Voices from the front line

At the inaugural World Youth Conference in Paris this weekend, activists from across the world meet to discuss the elements of a new internationalism for this century. Viyan Serhildan reports.
The World Youth Conference includes delegates from Indiginous peoples' struggles among others. YOUTH WRITING HISTORY

This weekend, more than 300 young people from 60 different countries will come together in Paris for the inaugural World Youth Conference. They will do so under the banner of Youth Writing History, a global alliance of radical youth organizations.

‘As today’s youth, we are growing up in times of climate crisis, war and chaos,’ explains Mara, an activist from the Ronahî Youth Center for Public Relations, which has played a leading role in organizing the conference. Stepping in the footsteps of previous socialist, feminist and ecological movements that have built their strength from the bottom up, she says the aim is ‘nothing less than building a new Internationalism of the 21st century’.

The application process to obtain visas for all of the attendees has been tough, with young activists from some countries not able to come at all. ‘Freedom of movement is not enjoyed by many youths. We see again how huge the double standards are, and how repressive is the system that is holding them up.’

This gathering was borne out of the Middle East Youth Conferences, which took place in 2015 in Northern Kurdistan and four years later in Kobanê, Western Kurdistan. During these summits, young politicians, activists, scholars and militants from the region came together to discuss such topics as democracy, anti-colonialism, environmentalism and women’s liberation. Now the movement is going global, with organizations including the Democratic Syrian Council, Youth of Syria, the Filipino left-wing youth movement Anakbayan, the Communist Party of Sudan, Retomada Aty Jovem of the Brazil’s Guarani and Kaiowa people, and South Africa’s socialist land rights’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo all set to meet in Paris this weekend.

Much like during the last two Youth Conferences in the Middle East, when the whole region was being affected by the war with Islamic State (Isis), this first International Youth Conference takes place at a crucial moment. The explosion of brutality in the ongoing war in Palestine it is just the latest of armed conflicts that are ravaging the region and beyond. They are taking place between a mosaic of state and non-sate actors, including imperialist intervention powers such as NATO, with the BRICS states increasingly drawn in, and are therefore reaching a global scale.

This takes place in a historical moment deeply affected by the devastating impacts of the climate crisis and severe socio-economic inequality.

The organizers of the conference call this condition: ‘the Third World War’, following an analysis made by the Kurdish movement. Through this concept, the organizers are stressing the importance of a combined perspective.

‘The situation in the Middle East - with its on-going history of colonization, the violent clashes between feudal and religious groups, dictatorial nation-states, and modern capitalist forces - is only the most striking example of a world system that endlessly produces war,’ says Serdar, a delegate from Rojava in the territory claimed by Syria.

He is leading a workshop on Sunday which is titled ‘Youth in the Middle East as the center of the Third World War’. He sees the region where he comes from not only as symbolic for the problems, but also as offering solutions.

His proposal for this is a peace process to circumvent the framework of existing nation states, instead organizing directly across societies. This is the basis by which the self-administration of Rojava was established, where government has been carried out for over twelve years by a confederation of base-democratic councils.

He thinks that this model is also applicable to other contexts. ‘The groups inside civil society, they are the ones that will shape a lasting process for peace,’ he says. ‘We see this when we speak with our indigenous comrades from Abya Yala. They had a genocidal war fought against them for the last 500 years. This is something we as Kurdish people can connect with very well with. We know our own communities very well and also see the similarities in the strategies of violence that are used against us. Who defends our communities are not the corrupt governors or landowners, but our own women and young people.’

The conference is a culmination of all of the larger efforts to build international youth networks. Bringing comrades together from so many different struggles is an exciting prospect, and the conference is founded upon the belief that the youth is the vanguard of every movement. When we share their experiences, we learn about the true nature of the political and social processes inside our society, and young people's perspectives of the front lines. Young people have always been talked about or given orders. It is time that we find our own voice.

Another pillar of the conference is the concept of youth autonomy. It states that young people should self-organize, define their own interests and build their own structures. To do so requires the building of a democratic society through the collaboration of all classes, and social, cultural and religious groups. The struggle against patriarchy, the quest for women’s liberation which recently accumulated in the global ‘Jin, Jiyan, Azadî’ movement, is an important foundation for the conference too.

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