In March, over four hundred people gathered in central London for the ¡NO PASARAN! conference - to confront the rise of the far right and plan for cooperation and coordinated action to meet the threats we face.
The ¡No Pasaran! conference, named for the Spanish anti-fascist cry of the 1930s – ‘they shall not pass’ – was an initiative of Transform UK, a journal of the radical left in Britain, linked to the European transform! network, and we are grateful to the network for its support.
There is no doubt the issue is taken seriously in our movement: Esther Lynch, confederal secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation joined us, alongside trade unionists, activists and politicians from across the continent, like Daniele Obono MP, Verveine Angeli and Mina Idir (France), Gertru Vargas from Izquierda Unida Andalucia, Cornelia Hildebrandt from the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, Tamás Krausz from Hungary and Walter Baier from transform! europe, among many others. From Britain we were proud to welcome our shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott MP, Muslim community leader Salma Yaqoob, student leader Myriam Kane, the rapper Lowkey and award-winning film maker Ken Loach. Space prevents me from mentioning all the speakers, but dozens of organisations and campaigns supported the day’s events and made it possible to put on 16 workshops as well as two major plenaries.
The urgency of this issue made for an engaged conference with a day of lively debate and a strong desire for action. The main areas of agreement were on the need for unity, and cooperation across borders, recognising that this is an international problem that needs to be faced internationally. Giving ground to anti-migrant narratives or being silent in the face of Islamophobia, racism or anti-semitism is something that participants find completely unacceptable. In Britain, opposing Islamophobia is rightly understood to be very important and was a strong theme at the conference. Workshops also focused on the struggle of the Roma communities, on women's rights, on radical alternative visions, on mobilising the organised working class, on Brexit as a factor in the rise of the far right in Britain, to name just a few.
The conference was designed to help shape the necessary unity and coordination for working together across movements and borders against the rise of the far right. The conference took place over six venues in Bloomsbury, in the heart of London, near the British Museum. Over fifty participants joined us from across Europe with speakers and delegations coming from many countries, including France, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Hungary, Poland, Estonia, Norway and Brazil. A large delegation joined us from the new student movement in Hungary – Szabad Egyetem – which has been organising against Orban’s ‘slave law’, together with a delegation from the Tancsics group, and a strong delegation of activists from Poland.
It was a key priority of the conference to be genuinely European, bringing the voices of the activists and communities in Europe, to be heard and engaged with in London. In the late 1990s and early 2000s there were successful efforts to mobilise UK contingents for anti-globalisation and anti-war protests across Europe and hosting of speakers from across Europe (and beyond) was a common feature of political events. It’s now urgent to renew this positive interaction and work towards a real coordination of activity across Europe – a genuine solidarity which will help us not only join the struggle against the far-right, but win it.
We were delighted with very positive feedback from one of the Hungarian delegation which I share here:
“In my own name, and I am quite confident in the name of the whole Hungarian delegation, I would like to kindly thank you for all the enormous organizational effort concerning No Pasarán! It was really a great job.
From what I hear from my comrades from the group, this was an extraordinary, and quite energizing experience for Hungarians, who seldom have the privilege to listen to such wonderful speakers as Ken Loach, Salma Yaqoob, Lowkey and others (in no particular order of importance). I can also add that it was also a great space for finding useful contacts and discussing the first steps of potentially fruitful cooperation that I hope will be realized in the future to their full extent. Ever since I walked out of my first Marxist Society meeting at Bristol University as an EU postgraduate student, I was dreaming of such an event in fact channelling all the energy of Hungarian left-wing activists, who would normally feel quite isolated in their own political scene. Now at least they know that they are far from being alone. So once again, a big thank you for what you achieved here.”
The conference was followed by a cultural evening, showcasing Lampedusa: a story of two Europes, the acclaimed play about migration by award-winning writer Anders Lustgarten, with actors Louise Mai Newberry and Steven Elder. The evening rounded off with the amazing Dodo Modern Poets and Kurdish Music and Song with Resho Zelal.
The following day, participants were able to take a guided walking tour of East London, to visit many historic sites of anti-fascist struggle. We also held informal discussions together with many of the European participants, and we agreed to reconvene ourselves as the No Pasaran network, to keep in touch, support each other’s actions, and meet again to discuss strategic questions.
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