Balkan Anarchist Bookfair, Ljubljana 2023: a review [en]

veröffentlicht am 6. August 2023

On the weekend from 7th to 9th of July the bookfair took place in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana. In the context of the Balkans, it is inevitable to speak about war and its devastating consequences. It would have been chance to listen to experiences from groups and individuals from this geographical and cultural space, extrapolate an analysis to contemporary events and push an open debate. This chance has been not only missed, but was actively sabotaged by the organising committee.

When speaking about war, it is inevitable to discuss the russian aggression on its neighboring country Ukraine. Probably most people will agree that due to euro-centrism, but also geographical vicinity this conflict is getting more attention in the general public than others. Due to structural forms of racism, patriarchy and Islamophobia Ukrainian refugees may also get treated differently than people from other regions of the world. However, this is not the fault of refugees themselves, but from the anti-migratory discourse in (Western) societies.

Biased set-up

After the call for participation, Solidarity Network Vienna (SNV) asked to organize a workshop with the title “info-talk on anti-authoritarian perspectives on the war in Ukraine”. The answer from the organizers was that a “cluster discussion” was planned. After showing interest to participate, SNV explained what has been done during the last year, that interest in the discussions was elevated and that they went in a respectful and peaceful manner. After trying to acknowledge how the discussion would materialize, more questions about the group’s internal organization were asked. To SNV it did not seem appropriate to contest these questions by e-mail.

Ukrainian anti-authoritarian group Solidarity Collectives asked beginning of May to take part at the event. No answer was received until 5th of July, three days before the event started. The argument was that it would be planned to give only space to Balkan groups. We are not experts in the region and do not know the exact political geography of anarchism in the Balkans, but we still doubt that there are no anarchist groups in nation-states like Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Moldavia, Northern Macedonia or Romania.

In previous published statements Slovenian-Croatian group FAO-IFA mentioned expressly the Ukrainian war as a topic (, so did the Anarcho-Syndicalist Initiative from Serbia although their claims are already part of a conspiracy narrative that would not withstand a fact-based analysis ( Also, the group Clandestina from Greece had a clear and visible reference regarding Ukraine in their statement ( The Greek Initiative for Total Army Objection did not engage in this topic within the discussion, but did mention the current war in a republished statement from April 2022 ( The Anarcho-Syndicalist Group of Prishtina from Kosovo did not provide a statement for the discussion.

Don’t think of a white elephant

We can observe that although the name of the discussion was “Balkan Anarchists against War” in general, the russo-Ukrainian war was put on the agenda by the exposing groups themselves. It has not been brought into the discussion from outside. In this context we express our concern and sadness that the organisers preferred a discussion about our comrades in Ukraine, rather than talking with them. When this concern was addressed, it was stressed that the discussion is a general debate about war, not a specific one.

This ambiguity however lacks of coherence for the simple reason of being specifically mentioned in the previous statements, but also because it is a topic that is widely discussed not only within the political left, but society in general. Excluding a topic from the agenda or only speaking about it when the own opinion is reproduced, is a hierarchical agenda-setting. Further, reducing the conflict to a mere confrontation between nato and the russian federation does not only reproduce a pro-russian narrative, it also dehumanises people in Ukraine by not recognising them as actively and autonomously acting and thinking subjects.

In the discussion itself not a lot of more information could be gathered. The speakers engaged in long discourses, sometimes monologues of over ten minutes. Worse, some groups only read out their previously uploaded statements.

The only positive surprise was the group from Prishtina. In short and precise sentences, they shared their utopia, but also their present, being amongst the few who did not reference to the Ukrainian case. “Without the military intervention in 1999, probably we might not be here today”, stated the speaker from Kosovo. A person T. from the country of Serbia, home to the nation that committed a genocide in Bosnia and that was about to ethnically cleanse Kosovo, openly disagreed. It was astonishing to witness how a citizen of the nation of perpetrators was giving lectures to members of a society that had to suffer from the military aggression.

No questions please

After all the groups had spoken or had read their texts to the overcrowded room with around 150 people, the audience was denied the possibility to ask questions or comment. Indeed, there was no time left, because only five minutes after the next discussion was about to start. This lack of organization however seemed intended. That moderation did not stop the speakers in their monologues, but yet was able to avoid an open discussion, can be interpreted as a lack of democratic understanding and respect towards the audience. People were not happy with this attitude, so after being pressured and seeing no other solution, the organizers asked to discuss the issue in an open assembly outside.

A large crowd of 100-150 people gathered in the patio. It was one of us who lead the moderation, as nobody else was willing to assume this task.T. continued in a very aggressive and insulting way with per monologues. The person openly questioned that our comrades in Ukraine were anarchists, and argued that they did nothing on a practical level, while the person is a former secretary of the International Workers Association. Similar attitudes were observed by comrades from Reggio Emilia (Italy), who constantly interrupted others, screamed and jumped around and obviously were not able to listen to arguments they did not share. One person at least came forward with a concrete proposal which consisted of the idea to organize a protest camp along the Croatian-Serbian border to protest against NATO exercises or war in general (frankly, we don’t remember exactly).

Later, another comrade from Kosovo argued that “of course” they want NATO and the Americans to leave. But if they do, everybody has to be aware that Serbia will attack Kosovo the next day. As there are many Serbian military bases along the border with Kosovo, the comrade proposed to realize the event initiated by T. on both sides of the Serbian-Kosovo border, instead of the limits with Croatia. T. did not seem to engage in the proposal.

One person from the organizing committee stated in front of the entire assembly that no request was received from Solidarity Collectives nor from any other group. A simple lie that does not become true even if repeated often enough, because in a personal talk with a SNV member the same person recognized that not inviting the groups “was not meant like this but a misunderstanding.”

Debate is vital

Even though we were disappointed by many of the participants and their cynical and unemphatic arguments, we believe in principles like debate, dialectical confrontation and contradiction. Our movement is heterogeneous and when reasoned well, also opinions that one does not share should be understood. Nonetheless, the pattern of subtle sabotage in order not to give space for the mentioned principles is evident. We oppose these structural and methodical expressions of power, such as the silencing of Ukrainian comrades!

Later, the realization of the open assembly was celebrated as a victory for self-organization. But it wasn’t. This is not our understanding of facilitating debate from an anti-authoritarian perspective, but the opposite.

When a comrade from ABC Belarus asked the assembly who actually has ever been to Ukraine or Russia and not even five hands went up, he was confronted with a wild and raging reaction by the crowd. We encourage everyone to travel to Ukraine and see with their own eyes. It is possible, it helps to understand the context and in case of doubts regarding organization and planning, please feel free to contact us.

Nonetheless we are happy that the audience was divided and about the third of the people did empathize with our comrades on and behind the front-lines. During the next day many comrades, also with opposed views, thanked the moderator for the assumed task. We appreciate this gesture and wish for more intense but respectful debates.

At the same time, we want motivate everybody to inform themselves and don’t only rely on information from third parties (including us). We know our political agenda is tough and we are responsible to push it forward. But as most of us have strong ties to people in Ukraine, it affects us emotionally when confronted with disinformation, lies and disrespect. Just as with other political issues, we would like to demand better previous preparation in order to make discussions more meaningful.

In this sense, we were also happy to hear voices from the Balkans and get to understand some realities better, even though we would have liked to see a more diverse set of participants that would have included representatives from more local geographies.

ensu [ö] and solidarity network vienna
July 2023

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Mail: solidarity_network_v [at]


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