Introductional speech

by Tavolo dei migranti for the frassanito-network

20.Sep.04 - opening speech of the ESF preparation meeting in September 2004 in London that brought together of groups working on migration.

a) First of all, a couple of words about the "Frassanito Network", which has sent out the call for this meeting. The name of the network comes from a place in southern Italy, in Puglia, where a "NoBorder" camp was held last summer. During seven days we have organized a lot of debates and workshops, but also some actions, most notably an action against a detention center close to Bari (Bari Palese), during which the conditions were created for the escape of some migrants. The idea of the camp was discussed among activists coming mainly from Germany and Italy, who organized a meeting on the topic of migration during the first European Social Forum, in Florence. After the camp we decided to build a very loose network, mainly a mailing list devoted to the discussion of some ideas we share about migration. Many of us were among the organizers of workshops and assemblies at the ESF in Paris, where we had the occasion to meet other groups and networks. One of the main achievements of the process of networking in Paris was the call for a European Day of Action against detention centers and for the legalization of migrants, which was held on January 31st this year, with demonstrations and actions in more than forty European cities. As we began to discuss about the follow up of this initiative and the ESF in London, we thought that it would be very important to organize a preliminary meeting in September, to exchange ideas and to further and deepen the process of networking.

b) Many of us were at the beginning very skeptical about the perspective of the European Social Forum itself. The reason wasn't merely ideological. We just looked back to the first meeting of the WSF in Porto Alegre, and we realized that the subject of migration didn't play any key role within the discussions which took place there. Almost all discussion on migration was filtered through the dominant discourse of global economic devastation, which presents the migrants as mere victims. But we had had the experience of Genoa 2001, where the first demonstration was centered upon the issue of migrants' rights. And during the two ESF which were held in the following years migration was largely recognized as a founding topic for the development of the European Social Forum itself. Moreover, despite the contradictions and the difficulties of the whole process, we were positively impressed by the large participation in the Forum and by the interest expressed by a large number of participants for the development of a radical political discourse. On the other hand, a new waves of migrants' struggles in many European countries (from France to Spain, from Italy to Greece) was accompanied in the last years by the development of new forms of activism and political discourse on the topic of migration. In our opinion, these new forms of activism and political discourse must play a role also in the process of the ESF, which is one of the sites (not the only one, but nonetheless an important one) of expression of the social movements which are trying to imagine a different Europe in a different World.

c) One of the ideas we share is the necessity of criticizing the representation of the migrants as mere victims of the "neoliberal" globalization. As I said before, this is an idea which is very widespread within the "global movement" and the "left". The image of the migrant as a victim, as people in need of assistance, care, or protection, the unilateral emphasis on the process of stigmatization and exclusion, have inspired a lot of very important solidarity work with the migrants. But it has a paternalistic side, from which we need to move away! And this is the reason why I think that we need a new image of migration, which stresses its subjective aspects. We developed with this aim the idea of migration as a social movement, which is not merely produced by the action of "objective" forces (whose importance we don't want of course to deny), but which is also driven by a number of subjective needs, desires and behaviors. The making and the remaking of the labor market itself, be it on the national, on the continental or on the global level, cannot be understood without taking into account the subjective determination of the labor's mobility. This doesn't mean to remove from the center of the political debate the mechanisms of domination and exploitation which determine the migrants' life. Rather, it suggests a shift of perspective, which allow us to analyze (an to criticize, both theoretically and practically) these mechanisms always confronting them with a set of social practices which contain the possibility of their overcoming. It is this shift of perspective which we would suggest for the discussion of racism and border regime, citizenship and racism, which are the topics of the workshops we will hold tomorrow.

d) Let me exemplify the point. For many years we have used the image of the "Fortress Europe" to criticize the European migration politics. It can still be a very useful image for the building up of campaigns and struggles, that's not the point. But in our discussion we increasingly began to submit the image itself to a critical scrutiny and to underscore its limits. There are at least two problems with this image. On the one hand, it brings us to concentrate our attention unilaterally on the domination practices when we look at what's going on everyday at the European borders. Of course it is important to analyze and to criticize the new border regime, the war on migrants and refugees which is conducted by European governments and agencies. But it is also important to underscore that the new border regime is challenged everyday, and often successfully despite the dramatic costs in terms of human lives, by thousands of women and men, who succeed in crossing them. Aren't we confronted here with a powerful social movement, which criticizes practically the borders and the nature of the European citizenship in the making? On the other hand, if we focalize the dramatic tension between this social practices and the border regime, we can see another limit of the slogan "Fortress Europe". That is, this image can suggest the idea that the goal of the border regime is precisely to seal the border, while it seems more important to stress that its action produces a selective mechanism of inclusion of the migrants (and of migrant labor) through their illegalization. The border regime itself produces the migrants' illegality as one of the key features of the new European citizenship.

e) One of the purposes of our meeting in these days is to discuss the ways of our participation in the ESF to be held in London in October. Many workshops on the subject of migration have been proposed and will take place within the official frame of the forum. But many activities will take place outside that frame, and I think that this is very important because it demonstrates that we are confronted in Europe with social movements which cannot be contained within any "institutional" frame. It is possible that the most interesting discussions will take place outside of the Forum, and we would like to verify in these days if it is possible to coordinate our efforts in order to use the ESF as a chance for the further deepening of the process of networking: many campaigns will be proposed and discussed in the next days, and each of them is important. But I'm also convinced that we should try to develop something like a common proposal to bring into the "official" discussion of the Forum. The next months will be very important for the "constitutionalization" of the European Union, of the European citizenship and its borders. I don't think that citizenship is the solution for the migrants' problems. I rather think that citizenship, and especially the European citizenship must be a field of struggle, and that one of our aims should be to keep open the borders of the European citizenship. We should stress in London that one of the key institutions upon which the European citizenship is based are the detention centers, which national governments and European agencies have developed and are developing all over Europe and beyond its formal borders. In this sense, the call of a new European day of action against the detention centers should be one of the defining proposals of the ESF. The refusal of the detention centers should become as important as the refusal of the war for the development of a social movement in Europe. And we should stress that we'll never accept a European citizenship built upon detention centers!