Several weeks ago a member of anarchist organisation AST Dmitrij M. was beaten in Kyiv by two anarchists from Belarus, one of them Aliaksandr Frantskevich. As representatives of the anarchist movement of Belarus and as those who actively supported Aliaksandr Frantskevich during his imprisonment we believe it is important to voice our opinion on what happened.
As far as we know after the 1 May demo in Kyiv an active discussions about the demo started online. Later discussions resulted in insults from both sides. The behaviour of both sides of the conflict was far from being constructive; it consisted of constant attempts to offend each other. We have to note that from the very beginning Aliaksandr Frantskevich made extremely impolite (offending) comments towards the participants of Kyiv Mayday demo.
We think that these comments provoked Dmitrij M. to behave in the manner also aggressive, albeit defensive. We do not support, though, the behaviour of the latter as well. But this was not the end: Aliaksandr Frantskevich decided that the insult demands revenge. He and his buddy organised a trap to meet Dmitrij from AST, because the latter declined all invitations to meet in private. During the meeting Frantskevich and his comrade punched their opponent in the face several times and ran away, for passers-by started to intervene.
During last years it is not the first time when brute force is used to solve conflicts inside the anarchist movement in former USSR countries. We will try to take a look at the problem of violence and conflict resolution in general, not necessary in relation to the above-mentioned incident.
We believe that these are outcomes of the absence of effective ways to regulate conflicts. Many anarchists (participants of ABC-Belarus as well) call to complete dismantling of prisons, for prisons are not the way to solve conflicts in society, they create more conflicts and problems then solve. But in most cases we have difficulties with formulating alternative to the punishment system. Moreover, even within the anarchist movement we do not use already existing methods of conflict resolution and prefer to reproduce norms of society which we criticise, namely, we use the formula “might-makes-right”.
If we want to achieve any transformations in society, we have to change as well our own attitude towards people (at least towards our comrades with whom we try to build social movement together). It is impossible to change society without changing relations within this society. That’s why anarchists have to show an example for other people. In this case, an example to solve conflicts with active participation of the community.
We believe that problem solving within anarchist movement is a responsibility of all participants of the movement. We encourage to use conflict resolution methods at early stages of conflicts, to search for consensus (or at best compromise) affordable to every side which will lead to peace and continuation of common activities. Escalation of conflicts leads only to loss of forces and time, and to dissociation of the movement. Instead of active participation in social struggles we start to spend more and more time on the solving of inner discords, which may not demand so much time if we put attention at them earlier.
One of the reasons why in many cases escalation happens is disrespectful treatment of each other within the anarchist movement. Many times we noticed in social networks and in personal communication rather rude manner of communication between anarchists. Unfortunately, cynical insults against comrades are normal today. This kind of behaviour ruins the spirit of solidarity, and sometimes it turns into the contest “whose behaviour will be most provocative” .
While condemning such method of conflict “resolution” we have to ask ourselves a question “Why people resort to such a mob law?” Quite often we declare that violence is not acceptable, but then we fail to mention alternative methods which may lead to settlement or at least to pacification. There are several ways of peaceful conflict resolution. One of these – personal constructive talk, in presence of neutral mediator if needed. In the case when one side declines this way of resolution and continues to escalate the situation, community has to step in. Community may call one or both sides to account and use sanctions of which the strongest is exclusion from the community.
For this scheme to work certain conditions have to be met:
– the existence of the community;
– readiness of the community to react to conflicts;
– the will of sides to solve conflict.
It’s totally evident that we can’t talk about some unified community that can be addressed for help. An activist often can’t count on anyone’s support apart from their closest comrades. If they are missing, the person is basically not protected against any attacks. Moreover, the larger part of the community prefers not to deal with ‘personal’ conflicts, we call it ‘to foul our own nest’ and ‘poke and pry’. Seldom or never we hold meetings aiming at finding the core reasons of the conflict; the attempts to solve the quarrels, terminate disruptive behaviour, insults and threats can be counted on one hand. This situation once again attests to the weakness of the anarchist practice. We believe that to a great extent the lack of community and reluctance of comrades to help in sorting out conflicts can sometimes be the reasons for people to use ‘their own’ methods. While criticising undesirable behaviours in the community, we should present the possibility of (and tools for) solving the problems differently, otherwise these are just lip service. That’s why the responsibility for violent actions rests not only on an individual, but on the movement as well.
Saying this we should differentiate between defensive and offensive enforcement actions. In many violent cases those who use it are not the ones who are defending themselves from attacks, but themselves create conflict situations and suppress natural responses with violence. In these cases the movement bears responsibility for inactivity and lack of response to threats or the propaganda (encouragement) of such violent actions on the part of aggressors.
We must take into account that we are the products of society in which we are brought up and every day we reproduce its worst norms. Many anarchists believe that all prisoners are political prisoners, because social relations and conditions force them to commit crimes. Likewise, all anarchists whose behaviour is deviant from community norms are products of the mainstream society and despondency of the anarchist movement.
However, part of anarchists don’t even try to eradicate in themselves the norms that are inoculated by society and various institutions. These people find the status quo convenient. Living in it, they get a lot more than those who are oppressed by this convention, so-called ‘weak’ and/or those who consciously try to change it. This is particularly the case with using violence to impose opinions and beliefs on others.
We mustn’t encourage violence within the movement and every situation like this should be a lesson for us and generate possible solutions to avoid the same mistakes in the future.
Taking into account what was said before, we call our comrades to treat the conflicts seriously and condemn the use of any violent methods in the anarchist movement. We will consider attempts to solve problems this way as contradicting to anarchist ideas and will oppose them by all means. We would like our comrades to know that ABC-Belarus reserves the right to limit or refuse the support to people using violence against their comrades.
Read more on this problem in the article “Be Good to Your Comrades: Why Being a Prick is Counterrevolutionary”, p.52 https://libcom.org/files/CS&MH_Libcom.pdf