Andreas Broeckmann on Tue, 15 Jun 1999 16:32:59 +0100

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Syndicate: report Budapest Syndicate meeting, 23 -25 April 1999

Final Report - Syndicate Meeting

C3 - Center for Culture and Communication

Budapest, 23 - 25 April 1999

Contents of this report:

1. Spring '99 Syndicate Meeting: the Belgrade pre-history
2. The Budapest Meeting
3. Meeting Results
4. Acknowledgements

1. Spring '99 Syndicate Meeting: the Belgrade pre-history

The meeting that took place in Budapest in April '99 was originally planned
to take place at Cinema REX in Belgrade where it would bring together media
artists, curators and critics from different European countries, as well as
from the FRYugoslavia, and will initiate public debate and informal
discussions about the role of media art and electronic culture in the
ongoing transformation processes.

The original concept for the meeting said:

'The regular Syndicate meetings are important moments for the network,
because they allow for face-to-face encounters and help to foster new ties
and cooperations between different members. Many projects and connections
between initiatives have been developed around these meetings. More
importantly, the meetings have helped in the past to bring together the
international visitors with the local community of media artists and
cultural practitioners, thus improving significantly the international
network in those places.

'Belgrade and Yugoslavia are a special case, because over the past 18
months, the group of list-subscribers from Yugoslavia has grown faster than
in any other country, so that this is now the largest group of Syndicalists
from any one country. The idea of a Syndicate meeting in Belgrade (and a
visit to Novi Sad) are therefore like 'bringing the Syndicate home'. At the
same time, the political situation in and around Yugoslavia makes it
particularly important to make an implicit statement, through this meeting,
that Yugoslavia is still an inherent and necessary part of Europe, and that
the ties between friends and colleagues are still intact.'

The plans for this meeting in Belgrade were overruled by the war situation
that developed in Yugoslavia in the second half of March '99. Nevertheless,
there was a strong feeling that a meeting should be held in order for
people from the network to be able to see each other, reaffirm old ties and
to work together on projects and ideas for responding to the renewed crisis
situation on the Balkans. The question which role artists and cultural
producers can play in such a situation was posed in a dramatically urgent

2. The Budapest Meeting

With the kind support of C3 - Center for Culture and Communication
Budapest, practical help from V2_Organisation Rotterdam, and the generous
and flexible offer from APEXchanges to support travel costs to Budapest, it
became possible to 're-route' the meeting to C3 in the castle district of
Budapest. For most of the participants, private accommodation could be
found, and many came to Budapest on their own travel budget. Thus, there
was a group of 38 people that assembled for the Syndicate meeting on 23
April '99.

People started arriving in Budapest on Thursday and held the first informal
conversations. Seeing some of those people again who had left Yugoslavia
since the beginning of the war was very exciting, as were all the
encounters between people who knew each other only through the mailing
list, but had never met personally. It was a pity that nobody could come
from Bosnia and Albania, although attempts had been made and invitations
had gone out. But there were people from Macedonia, Yugoslavia, Croatia,
Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, Hungary, Estonia, Austria, Germany, the
Netherlands, Britain, Canada, the USA, and Australia.

On Friday, 23 April, a first organised meeting was held in the afternoon.
After a round of introductions we spoke from the different angles about
what was generally referred to as 'the situation'. It turned out that this
was a very interesting way of understanding the different situations that
people find themselves in - from people continuing their work in Belgrade
and Skopje, through the different support initiatives in places like
Budapest, Vienna or Amsterdam, to the media-deadlock produced by the
international TV newschannels. When we were just about to fall into one of
those heavy anti-CNN global capitalism conspiracy depressions, we broke
for dinner which C3 had kindly ordered for the entire group. Extensive
informal talks followed, including the late arrivals of some more
participants, and a slide show about the Pyramedia Syndicate meeting held
in Tirana in 1998.

On Saturday, 24 April, the meeting started by compiling a list of concrete
projects and initiatives that could be taken. The dissatisfying end to
Friday's discussions had had its good side, because it had shown that we
are rather powerless when it comes to changing the big situation, and the
big picture that is being created of it, so that as cultural practitioners
we will have to concentrate on the small things that actually lie within
our reach. After a long brainstorming session and a lunch at the Ludwig
Museum, the meeting split into four smaller groups to talk about the main
areas of concern that had emerged: general media strategies and a
travelling screening programme; the period after, or: how to plan for the
future; open the borders: residency programme and the visa problem;
emigrant library project. The results of these discussions were presented
to the entire group just before we went for dinner.

The Borders group discussed the problem of how people who want to flee the
war zone can be helped. The restrictive immigration policy of the EU
countries means that many refugees are stuck in the region. It became clear
very quickly that a feeble structure like the Syndicate cannot tackle the
refugee problem as a whole, but that we may be able to support some of the
existing efforts, like the Balkan Sunflower project that seeks to support
the social and cultural life in refugee camps and the RIKS (Reconstructing
via Internet Kosov@ Society) project that is creating Internet connectivity
for the refugee camps, or by joining in the political fight for more open
border policies, like through the Open the Borders Statement that was
issued by Syndicate members in March (URL: and
that has since been signed by many individuals and that has been translated
into multiple languages.

A small-scale strategy that can be taken by a network like the Syndicate is
an emergency residency programme through which artists and other cultural
practitioners from the war region can be invited to safe countries where
they can continue their work. This project has meanwhile been started as
the ECX - European Cultural Exchange programme (see below, Results).
Connected to this project are efforts to coordinate the different help
initiatives and to build a support structure for the intellectual diaspora
from the Balkans.

The Media Strategies groups mainly tackled two questions. The first was how
to develop ways of occupying available media space - there is a certain
demand from the mainstream media (TV, radio, printed press) to cover
alternative views about the war, but in order to meet that demand it is
necessary to develop strategies for channelling information. It also needs
a certain boldness in the presentation of the situation which many people
don't have at the moment: the war situation is so muddled and complex, that
it is extremely difficult to take a clear position that would be
communicatable in the hurried mass media environment. However, it was
clearly expressed that the construction of an alternative media discourse
would be highly desirable. If the world is deadlocked in simple binarism,
it would be good to have ways of using the media for creating alternative
realities. The experience of open propaganda in the mainstream media
suggested the creation of our own misinformation site where the poetic
imagination would be able to transcend the current discourse driven by war
logic and take leaps into the unexpected, yet possible.

The second, extensive discussion of the Media Strategies group dealt with
the creation of a packaged video programme that would present a perspective
on the Balkan region alternative to that which is portayed in much of the
current media coverage. Artistic and documentary video productions from
different countries in the region will be made available in a series of
video tapes, with good documentation and additional textual information.

A small group met to discuss the AltaLibra project (formerly the Memorial
Library of Emigrants) in which books of emigrants are collected and made
available in a physical location, as well as through a website. The idea of
this project is, on the one hand, to make the books that emigrants have
taken with them available to emigrants from the same country or region, and
to get people into contact with each other through the medium of the book:
whoever is borrowing a book will receive the name and address of the donor
and can thus get in touch with him or her. The project should form an
important contribution for the furthering of shared cultural memories and
communication between emigrants.

The most cheerful session was that of the Priod After group which discussed
the long-term future of Deep Europe and, after only two hours, decided on
the creation of a new state called Balkania. Envisaging another Europe was,
they decided, best done by departing from the existing political and
territorial order and creating a new, non-territorial entity - a state of
mind. Future developments of this project, which is in the making since
then, can be expected with optimism.

On Sunday, 25 April, we met again in the morning and had breakfast together
at C3. The final session was used to talk about the plans for following up
on the discussions of the previous day, and to make some announcements of
upcoming projects and events. The rest of the afternoon was then spent with
the screening of some outstanding recent video productions, and with
lengthy farewells.

The general atmosphere was very positive throughout the weekend, and it
created hope for many of the participants that the war is not simply a
black hole. As one of the participants put it: 'the whole situation is so
heavy, that it is easy to get paralysed by it. what the meeting in budapest
did for me and, i think, for other people as well, is that by seeing each
other, confirming that we are no pure media-zombies but still the same real
people, and by talking about our possible room for manoeuvre, it became
clear that while there are lots of things now that we cannot change much
about, there are very practical steps which we can take from our position
as cultural practitioners. what some of us may be good at is to envision
positive future scenarios and work towards them, even against the odds.'
Maybe the most important realisation was that in a setting like this it was
possible for people from the different countries to meet as friends: the
Syndicate is not at war.

One participant quoted a famous line from Tito: We have to live like the
peace will last forever, and we have to be prepared as though the war would
start tomorrow, and suggested that in times of war, we will have to turn
this statement around and live like the war will last forever, and be
prepared as though the peace would start tomorrow.

3. Meeting Results

It is obvious that the most important result of the meeting was the
reaffirmation and the building of friendships, the sharing of ideas and the
initiation of new, joint projects between people from all across Europe. A
group photograph of most of the participants can be found at URL: The picture and links
to some of the other reports about the meeting can be accessed from URL: There, one can also find a link to an article
in the German weekly Freitag URL:, written by one of
the participants, Florian Schneider, about the meeting.

The Syndicate meeting also created the opportunity for a series of other
working meetings in Budapest between people from independent initiatives
and support organisations from all sides, including public and independent
media stations, cultural centers and other initiatives.

Concrete projects that came out of the meeting include:

ECX - european cultural Xchange [the european cultural protection programme]

The ECX is a programme intended to provide selected artists, academics,
curators, journalists and related cultural practitioners from the European
conflict regions with an opportunity to continue their work in an open and
secure environment. The military and political circumstances in, for
example, Yugoslavia, have forced those individuals who were actively
engaged in alternative and open cultural, artistic and political production
to radically curtail their activity for fear of prosecution and harassment
endangering not only themselves, but also their families, friends and
relatives. Under the auspices of host cultural and artistic organisations
in Europe and beyond, the ECX will act as a guarantor of continued cultural
and intellectual activity during and after the times of conflict. Within
the framework of the ECX programme, internationally recognised cultural
institutions will offer residency places to artists and other cultural
practitioners threatened by conflict, inviting them to work on specific
projects in a context of increased personal security and guaranteed freedom
of expression. URL:

Travelling Film and Video Screening Programme

A diverse programme of artistic and documentary video productions from
different countries that demonstrate the wealth of cultural activities in
the Balkans, and the potential for future cooperation. The programme can be
screened at art institutions, universities, community centres, etc., and is
meant to counter the often very limited view that people are getting from
watching only newscasts about the region. The programme will be collected
on several video tapes and will come with good documentation of the
different productions and with contextualising written commentary. Where
possible, a fee will be collected for the participating artists and

The Future State of Balkania

The Future State of Balkania has no territory - it is a state of mind. It
is based on the idea that people should imagine what they would like the
future to be, and start it now. Some of the slogans for Balkania are:
- Simulation of the process leads to its realisation.
- Free your mind and the rest will follow.
- Ich bin ein Balkanier.
- Balkania is not at war.

AltaLibra (formerly the Memorial Library of Emigrants; see

Since the Budapest meeting, there have also been increased efforts to
commission work from artists in Novi Sad and Belgrade in order to give them
opportunities to continue working, even if under such hugely exacerbated
circumstances. Furthermore, ideas are being developed for a cultural Balkan
conference, for refugee and Balkan art exhibition, and for a website
project about conspiracy theories relating to the future history of Europe.

(For follow-ups on these projects and initiatives, check the list and the

4. Acknowledgements

The meeting was made possible by the networked efforts of C3 - Center for
Culture and Communication in Budapest, who generously hosted and organised
the meeting (thanks especially to Adele Eisenstein and Andrea Szekeres),
APEXchanges in Amsterdam who covered a large chunk of the travel costs, and
V2_Organisation Rotterdam who continue to commit human and material
resources for Syndicate activities and coordination.

Andreas Broeckmann, Berlin/Rotterdam, May 1999

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