Mutual aid and solidarity against Covid-19: Interviews with political organizers (II)

The world is currently experiencing an extraordinary crisis as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. Around the world,  people on the ground have been organizing themselves in solidarity with each other from the beginning. In these efforts, they often struggle against the damage done by the neoliberal state. Through mutual aid, collective organizing and feminist care practices, they show us that the established status quo is not our fate, but in fact, at the heart of all crises experienced in the world today – from health crises to ecological catastrophe, domestic violence to war, worker’s exploitation to racism and xenophobia.

Komun Academy has interviewed different collectives and their response to the pandemic. In the first part of the series, we presented the answers provided from groups in Euskal Herria (Basque Country), Catalonia and Sweden. In the second part, we present responses from the European Kurdish Democratic Societies Congress (KCDK-E) and Rojava kliče (Rojava rising), Slovenia.

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Yüksel Koç, European Kurdish Democratic Societies Congress (KCDK-E)

  1. Can you please describe your activities since the beginning of the spread of the virus?

Early on, we established a health crisis table in Europe. At first, there were only five friends, but now it consists of 35 doctors, based in different countries, who discuss the developments among themselves on a daily basis to come up with ways of raising awareness on how to protect people from the spread through advice on precautions. They have published four 4 texts that we share with our people in different languages. We prepare videos and images to share on our channels. On March 15th, we issued a public statement about cancelling or postponing all of our activities for the time being. In that call and in several others, we urged our communities to stay at home and follow the health advice given by experts. In all the countries that we live in, we created local health committees to respond to the immediate needs. There are ongoing efforts to work with health ministries and other institutions as well. In general, we are trying to connect with as many people and groups as possible. Our work is not just for the Kurdish community, but for everyone. instance, in the local groups, we organized for people to do shopping and other chores for elderly, chronically-ill or otherwise affected people. We also engage in activities to raise the morale of people, who are now stuck at home, feeling isolated. This, we do through phone conferences, social media activities and other digital actions. Our emotional wellbeing is an important aspect of health. Another ongoing, vital effort is the struggle against domestic violence. We have an ongoing campaign, led by the social committee of the Kurdish Women’s Movement in Europe, democratic family to raise consciousness against violence and to discuss the meaning of creating democratic family models and other ways of relating to one another without domination. There are some efforts to offer online classes for children, but these only exist in a few cities for now. Another one of our activities is spreading accurate information provided by experts through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook etc. There is a lot of false information and we need to educate our communities on these issues.

2. Is your work based on a specific perspective or principle?

The perspective of our work is based on our commitment to building democratic nation and democratic confederalism. Capitalist modernity not only attacks communities through war, exploitation and violence. Its systems and structures furthermore cause ecological imbalance to the point of spreading illnesses like these. The health systems in place are not designed to cope. Scientists are better informed about the details of the health aspects. However, from a socio-economic and political perspective, we can say that the lack of balance, the existence of social inequalities aggravates the spread and its consequences. Generally, our ecological, democratic and women’s liberationist paradigm knows no ethnic, religious, gender-based or linguistic borders when it comes to organizing communities against threats. It is a perspective for everyone. Due to the grave situation there, we started an ongoing solidarity campaign for Italy. The logic of capitalist modernity, based on profit, power and hegemony, not only upset the ecological balance in nature, but also in human society. Feelings that create solidarity, mutual support, and friendship are killed under this system, which creates an egoistic, selfish society and individual. Such a society and such an individual poses obstacles to overcoming a crisis like the Coronavirus. Throughout history, humanity has often been able to overcome illness and disease through social solidarity and unity. This is the spirit we embrace. The health systems of the ruling systems are failing because they are not based on equality. They are discriminatory, they think in terms of classes of people. In our health works, we treat everyone equally, regardless of who they are. We believe that health and education are fundamental rights that everyone should have equal access to. Although access to health is recognized as a fundamental human right in international law, it is clear that the universality of this right is more than questionable. Not only is there a major gap in the standards between different parts of the world, but also within the individual countries, social inequality means that some people are more likely to be protected from the virus than others. One example would be the inequality in people’s access to testing devices.

We have created a joint platform, the Europe Anti-Corona Coordination, between our movement and other organizations in Turkey, Kurdistan and the wider region around it. It includes peoples from different ethnic and faith groups, women’s movements, ecological organizations and worker’s associations. We try to include democratic forces within Turkey, such as Assyrian, Armenian, and Syriac communities. It is meant as platform to share common approaches and responses. We also held online meetings with organizations in four parts of Kurdistan and established a coordinating working group. We also want to start an internationalist anti-corona organization. The virus affects all of us, so we need local, regional and global responses that coordinate with each other to find solutions. The virus does not discriminate and it does not stop at artificially created borders. We need a common reflex and form of organization. The third phase of our work will be initiated with such a call for global organizing.

3. People have pointed out that states will use the pandemic as an occasion to deprive people of fundamental rights and liberties for authoritarian purposes. What do you think about different states’ response to the pandemic, in particular about the increase of state powers?

To cover up their own shortcomings, states resort to secretive and authoritarian measures now. I am afraid that they will continue to use the restrictions on people for other political interests. Governments and states will take advantage of the current moment as a basis to suppress freedom of expression and movement against democracy and freedom. There are worrying developments already. It would be a disaster to allow the powerful to exploit this situation for profit and power. It must not become an occasion to restrict liberties, equality and democratic rights. Not through authoritarianism and violence, but unifying, egalitarian and liberationist approaches must be taken as our fundamental method in these times. All civil society organizations, individuals, social groups can play a role in this. The system in Rojava is in this sense an important model to consider. There, health committees have already been organizing confederally for years, from the smallest commune to a regional level. Now they consult their communities and find solutions together through their committees and delegates on the differently scaled levels. We think that this can be a model around the world: sharing what we know with the society and to come up with solutions and approaches through transparent exchange and participatory decision-making. This is the best way, but many states prefer to use bans and suppression to cover up the devastating consequences of their systems. We will soon make a global call to mobilize and unite forces against the virus through transnational solidarity. Now more than ever, we must join forces. It is impossible to overcome the Coronavirus crisis through the logic of the nation-state or power. Rather than creating more contradictions and conflicts within society, we must develop egalitarian and just perspectives. This, we continue through our efforts not just for our own community, but with everyone who wants to work together. We are ready to support anyone who needs our help – from raising awareness to material and immaterial support. It does not matter whether or not they are a member of our organizations, we will support anyone in need. Only through unity within humanity, this health crisis can be overcome.

 

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Rojava kliče (Rojava rising), Slovenia

Can you please describe your activities since the beginning of the spread of the virus? 

Since the epidemiological situation in Slovenia got worse in the middle of March and public life was to be “brought to a halt”, at first it interrupted our ongoing plans to have a seminar weekend seclusion, to read, discuss and write together on topics of national question, feminism and jineology and others. The first week of the quarantine was therefore somewhat disorganized, all the society, including our group were greatly surprised and unprepared. But also it quickly became apparent that this is not a fleeting crisis and that the consequences for our societies will be grave. But what does is mean for us? After initial hesitation and confusion and due to clear thinking on the part of dear Comrade M., we were all in agreement that we need to step up our efforts.

We have moved our meetings online, but they are also conducted in person in one of our group’s apartment, so that friends can decide for themselves according to their needs and wishes, on which method to use. The meetings are now even more filled with the

commentary of and discussion on current political situation, we are verbally and in writing trying to construct a common understanding and theoretical framework. Since there is a flood of critical articles connected or inspired by corona, we’ve been reading that a lot, specially the ones focusing on (nation) state and it’s response to the crisis in the frame of another EU’s failed crisis response. We were discussing Yugoslav’s communists’ approach to national question in their writings from 1930’ and a few texts on the theory of the state. Regarding the national question we tried to connect the current situation in Rojava, where we have a “Kurdish revolution” that includes many other religious and national groups. It is important to understand the Kurdish struggle beyond Kurdishness and also to understand our local nationalistic realities. There was a common agreement on the understanding of nation as a very empty concept that is to be filled with meaning. As only the right-wing political groups are addressing the issue, the meaning of nation is becoming more and more conservative and our progressive national historical experiences are becoming somehow “alien”, “imported”, or “inorganic”, meaning that for example class struggle, solidarity, cooperatives and so on are not part of the idea of the nation, but are rather seen as interfering in the pure idea on nation.

We have come to the conclusion that if you are addressing the class relations in Slovenia, you hit the national question and national relations as well, since there is a strong Yugoslav community, overwhelmingly represented in unqualified and low-paid workplaces, and a hermetically closed Albanian community of which none of the “native population” has no basic information of. Though there are many high-level civil servants, politicians and managers of non-Slovene origin present in our daily public life, the main pop-cultural representation of them is a simple-minded janitor or a thug for male and a cleaner for a female. Though there was a lot of social chauvinism already present in the time of Yugoslavia (mainly directed towards Bosnian migrant workers population, while majority of Serbs were coming to Slovene socialist republic as federal employees, therefore as a part of state and members of higher bureaucratic class), the ‘80 brought a whole new wave of violent nationalism. Fast development of nationalistic ideology and the need of justification of dissolution of Yugoslavia started a process of transition from class to national identity and subsequent Othering of yesterday’s brothers and sisters. Since late ‘80s Yugoslav “foreigners” in Slovenia experienced many episodes of state, social and street level violence: attacks by local “vigilantes” and football hooligans turning neo-nazi; ongoing depiction of other Yugoslav states and people as backward, lazy, and fundamentally a threat to our social order; the process of Erasure, bureaucratic genocide of more then 25.000 people, who were living in Slovenia, but refused to take new Slovene citizenship (link1, link2).

Important lesson of this period is also linked to emergence of the idea of nation and of capitalism. The new merchant elite in late Medieval Europe tried to establish broader markets for their trade business and the particularity of Feudal division of land. The most useful tool for wider homogenization was language and present, but not as developed idea of a nation, one that found both an economic fundament and a spokesperson in the emerging merchant elite. The case of Slovene independence movement was in many case similar as the national elites tried to monopolize their position and exclude the federal state from intervening into “domestic” affairs. They’ve used the national ideology to execute capitalist counterrevolution, and probably one of the most expressive example of this is the fact that Milan Kučan, former gensec of Slovene communist party, was elected president of Slovenia and stayed in power till 2002, and Janez Drnovšek, last Slovene member of Federal presidency council of Yugoslavia, was prime minister in the same period and president of the country between 2002-07.

This lessons are important to have in mind when we try to understand the identification of people as Slovenes in terms of EU’s, Austrian or German domination of our economy and politics, and also in terms of social chauvinism against Yugos and refugees today. It is important to fill the idea of Nation with new, progressive and revolutionary meanings, based on the historical struggles of Slovene peoples; and it is important to present a nation state as the quasi-neutral tool of the capitalist class to preserve the class relation and exploitation. The recent refugee, climate and corona crises showed that neither EU nor the nation state have the capacity of adequate reacting, therefore the communal self-organization and solidarity action can be offered as an acceptable alternative.

There was a discussion also on direct action in these times; we are preparing a text calling for solidarity with neighbors (buying groceries for the elderly etc.), workers’ solidarity in slowing down the delivery chains, solidarity of health workers to sign sick leaves no regard to real medical condition of the patient, … Specially the latter has a significant meaning since many people are on actual strike through sick leave and fake self-isolation. It is important to encourage and affirmate such transgressional actions of working class.

Is your work based on a specific perspective or principle? 

Our specific perspective in the early stages of our group’s formation is the question of “translation” of the principles of the Revolution in Rojava into our own local context, society and history.

 

People have pointed out that states will use the pandemic as an occasion to deprive people of fundamental rights and liberties for authoritarian purposes. What do you think about different states’ response to the pandemic, in particular about the increase of state powers? 

On the 13th of March, Slovenia got a new right-wing government, which already implemented different measures that are, with the excuse of the pandemic, threatening people’s fundamental rights and liberties, amongst them full governmental control over state spending (which used to be the biggest tool of the parliament in relation to the government in the system of so-called ‘checks and balances’), abolishment of Anti-corruption commission’s overview of state spending, threats to state media, where the new government hadn’t yet installed it’s own people. We have analyzed these events as an example of a coup, but also came to a conclusion that a coup happens every time there is an exchange of power between the right-wing parties and the center-left parties in Slovenia, meaning a total change in nomenclature. Before the change of power (the parties in power before March were classic liberal center) there was a big protest against the right-

wing government. Our group assessed that the protest was held by the liberal left nomenclature, mainly in the area of culture and arts, the people who would now lose their positions and be replaced by the cultural elite close to the right-wing party. So we recognized that the intention of the protest was not progressive change, but rather retaining of the status quo. Therefore certain left groups and people did not participate in the protest and it triggered a heated discussion in various forums, where there was accusations of collaboration with and support for the enemy – the right-wing party. This could not have been further from the truth! But what this episode shows us (again) is the organizational and methodological shortcomings of the liberal-left, where these sort of public displays of anger (protest) every few years inevitably fail and parties with authoritarian tendencies are gaining more and more strength. That is why we say, we have to learn from mistakes, we have to analyze and we have to tailor our strategy. Agitating for a protest every few years when the prospect of a right-wing government looms in is not enough! It is nothing! People suffer also in times of center-left government’s rule. Centralist governments have set up a razor fence on our southern border, they are the ones who have caused more than 12 deaths of migrants in river Kolpa in a year! They are the ones who privatized all of our economy and succumbed to every dictate from the European colonizers! So we have to scrutinize them just as well as the right-wing party with open fascist tendencies and its own fascist TV. But most importantly, we have to organize the society in times of any and all of the different parties’ rule. Which means also now, when the new government is using the necessary state response to the pandemic for further militarization and increase in state powers that will lead to the advancement of authoritarianism. With a right-wing government guiding us through this crisis, there’s a bigger chance that the measures taken to tackle the pandemic will not be omitted after the crisis itself. Our new prime minister is a good friend of Viktor Orban and for sure versed in his methods or quick to learn and adapt. At the same time we can see that the health crisis will be followed by an economic crisis of the capitalist modernity. If the functioning of the capitalist world-system is not disturbed and if we do not resist it, the ruling class will only intensify the class war to retain its privileges and accumulate no matter the consequences. But at the same time this intensification of the class war is showing the propaganda machines of the ruling classes do not know what to report anymore, it is showing that their regimes of truth are falling apart. There isn’t a comrade in the history of political organizing that could have showed better how workers are the ones making profits, than the corona crisis. It is revealing the true face of the European Union in its entirety. Today the European Commission posted a text saying: “Together France and Germany donated more masks to Italy than China.”The EU has to come to a point where in order to legitimize its own existence, it has to compare the delayed help of the two of its central countries to solidarity of the Chinese state and somehow hope it will win the argument. On the other hand, the corona crisis also showed that there is elemental solidarity in our society, it showed that the first thought of most people was, how can I help others and how can I organize with my family, neighborhood, block of flats to help people in need. Unfortunately this sort of consciousness hasn’t yet been seen amongst workers, due to severe stratification of the workforce, numerous different (legal) ways of employment, different rights and obligations and therefore particular situations in which people find themselves in. The challenge before us is to connect these particular situations and realities of different people, families, neighborhoods, nationalities, identities and show it is the capitalist modernity that which is unable and unwilling to provide a free and seemly life for each and every one of us and to show through emerging practices of solidarity that society in its core is not what capitalist modernity is trying to shape it into and that elements of democratic society survive in it and have to be strengthened.

 

How do you interpret the increase of solidarity or mutual aid-based actions in different parts of the world?

To some degree, we could argue that the alienation that is the main component of the capitalist modernity, is in a process of slowing down. It is becoming clear that states have no capacity to act in any of the emergency state. A good example of it are fires around the globe; there is not a single “developed” country that could afford payed firefighting service. In many places like Brazil, the soldiers are putting out fires, in USA there are convicts working for 1$ per hour, in most of European countries they rely to volunteers. This shows us how huge is the dependence of the state on human solidarity and unpaid work of it’s citizens. We are now facing a paradox of solidarity in confinement, where we need to act

to affirmate a real solidarity, that tries to be appropriated by the state, and the false solidarity, selled to us as “National Interest” that serves as a disguise for continuation of class exploitation, patriarchy, state oppression, exploitation of nature for resources and other manifestations of capitalist modernity.
What can bring amazing outcomes are the calls of local governments for self-organization, creativity, and solidarity of the people. If we see state’s services (healthcare, welfare, public schools, …) as a tool that binds people under it’s control, failing care of state in times of crisis makes more people see the shortcomings and the fragility of the state and therefore out of total control of it’s propaganda. We think people will rely more on their own communal networks after this crisis.

The thing we must not forget is also the fact that many victims of domestic violence are trapped in their homes with the violators. There were several testimonies of rise in domestic violence and lack of services to help kids and women trapped in these situations. We would like to hear more about communal approaches to this issue in the times of quarantine.

What other solidarity/mutual aid activities in your city/region or around the world inspire you? 

During the crisis one of the central figures in “the world’s fight against corona” is Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of World Health Organization. While some of us were researching his background in order to see who is leading this chaotic response, we came across the information of his time serving as the head of the Tigray Regional Health Bureau and later as Ethiopian Minister of Health. His main field was tackling epidemics of AIDS, malaria, TBC and so on. His approach to prevention of these diseases was mainly filial: instead of investing in education of new doctors (there are more Ethiopian doctors in Chicago Metropolitan Area than in Ethiopia!!!) and expensive investments in new hospitals, he focused on education of new nursing staff, midwifes, and traditional healers. That approach lead to enormous decrease in infant mortality, disease spreading, and overall accessibility to healthcare. We found this bottom-up approach amazingly inspirational and as in Slovenia there is quite a big health-system crisis (also in the non-corona crisis time), there are different ideas of how to tackle it. We have an enormous problem of leaving doctors (migrating to other EU states and US), and massive pressures for privatization. Ethiopia’s case is proving that a low-level, filial and communal approach to healthcare services, that respects traditional medical knowledge, can bring huge results. Theoretical analysis of a possibility of a more communal approach to healthcare services in a central-European area and society is therefore another challenge before us.

Another amazing example are the Cuban revolutionary doctors flying around the world, spreading their knowledge, offering hands, medication and propaganda in the best possible sense! It is widely unknown that the Cuban healthcare system is one of the best in the world and that they are regularly on the frontlines of combatting different diseases in Africa, maybe now, that they brought ‘development aid’ to Italy, more people will.

 

What would you like to say to others at the moment?

Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.