green academy @ island of vis – day one

It’s been now 24 hours since I arrived to the island of Vis to attend, to participate at the Green academy organized by croatian chapter of Hienrich Boell foundation. So far it’s been really amazing. Not so much because it’s warm as warm can be, the crystal clear island-ish seawater superb (as much as I was able to swim in the early morning), and some kind of lazy atmosphere on the streets (all these things are amazing in themselves), but mostly because the content of the ‘conference’ is somewhat mindblowing. The theme is the “commons” and it is divided into five sections/working groups:

  • digital commons
  • urban commons
  • natural resources: land & water
  • education
  • public media

Furthermore there are one-day workshop (on friday) titled:

  • Commons and Agricultural Production
  • Commons and Energy Production
  • Commons and Economic Democracy

But what is commons?

Commons-based society is a world in which the fundamental focus on competition that characterizes life today would be balanced with new attitudes and social structures that foster cooperation. It is a new way of life that values what we share as much as what we own, where “we” matters as much as “me”.

I must point out however events in last day. Yesterday the opening included a keynote lecture by Tine de Moor from Utrecht University titled “The cooperative continuum: collaborative consumption and production in long-term historical perspective”. Apart from getting into very interesting historical perspective of the various forms of the commons, from common pasture land over guilds to modern forms of cooperatives, not excluding seemingly useful analysis (features of initiatives, advantages of collectivities, differences on time scale…). There might be interesting to point out two issues that seem important (at least to me):

  1. historicaly, time of 1750-1850 seem to mark an emergence of concept of individual, who only then becomes a central unit of society and is also time when private property becomes the main form of property, and
  2. various good use cases of ‘successful’ collectivites cannot be really copied as a higher-level model – in other words, models of working collectivities cannot simply be copied out from its original local context – it seem to be extremely difficult to achieve same success in a different context – this presents quite big challenge in an effort to create systemic opportunities (platforms for localities) on higher levels (municipality, state)

The next day there were some short clarifications on what can we expect or where were are actually going on this conferenct. And I found Danijela Dolenec articulation particularily thorough. Here I quote directly from her notes (that she was happy to share afterwards)

We propose the Commons as a terrain for exploring a new politics that can join these issues together. The language of the Commons:

  • carries the emancipatory potential by offering a vocabulary and concepts that may help connect green left movements grounded in concerns for democracy, social justice and sustainable development
  • the principles of the commons offer a radical vision both of the political (self-governance, co-creating the conditions of our lives, direct involvement in the rule making that governs our communities) and the economic (moving away from private property and replacing the concept of ownership with concepts of reciprocity, mutuality, solidarity, sharing, using, co-producing, taking part together etc.)
  • following in the tradition of the work of Elinor Ostrom, it allows us to critique both states and markets, both processes of overcentralization, top-down processes, hierarchical structures, as well as processes of privatization, exploitation and commodification

Silke Helfrich from Commons Strategies Group had a long, entertaining and somewhat school-like presentation about World of the Commons, where she raised some interesting analysis and issues on the Commons.

  • Commons aren’t goods. Commons is about the way we relate to eachother in sense of ‘fairaccess’, ‘sustainable use’ and/or social control.There is no commons without commoning.
  • Elinor Ostrom (as opposed to Hardin‘s Tragedy of the Commons) claims that people:
    • communicate with each toher
    • negotiate /establish rules
    • often know best what is good for them
    • are able to cooperate /instead of compete/

After lunch there was a lecture by Srđan Dvornik called “Society as a Common” and later in the evening I was particularily fascinated by two speakers at the panel – Zoltgan Pogatsa and Kostas Loukeris. More about these later.