Contents of this report:
1. Spring '99 Syndicate Meeting: the
2. The Budapest Meeting
3. Meeting Results
1. Spring '99 Syndicate Meeting: the Belgrade pre-history
The meeting that took place in Budapest in April '99 was originally planned to take place at Cinema REX in Belgrade where it would bring together media artists, curators and critics from different European countries, as well as from the FRYugoslavia, and will initiate public debate and informal discussions about the role of media art and electronic culture in the ongoing transformation processes.
The original concept for the meeting said:
'The regular Syndicate meetings are important moments for the network, because they allow for face-to-face encounters and help to foster new ties and cooperations between different members. Many projects and connections between initiatives have been developed around these meetings. More importantly, the meetings have helped in the past to bring together the international visitors with the local community of media artists and cultural practitioners, thus improving significantly the international network in those places.
'Belgrade and Yugoslavia are a special case, because over the past 18 months, the group of list-subscribers from Yugoslavia has grown faster than in any other country, so that this is now the largest group of Syndicalists from any one country. The idea of a Syndicate meeting in Belgrade (and a visit to Novi Sad) are therefore like 'bringing the Syndicate home'. At the same time, the political situation in and around Yugoslavia makes it particularly important to make an implicit statement, through this meeting, that Yugoslavia is still an inherent and necessary part of Europe, and that the ties between friends and colleagues are still intact.'
The plans for this meeting in Belgrade were overruled by the war situation that developed in Yugoslavia in the second half of March '99. Nevertheless, there was a strong feeling that a meeting should be held in order for people from the network to be able to see each other, reaffirm old ties and to work together on projects and ideas for responding to the renewed crisis situation on the Balkans. The question which role artists and cultural producers can play in such a situation was posed in a dramatically urgent way.
2. The Budapest Meeting
With the kind support of C3 - Center for Culture and Communication Budapest, practical help from V2_Organisation Rotterdam, and the generous and flexible offer from APEXchanges to support travel costs to Budapest, it became possible to 're-route' the meeting to C3 in the castle district of Budapest. For most of the participants, private accommodation could be found, and many came to Budapest on their own travel budget. Thus, there was a group of 38 people that assembled for the Syndicate meeting on 23 April '99.
People started arriving in Budapest on Thursday and held the first informal conversations. Seeing some of those people again who had left Yugoslavia since the beginning of the war was very exciting, as were all the encounters between people who knew each other only through the mailing list, but had never met personally. It was a pity that nobody could come from Bosnia and Albania, although attempts had been made and invitations had gone out. But there were people from Macedonia, Yugoslavia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, Hungary, Estonia, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Britain, Canada, the USA, and Australia.
On Friday, 23 April, a first organised meeting was held in the afternoon. After a round of introductions we spoke from the different angles about what was generally referred to as 'the situation'. It turned out that this was a very interesting way of understanding the different situations that people find themselves in - from people continuing their work in Belgrade and Skopje, through the different support initiatives in places like Budapest, Vienna or Amsterdam, to the media-deadlock produced by the international TV newschannels. When we were just about to fall into one of those heavy anti-CNN global capitalism conspiracy depressions, we broke for dinner which C3 had kindly ordered for the entire group. Extensive informal talks followed, including the late arrivals of some more participants, and a slide show about the Pyramedia Syndicate meeting held in Tirana in 1998.
On Saturday, 24 April, the meeting started by compiling a list of concrete projects and initiatives that could be taken. The dissatisfying end to Friday's discussions had had its good side, because it had shown that we are rather powerless when it comes to changing the big situation, and the big picture that is being created of it, so that as cultural practitioners we will have to concentrate on the small things that actually lie within our reach. After a long brainstorming session and a lunch at the Ludwig Museum, the meeting split into four smaller groups to talk about the main areas of concern that had emerged: general media strategies and a travelling screening programme; the period after, or: how to plan for the future; open the borders: residency programme and the visa problem; emigrant library project. The results of these discussions were presented to the entire group just before we went for dinner.
The Borders group discussed the problem of how people who want to flee the war zone can be helped. The restrictive immigration policy of the EU countries means that many refugees are stuck in the region. It became clear very quickly that a feeble structure like the Syndicate cannot tackle the refugee problem as a whole, but that we may be able to support some of the existing efforts, like the Balkan Sunflower project that seeks to support the social and cultural life in refugee camps and the RIKS (Reconstructing via Internet Kosov@ Society) project that is creating Internet connectivity for the refugee camps, or by joining in the political fight for more open border policies, like through the Open the Borders Statement that was issued by Syndicate members in March (URL: http://www.teleportacia.org) and that has since been signed by many individuals and that has been translated into multiple languages.
A small-scale strategy that can be taken by a network like the Syndicate is an emergency residency programme through which artists and other cultural practitioners from the war region can be invited to safe countries where they can continue their work. This project has meanwhile been started as the ECX - European Cultural Exchange programme (see below, Results). Connected to this project are efforts to coordinate the different help initiatives and to build a support structure for the intellectual diaspora from the Balkans.
The Media Strategies groups mainly tackled two questions. The first was how to develop ways of occupying available media space - there is a certain demand from the mainstream media (TV, radio, printed press) to cover alternative views about the war, but in order to meet that demand it is necessary to develop strategies for channelling information. It also needs a certain boldness in the presentation of the situation which many people don't have at the moment: the war situation is so muddled and complex, that it is extremely difficult to take a clear position that would be communicatable in the hurried mass media environment. However, it was clearly expressed that the construction of an alternative media discourse would be highly desirable. If the world is deadlocked in simple binarism, it would be good to have ways of using the media for creating alternative realities. The experience of open propaganda in the mainstream media suggested the creation of our own misinformation site where the poetic imagination would be able to transcend the current discourse driven by war logic and take leaps into the unexpected, yet possible.
The second, extensive discussion of the Media Strategies group dealt with the creation of a packaged video programme that would present a perspective on the Balkan region alternative to that which is portayed in much of the current media coverage. Artistic and documentary video productions from different countries in the region will be made available in a series of video tapes, with good documentation and additional textual information.
A small group met to discuss the AltaLibra project (formerly the Memorial Library of Emigrants) in which books of emigrants are collected and made available in a physical location, as well as through a website. The idea of this project is, on the one hand, to make the books that emigrants have taken with them available to emigrants from the same country or region, and to get people into contact with each other through the medium of the book: whoever is borrowing a book will receive the name and address of the donor and can thus get in touch with him or her. The project should form an important contribution for the furthering of shared cultural memories and communication between emigrants.
The most cheerful session was that of the Period After group which discussed the long-term future of Deep Europe and, after only two hours, decided on the creation of a new state called Balkania. Envisaging another Europe was, they decided, best done by departing from the existing political and territorial order and creating a new, non-territorial entity - a state of mind. Future developments of this project, which is in the making since then, can be expected with optimism.
On Sunday, 25 April, we met again in the morning and had breakfast together at C3. The final session was used to talk about the plans for following up on the discussions of the previous day, and to make some announcements of upcoming projects and events. The rest of the afternoon was then spent with the screening of some outstanding recent video productions, and with lengthy farewells.
The general atmosphere was very positive throughout the weekend, and it created hope for many of the participants that the war is not simply a black hole. As one of the participants put it: 'the whole situation is so heavy, that it is easy to get paralysed by it. what the meeting in budapest did for me and, i think, for other people as well, is that by seeing each other, confirming that we are no pure media-zombies but still the same real people, and by talking about our possible room for manoeuvre, it became clear that while there are lots of things now that we cannot change much about, there are very practical steps which we can take from our position as cultural practitioners. what some of us may be good at is to envision positive future scenarios and work towards them, even against the odds.' Maybe the most important realisation was that in a setting like this it was possible for people from the different countries to meet as friends: the Syndicate is not at war.
One participant quoted a famous line from Tito: We have to live like the peace will last forever, and we have to be prepared as though the war would start tomorrow, and suggested that in times of war, we will have to turn this statement around and live like the war will last forever, and be prepared as though the peace would start tomorrow.
3. Meeting Results
It is obvious that the most important result of the meeting was the reaffirmation and the building of friendships, the sharing of ideas and the initiation of new, joint projects between people from all across Europe. A group photograph of most of the participants can be found at URL: http://colossus.v2.nl/syndicate/images/budagroup.jpg. The picture and links to some of the other reports about the meeting can be accessed from URL: http://www.v2.nl/syndicate/. There, one can also find a link to an article in the German weekly Freitag URL: http://www.freitag.de, written by one of the participants, Florian Schneider, about the meeting.
The Syndicate meeting also created the opportunity for a series of other working meetings in Budapest between people from independent initiatives and support organisations from all sides, including public and independent media stations, cultural centers and other initiatives.
Concrete projects that came out of the meeting include:
ECX - European Cultural Xchange
[the european cultural protection programme]
The ECX is a programme intended to provide selected artists, academics, curators, journalists and related cultural practitioners from the European conflict regions with an opportunity to continue their work in an open and secure environment. The military and political circumstances in, for example, Yugoslavia, have forced those individuals who were actively engaged in alternative and open cultural, artistic and political production to radically curtail their activity for fear of prosecution and harassment endangering not only themselves, but also their families, friends and relatives. Under the auspices of host cultural and artistic organisations in Europe and beyond, the ECX will act as a guarantor of continued cultural and intellectual activity during and after the times of conflict. Within the framework of the ECX programme, internationally recognised cultural institutions will offer residency places to artists and other cultural practitioners threatened by conflict, inviting them to work on specific projects in a context of increased personal security and guaranteed freedom of expression. URL: http://ecb.t0.or.at/ecx/
Travelling Film and Video Screening
A diverse programme of artistic and documentary video productions from different countries that demonstrate the wealth of cultural activities in the Balkans, and the potential for future cooperation. The programme can be screened at art institutions, universities, community centres, etc., and is meant to counter the often very limited view that people are getting from watching only newscasts about the region. The programme will be collected on several video tapes and will come with good documentation of the different productions and with contextualising written commentary. Where possible, a fee will be collected for the participating artists and film-makers.
The Future State of Balkania
The Future State of Balkania has no territory - it is a state of mind. It is based on the idea that people should imagine what they would like the future to be, and start it now. Some of the slogans for Balkania are: - Simulation of the process leads to its realisation. - Free your mind and the rest will follow. - Ich bin ein Balkanier. - Balkania is not at war.
AltaLibra (formerly the Memorial Library
Since the Budapest meeting, there have also been increased efforts to commission work from artists in Novi Sad and Belgrade in order to give them opportunities to continue working, even if under such hugely exacerbated circumstances. Furthermore, ideas are being developed for a cultural Balkan conference, for refugee and Balkan art exhibition, and for a website project about conspiracy theories relating to the future history of Europe.
(For follow-ups on these projects and initiatives, check the list and the website: http://www.v2.nl/syndicate/)
The meeting was made possible by the networked efforts of C3 - Center for Culture and Communication in Budapest, who generously hosted and organised the meeting (thanks especially to Adele Eisenstein and Andrea Szekeres), APEXchanges in Amsterdam who covered a large chunk of the travel costs, and V2_Organisation Rotterdam who continue to commit human and material resources for Syndicate activities and coordination.