Jonas Staal: "The Stateless Parliament fuels day to day self-governance"
published on 29/3/2016
Social citizens want to rule their city themselves, says our poll. But how could a bottom up governmental model actually function? We talked to Dutch artist Jonas Staal about his New World Summit organization with which he currently builds a stateless parliament commissioned by the autonomous Kurdish government in Rojava, in the northern part of Syria, “The parliament will be a place for local communities to use in the day to day practice of self-governance”.
You advocate the idea of a “stateless democracy”? How would this function within a global reality full of nation states?
The idea of stateless democracy was developed by Kurdish revolutionary Abdullah Öcalan, founder and leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The PKK was originally a Marxist-Leninist organization that fought for its own independent Kurdish nation-state as a response to the decades’ long violent Turkish suppression of the Kurdish population.
Along the way the question was raised whether obtaining an own Kurdish nation-state could really be the solution, because the Kurds are dispersed over four states – Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. The Kurdish women’s movement, that critiqued the patriarchal dimension of the model of the nation-state, played a pivotal role in Öcalan’s theories as well.
As a consequence Öcalan developed a model that he named “democratic confederalism” which he explains as “democracy without the state,” hence stateless democracy. It’s based on principles such as self-governance, gender equality and communal economy. Small political entities, such as communes and municipalities, hold most power in this model, whereas overarching structures have a mere coordinating function. According to Öcalan, this model could be developed into a “world confederation” that would function parallel to other geopolitical bodies such as NATO or the UN, and in time, take over its role. For my own organization – the New World Summit – this paradigm of stateless democracy and world confederalism has been of crucial inspiration.
Photo: Design of the new parliament and surrounding park in the autonomous region of Rojava (Design: Democratic Self-Administration of Rojava and New World Summit, 2015)
- What would be your ideal bottom-up governmental model function? Is it the model of Rojava, the autonomous Kurdish region in the northern part of Syria or do you also see other ways?
With the New World Summit organization we build parliaments for stateless and blacklisted political organizations from all over the world. It’s an attempt to defy and challenge the neo-colonial policies of the states that we inhabit, and to oppose the global terror enacted through the so-called War on Terror, starting with the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003.
From the very beginning, Kurdish revolutionaries actively contributed to our parliaments, and that’s where we got to understand and learn more from Öcalan’s paradigm of stateless democracy and his vision of world confederalism. His ideas gave us new direction to question what kind of parallel structures to the state could be formed. We approach this through the domain of art, architecture and design. How can we take alternative narratives of stateless and autonomist practices as a point of departure? How can art contribute to visualizing necessary resistance in the age of the War on Terror? At what level could our own parliaments be considered as a modest contribution to building such a parallel structure of world confederalism: a kind of dual power on a world scale, as Öcalan proposed it.
The ideas of Öcalan have been put to practice in Rojava on a very large scale and in very difficult circumstances: surrounded by forces of Assad as well as the Islamic State. However, the Rojava revolutionaries created new political institutions, women’s academies and workers cooperatives to put the ideal of self-governance into practice. Although the autonomous Rojava government was initially envisioned as a model for the Middle-East, I think its institutional foundations could be an example for progressive and emancipatory political movements from all over the world.
Currently, we are building a new public parliament that was commissioned to us by the autonomous Rojava government in the city of Derîk, in the eastern part of the region. Essentially, it’s a stateless parliament for a stateless democracy. For the upcoming inauguration in spring 2016 we have invited stateless organizations from our network to come to Rojava and speak side by side with the Kurdish revolutionaries. The parliament will be a place for the local communities to use in the day to day practice of self-governance, but at the same time its intended as a place of assembly for other stateless movements worldwide.
Photo: An international delegation, representatives of the Democratic Self-Administration of Rojava and citizens of Derîk assemble on October 17 to celebrate the start of construction of the new parliament (Photo: Ruben Hamelink/New World Summit, 2015)
- Could a virtual city become a model for a real city?
Well, there are many historical examples of ideas that for a long time existed merely as speculation, and then one day found their way into reality. The Brazilian capital Brasília for example existed for decades on paper, and for centuries in speculation: the idea being that one day a new capital would arise in the heartlands of Brazil, unifying the country, and reclaiming the land from the Portuguese colonizers. It would take up until the rule of president Juscelino Kubitschek before that idea became reality in merely five years, in collaboration with architects Lucio Costa, Oscar Niemeyer and Burle Marx. Brasília shows how the space of the imaginary can suddenly manifest into a new material reality. Our work in Rojava was developed in direct collaboration with the local autonomous government who gave us the commission, as well as with the local communes that will make use of the parliament on a daily basis. In that light I think it is important to build from a common imaginary, so that the moment this imaginary becomes reality this is a shared reality, and not one engineered on top of an actual community.
- Which role could technology play in your ideal city?
The Dutch artist Constant Nieuwenhuys worked for years on his model of New Babylon, an architectural and artistic vision to be built on top of the Netherlands. Departing from the Homo Ludens concept of Dutch historian Johan Huizinga, he introduced New Babylon as an architecture for a future “playing man”. Nieuwenhuys thought, that once the socialist and technological revolution would merge and come to completion, it would be possible to abolish all forms of labor, resulting in a new purpose of mankind focused on creative and intellectual development. A form of serious play – permanent emancipation – would define day to day life, rather than obligated labor. I think often this vision of a socialist technology is missing in the way we think of emancipatory politics. Technology today has become the dominant playfield of corporate politics and the so-called “creative industry,” but in line of eco-anarchist Murray Bookchin and artists like Nieuwenhuys I think we should continue the plea for a common, social technology. Not a technology that aims at commodification, but at social liberation.
- What would you do first if you were the boss of your ideal City?
My ideal city has no boss.
Photo: Inside design of the new parliament for the autonomous region of Rojava (Design: Democratic Self-Administration of Rojava and New World Summit, 2015)
Cover Photo: An international delegation, representatives of the Democratic Self-Administration of Rojava and citizens of Derîk assemble on October 17 to celebrate the start of construction of the new parliament (Photo: Ruben Hamelink/New World Summit, 2015)