Author: Gorana Mlinarević
A film trilogy by Nika Autor selected to open the 17th edition of the Pravo Ljudski Film Festival (P17), is directly focused on the so-called Balkan migration route and persons who are forced to cross it. By using the newsreel form as the means of class struggle, the author identifies the people on the move as a specific oppressed and deprived class. By doing so she insists on abandoning the neoliberal, publically dominant, understanding of migrations through the identity-individualist capitalist matrix. Instead she contextualizes migrations within the class struggle.
People on the move are not just some random passers-by, nor an economic or physical threat to us. They are neither people who need our pity. Rather, they are political subjects fighting for their right to a better life. Only the class solidarity in joint class struggle can liberate us from the chains of capitalism.
By using, as she calls it, the open essay form freed of the notion of objectivity, in her films Newsreel 670 – Red Forests, Newsreel 4517 – Across the Water to Freedom and Newsreel 2021 – Here I Have Picture, Nika Autor is introducing us to the way of life to which all people on the move are forced to get accustomed, but also their thoughts about the road they are undertaking. Borders being those violent elements used to create a class of deprived people on the move, this trilogy addresses the inhumanity and cruelty of razor wire fences, illegal pushbacks, and unpunished border police violence.
However, the author very clearly avoids turning the protagonists into passive victims in need of our condescending charity. While charity is often falsely perceived as solidarity, it is in fact far more focused on us and our feelings of superiority. Fittingly, the author distinctly positions protagonists as conscientious political subjects, aware of their oppressed position. However, protagonists are also aware of the political power of solidarity. In Newsreel 4517 – Across the Water to Freedom, the main protagonist Zeid is not just reflecting on the words of, among others, Marx and Schopenhauer. He is also clearly emphasizing the position of power reflected in the freedom of movement the person behind the camera has. Furthermore, Zeid also admits that he would not be able to reach Vienna, his destination at the time of filming, without the courage and solidarity of two young women. His perception of solidarity reflects the understanding of solidarity Jelka Zorn, the professor from the University of Ljubljana, writes about. In her feminist participatory action research Zorn combines solidarity actions directed towards preventing pushbacks on the Balkan route with civil disobedience against unjust legislation, aimed against police brutality and the border control system. According to Zorn, solidarity practices must become the protest against violence directed against people on the move.
By using an essay form which allows her ambiguities and an open ending, Nika Autor leaves Zeid in Newsreel 4517 to continue his fight against being invisible as an undocumented person. We are not clear whether he is fighting the fight alone, but if we are to look at the trilogy as a whole, we see that Nika Autor attributes the forests of providing much more solidarity then the people themselves. The forests are the political space that provides shelter and protects people on the move from police brutality. At the end of the day, the protagonists from the Newsreel 2021 vanish without a trace. Those of us who have been on the route with them shift to new cases in need of our charity. Rarely or almost never do we engage in the class struggle fighting against those in power. And those in power are overwhelmingly numerous (from local governments to state – whether ours or neighboring – to European Commission, IOM, and other international organizations; from plain bullies to local and border police).
It is interesting that the dominant narrative around migrations and people of the move is that of solidarity, without anyone exactly questioning the very idea. In its principle, the idea of solidarity, as the idea of freedom, is not constricted in meaning or implementation. The bureaucratic apparatus of the European Union is frequently using the term “solidarity” lately, but this phrase is used when wanting to hide deepening inequality and the joint use of violence.
Charity, even plain common kindness, are often mistaken for the concept of solidarity. However, the postcolonial theory has long ago in charity recognized racism and the renewal of vertical colonial power relations, especially in the context of humanitarian aid that the “Western world” is providing for the “undeveloped countries”. Unfortunately, when it comes to the Balkan route and the provision of humanitarian aid to people on the move, charity has rarely been questioned.
Even when an act of charity shifts to an attempt to act politically, it rarely turns into conscious solidary class struggle. What is more common is the absence of questioning the power relations because of the neoliberal identitarian-individualist framework of the related activities: people on the move continue to be passive and invisible victims stripped of any political subjectivity. Consequently, what is now being called political solidarity in the context of people on the move is, same as charity, significantly shaped by unequal power relations. It is very far from the political partnership Yassin al-Haj Saleh is talking about in his critique of solidarity .
On the other hand, it is important to emphasize that equality can not be obtained by waiting for all of us to become equally oppressed. That will not happen since we have witnessed throughout history that social stratifications are defined around various matrices, whether they be material or imaginary. Capitalism can only survive through the continuous creation of structural differences. This is why we are obliged to raise our voices and act against the fascist and racist politics of closed borders.
We must use the space we have, or which we can claim, in order to raise our voices against such policies. We must be political, but at the same time aware of our privileges and careful not to use them to assert power. This is why the feminist author bell hooks is teaching us that political solidarity can not be based on culture’s dominant ideology, but rather it emerges during communication in the situations when the ideologcal disagreements occure. Considering these differences, solidarity is a kind of form of political alliance and (a promise of) political action through which we express our emphatic support toward the other. The alliances and actions are determined through two-way communication during our interaction.
Through this trilogy, Nika Autor enables us to hear the voice of the oppressed, at the same time raising awareness of the privileged position of the person behind the camera, warns us to reflect on the meaning and practice of solidarity, and alerts us that it is the high time to rethink the ways of our joint class struggle.
Nika Autor is a member of the activist collective Newsreel Front (Obzorniška fronta) which is using the newsreel form as subversive documentary-essayist film practice. Referencing previous use of the newsreels in class movement prior to the Second World War and during political movements in the sixties the collective is aiming to renew this film practice as the tools of a class struggle. The Newsreel Front has been dedicated to this task for more than a decade.
Nika Autor’s trilogy screening will be held on September 17, 2022, at 7:00 PM, at the Meeting Point Cinema. The discussion “On the Solidarity Route”, with female Balkan activists, is set to start after the film screening.