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Remapping Europe to Reclaim the Commons

20.03.2015 by Carlos Delclós

(cc) Julio Albarrán - 16th ZEMOS98 Festival

Last year, the ZEMOS98 Festival focused on the idea of Europe, where it begins and ends, and what forces shape its media imagery and border control technologies. By Remapping Europe through remix, collaboration and a touch of improvisation, we suggested a Europe that exists beyond the treaties, the violence at the borders and the economic indicators that homogenise us. A Europe of residents, not just nationals. A Europe that contains many Europes.

At last year’s festival, we saw that we carry borders with us wherever we go, as veils that separate insiders from outsiders. They are constantly shaping our local communities, justifying structural inequalities with the illusion of meaning, blinding us to the autonomous imagery that takes root between the cracks of our contradictory narratives. They distort our insecurities and project them onto Others, disguising them as security threats.

We realised, also, that an emancipatory cartography of Europe would need to be drawn from the bottom up, departing from this autonomous imagery that dissolves borders through acts of mutual aid and solidarity. So with help from the European Cultural Foundation and the Open Society Initiative for Europe, we reached out to the socially engaged creative community via the Radical Democracy Video Challenge. To frame the 2014 European Parliamentary elections based on ongoing social issues, the challenge consisted in using video to respond to a single broad question: How can we create an open and inclusive European society?

But something unsettling happened when we compared the content of the submissions with the actual results of the European elections. While the videos documented an array of social concerns, vibrant community organising and a profound yearning for a more substantive democracy, the European elections themselves were the worst in the history of the European Union in terms of participation. At the same time, the idea of an open and inclusive Europe was countered by the rise of a xenophobic, Euro-skeptical far right. We were led to ask ourselves: What are the links between these demands for more democracy, more localism, more social discontent and less participation in electoral politics?

In response to this question, the Doc Next Network’s hubs turned their focus towards the local contexts they were embedded in. As part of the Radical Democracy: Reclaiming the Commons project, networked medialabs in Poland, Spain, Turkey and the UK engaged with social agents that were participating in struggles that turned single issues into broader questions and debates. An abandoned factory in a de-industrialised district in Poland, the demolition of a housing estate in London, or the restricted use and declining access to public space in Istanbul all sparked questions that were not simply about policy, but about who decides what will structure the lives we share as communities.

These struggles seemed to us to be about what Henri Lefebvre referred to as «the right to the city», a right that simultaneously equates the city with both the Commons and the people resisting towering waves of global capital and the smothering urbanisation left in their wake. Too often, this process is pointed to by the powerful as a symptom of disorder and a threat to stability. But when you listen to what the people participating in these struggles are saying, a very different narrative emerges: one where Caring for the City involves Reclaiming the Commons.

It is with this in mind that the 17th ZEMOS98 Festival has invited activists, thinkers, hackers and media-makers to participate in a three days hackcamp oriented towards developing new ideas, organisational networks and storytelling tools that can help bring this emerging, emancipatory narrative to life. By combining their diverse experiences and knowledge, the Doc Next Network’s Media Collection, the first results of Radical Democracy: Reclaiming the Commons, and the rest of the festival’s content, we hope to stimulate a conversation about how culture and new media can contribute to the work of social agents and strengthen a pan-European network of agents and communities that are Caring for the City in order to Reclaim the Commons.

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