Bino Bwansi Byakuleka (Activist, Artist and Radio-Maker), Napuli Paul (Activist and Non-Violence-Trainer), Erez (Activist) and Lisa Doppler (Researcher and Activist)
Lisa Doppler: In interviews we did some month ago you, Napuli, talked about the situation in Lagers where a lot of people get aggressive, start to hate everybody but also that this changed for a lot of people when they joined the protest movement of Refugees. And you, Bino, wrote in your “We are born free manifesto”2 about fear and how we can work on overcoming that for creating more humanity. Can you elaborate on that?
Napuli Paul: When I came to Oranienplatz, the first thing I saw was fear. Maybe in the Lager people learn to fear one another. First of all people fear that they are in Europe now, because from that moment on the system is the one leading them. The first thing when you come to seek asylum is that you loose your right and are now lead by them. They tell you from now on you follow the given rules. If you do something that is not according to these rules, you get a crime record in your file. Then we fear that we get deported or get other problems because our file is dirty. Therefore I want to appear as a very good person and I always stay in the Lager, I don’t go anywhere.
Bino Bwansi Byakuleka: I don’t want to get a Strafe.
N: And then some Refugees become very crazy.
L: What do people do when they become crazy?
N: In the Lager some people threaten other people. Some people kill themselves because they were in that kind of fear for years. They are aggressive or drink just to calm themselves down. And then there is no trust anymore to anyone. Because different people tell so many different stories- if you do this you can get that. These stories keep you calm, prevent you from getting active, and at the end you are under deportation. So for us, the activists, we came from that fear, too. But we said no. I can’t be like this, I am a human being. And most people who already were activists in their countries, they totally rejected this system from the beginning. They said we have to do something. So my friends said no, we don’t accept the Lager, we go. Together we broke Lagerpflicht3 and we came to Oranienplatz, Berlin Kreuzberg in 2012. From there on, we didn’t fear the police or whoever is there, we just said no way. We broke the fear because we are illegal. We came together as illegal people – that’s power already. We support one another, we are illegal. That’s also why they did not come to Oranienplatz to arrest someone, they already knew that we are illegal.
B: But for me, I was legal, I conceived myself as legal.
N: Yes, but they saw us as illegal. Also when we make protest, we don’t register it. We just do it like that. Same with the lawyers, we ask them later, not before. We create the activities first. Because if we consult them before the activity, they will tell us all the risks and recommend not to do it. So we say, we just do it and consult them later so that fear cannot stop us.
Every year we have an information tour and we visit activists from other cities and people living in Lagers. This year it is even a transnational tour and our slogan is “World Refugees let Fear go”4. We chose the title because fear is the main enemy: With fear you control yourself, you plaster your mouth and put a rope on your eyes so that you cannot see. In the end, you chain yourself and you support the government to control you because actually you control yourself before.
B: I think it’s an instrument the capitalist system is using to keep people down, it’s a tool of dehumanisation. And I think since from the beginning when the idea of capitalism came in and some people became superior to others, that’s when the people lost their consciousness of what they are. And when people loose their consciousness, that’s when fear comes in. Today people are talking about it, but it’s still very difficult to understand it. When we talk about fear, people only mean fear of people coming. Fear of sharing. Fear of giving away. But also fear of being independent.
L: I agree. Because I also think when we talk about fear we first of all have to talk about the fear that everybody in this capitalist consumer society has. And everybody is participating in creating this situation. That’s also what social philosopher Herbert Marcuse, with whose theory I am working, was writing about: All your work and all your free time is just directed to creating needs and then fulfilling them and then there is a new need, you think you need something else, more stuff. Through this mechanism more and more people develop anxiety disorders and panic attacks but they don’t know why. The fear is an echo of the failed attempt to integrate into the system, because nobody can deal with this system.
B: Exactly. Because first of all what fear does to you is to loose your being, and you become helpless, vulnerable, which means you are powerless.
N: And fear can also let you attack.
Erez: But how do I loose fear? When I am afraid, I am attached to something I want or have – a work, food, anything. So how do I loose my fear? When I have nothing to loose, I cannot be afraid of anything. The system needs us to have something to loose, makes degrees of how much people get that they can loose. The fear is directly attached to the possible loose. But when you resist, you find yourself in a point of having nothing to loose. The moment you are there completely, the system cannot control you.
B: So once you realise that you have nothing to loose and you keep calm, you stay calm is that the solution to overcome fear?
E: For me yes. This is my zero point.
B: Is this not the point where you have to fight for your independence?
E: This is my zero point. I am just here. I don’t move. I am not afraid to loose something on the way.
N: But the fear also can come to you even if you are just there. Like for example in 2015 when the Syrian Refugees started to come, people switched automatically to the right side. Why? Because the system used the media to let people have fear. Without seeing the root of the problem they just attack that people – we don’t want Muslims, you are terrorists and so on. For me fear means when you are not moving.
B: I think then you are contributing to it.
N: Yes, when you keep silent you contribute. Because of that in the non-violent philosophy does not mean that you just let people continue with their violence and go away. Then you contribute to that violence. No, you are supposed to interfere. There are different levels of fear: the state has fear, the public has fear, but the fear of Refugees coming and taking whatever is really a psychological fear and direct fear that kills people. We all have fear, even in our family. For example the rules that your father puts up already create fear.
L: Yes, that is the same mechanism seen from the psychoanalytical view, what was once the father is society now. That’s controlling you.
N: Yes. For me it’s the same mechanism on different levels. There is the father, there is the community, there is the state. The state is the maximum level. So we have to know what kind of fear the state is creating. This fear we are talking about, the fear of moving freely, that’s really cutting a basic human right.
B: I also explained in my writings that fear is a virus which spreads to most of the humans and this virus comes from inside, the self-ego but also from external forces as Napuli was saying about the society and family. So when this comes together you find that the person is spoiled completely because of not being able to handle or overcome it. That’s why people are raising up, going on the streets, protesting that they don’t want Refugees to come here. People are becoming racist. These people were not born racist, but their self-ego and the pressure of the society they are living in pushes them into this dilemma and they become totally spoiled and dangerous. So the only way is to overcome it. I liked your explanation, Eraz, your spiritual way, but for me it is not spiritual, more a kind of meditation. What’s going on with me can be realised by having time to think about myself, who am I and what is surrounding me, what is important.
L: And you also have to come to value yourself and then the people around you.
B: Exactly. Because it comes from you, the disease is from you. Until people have this consciousness we can’t overcome it.
N: I think this is where the German society rejects to think. They block everything. Don’t talk about Hitler, it’s finished, it’s the past. And then you can see history repeating itself.
L: The problem is that the remembrance in Germany has become ritualised. That people say it was horrible, but it’s finished, we are the champions in overcoming it. It’s not true at all, it’s not real, people have not dealt with themselves. It’s just a ritual.
B: For me, I even say that I’m happy that this Pegida came out. Those are our friends.
N: Haha, yes.
B: Because they revealed the true image of Germans. Not just to cover everything and saying “Alles klar, alles klar”, people are rotting in the camp, people are dying over the sea, the army pushing people back in the sea.
N: I even call it concentration camp. Of course it is not the same like when they killed millions of Jews in the camps, but for us the whole Western system is a kind of concentration camp, too. Frontex, Fingerprint, Residenzpflicht – if you count it together, it is a concentration camp. People are dying, people are committing suicide.
L: But it is still something very different if you are killing people systematically or if you implement an inhuman system where people are dying but murder or genocide is not the official agenda.
E: Both is a division of the people. They first divide the people, don’t give privileges, control. In concentration camps it was going a lot further. Today not all who are divided and stigmatised are dying, but it’s an alarm bell. We have to reask the question how to prevent not to come to such a situation again.
L: There are always legacies in history. Frantz Fanon5 was writing that under colonialism people have to go somewhere with their aggression, they tried to resist but they failed so the aggression goes against yourself, you destroy yourself but also the others, what he called “Black on Black violence” and another thing that he observed was that people had very strong dreams about running, about getting away. Because the dreams were the only realm of freedom. That’s what I wanted to ask if you see similarities in the mechanisms of what was happened under colonialism to what is happening to people living in Lagers for example.
N: Yes, of course. I can still see it in the old people in my country. There it is also fear that prevents more people to talk about it, a lot of them say, no, let history be history. The fathers in Africa still beat their children, it is still there. So how can we overcome it? We have to understand and think about what we can do now with these people to come to peace:
B: Similarities are still there and I think there is no way to end it until there are strategies to end capitalism. Because we are enslaved ourselves. People are not taking time to realise who they are instead of running away. In case of the Black people, we don’t see ourselves as powerful persons, humans. We can do everything, we have the knowledge, the resources, but the people don’t believe in themselves, they are enslaved, even if not physically, than mentally. And for the whites, too, you are enslaved because of the privileges you have you can’t speak out the truth, you can’t speak out loud. Even if you try to speak, as we saw in the protest, you have limits. That’s what we saw during the arrests, the police was trying to separate us, they said you have German passport, what are you doing here with these people? So people had to rethink about their own privileges, about the consequences when they get involved in that. I also had a big argument with a Black man who was saying: You have the privilege to do it because you don’t have the German passport. But when you get the papers you will realise that it’s not possible to fight against them.
L: That’s what you, Erez, also said. When you have something to loose… And that’s also what Marcuse6 was writing about, the integration through privileges, goods.
B: So the people don’t see themselves first, but they are dependent. People can’t fight the system because they think that they need the system to survive, which is not true. That is enslavement. Therefore we need strategies to deconstruct that. And I think what we are doing here is one of the strategies- to open the talk instead of having big conferences, big podiums.
L: Take more time to talk?
B: The more time we take, the closer we come and the more we realise that we are humans who can do something by ourselves. In this process of realisation we can combine our effort together and break these chains. The believe in the system is based on our isolation.
N: There are a lot of small things that can separate the people. That’s why we say we have to trust each other, first.
B: We have to find a common goal we are fighting for. That’s why I came out with the concept of humanity. That’s the only thing I see that connects me to you. Because this is what we are, this is what humans are, you can’t take it away.
N: But we cannot come to that point, you know why? Because-
B: I can answer it myself: self-ego.
N: Aha, selfishness and our interest, different interests.
L: Can we be real humans in this system?
B: We can, I believe so. But there is no space to realise. I do not believe in these negative strategies and thinking. For example you, Lisa, sorry for pointing at you, I am pointing at you as the white, not personally: We can be human if we are ready to reflect and to give away our own interest. If you are ready to give away your whiteness and ready to see yourself inside Black, if I meet you I see myself white. If I meet you, Napuli, I see myself a woman. If I meet you you see me inside yourself a man. Then there is a breakdown of the system.
E: It’s all like addiction. I learned from drug addicts that people don’t want to be strong. People want to stay with the other weak people. Why do I say this? I can’t loose my Israeliness, my whiteness and my maleness. But I can go and use it for my believe to break the politic of the privilege and find other solutions. The point is, the system uses the fear to make people protect the resources of the system.
N: For me, I don’t agree on Black and White. What we have is beyond that. Imagination of power makes you white. We should not target single persons but the system. For example I don’t hate Donald Trump. He is honest, he is just representing the system. So why do people target him? I don’t believe that we all come together, we have different interests. But we have to give everybody what he wants. For example in the left there is fight about eating meat or not, but that is ridiculous, we are fighting ourselves. Some eat meat, others not. What’s the problem? And we have to talk more, we need more floor to talk.
L: I interviewed about ten activists from different cities where Refugee protest was strong in the last years and what a lot of them said is that it is important in the movement to create spaces to really reflect and to have longer meetings, workshops also across the cities to talk about what happened and how to go on. To work against the divisions in the movement. It does not help to have these big conferences, we have to find more time and the supporters also have to stop inviting the same people again and again but to create spaces – it is very similar to what you just said, Bino. Maybe to conclude you could point out what your strategies in the movement now are to overcome these divisions and fear? How do you create other spaces?
N: This is what we are doing now, we do this transnational tour and we take along with us the workshop. It’s not just explaining, but we have to go deep. About four to six days in the same place to create a discussion about what was going on and then to concentrate- this fear thing is something that you cannot understand in five minutes. It has to go to your blood. Really practising. That’s why we do this workshops, let it come from you. How can we solve? It’s not to give you solution. It’s not that you see a film and then go out and forget everything you saw. In a conference there are maybe 1000 people but only very few can really concentrate. We have to involve them in everything. At Oranienplatz we were learning everyday.
E: Fear is a result of confusion. As I said, if you are attached to material things you cannot move. When people came to Oranienplatz, they found other things, really other things to be connected with and then they lost the fear.
B: Me, to finish, I will still remain with humanity. For me it is very important to meet a common point in us. If not we are just joking, playing devil games, we will never solve anything. That’s why we have to see ourselves beyond what we are physically. What society made out of us. What the system forced us to be and what we forced ourselves to be.
N: I will call upon the institutes that have power to give a floor for discussions like this. Schools for example. Because the children grow up with these pictures like of the poor people in Africa. So they also have to meet Black persons in the schools and talk in a different way. And universities, theatres, they have to open the floors for discussions like this.
L: The point is that they are also part of what is creating the problems.
B: That’s why I say we need not to rely on these structural spaces, but we can create our own spaces. Why don’t we create a theatre? A university? A free clinic? Why don’t we create this knowledge that heels?
1The article was originally produced for the journal “Psychosozial” where it will appear in a longer, German version, soon.
3Obligation to live in a certain, mostly mass accommodation under bad conditions.
5Fanon, F. (1961/2004). The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press.
Gibson, N.C. (2003). Fanon. The Postcolonial Imagination. Cambridge: polity.
6E.g.: Marcuse, H. (1964). One-dimensional man. Boston: Beacon Press.