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(en) Poland, Warsawa, <alter-ee> Praska Anachist Group on "The EU, Anti-EU movements and feminist perspectives"

From Zaczek <hydrozag@poczta.onet.pl>
Date Sun, 10 Aug 2003 13:33:41 +0200 (CEST)

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The Praska Group is a small collective from Warsaw. It is a member of the
Anarchist Federation. Its members are active in a number of movements and
have been organizing No Border activities plus are active in feminism and
criticism against gender and sexual stereotypes. The group were among the
founders of the anarcho-feminist group KURWA (now defunct); although it is
not a specifically feminist group, anarcha-feminist and gender issues are
essential to its politics. Members of the group also edit a zine for women
workers called "Women to the Streets".
We began anti-EU campaigns several years ago. It became clear right away
that we would both find it impossible to integrate into the other anti-EU
movements and that we would have trouble finding a base with many that we
would normally like to network with politically, in particular feminist.* In
this article we will give you only a few of our arguments against the EU as
we would like to focus on the feminist perspectives, why we feel feminists
did not engage in the anti-EU movements and how we feel that the powers that
be knowingly co-opt feminist movements for their own purposes.

(* We feel it is important to clarify what we mean by feminists as clearly feminists
range from liberal feminists to anarcha-feminists. Here we use the blanket term because
in relation to the EU, it seemed most feminists used similar argumentation.

Among more radical or social feminists, we did not find vocal criticism and sometimes
found open support for the EU from a reformist position. Although we suppose that some people will
postfactum turn out not to be so supportive, any feminist opposition was essentially silent
during the pre-referendum period.)

We feel that any truly brief critique of the EU may not be entirely
convincing hence we encourage people to look for more documents on our web
site to get a more in-depth look at some of the arguments. Some of the
reasons we are against the EU are as follows:
* The EU, like all superstatist institutions, exists to consolidate the
power of capital. We are against all national and international efforts to
control the production and distribution of wealth, goods and services. We do
not believe the role of the state or superstate can ever be to check capital
even when it claims to be working in the interests of the national good, not
capital. We believe that superstates serve to consolidate power which
ultimately leads to higher stages of imperialism and more free reign for
* We are against the EU Employment Strategy, in particular the Third Pillar
which calls for the increased casualization of labour. We have concerns
about Polish workers' role in Europe as a force of potential strikebreakers
and see expansion as an element which helps the bosses implement anti-worker
policy. This in no way means that we support calls to keep people off the
labour market but we are concerned about the social and economic
implications that an expanded European labour market comprised of workers
from such greatly varying income groups can bring.
* We are against EU border policy, in particular its implementation in Poland.
* We do not like the policies of the Common Agricultural Policy and are
particularly concerned about the social and economic impact of large-scale
corporate agribusiness in Poland.
* We are against Eurocracy as we are against all forms of representative
* We do not like many of the policies of social control, for example
implementation of the SIS-II.
* In the case of Poland, we feel that many points in the Acquis Communitaire
will have extremely negative consequences for working and poor people, in
particular as the Acquis was carefully constructed to serve the purposes or
European capital.
The Feminist Perspective(s)
After the referendum, we are beginning to hear a few isolated feminists
criticise particular points of the EU yet prior to the referendum, hardly a
critical word was to be found. We suppose that certain people quelled their
criticisms in fear of negative results at the polls, having convinced
themselves that, negative aspects or not, EU membership was bound to bring
them more benefit than harm. We must say that, for certain people, there
will be certain benfits just as there will be losses. As to whether or not
membership brings more benefits than not, we think it depends on how you
qualify it. Strategic alliances with wealthier states sometimes do bring
benefits if your country manages to exploit global capitalism and
imperialism to increase wealth inside its borders. We have already seen
clearly enough that Poland would like to become a political and economic
power and is willing to go to war and police Iraq to gain prestige and some
post-war rebuilding contracts. The press is quick to call Poland's imperial
venture a success but we do not accept the criteria used. EU membership and
the development of the Polish economy along Western European standards may
eventually produce some outward measures of wealth but we see the other side
of the coin: worsening conditions for workers, moving production to
countries using sweatshop labour, mass unemployment and underemployment,
widening income gaps - to name just a few. Some people will argue that this
will go on regardless of whether Poland joins the EU, and we agree only we
mention this to question that widespread thought in Poland that EU
membership would be a panacea remedy for the Polish economy. When treating
feminist's perspectives of the EU and their support, we have to assume that
their first and foremost concerns were in sync with the overwhelming social
anxiety about material life. Therefore, to momentarily put aside any ideas
on the EU which might be particularly feminist, we have to assume that
many feminists are plugged into the myths of capitalism about how
wealth is created and comparing their own material standard of living with
those in the EU, came to the conclusion that joining the EU would bring
economic benefits.
Again, judging the state of the economy is usually a matter of which factors
and indicators you look at, but we are highly critical of this point of
view. As we feel that we probably cannot adequately convince those reader
who might not be critical of capitalism, to indicators of wealth used by
capital and by world development models, we will move from this point just
saying that we are not convinced by this view. (You may consult the web page
for more arguments.)
On to arguments which we found particular to the feminsts, we can break them
into two groups: arguments based wholly or partially on misinformation and
arguments based on fact but which often represented, to our minds, wishful
Among the arguments we heard which represented misinformation are the
That abortion will become legalised in Poland;
That homosexuals will be allowed to marry;
That that consitution forbiding discrimination will end pay differentials;
That there will be quotas guaranteeing equal participation of women in
(Other common myths, for example on Schengen's immediate implementation in
Poland, we will not comment on here.)
Hopefully I do not have to point out to readers that this is just
misinformation. Unfortunately I did not even manage to convince some people
locally that homosexuals did not have the right to marry throughout the EU.
This aside, the more powerful factors seemed to be other matters of
In particular, we feel that many Polish feminists look in envy at the
situation of their counterparts in other countries. Feminism, although
already more mainstream than 10 years ago, is not as widespread as in places
like Sweden or England or Germany and thus, consciously or not, many Polish
feminists look to other countries as more developed models. Thus, logical,
or not, many Polish feminist look at EU countries and see countries where
the level of feminist consciousness is higher and where this is even
embedded in consitutions, government policies and legal documents.
It did not help that so many of the anti-EU camp were arch conservatives who
argued that the EU would bring feminism and legalize homsexuality in Poland.
Many feminists combined reaction to those conservatives and social change
with EU membership.
There are several problems with this however. First, we see a tremendous
difference between what is declared on paper and what really happens.
Second, have seen time and time again how countries looking in envy at some
aspects of social, political or economic life abroad implement their
politics, join in supranational alliances with them only to find that the
reality of it all is far different than what they expected.
We suppose that feminists in the future will be in for a rude awakening
that doesn't mean we aren't happy to try to wake them up before the fact).
For example, they may find that the pay differentials don't disappear. If
they did their homework, they might also find that pay differentials are
actually higher in some EU countries than in Poland. Contrary to all
capitalist logic, if they want more equal salaries to men, they should look
to Belarus where the differentials are actually quite low. (Then again, with
such crappy salaries, maybe this is easy to accomplish.) It also turns out
that the percentage of women in management jobs is higher in Poland than in
many EU countries.
Not that these are our main priorities, but just to look at a typical liberal
feminist perspective.
We don't want to insinuate that things are good enough here. But we question
what women actually feel is so much better in the EU. Feminists will point
out all the discrimination in Poland as an almost unique case and say things
like "you'd never see that in X". And, in some cases, they are right. And in
some not. Because the fact is that you do not legislate change, you do not
impose feminism from above and feminist practice is not created in a vacuum.
If some anti-discrimination practices do exist in some other places, it's
not because some laws and principles were put into place and forced the bad
guys to comply: it's because of years of social struggle, and, unfortunately
also because the needs of the economy are in perfect sync with it all and
these override social reaction.

So what do these people want? Do they want to be given the right to sue
their employers if they are discriminated against? One look at how that
works abroad should put that out of their minds. As a matter of fact, the
Polish courts have a good record of protecting women workers.*
The EU, with all its declarations on workers' rights, are always
encouraging changes to the Labour Code and
practice in the Labour Court. (* It is true though that sexual bias cases
rarely ever are brought in Poland.)
We wonder how well off women workers will actually be when more reforms
encouraging the casualization of labour are complete; won't women be the
ones willing most of the crap jobs? The "career breaks" that the European
Employment Strategy encourages - won't that often be used for unpaid
maternity leave? And the pension and health care reforms; in a country
where women live on the average 10 years longer than men, making the
overwhelming majority of pensioneers women, doesn't this amount to screwing
old women?
Of course we are also sure that some middle-class and many upper-class women
will benefit.
We also see one of the problems being that many feminists actually are from
an elite sphere of people - if not an economic elite, then a cultural elite.
For example, some women argued that it would be much easier for them to
study abroad after being EU members. While this may be true, we wonder how
many people in a sense can actually take advantage of such benefits. First,
education in Poland is a class issue; it is moving towards paid education
and what is left of public higher education is dominated by children from
wealthier backgrounds who had better school, tutors, etc.. So we wonder if
the benefits of 10,000 people studying abroad can counterbalance the
negative effects EU policies will directly or indirectly have on the
children of the 1 million displaced farmers.
We see a failure amongst the feminists to make a deeper social analysis due
to class and social privelege. While they tend to look at themselves as a
"progressive element", they tend to look at rural women as victims of
domestic abuse, conservative, religious and backwards - in need of uprooting
for their own good.
Many feminists also argued that their organizations will be able to get
money from the EU. This, to a certain extent, is true - but probably not to
the extent they presented before the referendum. Before the referendum you
could see lots of information about how feminists will be able to use
structural funds; now that the referendum is history, you see disclaimers in
places like Oshka bulletin ( main feminist calendar/ information source)
saying that, although there may be some money available, you mustn't forget
that most of the money goes to things like infrastructure, building roads,
etc.. (Wow, thanks for informing them now; maybe if such info was out a few
months ago, I wouldn't have had such arguments with feminists who were
prematurely counting on the cash rolling in from the structural funds!) The
fact is, regardless of whether women get money or not from the EU to do
feminist work, it does not change our opinion. As a matter of fact, we are
critical of these funds for various reasons. First, we see that these funds
can often make organizations dependent and unwilling to criticize.

Government think-tanks clearly write about the role NGOs should have in
being a civil partner and channelling dissent. Second, we feel that heavy
outside funding for organizations that exist in a social vacuum could have
the opposite effect. For example, the nutty claims by the right that
homosexuality will be sponsored by the EU may well seem true to people and
people who see something as foreign and being imposed on them often connect
things like this with cultural imperialism, etc.. We are not saying that we
think these sorts of views should be pandered to, it's just perceived
differently when a movement grows of it's one accord and has its own social
base and when it is imported as a set of cultural values from abroad and
ultimately this will have its consequences. Third, we believe that certain
segments of NGOs form elites that are eventually bought and are willing to
sell out larger social interests for narrower ones. In such a case, the
interests of groups like feminists will more and more be contrasted with
groups like workers, ecologists, farmers. Feminists are in danger of
supporting the system over the larger social base. Thus financial dependancy
is often a very effective way of splitting the interests of different social
groups and making certain connections impossible at the grassroots level.
Finally, from our anarchist point of view, we do not agree with paying taxes
and having some bureaucrats dole out where money is to be allocated. We have
no objection to feminist groups getting money to do their political work,
only the money should come from donation and a real support base, not from
the state or superstate. Some people might argue that taxes are a fact and
they'd prefer feminists to get them rather than the military - and we'd
agree but in the situation where many people base their support of a
superstate on the fact that they'll get some cash from it, we can't help but
point out that it's still money stolen from working people and, although on
one hand you may think you're better capable of organizing our own
liberation, on the other you're also perpetuating your own exploitation.
Here, in this criticism of the position that feminists played in mustering
support of the EU, we do not want to particularly demonize the feminists;
like many other people, they were working from a position of incomplete
information, wishful thinking and viewing their interests in rather narrow
terms. We understand that post-factum, many feminists will begin to vocalize
the aspects of EU politics that they do not like or agree with; in fact,
many people voted for accession merely because they saw no "pragmatic"
alternative to it. It is our hope to add to the feminist perspective in
Poland by offering a radical analysis which takes alienation into account
and which also will take a deeper look into both the class biases of certain
aspects of feminist politics and will be critical of the results which can
be expected by engaging in reformist politics.
Anti-EU Movements, the Conservatives and Us
One factor that no doubt highly influenced some feminist and gay
perspectives was the public face of the anti-EU movement. (And here I say
the public face because there is reason to people that in fact it was much
more diverse than many people thought.) Nationalist, conservatives and
Catholics tended to oppose EU assession. For many, pro-EU politics were seen
as a rejection of xenophobia, tradition, family values, the church,
homophobia and provincialism.
There are many problematic issues raised by this, not the least of which is
that accession in and of itself will not be able to change these things. As
a matter of fact, if the first years in post-accession Poland go badly, it
is quite possible that the opposite will happen: it will be exactly the
conservatives who will gain political credibility. As we look at current
political movements in places like France, Belgium or Austria, we can see
how reactionary politics feeds off of popular discontent and it makes you
wonder what the possibilities for a right-wing insurgence are in Poland.
In Poland, there is almost a non-existent left wing and only small
grassroots movements. We found however that all the small communist and
left groups most of the anarchists and most localists also took anti-EU
positions. So the political spectrum on the EU looked as if the small left
and anarchist scene was "on the same side" as the conservatives but on the
opposite side of feminists and gays. For us, this was a troubling
perspective that still has many consequences. Not the least problematic
point of the situation are sometimes anti-social and elitist positions
amongst feminists like "why should I care about those workers and farmers?"
In other words, some sort of imagination that workers and farmers are bound
with social reaction. It has to be said that the media portrayal of these
groups as singular entities behind some right-wing leaders has perpetuated
this concept.
The reality looks a little different. When one of us participated in a large
Solidarity action a few months before the referendum with anti-EU leaflets,
she found a number of interesting things. First, there were many women with
anti-EU leaflets but only a small percentage of them represented right-wing
or conservative views. The thing she clearly noticed was that most of the
people marching were women. This probably represents the reality of who has
been hit by unemployment and poverty most in Poland outside the big cities.
In this situation, the conservative forces concentrated their anti-EU
campaigns not so much on xenophobia or anti-homosexual views (which really
they rarely mentioned - only a few extreme people using it- there was no
need to focus on that base of voters anyway); they focused on the situation
of the average person. And, while we do not espouse populism, one could see
that the critical views of the conservatives could strike a chord with the
social discontents.
As we mentioned, a wider range of people participated then in anti-EU
movements; from libertarian capitalists to some protectionists. In total, we
can think that some 33% of the population at least took part in anti-EU
activity. (Although we only saw about a quarter of voters vote aginst - we
have to remember that many anti-EU people wavered between boycotting and
voting as people were trying to lower the frequency of the vote, thus mnay
boycotted, especially as after the first day it seemed like the frequency
would be too low to have a valid referendum.)
We were shocked and disappointed however to find ourselves sometimes lumped
into "the opposition" as if we were proposing any conservative politics. We
even had a few adventures: on earth day, ecologist friends were violently
attacked for having anti-EU posters, at the gay parade organizers prohibited
anti-EU propaganda. We do not accept such divisions as some people tried to
portray as there being a battle between progressive and conservative forces.
We believe that statist organizations exploit wedge issues to channel social
discontent and exercise more control over NGOs then they would like to
Feminism and gay rights are wedge issues in Poland. Populists would
definitely seek to abandon them as long as they are unpopular, others might
try to play them down or make them more palatable to be tolerable to normal
Luckily, as anarchists, we find that our ideas as quite exotic to most
people therefore we needn't compromise on such issues; if someone is
with us, their minds are already open to a certain extent at least.
In our anti-EU campaign, we presented new viewpoints, ones based on freedom
and openness, on self-organization and self-management, on globalization
from below, not from above.
We believe that many parts of the NGO community showed its worse sides
during the EU campaign, in particular showing how they will support statism,
the elites, etc.. and we wonder what their further role may be in this
As for the fight against the EU, we still continue it. We continue to fight
against the border regimes and immigration policies, we criticize and expose
the roles of EU-funded databases, we keep track of corruption, embezzling EU
funds, we are critical of certain development programs, object to and will
campaign against the militarization of the EU. We do not try to focus on the
EU to embody all evil in it but we are trying at every point to counter the
statist ideas that a state or superstate structure works in anybody's
interests. For us, we cannot combine anarchism with support for such
structures, nor will we participate in reformist myths about changing the
nature of the state to a friendlier one.
If anything friendly for us comes out of the EU, we will be pleasantly
surprised. If the EU helps some feminist or gay organizations survive, OK.
But still we suspect that we'll just find ourselves in some database of
undesirables in the end.
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