Anarchists from all over the world have descended on the town of Saint-Imier in the Jura region of Switzerland to mark the 140th anniversary of a key congress which saw the anarchists break with the workers’ movement dominated by Karl Marx.
The gathering opened on Wednesday with calls for public demonstrations and workers’ strikes to protest against the European debt crisis, austerity measures and growing unemployment in some countries.
The meeting also heard that governments are no solution to the troubles of Europe, but also that violence was equally not the right answer.
Saint-Imier and the Jura region in general, a traditional watch-making area, have strong historical ties to the anarchist movement, dating back to the mid-nineteenth century.
“Saint-Imier is a historic site for anarchists from all over the world,” declared event organiser Michel Nemitz.
But not everybody is so enthusiastic about the town suddenly becoming a pilgrimage site for the anarchy movement. Christian Schluep, a Saint-Imier local politician, told swissinfo.ch that many residents are nervous about seeing such a large group of anarchists on their doorstep.
“There is uncertainty and fear on the part of the town’s population,” he said. “We used to have an open air festival with thousands of tourists, but now, with the anarchists’ meeting, it’s a bit of a shock.”
“In Saint-Imier, a small village of about 4,800 people, we are not used to seeing people walking around in groups of ten or 20 dressed all in black, with long hair, who are not just normal tourists.”
Schleup added that the town had no role in planning the five day anarchist gathering but had made a campsite available to the group on the Mont-Soleil overlooking the town.
The anarchists’ meeting will feature conferences, round tables, theatre, concerts, exhibitions, cinema and a book fair. Subjects to be discussed on the agenda include the sovereign debt crisis, social struggles in Greece, civil disobedience and Italian anarchist songs.
The official Anarchist International website ranks Switzerland second on its list of the world’s most libertarian countries, after Norway.