Daily Archives: September 21, 2010

Michael Chanan: The Buzz in Buenos Aires


The Buzz in Buenos Aires

Posted on 14 September 2010

by Michael Chanan

Students take to the streets

Students in Buenos Aires have taken to the streets in protest against the appalling conditions to be found in many of the city’s schools. A lack of heating in the cold winter just coming to an end has brought to a head a state of neglect which has been building up for several years. In the inimitable style of Argentine tradition, there have not only been occupations of at one point as many as forty of the city’s secondary schools, but classes have been taking place in the street. The protests have been going on for a month, and have now been been joined by university students belonging to several faculties where buildings are in similarly bad condition.

This was not what I was expecting to find when I arrived in Buenos Aires to give a talk about teaching documentary at an event promoted by the Ministry of Education and intended primarily as a showcase for creative practices in the universities. I was also supposed to be speaking at the University of Buenos Aires, which was cancelled when Social Sciences, the faculty where this was due to take place, was occupied when a window fell on one of the students. So instead I go to film the occupation, and the demonstration being mounted outside the Ministry of Education. Here’s the result.

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Television channels allocated to Universities
What I did expect was debate about the new audiovisual law introduced by la Presidenta, Cristina Kirchner, which is exercising the numerous film departments in universities up and down the country because the universities are among the beneficiaries. On the face of it, the measures appear progressive. The object of the new law is to limit the monopoly of the two leading media groups belonging to the newspapers Clarín and La Nación, and to promote plurality and diversity by allocating television channels to non-profit organizations, including unions, human rights groups, churches and universities. However, there are several catches which reveal the peculiar nature of what is called Kirchnerismo (Cristina’s husband having been President before her).

Supposedly the Kirchners belong to the Peronist movement, but since Peronism is extremely difficult to define—it has its own left and right wings—this leaves plenty of room for political vacillation. Moreover, Kirchnerismo does nothing to counter a high level of corruption among politicians. I am told, for example, that what lies behind the schools crisis is that Mauricio Macri, the mayor of Buenos Aires, has appropriated huge sums of money to support his campaign for next year’s presidential elections, thus reducing the city’s education budget to a few per cent of what it’s supposed to be. The students are trying to obtain commitments for a programme of works to put the schools in order and remain dissatisfied with what has been promised so far, so for the moment the occupations continue—and indeed La Presidenta herself has given the schools protest her approval (but not that of the university students, because the universities fall under the national budget, not that of the city).

The story behind the new audiovisual law is much more complicated. For one thing, it goes back to 1976, when the military dictatorship bought into Papel Prensa, the country’s monopoly supplier of newsprint, and thus the basis of the newspapers’ media empires. No government until now has dared to challenge the old arrangements, and a revision of media legislation dating back to the military dictatorship is clearly long overdue. For this reason, some of my friends in Buenos Aires, without being Kirchneristas, nonetheless support the measures now proposed, along with the producers. Others, however, point out that this is no solution, since the package is designed to keep the Kirchners in power by giving the advantage to media interests who are more friendly to them—or easier to buy off. The most unpopular part of these measures is the order now coming up for debate in the legislature to close down the Internet service provider Fibertel, which has 55% of the market, and last year merged with cable television provider Cablevisión, owned by Clarín. A more radical answer is the proposal by Fernando (Pino) Solanas, who will be known to readers of this blog as a film-maker, co-director of The Hour of the Furnaces back in 1968, and co-author of the manifesto ‘Towards a Third Cinema’, but now an elected senator at the head of a grouping called Proyecto Sur.  Solanas has proposed that both Internet and mobile phone provision should become public services. He is also a possible candidate in next year’s presidential elections, and has just formed an alliance with the Socialists, despite certain differences but with the aim of creating a strong centre-left platform.

Meanwhile, one of the problems with the proposal to allocate television channels to the universities is where production funds are to come from. It seems that programme-makers will either be dependent on the state film institute INCAA, or the universities will have to subcontract content to commercial operators. Another problem is that content will be controlled by a series of gate-keepers, in a structure that seems to be designed to ensure that politically critical programming will be practically impossible. Nevertheless, Argentine cinema, both fiction and documentary, continues to thrive, and Buenos Aires remains a city of cinephiles as well as tango.

As for the students, their protests are part of wider polarisation between the political and the popular classes, an observation made by both Adrian, the political science student in the video, and the socialist politician (and ertswhile presidential candidate) Luis Zamora, who I met on the street observing the secondary school students’ demo. Zamora, and my friend Guillermo De Carli, my host in Buenos Aires, who teaches documentary in the very department which is under occupation, also both remarked on the spontaneity of the students’ actions and the joyous and celebratory atmosphere. In other words, despite the official disposition to suspect the hand of militant revolutionary groups like the Trotskyists (of whom there were only a few at the demonstration), the collective resolution of the students, their sense of discipline, the vigorous debate in their assemblies (judging by the one I Iistened to on the street), and the possibility and even likelihood that the protests will spread—all this suggests that something else altogether is afoot.

A final observation. These occupations have not been reported in the English-speaking media, and judging by a quick Google search, hardly in Spanish outside Argentina itself either. A student interviewed in the Argentine publication Pagina 12 comments that the students’ growing politicisation is rejected by both the political leaders and the mass media, who do not want to see young people developing a critical consciousness that could bring about change. One can only suppose that this also applies elsewhere. Politicians live only for short-term gain, the media inculcate amnesia, but in both cases they themselves doubtless remember the student movement of the 1960s, and I expect they’re becoming scared.


For receipt of the link to Michael’s incredibly important, eye-opening blog post and documentary video, we are grateful (as always) to the edufactory mailing list:

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For another take on the student protests in Buenos Aires, see this recent article in The Washington Post.

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Nina Gasteva: Silent Dance

If you haven’t yet made it to Chto Delat’s show at the ICA in London, The Urgent Need to Struggle, you have until October 24 to take it in. If London is too far away, here is just a little bit of what you’re missing.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

A Senseless Fax from Halifax: Nina Gasteva’s “Silent Dance”

During the only extended conversation I have had with Nina Gasteva, she told me how – during perestroika, or perhaps earlier – she and her husband had lived in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Her husband represented the Soviet merchant (or fishing?) fleet in Halifax, and Nina took up dancing there as a way to stave off boredom and otherwise survive in an alien environment. When I first saw this video of a performance in December 2009 by Nina and her friends outside the entrance to the Petersburg Sea Port, I recalled this conversation. It occurred to me that “Silent Dance” was a kind of a message from Halifax to the regime that got Nina’s husband fired from his job, the event that was the immediate occasion of Nina’s initial solo protest performance outside the sea port in October 2009.

I don’t mean the real Halifax: I’ve never been there, and God only knows what really goes on in that fabled land. What I mean is the near-absolute incommunicability between “the current regime” in all its manifestations and ad-hoc attempts at grassroots solidarity on the part of union activists, antifascists, environmentalists, lovers of threatened old buildings, and ordinary citizens outraged at everything from police abuse to the dismantling of the last vestiges of the (post-)Soviet welfare state. Such protests are both more frequent than you would imagine if you’re transfixed by the overdetermined, nonstop performance known as “sovereign democracy” (the latest chapter in Russia’s centuries-long elaboration of the police state) and as likely to make an impression on the body politic and its media gatekeepers as a petition written in invisible ink and faxed in from Halifax.

And by “regime” I mean more than this Putinocracy. In the first instance, the regime is the place where Nina and her friends perform their dance: as a guard heard off-camera at the beginning of the video points out, the port is a rezhimnaya territoriya – literally, a “regime territory,” that is, a restricted zone, where the general public, much less a group of contemporary dancers in hats, scarves, and coats, is not expected to show its face. This regime of “regime territories” is also a regime established and reinforced by “violent entrepreneurs” (to borrow sociologist Vadim Volkov’s coinage), figured here both by the armored car (complete with a Kalashnikov-toting passenger) seen pulling up to the gates as the dancers sway imperceptibly as trees in the icy breeze, and Nina’s reference to corporate raiders, whose dirty work is often finished in Russia by armed, masked men, sometimes in state uniforms.

The effect of this top-to-bottom, violent securitization and overmapping of physical and virtual public space is, of course, stifling. It will sound like a cliché to say that the only way we can oppose this regime is to organize fragile, “senseless” gestures of solidarity within that space. When, however, this video was shown during the exhibition When One Has to Say “We”: Art as the Practice of Solidarity, at Petersburg’s European University this past spring, it elicited a spontaneous outpouring of unfeigned joy and astonishment among audience members, which is not an easy feat in a city whose cynical inhabitants have seemingly seen too much of everything. Since I was one of that tiny, joyful crowd, I can explain why we were able to instantly read Nina’s senseless fax from Halifax and why it felt to us like a minor breakthrough. Like the “friendship” that, before this performance, Nina had suspected didn’t exist, true solidarity is the self-organization of bodies (and hence of spirits) who feared they had nothing in common right in the midst of those territories where the regime wants to have nothing in common with them and for them to have nothing in common with each other.


You can find more videos of performances by Nina Gasteva here.

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Protect Miyashita Park from Nike!

**Please show your support by adding your name to the statement below**

To be added, please send a fax to +81-3-3406-5254 or an email to minnanokouenn(at)gmail.com with: 1) your name and/or the name of your organization, and 2) whether you wish to remain anonymous or not. The deadline is September 29th. Messages of support are also welcome!

Your name and/or your organization:
Would you like your name to be kept anonymous?
Your message:


At 6:30am on September 15th, roughly 120 police officers, guards, and Shibuya Ward park officials suddenly appeared and closed off the entirety of Miyashita Park in Tokyo. After supplies were brought in, all entries to the park were sealed off with fences and blocked by lines of local ward officials and guards. Riot squad vehicles and over 40 plain-clothes public safety officers also surrounded the periphery of the park in a glaring demonstration of needless excess. Signs posted on fences read, “In accordance with provisions regarding prohibition of park use in Section 7 of the Shibuya Ward Public Parks Ordinance, use of Shibuya Ward Miyashita Park is currently prohibited” and “Miyashita Park will be closed due to construction for maintenance”.

The closure of Miyashita Park took place without warning. That morning, one of the park’s homeless residents was injured when he was forcibly dragged out by 10 guards. It is important to note that the forthcoming “construction for maintenance” cited in the signs refers to Nike’s planned conversion of Miyashita Park into a sports facility. The sports goods giant will not only foot the bill for the construction but has also purchased the rights to rename the public park “Miyashita Nike Park”.

Originally Shibuya Ward’s planned start date for construction (contracted to Tokyu Construction) was in April 2010 but organized protest has thus far successfully resulted in stalling the park conversion. While Shibuya Ward is saying that Miyashita’s sudden closure is for “tree-pruning and garbage removal estimated to take about a week”, other statements made by officials to the press such as “We’d like to continue from there with the  construction” clearly suggest that this eviction is being carried out for the purposes of installing Nike facilities.

On September 16th, an order for the removal of tents, posters, artistic works and other materials belonging to The Coalition to Protect Miyashita Park from Becoming Nike Park (The Coalition), as well as a storage shed used to hold possessions for homeless persons by the Shibuya Free Association for the Right to Housing and Well-Being of the Homeless (Nojiren) was issued in the name of Shibuya Mayor Toshitake Kuwahara under Section 27 Item 1 of the Urban Park Act. The order states that “these properties (listed in the attached document)” are in violation of Article 6 Item 1 (regarding permission for occupancy of urban parks) of the same Act and, as such, must be cleared by noon of September 18th at the expense of the property owners. This means that the ward is preparing to undertake administrative subrogation procedures, as happened in past evictions of homeless persons from Nagoya’s Shirakawa Park in 2005, Osaka’s Utsubo Park and Osakajo Park in 2006, and Osaka’s Nagai Park in 2007. However, in each of these past cases, evictees were first given the opportunity to present their case in writing prior to the eviction following receipt of the notice demanding removal of their property. In the case of Miyashita, on the other hand, no such opportunity was provided. After warnings insisting on the “removal of the unauthorized property” were posted on August 24th, 25th, 26th, and 31st, the official removal order was issued suddenly and with disregard to necessary legal proceedings. Moreover, despite the fact that Article 27 Item 1 of the Urban Parks Act asks for the owner’s voluntary removal of personal property, Shibuya Ward has made it impossible for owners to conform since closure of Miyashita Park means that even persons who wish to reclaim their property are being denied entry. In addition, while the order for property removal was served in accordance with Item 3 of the Urban Parks Act (enabling park management to order removal “where, through no particular fault, the party who must be ordered to act cannot be verified”), as of September 15th Shibuya Ward could no longer justly or legally claim that “the unauthorized property listed” actually belonged to “an unidentified party” seeing as how two of the homeless residents of the park signed papers verifying items as their property. (A formal request to examine the Order for Removal of Property Belonging to Unidentified Parties was filed with the Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport on September 17.) Then, on the afternoon of September 18th, immediately following the expiration of the set deadline for property removal, notices citing Article 3 Item 1 of the Act on Substitute Execution by Administration were posted outside of the park while both Nojiren and The Coalition received legal reprimands via express mail. The Ward is clearly acting in extreme haste.

Since we were made aware of Nike’s plans to convert Miyashita Park, The Coalition has openly voiced our opposition for the following reasons: 1) awarding use of this public space to one company for the creation of a profit-making sports facility will also effectively result in denying part of the public the same right to use the park; 2) the plan for the conversion was settled without informing or consulting ward residents and park users, and advanced in an undemocratic, top-down manner by the mayor and select members of the ward assembly; 3) if the conversion is carried out, then homeless residents of the park will be expelled and the public will lose an important space for free assembly.

The closure of Miyashita Park, the order for property removal, and the move towards an administrative subrogation all effectively undo with one fell blow the hard work, the artistic vibrancy, and the many discussions, events, and encounters all manifested in The Coalition’s movement to “Keep Miyashita everyone’s park”. The ward’s actions have all been carried out by strong-arm tactics under law enforcement currently preparing for the November 13 APEC Summit in Yokohama with tightened security measures surpassing those undertaken during the 2008 Hokkaido G8 Summit.

Shibuya Ward is obviously working closely with the police, as evidenced by the police department’s overwhelming presence on September 15th along with the fact that the ward official in charge on that day, namely, the Park Infrastructure Coordinator, not only stated that “all this has been cleared with Hirano (Shibuya Ward’s Security Department Chief)” but also demonstrated a need to call the police every time something arose.

Homeless persons are being uprooted and denied their personal possessions by this eviction at a time when the economy is undergoing a long-term decline and more and more people are being forced onto the streets due in part to insufficient job creation and social welfare policies.

We cannot help but feel that Shibuya Ward’s actions are devoid of respect for human rights and human dignity seeing as how: 1) officials are treating property belonging to homeless individuals (along with that belonging to The Coalition) as if it were trash, and 2) homeless persons who had been violently expelled were curtly told, “It’s on you to start looking (for a new place to sleep)”.

We resent Shibuya Mayor Toshitake Kuwahara’s collusion with a major corporation to turn a public park into a corporate advertisement as well as the antagonism directed at homeless people, which demonstrably threatens their well-being.

We urge Shibuya Ward to: 1) put an immediate stop to the closure of Miyashita Park, 2) apologize and offer compensation to homeless persons that were violently expelled by guards from the park, and 3) cancel the order for property removal and halt and all administrative subrogation proceedings.

The Coalition will not rest until the public has reclaimed Miyashita Park and Nike’s plans to convert it have been abandoned. Please show your support by faxing or emailing us to add your name and/or your organization’s name to our protest statement. We ask for all names by Wednesday September 29. Please let us know if you would like your name to be made viewable to the public, or kept private. Messages of solidarity also welcomed!

Email: minnanokouenn@gmail.com
FAX:  +81-3-3406-5254

Also contact Shibuya Ward and Nike (Japan) to voice your opposition! Together we can bring an end to this unjust takeover of Miyashita Park!


SHIBUYA MAYOR Toshitake Kuwahara
Phone (English spoken): 03-3463-1234 ext.2454 – 7
Fax: +81-3-5458-4900
E-mail: mayor@city.shibuya.tokyo.jp

Phone: 1-503-671-6453, +1 503 671 2635,
Fax: +1 503 646 6926, Fax
Email: info@nike.com
E-mail: http://swoosh.custhelp.com/cgi-bin/swoosh.cfg/php/enduser/ask.php

Attn: General Manager James Godbout
Phone: +81-3-5463-3300
Fax: +81-3-5463-3295
Email: info@nike.com
E-mail: http://swoosh.custhelp.com/cgi-bin/swoosh.cfg/php/enduser/ask.php

The Coalition to Protect Miyashita Park from Becoming Nike Park
Contact: minnanokouenn@gmail.com
Blog (Japanese): http://minnanokouenn.blogspot.com/

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