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Posts Tagged ‘anarchism’

Domino Theory

In #GlobalRevolution on 28 May 2013 at 23:40
Image via southweb.org

Image via southweb.org

Madrid, May 28

Dear people,

It got completely out of hand. Six weeks ago, someone launched an idea. Then Facebook groups popped up like mushrooms. The thing went viral. And last Sunday, hundreds of thousands of people marched, all over the planet, against Monsanto Corporation.

From deep down in the bunker, the event was broadcast as the streams came in. The channel came under attack around noon CET as each of the editors was individually targeted. Communications went down, the channel froze. Around three o’ clock, Global Revolution was live again on a virtual server. That was 9 AM in New York. The day had yet to start. And from then on, we didn’t miss a thing.

The whole day  in five minutes.

The march against Monsanto was a surprising success. But maybe there is some explanation for it. Monsanto touches people directly. This is about what we eat. And the company makes a great objective. They have a track record of death and destruction, they appropriate life, they feudalize farmers, they own politicians, they monopolize our food supply, they modify it at will and they don’t want us to know.

So that’s our first demand. We want to know. If you know you can choose. And only if you can choose you can be free. We demand labels on all products that contain GMOs. Two, we want a moratorium on GMOs until scientific research can establish their long term effects as a nutrient. We are not guinea pigs. We are humans. Third, we demand taxation of industrial farming. Anyone who causes damages to the ecosystem or maltreats animals, will have to pay damages. Conversely, we want incentives for organic farming and local produce. We demand our children eat organic food in school.

Monsanto could well be the weak spot in the castle’s wall, the perfect place to concentrate our forces and attack. It’s not just food, it touches on sustainability, on intellectual property, on mass distribution and control, on the chemical industry and so on. If we break Monsanto, we can move on to the big oil companies, the health profiteers, the banks and the corrupt politicians. We can revive local economies, community spirit, and democracy.

Big media hardly covered the march. So today a Facebook storm was launched, which flooded the comment pages of the big papers and tv channels. ‘Hey, this is happening in my town, and around the world. Why don’t you cover this?’

Giving in to popular pressure, CNN just broadcast an item announcing as fact that 2 million people marched against Monsanto last Sunday. The channel was originally planning to air a favourable item about the company. Instead they voiced a question that many people are concerned about. “Is it safe to eat these products?”

Relaunch the question. It’s time for the discussion about GMO to hit the mainstream.

“The Sherwood Syndrome”

In #GlobalRevolution, Barcelona on 26 May 2013 at 15:20
Robin Hood Festival, foto by Jose Manuel Vargas

Robin Hood Festival, foto by Jose Manuel Vargas

Madrid, May 26

Dear people,

Now that the revolution is over, let’s talk about the counterrevolution. In particular let’s study the behaviour of its guard dogs. The document I present to you was leaked over a year ago. It’s a military style manual on how to deal with anarchists, written by the current chief of police of Barcelona, David Piqué y Batallé. It was presented as his master thesis to the Open University of Catalonia at the end of 2009 under the title ‘The Sherwood Syndrome’.

Though the work focuses on the case of Gràcia neighbourhood in Barcelona as a practical representation of Sherwood, the author meant it to be a generally applicable battle guide. And he meant to picture the battle as a historic one. The objective is the complete defeat and assimilation all those people who are living in occupied spaces outside the system. The barbarians. They are likened to the rebellious tribes of Gaul, and in between the lines Piqué himself dreams to be Julius Caesar.

Bust of Caesar. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Bust of Caesar. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

When the guide hit the wires in May last year, it caused an outcry in the left wing community online. Piqué was called a fascist and a psychopath. His academic merits were ridiculed as infantile. Most quotations from his work highlighted examples of violent tactics, unlawful practices and dubious ethical considerations.

Indeed, academically speaking, the manual fails to live up to any accepted standard. It’s extremely superficial. It hardly relies on any sources. It includes anonymous rumours and random quotes. Most historical examples are flawed and out of place. It doesn’t take much to recognise a shameful lack of in-depth knowledge about military history and its political context. But we have to bear in mind that Piqué didn’t write his thesis for academics or historians. He wrote it for chiefs of police.

That’s why the document is only 37-pages, without terminology or references to other academic authors and their works. The grotesque mentions of Caesar and Cato and Hannibal, and wars varying from the Persian Gulf, to Yugoslavia, to Mexico and Cuba serve to inspire the local commanders. And to give them the idea of being on a civilized mission against the barbarians, in defence of the rule of law.

Considered purely as a manual the work deserves some credit for being lucid, reasoned and methodic. This is why it has been adopted throughout Spain as a pocket guide on how to handle anarchists. For same reason, I think it’s useful to make a condensed analysis of this work in English. If only to “know thy enemy”.

The original guide was written in Catalan. There is also a Spanish translation available. It is divided in three parts.
Parts one poses the problem. Who are these people challenging the system?
Part two describes which tactical models you can use against them in the field.
Part three proposes a five stage strategy to destroy them.

I will synthesize and paraphrase the guide in italics. Quotes come directly from the text in my own translation.

The Sherwood Syndrome

Part 1

The outlaws hide in Sherwood forest. Some consider themselves heroes the likes of Robin Hood. According to folk legends these bandits stole from the rich to give to the poor. “The problem was, as always, that Robin and his band decided who were the rich to be robbed and who were the poor to be benefitted”. According to old records, Robin was finally captured and rendered homage to the throne.

Riots in Greece 2010, via worldnomads.com

Today, Sherwood takes different forms. On the one hand it’s a problem of public order, like in Greece and Italy, where the “anarchists behave like vandals, and are treated as such, which causes a lot of violence.” On the other hand, in Copenhagen they administer their own neighbourhood, Kristiania, and “create very few problems to the authorities of the ‘system’.”

The squatting phenomenon comes from northern Europe. It roots in people’s need for housing after the destructions of the second world war. In the 60s and 70s, it gains a political dimension. “The movement is a collective protest that wants an alternative to capitalist society.” From the 90s onwards, it shows signs of globalisation.

Barcelona is a point of reference to the squatter movement internationally. A significant part of outlaw population comes from the rest of the country or abroad. Gràcia neighbourhood has the highest number of squats in the city.

Squats can be private, as a living space for the occupants themselves, or public, as an occupied social centre for political and cultural activities. These centres attract other grass roots groups like “feminists, ecologists, pacifists etc.”

Attempts have been made by established politics to integrate these movements, and failed. “The complexity of the phenomenon and its members – because they have no representatives – makes it impossible to strike any kind of deal with them.”

The problem is that there’s no leadership within the movement, it’s a mix of diverging interests. “From the foreigners in transit doing the ‘Barcelona experience’ to the ideologists of insurrectionary anarchism, passing by failed artists, covert delinquents, homeless, and people with social adaptability problems.”

Ideologically, the squats in Barcelona can be divided into three. Half of them have been confirmed anarchist/libertarian. Most of the others are undetermined. Some are Catalan independence squats.

Despite their heterogeneous nature, the squatters can rapidly take the streets in each other’s defence. They are connected, which presuposes organisation. Roughly one out of four anarchist demonstrations causes damage to public and/or private property. It is to the police force to avoid this, to arrest perpetrators, to guarantee public safety. In this thesis “we want to see which social and judicial model will permit us to orient public policy towards these groups that will avoid a deterioration of collective living without letting tolerance turn into impunity and therefore injustice.”

In general, theory on policing moves between two extremes. From zero tolerance (ZT) to maximum tolerance (MT).

Rudy Giuliani

Rudy Giuliani

An example of ZT is mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s clean-up of New York in the 1990s. ZT requires a lot of personel, a lot of cell space, a lot of bureaucracy. It’s very costly. The strict enforcement can alienate normal citizens, who dislike to be treated as criminals for a simple infraction. In the long run, ZT is a pain in the ass for everyone.

An example of MT was a short lived project in Zurich, Switzerland. A free zone where police would not intervene. It became a breeding space for drug dealing, prostitution, theft and violence. It infected the areas around it and attracted lowlifes from outside of town and the country. Before too long, maximum tolerance will cause a mess.

An intermediate strategy is needed, deployed on a social, political, cultural and economic level, which will solve the problem. But first, let’s look at the models of tactical engagement.

Part 2

Regardless of the model we adopt, we start by establishing an “Advanced Command Centre (ACC)”. In the ACC we coordinate the efforts of all public forces at our disposal. Police, Civil Guard, Firemen, Medical personnel, and Municipal cleaners. There must be no doubt about who is in command.

The Clausewitz model

This tactic is aimed at hitting the anarchists directly in their strongholds. Avoid open confrontations. Use the element of surprise. Dispatch special units. Evict their squats at night. Don’t give them the opportunity to resist, or to engage in ‘heroic’ actions.

Espionage is key. We need to know exactly where to strike, what we will encounter, and how to act. Act fast, be efficient, leave no traces.

Two historical examples of the Clausewitz model are the treatment of Japan at the end of World War 2 and the recent wars against Iraq.

Operation Desert Storm, February 1991

Operation Desert Storm, February 1991

The idea behind this model is to impose our force on the opponent. In Sherwood terms: “We enter the forest whenever and wherever we want. Resistance is not just futile, it is impossible.”

In the open field, we must intimidate our opponent with our presence. We block access to the gathering point. In military terms we would be cutting the line of supply. We install filters. We stop and frisk people, check their ID. People who lose their anonymity before a demonstration are less likely to engage in violent actions. Our message is that we’re not worried about the amount of demonstrators, we have everything under control. In Sherwood terms: “We know what you’re up to, and we also know who you are.”

When the demonstration starts, we abandon the filters and take strategic positions along the route. Police forces must be visible at all time to discourage acts of vandalism. Should they still occur, we act forcefully, we arrest, identify, and charge the subject.

This model can be enacted if we dispose of enough resources compared to the opponent. If we don’t, we might want to consider a different approach.

The Sun Tzu Model

The basic idea is to be smarter than the enemy. We must predict him. We must know the terrain. We must be able to win without fighting.

“The anarchists know that their actions have a bigger impact, socially and in the media, if they take place in open spaces. At the same time these spaces are less favourable to them from a tactical point of view.”
The boulevards of Eixample are especially adapted to the fast deployment of troops. In classical military theory we would use the cavalry to surround the enemy. Like Hannibal against the Romans at Cannae, or Caesar against the Gauls at Alesia.

Hannibal's destruction of the Roman army at Cannae, 215 BC

Hannibal’s destruction of the Roman army at Cannae, 215 BC

“In this case we don’t want to repress disturbances or make arrests, we simply want to avoid confrontation.”

In the open field we install filters as in model number one, then we close the circle and surround the opponent. He will have lost all initiative and his morale will suffer from it. We need disciplined officers in the first line who don’t react to provocation. Avoid wounded (‘martyrs’) and detainees (‘hero’s’). Identify and release in small groups, make sure they disperse.

The message in Sherwood terms: “Outside of the forest, in the open, you’re vulnerable.”

In the small streets we act differently. Here the outlaws feel at home. We don’t surround, we create a corridor. We block important exits to guide the flow of the demonstration. Beware in the forest that these blocks can be circumvented. So we deploy tactical units of undercover agents behind the lines. If any detached group of anarchists engages in vandalism, they will be caught, isolated, and treated as vandals. In classical military theory they would not be regarded as regular forces and therefore denied the rights accorded to them under international treaties. Like the previous ones, these tactics don’t always work.

Up until now we have seen models which try to limit the amount of detentions and injuries as much as possible. “If what we want, however, is the moral and physical defeat of the enemy – as we now consider him – we have to resort to the next model of enforcement.”

The Miyamoto Mushasi model

To annihilate our enemy, the first thing we need is a very good excuse. The second is to make people buy it. We must provoke violence. We need victims. We must cause outrage. Dehumanize the enemy in the face of public opinion. Rally support for law and order. Create an incident that justifies a violent reaction.

2WTC hit by plane, September 2001

South tower of WTC hit by plane.

Historical examples of this model are the “Spanish-American War on Cuba, the Balkan Wars, Pearl Harbor, USA-Mexico for Texas, most of the Arab-Israeli conflicts and the Nazi invasion of Poland.”

In police terms we will want the enemy to go on a rampage. The terrain doesn’t matter. Don’t perform actions that weaken the enemy on forehand. “The stronger and the more valient he feels, the more confrontations there will be, which is what we want.”

If the tension is not high enough, we can provoke the enemy by making a raid with the excuse of looking for drugs. The raid will be badly performed on purpose. We make a few unjustified arrests and we humiliate the enemy, just to piss him off.

Come the day in the field, we leave the initiative to the barbarians. No blocks, no filters, no stop and frisk. Let them burn the house down. We concentrate the main body of your forces close by, out of sight. Once the violence starts, we let it happen. “When the violence becomes generalised, the police interraction is deliberately delayed until the damages become socially unacceptable.”

Then we block their retreat and we send in the hounds. First the most undisciplined, vendicative troops. Be fast, determined, and ultra violent. We will want blood, on both sides. We don’t leave any one of them standing. Militarily speaking, we wouldn’t take prisoners. In police terms, we round them all up. The infantry finishes off the bulk of the barbarian army in the centre, the cavalry hunts down those who want to flee. 

“Unfortunately this tactic is not only used by totalitarian regimes, but also in many western democracies.”

The Julius Caesar model

Julius Caesar managed to romanize Gaul by practicing the military maxim of “Divide and conquer.” Nevertheless, during the final battle at Alesia, Caesar had to defeat a united army of Gauls. Which he did. Gaulic leader Vercingetorix was sent off to Rome to be executed.

In dealing with Sherwood we have to avoid that the enemy forms a united front. To this effect we exploit the (ideological) differences within the squatter community. We use all legal methods at our disposal to divide them. Deals may be struck with some, offering them benefit of protections from “the Empire”, others must be targetted and eliminated one by one.

On how to eliminate the Sherwood phenomenon as a whole I will present a complete strategy in five points.

Surrender of Vercingetorix after the battle of Alesia

Surrender of Vercingetorix after the battle of Alesia

Part 3

This plan must be executed under firm and unified command. Not all phases are necessarily consecutive. The successful implementation depends heavily on support from the public opinion.

Phase 1

“Create an atmosphere of aversion against every type of illegal occupation without explicitly mentioning the squatter movement.”

Use the media. Blow up stories like the one about the Spanish family that went on holiday and came back to find their house squatted by Romanians, and the locks changed. The idea is to create a public debate centered on a tougher stance against squatters. Cato the Elder provides a historical example for this strategy, as he used to finish all his orations saying that “Carthage should be destroyed.”

Marcus Porcius Cato the Elder

Marcus Porcius Cato the Elder

Phase 2

“Create a political debate on squatting.”

This phase is divided into various sub-strategies. Mind that not everyone who is part of the plan, needs to know the plan in its entirety. We will want to criminalise squatting, while forcing home-owners to develop their property. With support from the media and public opinion we will have tough laws adopted, like the recent Dutch law, which punishes squatters with up to two years of prison time. This same law would allow us to fine homeowners up to 7500 euros if they can’t justify the abandonement of their property.

“With this we pretend that local authorities will decide on the abandoned buildings and homes.”

We want local authorities to make a list of all abandoned property, and implement a policy that will put the spaces to community use, thus neutralising social jusification of squatting.

Whenever this phase leads to resistance in the field, we try to demobilise it quickly and silently using the Clausewitz method. If resistance is numerous and heated, we may want to provoke violent acts on the part of the enemy to further galvanize public opinion in favour of repression.

Phase 3

“Appearance of new legal norms.”

Once the new laws have been adopted we are ready act. But before we do, we issue an ultimatum. We give the squatters the opportunity to surrender, with the prospect of amnesty for those with no legal precedent. Municipal authorities can work out the terms of the deal. Those who refuse to surrender expose themselves to the full weight of the law.

Phase 4

“Attack on the heart of Sherwood, detention and humiliation of possible Robin Hoods.”
After the voluntary surrender of those who wish to avoid prosecution, it’s time to go after the ‘irreducibles’. In practice, we’re entering Sherwood forest to “cut down the trees.” The enemy will most likely put up resistance, so act with force and conviction. Go for the leaders. Avoid heroisms. Arrest each single subject and start criminal prosecution. We give an example to all squatters that it’s wiser to give themselves up, and benefit from the Empire’s forgiveness.

Phase 5

“Keep control of the situation.”

Use prior described tactics if necessary.

Darth Vader, copyright Disney

Darth Vader, copyright Disney

**

Roughly, this is the guide. I won’t indulge myself now in demonstrating why most of the historical examples don’t make any sense and are often clearly misunderstood by the author. Neither will I show that the association of historical military figures with the mentioned models is in most cases inappropriate. I will only make one comment on it, and add a general consideration of my own.

Piqué is fascinated by Julius Caesar. He theatrically ends his thesis with the quote “Alea iacta est“, “the dice has been thrown”. He probably ignores that this sentence wasn’t pronounced at the onset of Caesar’s campaign against the barbarian Gauls but at the moment the man decided to rebel against Rome herself. But the funniest of his historical mixups is right in the title. If this is about Sherwood, then Piqué is no Caesar at all. He is the evil sheriff of Nottingham, at the service of a cruel and illegitimate authority.

The manual was clearly written in a different age. By now, May 2013, there are an estimated six million empty houses in Spain, and yet the police force keeps evicting people from their homes on a daily basis. This is not creating the necessary public support for an all out war against squatters. Quite the contrary. Neighbourhoods and platforms are organizing themselves in solidarity to prevent foreclosures and to open new spaces for living and for sharing. Three and a half years after the guide was presented, Sherwood is everywhere.

Douglas Fairbanks as Robin Hood (1922)

Douglas Fairbanks as Robin Hood (1922)

Debriefing

In #GlobalRevolution on 9 May 2013 at 12:06
Statue in Sofia

Statue in Sofia

Sofia, May 9

Dear people,

I have terminated my spring campaign in the Balkans.

Looking back on these two months I can discern three primary objectives. One was secret, accomplished, you will hear from it in due time. Two was to visit my brother Memed in Istanbul. Which I did, with great joy&respect. And three was… well, to do a ‘revolutionary temperature check’ in eastern Europe.

I did that too, more or less. Of course I don’t pretend to know these countries, not even a bit, but it’s pretty obvious that nothing is going to change for the better here in the foreseeable future.

Why? Because there is too much ‘oldthink’ in these places. In the countries that haven’t experienced communism – Turkey and Greece – the self-proclaimed revolutionaries still define themselves through this heavily outdated philosophy. They would be adorable if they weren’t, a. utterly ridiculous, and b. an obstacle to any social change rather than a facilitator of it.

In countries that do have experienced communism – Hungary, Bulgaria and to a lesser extent Serbia – everyone is well aware that a system that forces people to be mediocre doesn’t work. Anything that smells like left wing or socialism or that has the word ‘common’ in it, is heavily suspect. Life is bad in these places, but it has been even worse. So people shrug their shoulders, bow their heads, and try to get by. At the very least, capitalism doesn’t force them to be mediocre, it merely stimulates them to be that way.

Instead of 19th century political philosophies about workers and factories we need new ways of thinking, tailored to the information age. We have the web, which allows us to ‘cut out the middle man’, both in politics and in the economy. We can rule ourselves, we can decide ourselves what we consume and what we produce, we can rationalise the distribution of our goods and our space. Without authority, without coercion.

If anywhere, Spain will be a laboratory for this kind of ‘newthink’, call it anarchism if you like.

It’s fascinating, the popular indignation and the shape it is taking. There are many sides to it. One is about words, another is about taking conscience. In a society dominated by advertising, words don’t mean shit. It’s all about eye-catching images and pure nonsense. Not very different from the iconography and the slogans of the former communist block.

What we are doing is, we are going beyond the bullshit. For two years running we let words flow free in countless assemblies. This has changed the discourse. All public grievances are out in the open. Now we are trying to restore meaning to those words that define our political constitution. One is ‘popular sovereignty’.

If we the people are sovereign, we must be conscient of it, and we must exercise that sovereignty, or someone else will do it for us. To exercise it, we must decide what we want. During the Acampada in Sol it was impossible for people to agree on a few issues – the ‘consenso de minimos‘ – but these have taken shape themselves. A few basic things to start with, that a great majority of the population will agree on. Free health care, free education, public water, all of high quality. And a stop to foreclosures. If this is not possible in the current economic system, then the economic system must change, and with it the political structures that uphold it.

Spain is moving. Over a million people have signed for public water as a human right. And this week, from May 5 to 10, signatures for public health care are being collected all throughout the capital region of Madrid in preparation for a popular bill.

Another popular bill that was presented by the Platform against Mortgage Foreclosures, backed up by 1.5 million signatures, was mutilated by the governing Popular Party before they had it voted last month by their own majority. There is hardly a trace of the original demands of the Platform in the bill, like the extinction of debt with the return of the keys to the house.

So, for as long as the government keeps ignoring the will of the people, the struggle will continue in the streets, under the windows of the the ruling class, inside parliament, and inside the banks. Today it was Bankia’s turn, the nationalized bank that keeps foreclosing on its owners, the citizens. At this moment, all over Spain, people are flocking to Bankia franchises to shut them down in every legal way, by closing and opening accounts, by requesting every possible information, by depositing heaps of loose coins etc. etc. Many of the bank’s franchises closed on forehand.

That’s today. I haven’t even talked about the simultaneous demonstrations for public education in all the big cities. And there is much more. This thing is ongoing. As from tomorrow evening – inshallah­ – I will be back in Barcelona to continue my direct coverage of the Spanish Revolution.

Stay tuned.

Barcelona, "Bankia's turn". To the franchise with a guillotine. Photo via @15mBcn_int

Barcelona, “Bankia’s turn”. To the franchise with a guillotine. Photo via @15mBcn_int

Independence

In #GlobalRevolution, Italy on 4 July 2012 at 10:14

Tuscany, July 4

Dear people,

So I did make it out of Athens in the end. In choosing between the four cardinal directions, I opted for West. Back to Italy. Because great is the pleasure to discover new lands, but equally great is the pleasure to return to certain places and visit people you have known, for Auld Lang Syne.

The connections in Greece are not optimal, and deteriorating fast. To get from Athens to the country’s third largest city Patras I had to take two trains and one bus. But still, it took less time than walking.

As we drove along the Gulf of Corinth I recognised the shores on the other side. The Gulf of Itea, Eratini, Marathias, Nafpaktos… Two weeks of marching in a couple of hours. I could have taken an aeroplane and be in Holland by now. But I had discarded that possibility from the start. After having spent months to cross the continent it seemed ridiculous to return almost instantaneously.

In Patras I met up with two friends who had received us when we entered the town nearly three months ago. It was only now that I realised the impact we have made. All along the way, people have opened their hearts. And they haven’t forgotten us. Some of us, and many locals, will argue that our march didn’t make any sense. But it did. It has been more than worth it, because it has given us the opportunity to meet these extraordinary persons. If there is still hope for Greece, it’s thanks to them.

At sunset I sailed. And yet again, I recognised every single hill, every single cape on the other side. Antirio, Ano Vassiliki, the lagoon of Mesolonghi. Then darkness.

In Bari, one of the first things I thought, was: ‘Wow, Italy isn’t doing so bad.’ Bars were full, and hardly any of the shops had gone bankrupt. No visual signs of crisis at all.

Sure, the crisis exists. I had a long chat with a lady from Salerno, belonging to the ‘upper middle class’. Her family possesses various houses and pieces of land, but as a result of recent austerity measures by the Monti government they are being choked by the taxes. ‘The middle class is disappearing’, she said. ‘Everything we have built up over the years, to leave to our children, is at risk.’

During the march I realised that you don’t need much to thrive and survive. All the rest is luxury. For now, the crisis is cutting into those luxuries. The basic necessities of existence are not at risk yet, not in Italy. Maybe in Greece.

By now I have reached Tuscany, one of those places that I have good reason to consider ‘home’. I’m here to visit friends, ‘anarchist’ friends. After one and a half months in Exarchia, it was about time that I met some real anarchists.

In Exarchia people live in the same appartment blocks as elsewhere, they use the same currency, they drink the same instant coffee in plastic cups as the rest of Greeks. And as far as I have been able to ascertain, only one of the bars serves fair-trade coffee from Chapas. All the rest goes to enrich the multinationals.

“Stupid is as stupid does,” is what Forrest Gump’s mamma always says. And you can apply that to almost anything. “Anarchist is as anarchist does,” I would say. And change surely won’t come from Exarchia. To some of the people there the only solution is to ‘bomb Greece back to the stone age’.

One of my friends here in Tuscany has retreated from modern society over twenty-five years ago. When the Berlin Wall came down, he didn’t even notice. He was much too busy working the land, raising a family and creating an almost completely self-sufficient farm in a distant river valley. He has worked every day of the week, every week of the year, ever since. And he was happy to do so. Only recently, now that his children have grown up, he has granted himself the luxury of a holiday. Two months, on foot, to Sicily and back.

But even without such radical measures, it’s possible to start a change. And you don’t need bombs to succeed. Another friend of mine is slowly evolving away from society. He used to work for General Electric. When he got to know the company and realised that he was actively upholding a system which he despised, he changed life and opened a biological restaurant. When it turned out that he didn’t have any time for himself anymore he sold the restaurant and changed life again. Now he lives in the country side and works as a gardener.

In practice, all of Tuscany is one big garden, so there is no lack of work. He grows his own vegetables. He makes his own furniture. He doesn’t need much, and most of what he does need is available through a short supply chain of local organic products. In this, Tuscany is at the cutting edge of change.

My anarchist friends here are not the only ones. It’s starting to become fashionable, not only among rich Germans, Dutch and English to go live in the beautiful countryside, but also among Italians. They want to have their own vegetable garden, they want to have silence around. They have had it with city life.

Within the movement there has been a discussion from the start about whether we want a ‘revolution’, or an ‘evolution’. As for me, it sounds a lot cooler to call myself a ‘revolutionary’ than an ‘evolutionary’. People might think the discussion is about darwinism. But then again, “stupid is as stupid does”…

About Last Night

In Athens, Greece on 13 June 2012 at 05:00

Athens, June 13, 5 a.m.

I have been too cynical after all, I admit it. Life is not easy in Exarchia. To me, and to those who came here with the march to Athens, it might have seemed that way, especially after months of walking and camping in the public squares, but that doesn’t give me the right to say life is easy for people here in Exarchia.

Also, I admit that it is incoherent of me to speak about ‘drugs’, if I have been saying ‘grass’ and ‘weed’ all along to indicate the same thing.

With that I rectify what I said in the original first paragraph of yesterday’s post. I also explicitly add that all views expressed on this blog are my personal views only. None of the people from the march, from the squat, or from the photographs is to be held responsible for what I say.

Dear people,

I didn’t manage to escape last night. And maybe it’s better that way, because in my naive cynicism I could have left burning ruins in Exarchia, without even being aware of it.

At three o’clock this morning three people came to the door of our squat. They were looking for me. They demanded access in order to beat me up, all because of the former first paragraph of yesterday’s post. I do hope they didn’t read any further.

The Old Man denied them access. They threatened to come back this morning with a hundred people to burn the house down and club us all out.

It was slight overkill. A heartfelt but pressing advice would have been enough for me to rectify. Because I am a reasonable person, and as such I am perfectly willing to admit I’m wrong, in case I really am.

Also, as a reasonable person, I think that violence is a problem and not a solution. The threat to use it against people because of their opinions is not going to create a fruitful debate. It’s also typical for those repressive societies that many of us, free human beings, are so determined to fight.

I don’t know exactly in what kind of society I would like to live, but I’m damn sure it’s a place where I can freely share my views without having to be afraid to go out on the streets, or to stay at home.

It’s 1515. Nosotros turns out to be closed. If anyone wants to speak to me, come to the house at 1900. Without arms. If I’m not there, last chance tomorrow at Nosotros 1400 hours.

Oscar.

P.S. For those who are wondering what this is all about, and for completeness’ sake, I add the original first paragraph of yesterday’s post:

“It has been a month and it’s time to get out of here. Exarchia is like a trap. Life is too easy in this place. You can find abandoned houses anywhere, rampant consumerism brings in more than enough food to be recycled, drugs are abundant and cheap, and illegal tobacco as well. You don’t need much here to get wasted every day.”

Escape from Exarchia

In Athens, Greece on 12 June 2012 at 14:36

Comrade Cansino / Kourasmenos

Athens, June 12

Dear people,

It has been a month, and only now the last of the marchers are leaving Exarchia in small groups. The road that took us here has been long, and for many of us the road out of here has been hard to find. Some of us went a couple of days to the islands on holiday. Me too, I went to Paros with a comrade from the indignados in Paris. We did ‘Occupy Paros’, and the ‘March to Naussa’, eight kilometres. In Naussa we came across two Greeks who live in Scotland. Last year they participated in ‘Occupy Dundee’.

Cat on Paros
Having experienced live abroad, they were pretty hard on their fellow Greeks. For once I didn’t hear the usual story of the evil IMF trying to enslave the poor Greek people through a fictitious debt. Instead they gave the simple example of a normal Greek family who goes to the beach and leaves the place littered with trash. “They don’t care. And as long as they don’t care, things are not going to get any better around here.”

We also met an entrepreneur who has been living in Greece for years. He complained a lot about Greek mentality, in particular the buraucracy and the corruption. Nothing special for a businessman to complain about, I know. But this man wasn’t from England or Holland or Germany or even France. He was from the Dominican Republic. And if I’m not mistaken, the Dominican Republic is one of those countries who regularly top the charts when it comes to corruption and bureaucracy.

Goat on Paros

Sundown

Camouflage

Back in Exarchia things were the same as before. Only some people had managed to escape. I don’t know if they ever made it out of Greece.

It has been an interesting experience living in the anarchist quarter. It’s a very peculiar place. On the inside you won’t find any police. The cops are around. You’re in a ghetto that is under siege twenty-four hours a day. Usually you find four officers in riot gear guarding each of the exits, with a bus full of backup on standby.

Within their own neighbourhood, it’s the anarchists themselves who uphold law and order. Fortunately they don’t have any clear ideas on either subject, so they usually won’t bother you. But if they do, you better watch out. Standard anarchist armament consists of clubs and helmets. Supposedly it’s the only thing that Greeks use their helmets for: to smash them on other people’s heads.

I’m sorry, I’m getting cynical. But that’s not my fault. It’s the result of three months of living in Greece. Still there’s no need to worry, I’m working on an exit strategy.

So, Exarchia is a fascinating place. If I had taken university seriously and had a couple of years to spare I could have written a monumental sociological study about this neighbourhood. And it would have been worth it, because the organisation of anarchist society in Exarchia is absolutely striking.

I’ll try to give you the short version.

Comrade Sabina, heroine of the revolution.

First, there are the upperclass anarchists. They gather in their own exclusive societies where you can only enter if you have reached at least Political Awareness Level 7. You also have to be able to quote fifty pages of Bakunin by heart. Not for us mortals. You need Political Awareness Level 4 just to talk them on the street.

Second, there are the bourgeois anarchists. These people don’t lock themselves up in exclusive clubs, because they want to be seen. They drink their expensive Nescafe frappe from cocktail glasses on the terraces of luxury bars named ‘Revolt’, or ‘Che Guevara’, or something similar.

Comrade Leonidas

Third, there are the middle class anarchists. They take their frappe ‘to go’ in large American-style plastic cups, and they drink it out on the square. In the evening, they switch their instant coffee for various international brands of beer.

Fourth, there are proletarian anarchists. They roam the square and the streets all night to collect the empty bottles of beer. If they bring back seven empty bottles to the store, they get a full one in exchange.

Fifth, there must be some anarchist anarchists here as well. They probably have their own block on the neighbourhood somewhere.

One thing that all the anarchists have in common, maybe the only thing, is that they think they are cool. They are cool in ways that we normal people will never understand. As a matter of fact, they don’t even consider us, normal people. They only consider themselves (‘cool’), the communists (‘losers’), and the fascists (‘assholes’). All other political or social denominations are rigourously snobbed.

Outside the house

In case of conflict, the anarchists take their clubs and helmets and form their own ‘anti-fascist’ militia. These are very hard to distinguish from the fascists themselves. Both have a preference for the same dark colours and for the same primitive type of violence. The difference lies in the fact that the fascists go out to beat up immigrants, and the anti-fascists go out to beat up fascists.

I’m sorry, am I being cynical again?

I don’t think so. Take a look in the mirror.

Another striking aspect of life in a decaying city like Athens is recycling. There is only one impelling incentive that makes people really care about recycling.

Hunger.

As a result, you see people loading up their shopping carts at the dumpsters. Most of them are immigrants. If they find metal, paper or other potentially useful things, they sell them. If they find food, they eat it.

The sight of these backdoor shoppers is nothing special in a city where entire districts are shrouded in the chilly air of bankruptcy. For now, there is still enough production being stashed through the throat of the system for people to live on all the things that get crapped out without having been digested.

A Duck, a Renault 4 and a Beetle.

But if the input decreases, the competition at the dumpsters will grow. And then people will start to behave like chickens. The weakest ones will be picked on, so they don’t get to eat valuable food which could nurture the strong. This phase has already started.

At the moment, the weakest creatures in this henhouse called Greece are the immigrants. They get picked on, because they have no protection from the law. Only from the anarchists.

Thank God for the anarchists.

It all doesn’t make the situation any better. I’m breathing a creepy 1930s atmosphere. I see apathy turning into despair. I feel the spectre of violence.

For me it’s enough. I can’t stand all the petty ideological divisions. This is not why I joined our movement. Quite the opposite, I joined because our movement is aimed at tearing down all the artificial barriers that divide us, so that we can start to reason together as free individuals.

“We are workers, unemployed, retirees, youth, who have come to Syntagma Square to fight and give a struggle for our lives and our future. We are here because we know that the solutions to our problems can only be provided by us. We call all residents of Athens, workers, unemployed and youth, to come to Syntagma Square, and all of society to fill the public squares and to take their lives into their own hands. In these public squares we will shape our claims and our demands together.”

That was last year, the ‘Declaration of the People’s Assembly of Syntagma Square’, adopted on May 27. I was moved to tears when I read it in the tent of the Communications commission on Puerta del Sol. I had wanted to there.

Now I am there, here, in Athens. And I want to get out. I want to find some hope somewhere, before I get too cynical to care anymore. I must go now. Only a handful of people from the march are left, and they are ready to go.

Tonight, under the cover of darkness, we will make an attempt to escape from Athens. Destination unknown.

If we’ll make it, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Take care,
Oscar

P.S. Today our two comrades got judged for carrying bottles and weed and for resisting arrest. Comrade Bernard got acquited. Comrade Elisa got sentenced to 6 months conditional. It’s an outrage. The judgment has been appealed. Elisa’s equipment has surfaced and was resistuted, minus the memory cards.

Cats on Paros

Anarchism Rules!

In France, March on Brussels on 15 September 2011 at 23:10

Montlhéry, September 15

Day 52 of the March on Brussels. From Etampes, 29 km

'Minimalism'

Dear people,

This morning, instead of going walking early, we sat down in the tavern ‘le petit caporal’, to plot about actions in Paris. We were not the only ones. There are small groups within our march preparing actions and diversive manoeuvres of their own accord. Also the Mediterranean march and the indignados in Paris are busy cooking up their own plans.

Then when the time comes to coordinate things in the internal assembly, we lose hours deciding whether a journalist of a photographic magazine should be allowed or not to assist to the assembly. In the end, we don’t even get to talk about the important things.

But do not think that this is a ridiculous chaos, o no, it’s tactics. The only way for us to avoid that the police knows what we’re going to do is to make sure that we ourselves don’t have any idea of what’s going to happen.

So far for things in practice. These last few days I have been talking about the theoretical nature of our movement with comrade Roberto, from the Economy commission, which is now known as the commission ‘Autogestión’, to appease the anti-monetarians within the march.

Roberto is a former stock broker and bank employee. He started off as a choir boy in church. He knows the enemy, and he has a very analytical way of thinking which isn’t blurred by any kind of moral. I’m trying to convince him to be part of a secret Intelligence commission, with the objective to gather any type of information about the march.

This information is divided on various levels. One is the organisation of the march, another is a classification of its participants on the basis of their mentality, and another is a classification on the basis of their political ideas.

We made a scheme of the commissions. Route, Economy and Dinamisation are the primary ones. The Route decides where we’re going. Economy controls the secondary commissions of Logistics and Kitchen. Dinamisation is a kind of central committee which prepares the politics of the assembly. If you control these three commissions, you control the march.

But maybe the most important commission of all is Communications. Through Communications we create the public image of the march. We depend on public support. Without effective propaganda, there is no march.

As for the mentality, people can be divided into the ‘rigorosos’, or the people who want to shape order out of chaos, the ‘permisivos’, who try to keep the group together with comprehension and endless search for consensus. There are the parasites, who don’t really care as long as they don’t have to walk and receive a free meal. And finally, there are a few visionaries who don’t take themselves or the march too seriously. They watch on with amazement and joy how this incredible movement develops.

On a political level you can recognise the classical distinction between radical revolutionaries and practical reformists. The former want to change everything overnight, so that as from tomorrow we can all live together, happily ever after. The latter admit that things are a bit more complicated than that. But most people probably don’t have any clear political ideas at all. They know things are not right in society, but they wouldn’t really know where to start to make a change.

At midday we walk. It was a strange day today. A part of the distance I walked alone, and whenever I did, I got lost. This hardly ever happens. I arrived last, late in the evening. I missed the popular assembly on the village square, which was a shame, because I heard it had been very interesting.

There was a woman present who works in a psychiatric institution. She told that she had 23 patients in her department, ten of which had drinking problems. It seems that Sarkozy has passed a law which allows police to send people who are caught drunk on the street to a mental institution. One of the patients got caught the very first time he ever touched a bottle. After six months in the clinic he had become a true alcoholic.

“We are all Individuals!”

In France, March on Brussels on 5 September 2011 at 22:13

Naintré, September 5

Day 42 of the March on Brussels. From Poitiers, 26 km.

View from my tent this morning

Dear people,

Autumn is approaching, and for us, people marching North, it’s approaching twice as fast. We start to notice it, the nights are becoming colder and our daily rhythm is changing.

It’s no longer reasonable for us to aim at getting up at six. People are usually on their feet around seven thirty, and we start to march between eight thirty and nine. Also, we have to schedule our assemblies earlier than we used to, in order for them to finish before nightfall.

In the meantime, we can do little else but march.

Minaret of the mosque in Poitiers

 

'Behind the wall'

Today, again, I rebelled against the official route. The road was too big on the map, and there was a small parallel route which followed the river. This time, not surprisingly, a group of about ten people followed me, blindly trusting my navigational skills. They were very happy with my guide through the small villages along the water. Only during the last ten kilometres or so, people became grumpy with me, because the road was too long.

“It’s because I don’t have the faintest idea where we are or where we’re going.” With a straight face. But they didn’t believe me.

Castle near Poitiers

 

Our expedition is just over half way, and I start to notice signs of exhaustion. I also have the idea that the social structure of our tribe is taking a more static form by the day. People know each other more or less and they have developed certain sympathies or antipathies. On the base of that, little groups have formed. And because the internal assembly is neither held regularly, nor very effective even if things are decided, the organisation comes down to the interaction of all different persons or groups, or the lack of it.

This is not necessarily negative. We are all individuals. And that’s how it should be. But with a heavy daily routine, recurring frictions and still a long way to go, people can get irritable. This can lead to a kind of laissez-fare where we confide in things to go ahead, without us as individuals being prepared to take an extra step for the benefit of the group.

On the top of that the white van has broken down. “It’s a complete disaster”, says comrade Alexis. I have my doubts, because we’re still here, and we will reach Brussels on foot, there’s no doubt about it. It’s the common goal that unites us. But the coming days are going to be critical for the logistical support team, to see if we can keep on going as before, or if we have load the kitchen and the bags on our shoulders.

Statue in Naintré

 

Monsieur le maire in popular assembly

While on the one hand we are faced with all our daily social and practical problems, the popular interest and support for our march keeps growing. In the small town where we arrived, a lot of mainly middle aged locals took part in our assembly. For the first time the mayor of a village sat down in our circle, beneath the banner which incites the peoples of Europe to rise up. It’s not completely illogical, because it’s mainly these villages in decline which have a lot to gain from a citizens’ revolution.

But also in the assembly political differences within our group keep surfacing. You have the partisans of horizontal assemblyism. They stress the fact that the 15M movement is open to private citizens and not linked to political parties, workers’ unions or associations of any kind. There are comrades who look for cooperation on the base of common objectives, and there are others who mainly speak about the love-peace-and-harmony side of the movement.

The great challenge of anarchism is to make sure that every single member of society can do his or her own thing, and to make it work out for all. We can do that, because we are good people, and we are conscient of the fact that as humans we have many things, the most important things, in common.

Character

In France, March on Brussels on 28 August 2011 at 21:03
Montlieu la Garde, August 28.
Day 34 of the March on Brussels. From St. Vincent de Paul, 42 km.

 

Dear people,

Up until now I have limited myself to walking the march and documenting it. I haven’t been active in it’s organisation. I waited until the march was such a mess that people came to me to ask if I wanted to play a role. So yesterday evening we sat in McDonald’s, the only place where we found access to internet, and we were plotting. The internal assembly isn’t working, so the idea surfaced to form a junta and to take things into our own hands. Nothing outside the principles of the movement of course, because there exists a concept called ‘liberty of action’, and you can stretch it as far as you like.

Wake up call in St. Vincent de Paul

This morning it turned out it wasn’t necessary to take far reaching measures. Something had changed overnight. As if we all felt that something had to be done, discipline had returned, and the marching spirit came with it. In retrospect I think the rain we experienced in Bordeaux had helped a lot. Instead of turning the march into a disaster, it brought us together. Apart from that the menace of rain scared away the hippies, and that’s a good thing. The people who remained were determined to bring this march to a good end.

Crossing the bridge

We departed around eight this morning. The route we fixed the evening before was the longest up to date, marathon length. We arrived twelve hours after we left. We went in group, all the way. Almost everyone joined in, the supply along the route worked out perfectly, and despite the crazy length it was a great walk.

First thing we crossed the Dordogne in the mist, and while we walked the bridge, the fog lifted, the sun came out, and the East bank appeared in all its beauty. It was a good sign. We will reach Paris, we will reach Brussels, and we will be strong. After all, we are the arrowpoint of the revolution, and we are conscious of that.

Fog lifting over the Dordogne

It’s a great adventure, dear people. Long marches have been undertaken before, both military and civil. But we are different. We don’t have a leader, everything is self organised. We are anarchism in practice, and we’re proving it can work. Not only in an acampada, but also in a march, with all the practical and social problems it brings.

Today we brought a map, and that was a fabulous improvement. We took the old abbandoned roads and while we’re starting to make headway into central France, we are discovering a parallel infrastructure that leads through a phantom country.

Ever since the motorways were built, the small villages of France have been languishing. There was a time that all the traffic came through these villages. The bars and the taverns flourished. Now you can hardly recognise the old signboards bleached by the sun. The windows are blinded, the roofs fall apart. There isn’t a living soul on the streets and you can walk for miles without ever encountering a car.

Through the vineyards

The last part of our walk leads through the pine forests. The road goes on and on. But today the moral is stronger than the fatigue. The supply car brings us a hot meal in the middle of the woods. It brings us safely home.

Anonymous

Comrade Cubano

We arrive just before sunset in Montlieu. Most of the tourists seem to have gone home. Once again, we are the March on Brussels, and today we showed character. I am proud of my revolutionary brothers and sisters.

Afternoon light

21st Century Revolution

In Acampada Sol, Madrid, Spain on 2 June 2011 at 22:47

People,

In the eastern outskirts of Puerta del Sol you will find a statue of a bear climbing up against a tree. It is the symbol of Madrid. Since the occupation it has been turned into Speaker’s Corner.

Today there was a Moorish woman standing on a box with a three foot long receipt in her hand. I couldn’t read what was printed on it from a distance, but much of it was highlighted in yellow. She talked about Jesus, and the list in her hand was filled with sins. She makes a great emotional performance out of it. She looks like Mary Magdalene. The people gathered around listen silently and nod. A woman has a tear in her eyes. “If you believe in Jesus”, says Magdalena, and she puts her hand on her heart, “then the whole bill will be paid.”

I love it. This is also part of the revolution.

I return to the Communications tent. These days it’s my home. You can find me there almost the entire day, writing, translating, gathering information or talking to people. Occasionally I walk over to the Extension commission to look at the world map, which is covered by more and more red dots every day. Now it’s also happening in Buenos Aires. We are on all continents. I am content when I go back to read the daily reports from the French squares. A seed has been sown, and it has begun to germinate.

A comrade of Food I comes up to the counter. He beckons me enthusiastically. “The shopkeepers have been saying that they make 80% less revenue because of Sol. That is utter nonsense.” He shows me a series of printed sheets with numbers. “These are the sales figures of the five closest Starbucks branches over the last two weeks of May. Compared to last year they have made ten percent more profit.”

“Fabulous!” I say. “We should published this immediately. Where did you get this?”

“I work at Starbucks. I gained access to the system.”

These are our boys. We are everywhere, and we are unstoppable.

In the evening an emergency meeting is held in Communications. The mood is down. We have just received a message that 700 elite troops of the Spanish riot police are marching in three columns to Madrid. It only takes the order of the internal affairs minister for them to begin the eviction.

What to do? We have a protocol. We sit down, we lock arms and we don’t respond to provocations. SMS messages will be sent out in all directions: “Sol is cleared. Come help us.” But I have my doubts whether it will be a matter of photogenic and romantic resistance. “Try to reason from their point of view,” I say, “if they want to vacate the square they will do it at five o’clock in the morning when the least number of people is present. A clean sweep. It will be over before it can be properly documented. Keep this in mind. Continue to upload data and make sure USB devices are well hidden.”
On the table in the back our friend Mehmet continues to upload videos onto the Internet. I tell him about the police mobilisation. It almost seems as though he is satisfied. “Really? It can start any time now?”

“Any time now,” I say.

We decide to take a stroll around our village. Who knows, it might be the last evening. We walk under the tarpaulin through the center, past the Library into the “suburbs” on the edge of the square, where most of the tents are pitched. People are singing and playing the guitar. We walk back through the streets on the other side, to Eastern part of the square where the General Assembly meets every night. Mehmet is an extraordinary person. He has a political awareness and culture that amazes me. He speaks just as passionately about Marx and Engels, as he does about Buddha, Spinoza and Tolkien. He tells me a great story about anarchists who have stolen the ashes of Trotsky from his urn in Mexico two years ago. They mixed the ashes with flour and baked cookies with them. Then they sent them to Trotskyist parties all around the world. “Have a taste. At least that prophet of yours is good for something!”
I adopted him as my little brother. We stand in the middle of the square where the General Assembly has just ended. We observe our village under the clock of Puerta del Sol.

“Mehmet,” I say, “I have this idea that many people are focussed on the search for truth, be it in a religion or in an ideology, in philosophy or science, or in the revolution. I do not understand this. What’s so exciting about the truth?”

“You can only feel it. It absorbs you”, he says. “People are fascinated by truth because they fear it. The truth is the only thing that isn’t subject to change, the only thing that never decays. And that’s nothing. Horror vacui is where it all comes down to.”

“Then I still don’t understand it”, I say. “I do not feel it. Maybe because I am more fascinated by beauty. That’s what I’m looking for. That’s why I’ve joined with the revolution. For aesthetic reasons.”

Mehmet folds his hands in front of his face and nods at me. He has adopted me as a big brother.

We walk over the paths that have been traced between the tents in the suburbs. We join up with a few comrades to suck on a water pipe. We are totally relaxed. Whatever happens, our movement will continue. Greece has awakened, France is awakening and even in Italy there are assemblies being organised. This is the democratic revolution. And we, we are the chosen ones. Not only because we are able to witness it, but also because we have the possibility to be a part of it.

Back at the staff table of Communications we encounter Riccardo, the Sicilian cameraman. He is being visited by Vlad, a comrade of Audiovisual, who also found himself to be in the right place at the right time. He comes from New York and he specialises in live streaming. In two days he taught our Spanish comrades how to set up their own TV channel. After that he went out to grab a beer. Now the Spaniards can manage on their own.

“Good ideas travel quickly in a non-hierarchical society quickly.” Thanks to Vladimir, we have a twenty-four hour news channel on http://www.livestream.com/spanishrevolutionsol. The content is being shot daily by twenty of our comrades. The Assemblies are broadcast live and are currently drawing an average of 8000 viewers. Now Vlad has popped in at Communications to make plans for further expansion. Our new channel is focused on Spain. We also need a channel with content in English. “People are dying to have news from here.” Hence that Mehmet, Riccardo, Vladimir and I have decided on the spot to form the International Brigade. Tomorrow we start shooting material.

The next step is to set up live streaming over mobile phones. In case of police action this is essential. The tactics you should use in this case is ‘the Triangle’, Vlad explains: if there is a crack down somewhere, you need to make sure you have three people on the spot filming from different angles, so that you frame at least one other person with a camera. The police can’t do anything then. If they attack someone who is filming, then someone else will shoot it. And that’s not good for their pr. “It’s like taking out a witness.” Moreover, they can not confiscate the material because it is transmitted directly onto the net. “This tactic was first used in Toronto,” Vlad says, he’s a veteran. “Almost all regular television crews were eliminated. But not one of the guys filming with their phones was arrested.”

In the 21st century urban guerilla is an information war. And we will prevail, comrades. You need not worry about it. The International Brigade is already operational.

Regards,
Oscar