Friday, April 9, 2010

In Barcelona: 2nd Conference on Economic Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity

"From free markets to freedom from markets"

Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist"
Kenneth Boulding

"The more we extend the sphere of activities about which we can say 'This is not for sale' or 'I can't put a price on this', the richer are our individual and social lives"
Andre Gorz

The above three quotations are from inside back cover of the program booklet of the 2nd International Conference on Economic Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity held at Universitat de Barcelona, Spain from 26-30 March 2010.

I was one of the two people from India participated here. Total participation was nearly 500 from 40 countries of the world. I had submitted my abstract for paper presentation and was accepted by the conference scientific committee with due process of screening in place. I was then asked by the organisers in Barcelona to make poster presentation of my theme. I did present my poster to the learned audience with plenty of queries for all the 4 days when my posters along with others were hanged in the gallery for the public display and discussions with the authors. It was a first experience for me but enjoyed it. The title of my poster presentation was 'Placing Metal Sensitivity as Pedagogic necessity for Social Movements'. It was big one meter tall poster visible to all with text and four pictures. I have carried this poster back to Goa and I hope to initiate discussion around it in Goa and other parts of India too. The cost of printing of poster was borne by Friends of the Earth, Finland.

Before Barcelona I was in Helsinki from 23-25 March 2010, Finland where in I was requested to formally speak on the topic 'Metal Sensitivity and degrowth'. I did speak there and faced lots of questions from the public and press in Helsinki. My presentation here was largely on the trends of economic model in India that is based on growth model and how we are got fixed into 'growth trap'. Informally too I had wide ranging discussions with activists, press and scholars in Helsinki. The topics ranged from ongoing movement of people against mining industry in Goa, Current state of movement of Landless Workers Movement in Brazil, Application of Psychoanalysis, and Vipassana meditations for movements, forms of repressions and censorships in European mining areas, distinction between European mining and mining in Goa, Lula as socialist Brazilian president with capitalist onslaught on landless in Brazil, Crisis within MST in Brazil etc.

23 March 2010 I landed in Helsinki. Someone called Marcus was supposed to see me at the Airport. I never spoken or met him before but trusted my guts. There was none that my guts senses as Marcus. Late I realized that he was late or rather my plane landed 5 minutes early and I had no checked in baggage to wait for so in 10 minutes I had done with immigration check out and got into Finair but to railway station. Mira had given me full instructions to her house close to railway station. I got off the bus at railway station and witnessed two highly talented musicians performing on the streets in open with temperature below 0 degree. One of them was playing trumpet. I recognized this after hearing it so often during my childhood for our village feasts in Siolim in a bandstand! The other instrument I could not recognize but guess it is very common in Finland with piano-like hand keys. I went close to them and put my eyes into the eyes one of them in deep curiosity for couple of seconds. Then moved away. After sometime i realize that people were throwing coins into the small purple bag they held in front of them. There was only one bag so they will be sharing the earning. I remembered countless singers and performers in the Indian railway sleeper coaches. The main difference is that performers in Indian railways are never professional artists. In Helsinki they were. Ulla told me the next day that they even earn higher income on streets than through professional artistic engagements.

It was very cold to me and I took cautious stride away from the musicians. In Delhi soon after I had a visa in my hand on 22nd evening from Finland Embassy I had purchased a jacket and a pair of shoes that would protect me from extreme cold. But still I was feeling very cold did not understand why till the next day when Mira gave me her brown and while neck scarf to put around my neck and that was a missing link on my arrival in Helsinki. Marco had not included it in his list of warnings to face Finland cold! Anyway, I saw people walking unusually fast as if all of them are in a mighty hurry and about to miss the train of their lifetime. I was walking slowly wandering in amusement of my new destination. Next day Ulla would tell me that Helsinki is the place in the world where people walk fastest! Wow, I exclaimed! For what on earth? I wondered. Ulla told me that walking fast generated heat in the body that is so necessary to survive in cold temperatures like that of Finland. I now began to slightly shiver as my neck was open and cold breeze would enter my body. I walked and opened the door of railway station and slipped in. Inside it was warm. I felt good. Enjoyed my new surrounding for few moments and then began exploring railway station. Finally I found information counter that Finair bus driver had told me to approach but I had got fascinated with musicians out the station. The girl at the counter told me the direction to Mira's house. She told me it was close by and I could either take a bus or even walk it out. I came out with all the confidence on the road outside the railway station and began wandering which way to go about. I got conflicting advises on the road though pleasing smiles. One boy however directed me with all the conviction. I began to walk little faster but felt cold that I was not accustomed to bear deep inside my body. I changed my mind and headed back inside railway station. If nothing I at least got the warmth of the railway station heating system. For a fraction of second I did miss Goa here. But I had to find my way to Mira. Mira had instructed me to find shop called 'R-kioski' and buy a sim card for my mobile. I located one such shop at railway station and changed my sim card. I now had phone number in Finland. I got is so easily. No photo identy card, no id proofs. In short there is no obsession with security and terrorists as we have in India. I called Mira from the shop itself and told her that I was at railway station in station. She told me to wait there for five minutes, then changed her mind to six minutes. Actually I am used to waiting for hours together and Mira's precision by every minute took me by cultural shock. But anyway I had a joy being lost and found between airport and railway station in Helsinki. Those six minutes I further utilized to look at the restaurants and eating places on the railway station. But I could recognize none! The I found a counter to change money. My brother Alfred who backed me up financially had given me $ 300 and exchanged them for Euros. After this I wend out to look out for Mira but again ended going to those two musicians nearby. I took a stride towards them but beat hasty retreat after felt very cold. Got inside the railway station just to warm myself again. I came out again and I saw someone waving at me. I recognized it was Mira. She was walking as fast as anyone on the railway station, came to me and hugged me tight. It was a warm and deserving hug in Cold Helsinki. I knew Mira since December 2007 when she and her boyfriend came from Bombay' Indian Social Science Congress to Goa and stayed for a week in Colamb, Sanguem. They had a very fond memories of Goa and Vanila plants they had taken from Colamb then were still remaining - she had dried and kept them there for slow consumption. I and Colamb people have her memory when she charged and jumped into the open cast abandoned mine of Damodar Mangalji in Colamb. Mira we realize then was extremely good swimmer. neverthless she had fever next day. Mira and I then walked faster to her place of 'communne' shared by her, Errki, Shakil and few more people. Marcus joined us at Mira's residence at night. Markus and I discovered two common grounds with us: we both had MST in Brazil as our research theme and we both had Vipassana as meditation technique. We had some very intense discussion on these themes. He is coming to India later this month. Marko called up and I realized that he too was well aware of I being untraceable on airport. He assumed that I must have been taken away by police before boarding in Delhi itself hence I must have missed the flight! He told me that "I told people here that in case he has arrived in Helsinki he will surface as he is independent mining person". Marko Ulvila is a main person who played catalyst role to get me into Europe and even successfully negotiated with Ministry of External Affairs, Government of Finland to re-imburse my travel and other expenses while I on on Europe tour. In Helsinki I was pain 60 euros as perdiums and for Barcelona another 396 euros. My hotel costs too was paid through this amount. My travel re-reimbursement is under process currently. The advance for my travel was give by my brother Alfred. He advanced me Rs.55,000/- on one occasion and $ 300 on the another occasion. He was keen that I visit Europe. I am grateful to him as well. Coming back to Finland contacts; it is though Prof. Peter Ronald de Souza, currently a director of Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Simla who encouraged GAKUVED and me to work in collaboration with Finland groups. In this regard he put us in touch with Vijay Pratap of SADED (South Asian Dialogue on Ecological Democracy) in late 2007 while he was still at CSDS, Delhi with Lokniti. Finland groups were connected here.

And within an hour I did surface. I realize the network of my friends in Finland is very efficient and information flow is smooth without any negative entropy. I was welcomed by one and all in Finland and given extremely courteous treatment. I remain thankful to all of them. I am confident we in Goa can match Finnish hospitality anytime in case any of my friends decide to come here and we have demonstrated this earlier not only to Finland friends but friends from all over India and the World over the past three years works with GAKUVED.

I had a 5 hour long walking tour of Helsinki city on 24 March 2010 with Ulla Valovesi as my friend and guide. Temperature was -1 and city was covered with snow. It was first time I was experiencing snow in my life. On this day I also had very interesting discussions with Pertti Simula on theme of 'Direct Democracy'. According to him current form of 'Representative Democracy' involves large scale manipulations and this can be changed if we change our system of governance to 'direct democracy'. I did not long to understand his point and even agree with him to a large scale. however when I proposed this idea at the Barcelona conference working group of Extractive industries I got a comment that countries will split if direct democracy is put in place! Mira, Marko, Markus, Ulla, Oli and Errki has been very kind and hospitable to me while I was in Helsinki. Marko joined me in Barcelona for the Conference.

24 March evening I joined Ulla in train over to her house in a village called Fiscar. We reached late almost 9.40 pm in night with shivering cold outside. But Ulla's spirit helped me to feel it is all very normal and with her during those 5 hours of walking in snow including on the frozen sea on our way to island and back to the shore at 'Cafe Ursula' my body began to get acclimatized to the new environ that I had suddenly landed into. I leaned that Finland experiences -25 to -40 degrees of temperature and that when they feel cold. -1 degree is quite pleasant and enjoyable too! Spring had just began and ice started to melt. Roads were wet when I landed in Helsinki. Ulla told me that Finland experiences minor floods when ice melts. Few people even had died recently when ice on roof tops of building cracked and came down on people standing below on ground. On 25 March morning I had Finnish break fast. Ulla told me that lots of people from outside Finland do not take Finnish food as it needs courage. I readily put my hands and said I have plenty of it and got on with my new experience with Finnish food. It was very interesting to talk to Ulla's partner Oli. He is a sort of scholar and one of he author contributors along with me, Ulla and several others in book tittled "Sustainable Futures: Replacing Growth Imperative and Hierachies with Sustainable Ways" edited by Marko Ulvila and Jarna Panasen published by Ministry of Foreign Affiars, Finland in 2009. This book has proved to be a hit and Ministry is on its way to get its third re-print. The book can be ordered with an e-mail: for free. Oli has been involved these days in his neighborhood community in defense of right to housing. Local government council has taken decision or rather proposed to give up its administration of houses as it does not constitute its 'core areas of work'. Olli and other contests this feels that local government has some undisclosed motives to satisfy certain interests and they are determined to fight back. There was old heater at work in house and house full of books. And two lovely small girls one of whom drew a welcome flower on a piece of paper in anticipation of my visit. I quick accepted it and also drew my trademark rose on the same paper and gave the paper back with plenty of love and affection.

25 March 2010 morning I had to take a flight from Helsinki to Barcelona. From Fiscar village Ulla and I trekked for one kilometer to catch a bus to railway station. On the way she showed me me the flowing river and social history associated with it. She shared with me the struggles around this river. Then she showed me the old rail lines and small locomotive that has now become a museum piece standing unmoved with snow. Fiscar was once upon a time a village of people whose occupation was fishing. Then with industrialization fervor some two centuries back one corporate came here and took over two things: name of the village for itself - Fiscar (famous currently for manufacture of scissors worldwide) and ownership title of the entire village. Villagers became tenants. Fiscar - the corporate started the mining iron in the village and produced first horse cart for Finland. One piece is displayed in the village museum set up by the company and run by the group of artists. After discussion I realized that there is not much scope for dissent against Fiscar and anyone voices out any opinion against the corporate then that person is targeted and ultimately will have to leave the village. Finland city press is brought here offered parties, press in return obliges the corporate by turning itself as its public relations wings. Public relations are very important for corporate. To further boost the public relations Fiscars has given couple of houses to artists and artists do their job well! It is most likely that riverbed in the Fiscar village would be dangerously polluted but this is exactly the holy grail for the Fiscar- the corporate. It cannot be questioned. Censorship at its best!

I got onto the local train after missing direct train to Helsinki. At the Helsinki railway station I was to pick up the posters to be carried for Barcelona conference. Lockers were computerized but opened quickly after inserting electronic key. The railway station was fully computerize. Even toilet opens after dropping Euro coin inside it. I had no Euro with me so I had to hold on till I got into Finair bus to the Helsinki airport.

I landed in Barcelona on 25 March late night. I took Airobus to Plaza Catalunya and my hotel was close by. Still I had to inquire after getting off. I found one man, Indian speaking Bhojpuri there. He as not aware of the hotel and told me to get direction from the nearby taxi driver but before that he warned about the Barcelona's famous pickpockets and told me to escape from the venue quickly. This was a second warning I was getting about the issue. First was by a Italian lady sitting besides me in a flight from Delhi to Helsinki. I had no encounter with any of the pickpockets directly though at the conference at the Universitate de Barcelona one student was robbed of her laptop and she was in tears, compelling organisers to announce and appeal to contribute towards buying her new laptop. "Please give her money and hug". This is the only demonstration I got about the performance of pickpockets of Barcelona.

Inauguration was impressive. Few academics were wearing robes that Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh publicly threw out few days ago and for this reason he was in news. The architecture of the University was old and imposing. It was full of painting of various rulers from Pontiffs to Roman Emperors, from Scientists to Philosophers. Languages that dominated the conference was English, Spanish and Catalan. Catalan has it own constituency of nationalism that arouses passions and controversies in Barcelona and University is located in the ambiance of polemics and tensions. After spending first few days in Barcelona, Spanish suddenly ceased to be alien language to me. I remembered my Spanish Classes at my department in 2002-03 at Goa University: Centre for Latin American Studies (CLAS) when a lady was hired to teach Spanish and Department then headed by Prof. V. Shivkumar had no money to her fees. She left the classes abruptly and we students were left high and dry. My incomplete Spanish suddenly began to glow in my head and number of books and literature in Spanish began to make sense to my linguistic sensitivities. Muy Bueno, Bravo! I spend lots of money in euros that I had as perdium in buying Spanish books. On the theme of conference "Degrowth" Spanish reflections had gone far ahead than reflections in English.

I found the academics and researchers in Barcelona conference were deeply engaged with their areas of work. They do not get fatigued out. On day one of the conference the discussions went upto 10.00 pm in the night in the main hall - Paranimf.

Academic discussions were rigorous and they will be shared through various written productions of the conference. They will be available with at the website: So keep yourself in tuned.

Conference got over on 29 March 2010. Marko and I then went to see Gaudi architecture of Barcelona. It is an architectural structure that is under construction based on non-linear designs by architect late Mr.Gaudi. I do not carry architecturally sensitive eye to admire the structure and narrate it well here. Perhaps because it was dark when we reach there and I was already tired after few days of exiting academics. And then to tour on the outskirts of Barcelona to Marko's close friend Anne Marie. Ann Marie works with funding agency that supports projects in Latin America and was very critical of the governments of Bolivia and Venezuela for putting ban on foreign funding of NGOs in their respective countries. Anne Marie is Finnish woman married to Spanish husband and they have one playful young daughter. Anne Marie classifies her home as 'Finnish' and made us aware that her family would appreciate if I removed my shoes near the door and then walk inside the house. I willingly obliged as it did not made much difference to my behaviour as my family in Siolim too do not carry sleepers at home. So I was at home there again. Anne Marie's family lives on 14th floor and she can see Jewish mountains from her window. Mountains are named Jewish because few centuries ago Jews were hiding there to escape persecutions in other parts of Europe. Ann Marie and her husband also shared about subjective history of catalan nationalism near Barcelona. They also touched upon days of Faranco's dictatorship in Spain and compulsory military service to males. "Soldier would walk into any house and point out and say I want that youth to fight in the military. And family had no power of dissent." Anne Marie disclosed. But "History differs according to the source" Anne Marie clarified. So told me that her version of history is not the final version. In fact there is no final version of history. Basque is another region in Spain that also fermenting with very strong nationalist movement. In fact few groups that even have violent campaigns for self-determination of Basque nation. There is a separate Basque language that is different from Spanish.

On 30 March 2010 was a meeting of NGOs on the outskirts of Barcelona. Marko and took train that is known as 'tube' - it is like Delhi Metro - after checking out of our hotel Monegal at Plaza Catalunya and got off at Canyelles and walked mountain to find ourself at Vall de CAS MASDEU. This was a group of researchers and activists mostly from Europe and three of us from elsewhere - I from India, Miguel Valencia and David Barkin from Mexico. It is farm house cum commune where many young scholars-activists are living under one roof. They call this way of living as 'commune'. I understood that this has become a major trend in Europe and this system even come to be known as 'Communalism'! Surely shocking for Indian context as communalism here implies strife between various religions. It is welcome re-understanding for me!

The entire day here was dedicated building de-growth network. Various participants were given posters to identify the groups that could possibly link up with degrowth movement. I wrote three possible initiatives in Goa - Mand, GAKUVED and GOAMAP. I chose to exclude any groups from other parts of India as that would have not been politically correct thing to do considering discomfort of many organizations across India that I am too familiar with. In India there was one person who attend Paris degrowth conference in 2008 - Supriya Singh from Delhi, and along with me this year there was Debal Deb from Kolkatta. Perhaps there could be greater interaction between three of us who has some direct exposure to the discourse. Simultaneously continue the seeding of the ideas on the way and let them germinate where the soil is fertile - organically! In the night I had a long chat with one of the key organisers - Filca. I appreciated the intense efforts put in by organsers but when taking about 'Global South' information was poor and solution proposed were based on presumptions and assumptions still within the growth framework. Filca asked me as as how to change this situation. I told he that few of them my come to India and spend few months in India learning about what is going on ground. There are number of other people from across Europe I had a occasion to share my views with. I also met one Pakistani from Gujarat province who is living in Barcelona for past 24 years and speaks Spanish as well as Catalan. He is into the business of constructions. I asked his as to what is his relations with degrowth. He found himself on defensive and confessed that construction industry is doing damage to the environment and he was feeling guilty. I could not make note of his name though.

31 March 2010 early morning I found my way to Barcelona airport. I was feeling bit sleepy as I was new to the life in communes- beds were models almost like boxes one on top of the other. It was new experience but I got no time at all to explore this life in comfort. After couple of hours landed in Helsinki. I had waiting time of 5 hours on the airport before flying to Delhi. From the airport I activated my Helsinki mobile number and spoke to few people in Finland. One of them was Teivo Taivanen at the Department of Political Science, Helsinki University. Teivo had visited my residence in January 2008 and we had interesting conversation then. I was reviving contacts with him after some gap. Also spoke to journalist Johana Sarjas who had interviewed me on March 24, 2010. She told me that things were shaping fine and first draft was ready. In the meanwhile purchased Suomi-Englanti dictionary at the airport in Helsinki.

In Dehi I stayed from 17 upto 23 March 2010 to get my Visa clearances from the Embassy of Finland. I am thankful for Embassy of Finland for granting of visa to me for nine memorable days. During my time in Delhi number of people have been very kind to accommodate me in their homes. My deep gratitude to Rajiv and Manisha, Madhuresh, Subrat and Mamta. Rakesh Bhatt for his guidance in Visa matters. In Goa my gratitude to my family- parents, brothers, sister-in-laws for all the care and support. GAKUVED team that has provided me with ample freedom to venture and explore life at the pace of my own. In Finland to Marko, Jarna,Ulla, Olli, Errki and Mira. A big thank you to all of you. In Finnish language (suomi) - KIITOS!

Though this sharing is long it is still incomplete and I may write more, I may share more. After all how do you make life most meaningful if not by sharing? This is beginning of degrowth: fearless sharing.

Sebastian Rodrigues

No comments: