European Rainbow Gathering 2012, Slovakia
Going from a No Border Camp to a Rainbow Gathering is quite a contrast. Perhaps a little too much.
I left the squat in Krakow, where I spent a couple of nights after Berlin, in the afternoon. I was only going 240km and figured it wouldn’t take long. I was wrong, of course.
I got out of Krakow fine, with a guy who was driving almost to the border, where he would spend a week walking in the mountains around Zakopane. He spoke almost no English, but we got on well. “Ahh my lovely mountains!” was all he could say, as soon as they came into sight. He took me further and dropped me at a cafe close to the border, just as thunder crashed overhead and a sheet of rain fell down. I ran inside and ordered a coffee.
The next part of the road was slow, very slow. I got a few rides for a few kilometres each with long waits in-between. I reached Hnusta and again the rain came down, making a river out of the road, washing over my sandals. No cafe, no nothing. I passed a big Tesco and stood in the doorway, but got kicked out by security since they were about to close. It was very dark. What to do? With umbrella held aloft I thrust my thumb toward every passing car, but to no avail. Feeling very bedraggled and flustered, I continued walking on and on through the road-river until finally… the crustiest hippy van you ever saw ground to a halt right beside me. Rainbow family! Welcome home!
These three Rainbow brothers were returning to the gathering after being away at a psy-trance festival for a few days. They were every kind of stereotype of hippy you could wish for: stoners with dreadlocks and munchies, driving a big crusty van painted with flowers, from a psy-trance festival to a Rainbow Gathering. They left me in the Parking, from where I managed to find my way by torchlight through the narrow paths to the Welcome tent. The rain fell down again just as I got there.
No sense going any further that night. We huddled together around a fire under a dripping tarp. The rain blew in from all around. Some people were sleeping under another tarp, but there was no more space. I would have to pitch my tent. But first, I would have to fix the broken pole that Nomadic Pete sat on and snapped. In the rain. In the dark.
I sat with my back to the waterfall with head-torch and shaky hands, trying to be quick. Unfortunately, the brothers sleeping around me were not very accommodating and rather than offering to help, they began shouting at me to turn my light off so they could sleep. “Yes, soon, I would also like to sleep, but first I have to fix this…” Welcome home, indeed.
I had noticed sexism at Rainbows before, of course, but never so much as at this one. I don’t think the European Rainbow in Slovakia was any more sexist than the others I have been to, but coming from a No Border Camp where it’s considered sexist to refer to people as men and women (that’s “female-ized” and “male-ized persons” to you), to a place where I’m advised not to carry a box of tomatoes because I will have babies some day, tends to highlight the issue. “Well, I don’t want babies anyway, so I guess I’ll carry it”, I told her. Her eyes grew wide – “Are you a feminist?”
“Strong men! Strong men needed to carry wood!” Fuck off then, I won’t help.
I pitched my tent in a good flat place in the woods, fortunate to find it just as the previous occupier was leaving. I made my little camp, happy to be home at last, and went to explore.
“Foooood ciiiiircllllle!” “FOOOOOOOD CIIIIIIIIIIIRRRRRRCLLLLLLLLE!” “NOOOOOOWWWWW!!!!” Horay, just in time.
I sat on the slope around the main circle area and waited. Slowly, very slowly, people gathered and joined hands, forming a circle which grew bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger, broke into two circles and then three. I held hands with the brothers and sisters around me and we began to sing, “We are cir-cl-ing, cir-cl-ing to-ge-ether, we are sing-ing, singing ou-ur he-art song, this is fam-ily, this is un-ity, this is cel-eb-ra-ation, this is sa-a-cred…”
Later, I was sitting with two guys by a tent, listening to one of them speak. I looked up, and there in front of me were Matthieu and Alex, friends from the Hitchgathering and No Border Camp. I jumped up and hugged them with a big grin. It’s unbelievable how, with three to four thousand people here, they somehow managed to spot me before even pitching their tents. I was delighted to see them.
Now I was no longer the only one with a heightened sexism detector. Alex and I attempted to go to a tantra workshop, but finding it run only in French, we co-erced Matthieu into going instead and reporting back to us. He found us again two hours later, deeply frustrated. “That fucking tantra workshop that YOU made ME go to!” “Oh yes? What happened?” “It was soo sexist and soo homophobic and soo fucking horrible.” He proceeded to tell the entire story – the sexual harassment (“she said no FIVE TIMES!”); the macho guys imitating bears and lions; the guy who was running it basically denying homosexuality existed…
I have never been to less workshops at a Rainbow. I shirked the following day’s English language tantra workshop, which apparently wasn’t much better; I wasn’t in the mood for the Angel Walk and the Nine Dimensions Meditation workshop never happened. We assumed they had already made it to the ninth dimension by the time we got there and that’s why we couldn’t see them.
What I did do though was hang out a lot at the Karma Bar. A brother named Stefan had created this space and was putting all his time and effort into it, creating a warm and cosy atmosphere. People were bringing coffee, tea and food to donate and there was always something to share. I have very fond memories of sitting in the Karma Bar for hours every day with my wonderful friend Sara, her partner Aycan and the other “locals” (how we referred to the others who spent most of their time at this particular hang-out), watching Aycan learn to make a fire and then learn to make vegetable kebabs to put on it with his own carved sticks and having political discussions with some of the other locals, many of whom seemed to be activists. In general, it was a lovely Rainbow.
I had intended to stay for one to two weeks, but after having a particularly vivid dream, I decided to follow it to Lithuania. More on that next time.
As anticipated, Zagreb is a big European city with lots of expensive shops and tourist traps. I’s a big contrast to the Serbian cities I visited and there’s evidently a lot more money around. Pete and I find that suddenly we can’t afford things again. Internet is €3 an hour. After some hunting we find a place for €2.50, but it’s so slow it hardly works and the staff deny all knowledge of computers. People are less friendly elsewhere too and finding a free toilet proves impossible, even in the cafe where you have already bought a drink. Capitalism has a strong hold on Croatia it seems.
We find out about an eco-community in a village a couple of hours drive away and decide that will be better for us. We send an email but then decide to just go there anyway as who knows when they will check their email. We park up for a night in a forest on the way.
The people in Recycled Estate at Vukomeric are surprised to see us. There are not many people around and those who are seem very busy, but we still get a guided tour of the land they own before being left loitering around the kitchen area where we drink lots of fresh herbal tea and wait for people to stop for lunch. When they do we jump on the chance to help cook. Pete makes his now infamous potato pouffas and I make a salad with fresh leaves from their garden and the last of our wild garlic. I’m glad we stayed as more people arrive and we all sit together to eat around a large outdoor table. Now we get a chance to speak with people properly and find out more about their project and Croatia in general.
Nobody lives at the project yet, but a few people plan to eventually. Most people live in the city and come down to work over the weekends or during the week, depending on what other work they do. The land has been owned by the collective for a long time – I think they said 10 years! The way I understand it, the first group of people were very young and excited by the possibilities of the place, but didn’t know what they were doing. Eventually some of the energy diminished and people left the project, but then it gradually began to pick up again as new people came along and the remaining original people grew up and learned the skills they needed to look after the place.
Now they have acquired more land and people are taking on individual projects as well as joint projects in different sections. They also run training courses and other events regularly. We promise to keep in touch and plan on coming back this way to visit again after Hungary. We are also interested in some other eco-village projects in Istrija, a peninsula in the North-Western part of Croatia. We also learn that there are usually more people around at weekends, but some of them are staying in a protest camp in the centre of Zagreb. Well, this gives us an excuse to go back. We had heard of the protest, but after hearing no more about it had assumed it had finished. Now we find out it’s alive and kicking.
On returning to the city, we find a couchsurfing host who is active in feminist politics and one of the organisers of the annual Pride event. She lives in a shared house with some other smiley queers from various countries who are all very lovely and interesting. Our host tells us a little more about the protest site as well as about a squat social-centre near the city centre. We go to visit both, making our short stay in Zagreb quite a busy one.
Sadly the squat isn’t much to speak of. Maybe we came at a bad time. Like in Germany, this isn’t really a squat at all now as they have permission to use the building and pay some rent, but people still call it a squat, perhaps because it looks like one. At the time we visit in the early afternoon it’s occupied by a small group of drunk people sitting around telling offensive jokes. We stay for a small coffee, then leave.
The protest site is far more promising and I leave feeling excited and homesick. It has the smell of the UK Climate Camps about it – people occupying a street with sleeping bags, board games and a cheery atmosphere. We meet and chat to some people and bump into one of our friends from Vukomeric, who is pleased to see we found it ok.
The group who initiated the protest, Zelena Akcija (“Green Action”) have an office and a small centre around the corner. The group is more Friends of the Earth than Green Anarchist, but for some reason they have the best anarchist book library we’ve seen since leaving the UK. This is the kind of place we could both spend hours just reading, but we’ve decided to leave today to start driving north to Hungary.
Below is an article I have written for Schnews about the protest site in Zagreb:
Right to a City (or insert witty title here)
Protesters occupy a pedestrian street in Croatia’s capital and are demanding the mayor’s resignation.
Spirits were high when Schnews visited an assortment of students, NGO representatives, disgruntled residents and dreadlocked activists camping out on Varšavska, a pedestrian street in the centre of Zagreb. At the time of writing, the occupation is around two weeks old and is the latest tactic in a two and a half year campaign against a dodgy development by tycoon-owned HOTO Group. The development has the unconditional backing of city mayor Milan Bandić and was ok-ed by the Minister of Environmental Protection, Planning and Construction – unsurprising as she has shares in the construction company set to carry out the work.
This stage of the campaign began early on Monday 17th May as contractors erected a metal fence around Varšavska – a public space soon to be privatized and turned into an access ramp for the private investor’s underground car park. The entrance was blocked by activists in the morning, stopping any further work. At midday they were joined by several hundred city residents who hammered on the fence and eventually pulled it down and occupied the area. Now the fence itself is used by protestors to form a tent-like structure, over which they have draped clear tarpaulin. A long line of sleeping bags are neatly laid out inside. Activists are keen to stress the non-violent and alcohol-free nature of the space.
There is a huge amount of public support with local residents bringing food and hot drinks to support the occupation and protests have attracted numbers unheard of in Croatia. On May 20th, 4,000 people marched to Zagreb City Council demanding the resignation of Mayor Bandić over the dodgy plans. In an effort to encourage him to “pack his bags” and find a new job, protestors helpfully piled up suitcases outside the council building.
The site was previously occupied earlier this year using shipping containers. That occupation lasted 10 days but was evicted forcefully by riot police in the middle of the night with 23 arrests, out of which five were charged, none convicted. The real casualty was the trojan horse – a giant wooden structure built by activists and presented to the City Administration as a symbol of all swindles and deception related to the project. The horse was brutally broken apart using cranes in a two hour long eviction in the snow.
Complaints against the development include concerns about restricted emergency vehicle access, increased traffic and of course the loss of a well-loved hang-out area, several large trees and protected cultural heritage buildings in the old part of the city. There is now a belated investigation by the state anti-corruption office USKOK of potential criminal liability in issuing the permits for the construction of the “lifestyle” HOTO Centre, luxury flats and car park. This follows several months of corruption charges against Croatian politicians, in which the Vice President and Minister of Defense are still awaiting court decisions.
The protestors, gathering under the banner “Right to a City”, have vowed to continue their occupation of Varšavska for as long as is necessary to stop the project. They say, “this is not just about this street, this is a symbol of the fight against corruption in Croatia. The system is rotten”.
More information (in Croatian): http://pravonagrad.org
Our CS host in Pancevo is also called Branko, but this one couldn’t be more different. Sam found him while searching for punks. Branko makes us fake coffee and we swap travel stories and compare notes on our home countries. He can’t believe we like his country so much. His experiences are very different to ours. He has been beaten up and thrown out of places many times and labelled a drug addict and a disgrace to his country because he used to have a Mohawk. Perhaps because of this, Branko yearns for the West and has based his entire career plan around leaving the country. He’s studying business as he thinks it’s the easiest way to get a visa. He wants to go to London and live in a squat and quizzes us about our knowledge of the city, it’s squats and the prices of things.
Pancevo is far away from everything. After a couple of days we decide to find a new host in Belgrade, despite Branko’s generous offer that we can stay as long as we like. He has shown us around Pancevo and it’s nice enough, but now we want to see Belgrade.
We decide we want to stay with a girl this time. Ana is just the right one. She’s friendly and welcoming, with a confident warmth that makes you feel right at home with her. She only has one room in her flat, but all of the furniture in it converts into beds. Sam and I share the sofa bed and Ana sleeps on a chair bed.
Belgrade is not a friendly city for cyclists. There are no cycle lanes, most of the city is up a big hill and the traffic drives like it’s in competition. Traffic lights seem to go red in all directions and then suddenly turn green for everyone at once. Quick! Go! On top of all this, it’s also tricky to navigate, especially if you don’t know both the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets. The tourist map is in Latin, but the road names are in Cyrillic. To add to your difficulty, it would appear none of the locals have ever seen a map of where they live before. On presenting one to them and asking for help they can only stare at it wide-eyed, unfold it to it’s biggest dimensions, point to it in various places with a puzzled expression and look around them and back at the map again several times until you cotton on that they haven’t a clue and try to gently prize it back from between their fingers. Serbians are so helpful you see. They can’t just say “sorry, I don’t know”.
My phone was lost in Pancevo. I spend a lot of time going around Belgrade looking for a replacement. The cheapest I can find is €40 for a basic battered looking second-hand one, although the shop-keeper does offer to lend me a spare phone free of charge as long as I can post it back to him! I decide I don’t want the responsibility, although am very grateful.
On my way back to Ana’s after seeing Sam off on the train. She’s off to Montenegro to spend time with some friends on their boat and hopefully get some sailing experience. It’s a plan she has been trying to achieve for the past three years. Almost there now! After a treacherous twelve hour train journey she will be in Bar – if of course the train doesn’t tumble down the canyon. I’m not quite sure how I feel about Sam leaving. It’s nice to be alone again and I’m looking forward to a bit of space and the freedom to make my own decisions, but I will also miss having a friend to share the adventures and worries, her home cooking, our conversations and having that link to home.
Sam and I have both had the same recurring dream since leaving home. We wake up somewhere back in the U.K. and have to try to find a way back to the place we left off at. Last night I had a different dream where I was where I am, but decided with a lot of conviction that I should go back for a while – I think for a few weeks. I also had a lucid dream in the same night, which has lent both dreams an unusual vividness and left me wondering what it could mean.
—Museum of Yugoslav History—
I am thoroughly fascinated by the history of the former Yugoslavia and am delighted to hear of a museum called the Museum of Yugoslav History. What a disappointment. I want to see maps and changing borders, read about Tito and what people thought of him, learn about how the country came together and broke apart. But what do I get? The exhibition is in three parts:
- Part 1: “Lennon, Ono, Tito” – in which The Beatles Give Peace a Chance plays through speakers. Most pictures are of John Lennon and Yoko Ono in bed together, with a couple of Tito planting the oak tree they sent him, like all other world leaders at the time, as a symbol of peace, or world unity, or something.
- Part 2: “House of Flowers” – mostly Tito’s grave in the centre of a house, although there is also an adjacent room with a large collection of youth relay batons.
- Part 3: “The Old Museum” – ah, now this must be it. No, it’s a collection of gifts presented to Tito on his travels throughout the country and abroad on his birthdays. Some interesting pieces, but still I have learned nothing of Yugoslavia. I will have to get a book. The gift shop sells Tito mugs, key-rings, coasters, etc. and some communist propaganda. I consider buying Tito’s cookbook, but think better of it.
I spend one more night with Ana and then look for another new host for my last couple of nights. Jelena comes to my rescue at short notice and I spend a quiet couple of nights in Zemun, a district of Belgrade that used to be a separate town and is some way out of the centre, back in the direction we came down the Danube. It will be a good head-start for my new plan: cycle back up the Danube on the other side, through Croatia this time and meet Pete and the van somewhere along the way.
I didn’t manage to make contact with any scene in Belgrade, other than an email to the infamous Queer Belgrade group, who wanted to meet up but not until the day after I left. If I come back I look forward to meeting them. It’s hard to be gay in Serbia. The only attempt at a Gay Pride ended in lots of violence and I have heard the Queer Belgrade group are constantly having to fight off fascists. Videos –>here<–