Notes from the Liberation Without Borders Tour in Tunisia

13 May 2011

Tonight, the transnational delegation from the Knowledge Liberation Front (KLF) reunited in Tunis to begin the Liberation Without Borders Tour.  This delegation is a project of activist research that was initiated at a meeting in Paris last February.  It aims to reinforce the relations with the Tunisian movement activists that were forged at that meeting.

Right off, we began to come in contact with the extremely complex as well as decisive situation that the Tunisian revolutionary movement is currently facing.  The barbed wire that surrounds a section of Avenue Bourguiba, the main location of protests in recent months, is the clearest sign of the social and political tension that has mounted over the last week.  The tension above all fueled by the scandal caused by a video in which the Interior Minister denounced what he called attempts at a coup d’état.  Following the public release of this video, the minister resigned.

This afternoon we also witnessed the arrest of a young activist by political police, only a short distance from the Interior Ministry.  Another result of the rising tension, beyond the indefinite curfew imposed between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m., is the new ban on all demonstrations in the city.

In response to this growing repression, demos and strikes across the country have been called for the coming days.  As one activist commented, “It was an error to have abandoned the Casbah . . . but now we will take back the streets to push the revolution forward.”

From the countryside and other cities, hundreds of young Tunisians continue to arrive to fill the streets of the capital and other major cities, advancing a process of radical transformation to which they have dedicated their whole lives.  These young activists, the driving force of the revolt, have now become the main target of repression by the transitional government that is more interested in restoration than transformation.

Overall, the contacts that we have already made today tell us about a situation that is still in flux, a process held open by the force of people acting as makers of history, which is what the movement has won.

14 May 2011

On our second day here in Tunis, the Liberation Without Borders Tour completely immersed itself in the complex but extraordinary reality of Tunisia after the insurrection.  While the transitional government and the mainstream media try to pacify the current phase, calling for order and normalization, the truth is that there are still many groups calling for the continuation of the revolutionary process.

In fact, at 10 a.m. this morning, we took part in a lively protest organized by the neighborhood committees for the defense of the revolution on the now famous Avenue Bourguiba.  Minutes after hundreds of people assembled on the steps of the municipal theater, chanting slogans for the continuation of the revolution and against the repression by the transitional government, the activists of the committees were brutally attacked by militia groups armed with clubs and knives and secretly organized by the Interior Minister.

The repression here is being implemented through the use of plainclothes squads.  This is a strategy of low-intensity warfare similar to those seen in Latin America and elsewhere.  The result is uncontrolled violence aimed at creating political tensions without directly implicating the government.  Arrests and veritable manhunts of activists and young people are continuing, especially against those who come from the countryside and who persist in their protests in Avenue Bourguiba even after the end of the Casbah protest.  Moreover, several people told us of an infamous story of an activist who was arrested and then raped at a police station.

Following this violent attack on them, the protesters equally quickly reassembled in front of the Ministry of Women and Social Affairs and then held a sit-in in front of the headquarters of the UGTT, the Tunisian trade union, calling for a general strike in support of the continuation of the revolutionary process.  These revolutionary committees, together with young activists, are building a real dynamic for transformation, whereas political and economic powers that be are simply attempting to capture the positions previously held by the Ben Ali regime.

Meanwhile, late in the morning, an important demonstration of lawyers and magistrates took place in front of the Ministry of Justice, calling for an independent judiciary, the freedom of expression, and the end of government censorship as well as of political persecution.  In fact, there is an information blackout in the mainstream media, resulting in a real censorship of all protests and demonstrations, with the exception of magistrates.

After this morning’s events, our delegation then proceeded to collect research materials, with several individuals involved the political scene here in the capital.  The afternoon was rich in meetings, interviews, and organizational meetings for a transnational meeting to be held here in Tunis this fall.

Tomorrow, the KLF delegation will continue our activist research, deepening our understanding of this complex situation that Tunisian social movements are going through.  In collaboration with the many collectives we have already met here, the concrete transnationalization of Euro-Mediterranean struggles is being given material form. . .

15 May 2011

Today, the Liberation Without Borders Tour continued its activist research in post-insurrectionary Tunisia.  The delegation organized itself into smaller working groups in order to follow multiple initiatives taken simultaneously this morning.

One of these was a delegation from the NoBorder Network that visited a self-organized support center that gathers relief materials for incoming Libyan refugees.

While a small crew armed with video cameras went to conduct interviews with various leaders of the revolutionary movement, others participated in a rally organized in solidarity with the Palestinian people.  The latter also became an occasion for an encounter of Maghreb and Middle Eastern collectives, where distinct points of view on the transnational political situation confronted one another.

Here the distance between young activists on one hand and political parties and organizations on the other hand became visible.  Generally speaking, there is a gap on the issue of the system of political representation.  On one hand, most political parties are calling for the normalization of and order for “post-revolutionary” civil society.  On the other hand, as some students commented on the fringes of this rally, the political reorganization of Tunisia, for them, is a merely technical question, and those who spearheaded the overthrow of Ben Ali’s regime are ready to do the same against the transitional government.  The echo of the 2001 Argentinean slogan “que se vayan todos” [throw them all out] still resounds in the streets and in their will to continue mobilization.

Another Liberation Without Borders Tour group met with Haythem Ben Farhat, a documentary filmmaker who is currently working on a project based on interviews with young students about the Tunisian revolution.

In the early afternoon, we visited a neighborhood in Tunis where middle and upper classes live, to investigate further what has been happening in recent months.  Here, it’s clear that those classes’ acceptance of and satisfaction with the fall of the regime of Ben Ali, whom they describe as a Mafioso working through the secret police, is tied up with their need to reestablish the “normalcy” of free trade.

Later in the afternoon, a meeting was held with the NoBorder Network activists, to discuss and deepen the link between the struggles over knowledge and the battle for people’s freedom of movement.

Scheduled for tomorrow morning are several meetings with various groups, associations, and organizations.  In the afternoon, there will be an organizational meeting with activists of groups that are organizing a transnational meeting this fall.  Stay tuned. . . .

16 May 2011

The fourth day of the Liberation Without Borders Tour was very rich in terms of interviews, encounters, and meetings.  From early morning, various KLF delegations met activists from various groups and organizations: Raid-Attac, Le Manifest, Amnesty International Tunisia, The 14th of January Front, and the UGTT.

Intense discussions focused on the development of the revolutionary processes, the conflicts between the movement and the transitional government, and the coming constituent assembly.  The complete exhaustion of the existing forms of political representation and the distance between the traditional political parties and the movement that toppled Ben Ali’s regime became evident.  Contrary to the image portrayed by the Western media, far from being just a bread riot, what happened in Tunisia is an insurrection due to the global economic crisis: its genealogy lies in a long process of proletarian struggles (specifically the 2008 strike in a mining district) and conflicts in southern Tunisia.  Moreover, its social composition of highly educated and yet precariously employed or unemployed workers and students has much in common with that of the movements in Europe and elsewhere.

An example of that commonality can be seen in the fiercely contested decision made by the transitional government to continue to respect the existing agreements with the supranational institutions of global capitalism like the IMF and the World Bank and to pay the country’s debts, rather than investing in education and social welfare.  It all underlines the transnational character of the struggle in Tunisia, which, however, goes well beyond the antiquated notions of international solidarity.  “To liberate Palestine, for example” one activist forcefully pointed out, “we must liberate ourselves.”

What is at stake in this extraordinary political laboratory, it appears, is whether the insurrectionary movement can find new forms of collective organization, building a constituent process and a new social relation.

Meanwhile, another delegation went into a banlieue, working-class suburb, of the capital to meet with some young activists who were protagonists in this year’s revolt.  The government’s response to the threat posed by those who are keeping the revolutionary process alive is the intensification of mechanisms of repression, marginalization, and normalization: here, the curfew is enforced not only by military patrols but also through the elimination of basic services like electricity.  It is obvious that the powers that be are terrified of the sectors of Tunisian society that are central to the revolutionary movement.

Following these important discussions, the KLF met with the activists of the Front de libération populaire tunisien, bloggers, students, the unemployed, precarious workers, and other groups to continue organizing the transnational meeting that is planned here in Tunis this autumn.  There is great enthusiasm for the challenge of building a real Euro-Mediterranean network of struggles and common liberation.

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