As we sit here in Barcelona, a historic center of anarchism and left resistance, the questions debated in the most recent Focaal special section “Exploring the urban commons” confront us. As demonstrators take to the streets following the unauthorized referendum for Catalonian independence, many of the people involved are fighting for a new independent state, others are demanding a people’s right to choose, and still others are protesting police brutality and the legacy of Franco represented by the current ruling party. Is this an instance of commoning, or is it an instance of nationalist exclusivity? The dilemma of the relation of nationalism to progressive liberation is an old one, but always historically contingent, and appearing in a new form in this exploration of the commons.
In the future, people will say, “On the 16th of October, it happened again.” The Kurds were once again betrayed by the international community. Afraid of losing their territory to the Kurdish self-governance authorities after the independence referendum, the Iraqi state responded with overwhelming military force, compelling the Peshmerga to lay down their arms. In the following days, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) lost approximately 40 percent of their territory and withdrew into the pre-ISIS 2003 borders at the behest of the regional powers. The hopes and dreams for Kurdish independence were dashed again, and “the Kurds’ only friends are the mountains.” Shock and disbelief at these recent developments, however, belie a certain naïveté.
Since 2012, we have carried out twelve months of urban anthropological research in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city and its economic and cultural center. Until February 2016, however, we had not once visited the country’s capital, Naypyitaw, a planned city of immense size. It had not been a priority for our work, but we also had not been really keen on visiting: when the former military government began to relocate the capital in November 2005, away from cosmopolitan, multireligious, multiethnic Yangon, located at the mouth of the Andaman Sea, to a previously more or less vacant inland area, most commentators had been dismissive, bemused, or outraged.
This post is part of a series on migration and the refugee crisis moderated and edited by Prem Kumar Rajaram (Central European University).
Even for the kind of conservative politics that argues for keeping asylum seekers out of the European Union or the United States, a variety of social roles and behavior are deemed acceptable for men and women. Why then, when issues revolve around war and bare survival, do debates fall back on such rigid assumptions about men as soldiers and political actors and women as victims or objects of protection? Why is it taken as a given that men traveling alone cannot be legitimate refugees? That empathy and victimhood should be naturally and only associated with women and children?
From politics of culture to politics of justice
Nepal promulgated its constitution on 20 September—the first after ending the monarchy, and one replacing the interim constitution in place since 2007. That interim constitution had been put in place to mark the peace agreement with the Nepali Maoists, mainstreaming them into democratic politics and unarming them under the UN mediation. While there were other obstacles in finalizing the constitution, the hardest nut to crack has been the issue of federalism because it involved finding a way to work Nepal’s multiple ethnic and regional identities into the mono-ethnic nationalism institutionalized by the state thus far.