Steve Kaczynski reports on the IPAI symposium held in Paris in December 2005

In December 2005, I attended a symposium in a cinema in north-eastern Paris, organised by the International Platform Against Isolation. The event sprang from solitary confinement and other forms of state repression – a major fact of our time.

Since 2002, these symposia have been held in various European cities.

The starting point for them is the December 19-22, 2000 prison massacre in Turkey. Turkish soldiers and police attacked 20 of the country’s prisons to force their inmates, mainly political prisoners, into new F-Type prisons involving the use of solitary confinement and isolation cells. Twenty-eight prisoners were killed, and the repression triggered hunger strikes in which more prisoners have died and which are still continuing even now.

Though repression in Turkey was the catalyst for the symposium, repression elsewhere was fully described at the Paris event, for state repression is international and the resistance to it must be international as well. Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib were just two of the more publicised forms of prison oppression covered. A keynote international speaker was the veteran African-American militant, Angela Davis, who described repression in the United States and the state’s use of the prison system there.

Indeed, a key moment in the symposium was when Angela Davis and Ahmet Kulaksiz took centre stage amid applause from symposium participants. Ahmet Kulaksiz is famous in Turkey. His two daughters both died on hunger strike in 2001 in solidarity with political prisoners resisting solitary confinement in the F-Type prisons.

It was noted at the symposium that isolation is not simply matter of prison practices. Prisoners might be isolated in cells, but organisations can be isolated by being placed on terrorist lists, countries can be isolated by being described as part of an axis of evil and political beliefs can be criminalised, as we have seen since the symposium in Council of Europe attempts to ban communism and its symbols.

But it is a law of politics as true as any law of physics: repression will be resisted and attacks on our traditions will be resisted. This is why symposium participants visited the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris, the scene of the last stand of the Paris Commune, with its wall in the corner with the commemorative plaque:

To the dead of the Commune – May 21-28, 1871.

The Commune was not just French but international, just as the symposium was not just about Turkey, or France, but an occasion of international significance.

Socialists and communists face repression, never more so than when they are genuinely internationalists. A sign of this was the participation of Sandra Bakutz in the symposium, where she chaired at least one session. Sandra was imprisoned in Turkey for six weeks last year, ultimately because international solidarity is more than just a word but a matter of personal practice.

The symposium will continue. Its activities are clearly needed in today’s world.


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