjad was able to unify the lower classes by appealing to the national identity, the middle class wanted to take part in the globalisation of the western world – but not revolutionize Iran. They put their hopes into the reformist candidate of presidency to achieve that and chose the parliamentary way – which is a structural problem in a totalitarian state, where the supreme leader has to approve all the candidates.
Now, it is totally another social group revolting in the street: It is mostly the (young) lower classes, the (precarious) labourers, the non-represented, but also students (which are part of every big uprising in Iran) – and, very importantly, one of the strongest movement in Iran for decades, progressive women in the front. Most of this huge part of Iran’s population has literally no future. They have no perspective whatsoever. They want a life in dignity, they want something to eat, they want work in order to afford basic needs and they are frustrated about religious justifications of the misery. They have – unlike the 2009 urban class – nothing to lose and the mentality to risk everything. A young man from the south said during the riots: “I live with my parents and we can hardly afford meals for all of us. I cannot find work. What will they do? I do not fear them. I have nothing to lose”. It is astonishing, how this sentence in its exact wording could come from the (South-)European youth, who live in another world but suffer the same problem of being un-represented, dispensable in the eyes of the ruling class – and becoming ungovernable.
The determination and the symbolism of the protest. Consider this: Iran’s repressive apparatus is one of the most advanced and most ruthless in the region, if not in the world. There is not only police, but the better organised, more important and more brutal Revolutionary Guard and their unofficial, paramilitary arm the “Bassidj” militia, founded by Khomeini himself. This is why it takes a huge amount of courage to go out and demonstrate even peacefully at all. There is practically no right to do so, especially if it turns against the government. In this context, it is even more impressive what the people shout during these illegal assemblies. There are basically no religious slogans being heard. Unlike 2009 where one of the most central slogans was “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) in order to symbolize a loyalty to the principles of the Islamic Republic. You cannot find this slogan here. On the contrary, the people shout in masses and in all cities “Down with Rouhani”, “Down with the Dictator”, “Mullahs go home” even “Down with Khamenei” and finally “Down with the Islamic Republic” – these slogans can be prosecuted as “mohareb” (sin against God) and punished with the death penalty. According to the revolution in 1979 as well as Western republican revolutions they also demand “Independence, Freedom – an Iranian Republic” and reject the IRI by that as well.
The people seem to keep radicalizing every day. They do not let themselves be chased away by police, in many cases they overwhelm the riot units and set their cars and police stations on fire. In the videos, you can see that during militant actions, the people care for each other and stop others if they about to harm innocent people. There is a big sensitivity in the riots. The targets of direct actions are also very clear: people turn against police buildings and cars, banks, local administration buildings and especially against property of the hated Revolutionary Guard. Furthermore, they tear down huge posters of the Supreme Leader and burn the flag of the Islamic Republic. One of the most important signals for secular and progressive protest is the presence and the active involvement of women, many protesting without the Hijab. A young, protesting woman turning her Hijab to a flag became the symbol of this movement.
The geography of the protest. Unlike 2009, the actors of the current uprising are not limited on the relatively small urban middle class in three or four cities, but distributed all over the country. Iranian society is very heterogeneous– 60% is made up by the Persian majority, which in many cases aggressively claim the hegemony of the nationality “Iranian”, and there are several smaller and larger ethnic, cultural, religious minorities, like Azeris, Kurds, Lurs, Baha’i and so on. 2009 had a very crucial problem – it basically did not reach any of those minorities, because it never convinced those minorities why they would have a better fate with a reformist president. No wonder, since this topic was not a considerable part of their programme.
This year the social protest does not prefer any of those identities, but is very existential and includes all. While 2009 was massively orchestrated around Tehran and Isfahan, this year’s cycle started in the North-West (close to Iranian Kurdistan) and then was swept to Teheran and around 70(!) more cities in every parts of the country, including the minorities’ regions like Khuzestan, Kermanshah and Kurdistan. This is a nationwide movement of millions and it includes a very large part of society, 2009 did not.
The organisation of the movement. Naturally, the 2009 movement was a classical political movement with a narrow window of demands and – most importantly – with leaders. Mousavi and his wife Zahra Rahnaward and the co-candidate of the reformists, Karroubi, did not only consider themselves as leaders, but they were called as leaders by the movement. They and their team were responsible for the programme and choreography of the movement – and they also decided what was important enough to ask for, i.e. they warned of too much radicalization – naturally. But in a totalitarian state, this top-down-organisation is not a mistake for ideological but for pragmatic reasons. When the state was ready, they imprisoned these leaders and the dynamic was harmed heavily. Easy game. The protests did not stop but in many ways the movement became headless.
This year’s protest movement is much more decentralised and self-organised. People in the different cities coordinate with Internet tools and by taking recordings they see what is going everywhere, so they can refer to each other. They usually come together after work or school, when it gets dark, start chatting about politics and life, then they shout slogans and eventually take direct action – and disperse. Come and go, Hit and Run. Sure, there are attacks from security forces, arrests, people die. But nonetheless the protesters keep coming and coming, with a certain calmness. This has a spontaneity which a genuinely political movement like 2009 usually does neither know nor tolerate. There is nothing to behead for the authorities (yet?), this makes it so painful to stop.
Reactions within the state apparatus and perspectives. The state apparatus is kept hesitating a long time, now it is slowly getting into position. After the protests got so big that they could not ignore them anymore, they started their usual blaming game: terrorists, agent provocateurs, foreigners and other enemies are responsible for the revolt. It is said, though, some police officers and soldiers have resigned already and deny duty. There are efforts to high jack the protest from conservative forces, for example, yelling “Allahu Akbar” through the microphones, but those efforts were shut down everywhere in Iran. Recent “demonstrations of power” where loyalists of the regime should come out in “masses” were beyond expectation. But the state has not mobilised all of its repressive apparatus yet. The revolutionary guard and the Bassidj militia are keeping clear for now. They want to see how it turns out. The reformists, given their misery and their pointless hope of transforming a totalitarian regime effectively by just installing a different president, will probably turn out as the accomplice of the conservatives in the end and form a “unity of reason” government, i.e. a unity of those who want to uphold the Islamic Republic and confront the movement.
However, here is one crucial difference to 2009: a lot must happen that the people become scared and stay home. They are hungry, unemployed or employed but feel miserable just like the unemployed, fed up with the Islamic regime and have no future. Even if the death toll is relatively much higher than 2009 (2009: 60-70 killed after 6 months, now more than 20 after 7 days), they keep staying on the street. This is what makes them dangerous, unpredictable and this is why it is probably not possible for political reasons to crack down the movement militarily. The state has men and material for sure, but they too surely fear a further escalation, that will expose further the regime to the outer world.
The misery of Iranian Reformism. Not only are the reformists not really part of this movement – many parts consider it as hostile. First, because the man in power is considered in their political current: When he got elected, reformists – imagine how desperate they are – celebrated that as a victory. But Rouhani’s era was more than disastrous and one more signal that reformism within the Islamic Republic is not an option.
Facing the protests now, I would even go further and say that the reformist promises and its real outcomes are a big part of why people got angry and take to the streets now. Despite his election campaign, Rouhani’s cabinet was heavily conservative – neither women nor representatives of a minority were part of it. This cabinet was a love letter to the supreme leader. During his campaign he heavily agitated against the Revolutionary guards, now he seems not to get enough of cuddling up to them and he refers to a “brotherhood” with them. Furthermore it was leaked that billions of the government’s budget was invested in religious projects outside and inside the country – but none of those really helped people in social need in Iran. But at least he lowered the numbers of executions? No, he did not. No wonder that two months ago a campaign under the name “I regret it” went viral, where people and celebrities (like former football star Ali Karimi) expressed their disappointment in the reformist current.
Reformism, its false promises and their historically consistent, fatal cooperation with conservatives and hardliners and selling that as “the lesser evil” are a reason for the misery in Iran and why it is kicking off everywhere now. They deserve nothing less.
What can we do here?
Organise solidarity. We know from many sources within Iran that it is vital for them that their struggle receives global attention. Not only do they feel empowered for the rightfulness of their struggle, but it has a political-strategic value: a tweet by USA’s Ahmadinedjad, Donald Trump, warning the Islamic Republic to maintain standards of human rights (what an irony), makes the Islamic Republic think twice about shooting down protesters. On the other hand, the Islamic regime is highly professionalised in transforming comments like these into their fake news, where they make foreigners responsible for the protest – an important ideological twist. Nonetheless we should not be silenced by that, never and from no regime to practice solidarity to a struggle we support. If there are solidarity actions in the whole of Europe or the whole world, it can and will make the Islamic Republic shake at least a little bit more – even if they claim the opposite.
Furthermore in a globalised world like ours, the struggle in Iran has to do with us. Have a look how, despite the sanctions, European capital makes large profits through trade with the Islamic Republic. According to the campaign “Antifa Teheran” from 2009/2010 you will be surprised how many companies in Europe not only have innocent trade and commerce links, but, for example many German and British companies, also deliver intelligence and material for the Islamic Republic security regime, for example riot gear and less than lethal crowd dispersal weaponry. In what way so ever: there are many ways to show solidarity. Make use of it and do not hesitate to clarify, what you are in solidarity with, i.e. social justice, secularism, freedom and peace – and with what not. The community of exiled Iranians is highly political and includes all sorts of political currents, partly extremely well organised: Several leftist currents, Mudjaheddin, nationalists, neoliberals, monarchists.
Let’s not forget: Iran’s regional and geopolitical importance is obvious by now. And the people of Iran – like everywhere – deserve a much better fate than the super-authoritarian, clerical IRI. But the 2009 movement in Iran was the start of the global protest wave, which swept over Arab countries, the USA and the movement of squares in Europe – even if not everywhere the rebellion succeeded or if there was no direct action connection with Iran. Now, after the terrible global rise of the right wing and authoritarian formations, it must be our time again. And Iran can be the beginning – again.