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After a process of long and intensive internal discussion about the increase of sexist discrimination among our audience at events at Conne Island we published the following text to express our solidarity with people that have become affected, to make clear that we will assert our long-established principles and in order to initiate a debate. It does not, however represent a final status, but rather a first draft of our position that is still being discussed. If there are questions about the statement feel free to contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org.
one step forward, two steps back
While people were giving away cookies and stuffed animals to refugees arriving at the main train station in Munich in the summer of 2015, the Saxon mob of the 1990s was verbally and physically attacking immigrants on an almost daily basis and their vandalizing refugee centres became commonplace. As a consequence, the Conne Island Plenum (plenary assembly) decided to support the ‘wave of welcoming culture’ and to put even more effort into actively turning the location into a place that is open to refugees and where everyone can participate in the cultural events. We decided on an admission price of 50 cents for refugees rather than the regular price to welcome them to our fair and open perspective. Other integrative projects were also continued such as skateboarding and bicycle repair workshops and some were newly established such as free German language classes. It felt good. We did not want to fall behind a civil society that was going out of its way to help. Even though we felt that we were doing the right thing by opposing those who threaten immigrants such as the so-called ‘Legida campaign’, our greatest concern was not being able to communicate our proposals fast enough to those people who had fled from suffering. In our openness, we did not consider that offering immigrants virtually free admission to our events could be taken advantage of. Our plan to integrate young refugees automatically just by celebrating together turned out to be naïve. It was simply not enough to put up multi-lingual posters with advice on proper behaviour at our parties and events. We realized that we needed to put more effort into outlining our principles and introducing others to the many ways of participating at Conne Island events. We had to face some conflicts and dangerous situations since our insights came pretty late.
Groups of drunk men might be the most hated and – in some circumstances – feared people in the world, at least to most women, lesbians, gays and transgenders. Whether they come from Syria, Connewitz, Ghana, Eilenburg, Leutzsch or Russia, in many cases those groups have one thing in common: they make sexist comments – whether meant disparagingly or seemingly complimenting – and physical violence towards women is frequent. When aggressive over-confidence and a lack of social sensibility mix with alcohol and/or other drugs, loud music and a confusing situation at the club, an exuberant evening of dancing can turn into a nightmare for women. Those who have experienced sexual harassment or were surrounded by ‘hug scammers’ will rethink their Saturday nights and might prefer watching Netflix to a club night. This also concerns women who are tough, protective, and those who are not in any way physically inferior to men.
For years now Conne Island and other left-wing clubs have made it their goal to ban sexism and other kinds of discrimination from their dance-floor by means of a clear admission policy. A support group has been established that supports those who have been affected by sexualized violence. The initiative was a response to several sexual assaults by people who were already close to Conne Island and familiar with our standards. By encouraging those who were affected to approach Conne Island personnel and the resulting expulsion of perpetrators, a safe atmosphere for women and LGBTQ took shape and any discrimination is widely condemned.
Of course, Conne Island is not an island outside of society where social utopias can get implemented in a heartbeat. Even the current status of mediocrity requires the permanent attention of everyone involved and, above all, the ability of the perpetrators to reflect their own behaviour.
The authoritarian and patriarchal socialization of some refugees in some home countries on the one hand and the liberal western party culture on the other resulted in an explosive mixture and led to an increase in sexist comments and harassment at Conne Island and other venues. Consequently, female guests chose not to attend our parties to avoid situations like these. Due to these incidents, we have to ask ourselves very clearly whether our solidarity with the affected people had the right outcome for them or whether we just rested on our previous efforts to fight sexism.
The abuse of our so-called ‘50 Cent for Refugees’ which gives refugees the opportunity to pay only 50 cents for admission to our parties caught our attention when larger groups of young male immigrants took advantage of the cheap admission price to cause trouble, especially at weekend dance events. Their refugee status was doubted by us. However, we cannot and do not want to check the residence status of any of our guests. The insecurity of our security personnel towards immigrants because of language barriers and the unjustified accusation of racism aggravated our efforts to resolve conflicts in many cases.
To some extent, we experienced a new quality of the violence regardless of the number of guests or the type of event. In contrast to our general practice, we had to call the police in more than one case because our security personnel could no longer be expected to contain the physical violence. As a result, we even considered temporarily interrupting our cultural programme. It has always been clear for the Conne Island Plenum that applying double standards was beyond debate. Sexist, homophobic, racist or anti-Semitic behaviour is not accepted and cannot be justified, explained away or excused because of someone’s ethnic background or previous socialization. Repeatedly, the people who run Conne Island or other projects had to make the experience that uninvolved guests and visitors presented a problem, too. Our early phases of antiracist enthusiasm were met with accusations of racism when unruly immigrants were told to leave the premises or when feeble excuses were used to make sexist harassment seem inoffensive (‘How should he know that's not the way to socialize with women?’).
It is difficult for us to formulate explicit solutions for this difficult situation because we do not want to be linked with the racist positions of AfD and CDU/CSU. However, the situation for many guests and contributors is so tense and burdening that it makes the verbal circumnavigation of the facts no longer expedient. We ask the left to recognize that the debate on this subject is long overdue and we do not want to leave sovereignty in the debate to right-wing populism. In cooperation with clubs such as the ‘Institut für Zukunft (IfZ)’, several attempts to engage in public debate failed. After many promising discussions, all of the participants were unsure about how to conduct a public debate without a racist tenor that would ultimately serve as a platform for those we would prefer not to admit to our clubs.*
The plenum has tried for months to find solutions that provide ways to combine the safest and most comfortable atmosphere for women and LGBTQ as well as an opportunity for anyone to integrate. In spring of 2016, we agreed to increase the number of our security staff – primarily at dance events. This resulted in a general increase of the admission of 1 euro on average. We also decided to change our 50 cent offer to refugees. Refugees now have to register in advance by email to be eligible for a reduced admission price; otherwise they pay regular admission prices just like everyone else. These measures have contributed to reducing some of the tension, but both the plenary committee and security staff are far from satisfied. Our discussions are ongoing, and our house rules will have to be modified to keep pace with changes.
The cry for help from the Freiburg club ‘White Rabbit’ at the beginning of the year 2016 and the reactions in the press and on the left reveal how difficult it is to assert solidarity with refugees, counter voices from the right and to realize at the same time that carrying a bag with ‘Refugees Welcome’ printed on it does not automatically mean that all the problems and conflicts have been resolved.
It is certain, however, that sexist harassment, chauvinism, anti-Semitism, racism and other forms of discrimination are not and will not be tolerated at Conne Island. Anyone who does not observe these rules will be banned from our club regardless of backgrounds or origins. This place and its principles we have fought for in the last 25 years must remain – despite the turbulent situation we find ourselves in.
Conne Island Plenum, October 2016
* To prevent any misunderstandings, a change was made here.