Interview with R. from Ⓐcasă

January 31, 2019 / #Blog

*** The present interview was initially published in Bună – Zeitschrift für Befreiung & Emanzipation – nicht nur in Rumänien, a german anarchist magazine, in 2018. Edited by Martin Veith, a researcher who has already published two books dedicated to the history of Romania’s anarchist and syndicalist movements, one about Panait Mușoiu and the other about Ștefan Gheorghiu, the magazine is  trying to give some insight into the current anarchist-inspired initiatives and publications in the country and to document current events from an anarchist and class-struggle point of view. Another important focus is the actual research inspired by the history of anarchism in Romania, a subject still quite unexplored.

*** Ⓐcasă is an anti-authoritarian, non-hierarchical collective from Cluj. Or, in their own words:

„Through self-organizing and helping each-other we want to advance the struggle for social change while maintaining anti-capitalist and feminist principles, respecting the environment, other beings and humans regardless of gender, race, class, abilities, religion and sexuality. We imagine a different social order that is based on the free exchange of ideas, things and services, where individuals and communities support each other, and where money isn’t the drive of everything.

Ⓐcasă is a common, self-managed space that functions and support itself through voluntary donations and activities. It emerged out of the need for a place friendly to free political discussions and where we can exchange ideas and skills. Until now, Ⓐ-casă has hosted movie projections, debates, workshops, fundraising parties, events with and about healthy food etc.”

For updates about the coming events organized or hosted by Ⓐcasă, you can check out their blog at: https://acasa.blackblogs.org/

***

Interview with R. from Ⓐcasă (Cluj, Romania)

Bună: What is Ⓐcasă? Is it a squat? And how did you decide to name it Ⓐcasă?

R: casă is not a squat. The place is rented. Although it is not a squat – since there is no “culture” or practice of “anarchist squatting” in Romania (except among the poor, often Roma, people squatting for survival) – it works similarly to a social center or a squat. The name of the place means “Home” in Romanian, and was the result of a collective effort to name it. Although it has this romantic ring to it – this being one of the reasons why the name is not something anyone is extremely fond of – the point was that in the beginning it should be a familiar name in order to attract people. Yet a name is just a name, and not that important in some ways, this being the main reason why we did not really bother to change it over time.

Bună: For how long has the space been in existence?

R: The casă collective basically exists since 2013. Although a good number of people from the collective (at that point) were already part of different activist and civic groups, 2013 is the year when we decided that we need to clearly define ourselves in ideological terms, and that “third way”, centrist or trans-ideological activism is not a solution to anything. We had a different location at the beginning, which we changed four years ago. Ever since we are at the same location.

Bună: What kind of activities take place at casă?

R: Besides the organizational (or managerial, haha!) work needed to support the space, i.e.  the organizational meetings and the activities needed in order to make it sustainable (making D.I.Y. beer for instance), we organize quite a wide range of activities. Movie projections followed by discussions seem to be the hype of this year’s debut, but over the years we’ve organized university courses (in an effort to kick-off a kind of popular academia), workshops on facilitation, internet security or non-hierarchical organizing, and, of course, socializing events, in order to pay the rent though donations that we get from people attending the events. Besides our “own” activities, the idea behind it is to be an open space for any group that has similar principles, so in this respect there were quite a few  events coming from the LGBTQ+ community, poly community, urban gardeners’ community or even DJ and scratch artist community. In this sense it is indeed diverse.

Bună: Which currents of anarchism participate in casă? Can you give us an overview of the anarchist scene (movement) in Cluj? Are there anarchist-communists or anarcho-syndicalists? What topics are discussed?

R: Well, this is a tricky question. I myself would definitely call myself an anarcho-communist, but I am convinced that not everybody identifies with this label. However, mentioning a topic that is discussed in our group could shed some light on how we see ourselves as anarchists. One topic that we discussed in the last years comes from Murray Bookchin’s division between social anarchism and lifestyle anarchism. Although this division is clear cut and the two opposing terms seem to be really monolithic, I think the terms – lifestyle anarchist and social anarchist – are mainly used for the purpose of defining our own way of doing things in our own context while being aware of the many perils of individualism. Thus, even if every individual has their “own” vision of what anarchism is, what really unites the collective is the practical aspects of an anarchist ethos: non-hierarchical self-organization. Yet it is really difficult to talk about and act on the different overlapping levels of global neoliberalism. What do I mean by this? In an historical moment that marks almost four decades of retreat and dismantling of the welfare state, and the subsequent privatization and financialization of greater and greater chunks of the social space, it is really hard to not want “some” state back. When you see hundreds of thousand people lacking medical insurance it is hard to speak of some sort of “mutualist” response to a problem of such a scale. In this sense, the classical position of an anarchist in its rejection of the state seems untenable at least at a practical level, if not even a theoretical one – considering the rise of what is called communalism and this kinds of micro-politics of the city; of course, if one does not see communalism strictly as a reformist electorism. As a final remark, another thing that makes our collective “one” is not the adhesion of all the members to a certain strain of anarchism, but the decision to offer and maintain a space in which these ideas and others can be discussed. Coming back to the idea of having an open space for different political and social groups and initiatives, the same applies to the theoretical field: there is no need for a unified theory of anarchism in order to fight capitalism and tackle sexism, racism, or ableism.

Bună: Cluj is one of the biggest cities and cultural centers in Romania. Can you tell us more about its industry and social structure? 

R: Again, a solid answer to this question would require an article in itself. But what can be briefly said is that Cluj still is, far from the image it would like to sell of it being a regional hub for creativity and innovation, a largely working-class city. Although Cluj is the second most important city after the capital (in economic terms), more than 50% of the workforce is still in manufacturing, while only a third of the working class is white collar, managerial or yuppie. But, while this is the case, the development strategy of the city is focused mainly on the latter categories  and on the interests of the investors. A clear example of this is the Pata Rât situation, the biggest ghetto near a landfill in Europe, for which the city municipality is doing very little, or close to nothing. Furthermore, students represent a quarter of the city’s population, which gives the city a mobile, attractive vibe and a certain “young” spirit. Another thing that makes Cluj stand out is its civil society, which is very vibrant and engaged; in this respect, Cluj saw some of the biggest and most diverse protests in Romania.

Bună: Even mainstream media reports relatively often about the protest actions in Cluj. As an example, I think about the protests regarding “Pata Rât” and the plans of the government. Do you think these protests can have a positive outcome? Do anarchists participate in them? Are there anarchist opinions and solutions  discussed with those involved?

R: As I said, protests have been  something of a common place in Cluj for the last 6 years and, in this respect, protests for changing  the situation of the Roma in Pata Rât are no exception. In 2011 the first anti-segregation march was organized, which saw more than 200 people participate. Although the number is not impressive – especially since the Roșia Montană protests gathered, at their peak, almost 10.000 people – it was definitely an important statement. Anarchists participated and still participate when it comes to Pata Rât, yet during the last few years it seems that only anarchists and their close allies participate, which is definitely a sad situation. When it comes to solutions, the situation is a little bit more complex. What can definitely be said is that the protests work: the situation in Pata Rât has changed slightly, local authorities are starting to acknowledge the problem, although little has been done till now, and, most importantly, the housing criteria of the city hall were deemed discriminatory by the courts, which means easier access to housing for the people from Pata Rât.  

Bună: Is there organisation and resistance of the workers in factories? Do the unions play a progressive role?

R: More and more so in the last years. Yet the standard answer to this questions would be no. Trade unions have had a really sad fate. Most of the legitimacy of unions faded because of their leaders and the mixture of union management and politics (actually the middle of the 90’s saw a lot of former union leaders become politicians, as a reward for assisting with the dismantling and privatization of the Romanian economy). So, you have all these yellow unions that are actually serving the management and ownership of the company, and not the rights and interests of its workers. This is mainly why syndicalism has been for decades on the fall in Romania. Yet in recent years there has been more and more interest in unions and syndicalism. There are now some groups, mainly financed by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, who campaign for syndicalism and share all sorts of horrid stories about  the working conditions of Romania. There are more and more strikes and more workers demanding for true unions, not ones that are the loyal henchmen of the owners. So, maybe the situation has been steadily improving, but it still is light-years away from what it should be. Big companies or corporations (ranging from Wizzair to Auchan) do whatever they can to stop workers from unionizing, and some lawsuits have been won against these companies, showing that, with enough determination and mobilization, abuses can be stopped. Of course, unions have been demonized for years for being relics of communism, which is really a joke considering the fact that left-wing thinking and practice in Romania started with anarcho-syndicalism and not bolshevism (which actually historically came later).

Bună: How strong is the influence of the far  right and of neo-fascists in the city? In the past, Gheorghe Funar, a very vocal right-wing nationalist, was mayor. And there was also Napoca News, a news website open to far right ideas.

R: The Napoca News site does not exist anymore, since the owner of the site – a guy working for the city hall – has been charged administratively for being a fascist and his resignation was demanded. An internal commission was set up but, of course, the commission found nothing wrong and he still works in the city’s administration. Also, the people that voted for the far-right party of Gheorghe Funar for three consecutive terms were mainly the working class Romanians living in the periphery of the newly urbanized city of Cluj. PRM (The Greater Romania Party) was the only party that was telling workers that the economy is being undermined, that their jobs are in danger and privatization is looming. Of course, everything packaged in the discourse that it’s the “foreigners” that are behind this, not the general rules of the capitalist market. So, to the ethnic Romanian – Hungarian divide we must overlap the class dimension. And the key to understanding why people voted for Funar is also key for understanding why he lost office. In my eyes the reason is simple: it’s not that people said that we need more tolerant, inclusive, or even “European” city governance, but that they wanted a far less protectionist, and more open to foreign investment city administration. So, protectionism served well in the first years of the transition, where protection was needed from the rampant mechanisms of the market, while later liberalism became the desirable approach in order to raise profits. In this sense, the people who  voted for Funar and are nationalistic are still here, racists – more overt or not – are still working in the city administration, yet there is no true far-right movement. Noua Dreaptă has no more than a few members, very limited visibility and so on. But if history taught us something, it’s that the rise of fascism is not only dependent on the radicalization and militancy of a vanguard, but on the way that large chunks of society generalize and make fascist ideas, tropes or myths mainstream. And in this sense, one can find conservative of even fascists views basically in every political party in Romania. The danger is not that the small vanguard of fascists will gain power and momentum, but more likely that large parts of the Romanian population can be won over by particular messages and ideas that are really mainstream – a good example of this is the failed referendum to ban same-sex marriage (although this kind of union is already illegal).

Bună: What are the plans of casă for the near future?

R: We plan to continue doing what we have  already been doing for some years. Meaning, to keep organizing locally, to keep maintaining an alternative social space in Cluj where anarchist ideas and practices have their place. We have, and have had, so many ideas over the years that have… let’s not say failed, but rather stopped after some time. Furthermore, besides ideas and initiatives, it’s about the people involved, their reality of living in an impoverished capitalist economy and their context and motivation – in this sense casă is the place where all these things get to be articulated, without the pressures of some kind of “activism” that always needs immediate goals and actions, and without the pressures for consumption, efficiency, or success.

Bună: Thank you for this interview.

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