Ecotopia Biketour is an eco-mobile and do-it-yourself community that has been practicing aspects of activism, alternative ways of organizing and sustainable living throughout different areas of Europe for over 20 years. The Biketour is for anyone interested in DIY, environmentalism, activism, veganism, community life and learning experientially from cultures, from challenges, and from each other. Ultimately, it is whatever you make of it! You are the Biketour!
Ecotopia Biketour 2014 is starting from Sofia and will go through Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, and all the way from Thessaloníki to Athens in Greece. Here’s our interview with Samuel, who is participating in The Biketour for a second time.
Can you give us some historical background of Ecotopia Biketour and explain what it is to participate in it, how and why did you get involved in Ecotopia Biketour?
So, the Ecotopia Biketour started around 1990. In 1989 there was the Ecotopia Gathering with environmental activists from all around Europe and at that gathering they said something like “let’s go to the gathering next year by bicycles!” And that’s how it kind of started in 1990, in the first year people were going to the Ecotopia Gathering from Norway to Hungary (more than 3000 km) and that’s mainly how it was for more than 15 years, actually until 2008 – the last Ecotopia Gathering in Turkey by the Black Sea coast. After that the things changed because Ecotopia Gathering stopped, but people who have been active in the Biketour organizing cycling together for many years said they want to continue this and started doing biketours more independently, still choosing different regions around Europe. It’s always have been open to new people to join, always with a different group every year but with some people maybe coming back… So, yeah, this is the structure, every year we just decide on general region of Europe and choose one place where people are coordinated from, which for 2014 is Thessaloníki in Greece, and then we have to look at what is it happening in this region, like environmental and social struggles, groups which set up social centers, eco-communities, etc. different things and then we’re collectively deciding on which routes kinda seems possible to reach those different places and get closer engagements with those struggles.
Me personally, I got to know in 2012 when friends told me about it. They were there for about a month and I pedaled for two weeks but in 2013 I had enough time, I went for the whole 3 months, from Berlin to Cluj-Napoca, Romania. And now, since March 2014, I’m one of the people helping to coordinate this year’s Biketour – finding out the routes, getting to know places and projects. Now we’re in Sofia to start cycling in two days.
What is the framework of Ecotopia Biketour, how do you manage to build an activist network and keep it up not single-issue oriented like some environmentalist projects but being intersectional with other activist groups, communities in struggle, social centers, generally connecting environmentalism with different social struggles and creating safe space for everyone?
Yeah, so initially in the first years it was also also connected with social justice and human freedom but more focused on environmentalism. And now it feels a bit more shifted, like people being environmentally aware by cycling, reusing, recycling materials, we eat only vegan food during the Biketour even if the people are not vegan in their daily lives, the way we do things… but we’re engaging with much more than that. For example, last year the topic was Borders, so we engaged with the activism for abolishing the borders, we can now easily cross borders like the Iron Curtain, which 25 years ago was impossible to cross for many people while now it’s basically non-existent for many places, but in other places or for specific kinds of people there are specific difficulties crossing borders.
It becomes kind of mixed and also the ideas come from the people who contribute, like there will be some people more focusing on the environmental issues, maybe aware of how to do some things to have a lesser impact, while other focusing on our collective as non-hierarchical and have more experience or more overview of that and how we act among each other, upholding anti-racist, anti-sexist, etc. practices, so it’s basically because the collective is opened for a wide range of people and you cannot say that it is like the same one group, in which all share the same opinions on everything, even in the very beginning. You know, many people don’t know each other from before, they all come from different places, different backgrounds, where the social conditions are quite different, also in those aspects.
You meet a variety of different people and communities, can you share some of the most interesting experiences from last year and tell about the schedule of the Biketour this year? Why did you choose Balkans and what are the highlights of the Tour this year?
Okay, so last year for me personally, I really liked the activist camp we had in Roșia Montană in Romania towards the end of the Biketour, because we exchanged with many people and worked like really much involved in one local struggle against the gold-mining there. Before that the most inspiring things were like when the group had to collectively go around the problem that rose up spontaneously and how to solve it with creativity of some people with collective learning and so on, like coping with things that are not planned before or just finding a good sleeping place in the middle of nowhere for like 40 people, because last year it was quite big. Many things to learn from the collective experience…
This year in 2014 the schedule is starting in Sofia, Bulgaria, and will end in Athens, Greece, but not in the most direct route. We start in Sofia and now we’ve been visiting the social centers Adelante and Xaspel there, we’re just getting to know each other and building a rocket stove and solar cookers. And from here we’ll go north to Zhelen in Bulgaria where there are some eco-communities, from there we will go to the west towards Serbia, also visiting some small eco-communities, then going to Kosovo where at the moment things are a bit spontaneous because we don’t know which of our plans will actually work out, but we know that one of the projects is actually concentrating on coal mining which leaves a lot of pollution and also socially unjust because in Kosovo while the electricity generated from it is exported to other places they have powercuts regularly… then from Kosovo we will go south towards Skopje in Macedonia where we have good contacts with people from AKSC social center. From there we go further on south to Thessaloníki where we’ve been based with the coordination this year. We stay in a squatted social center Σχολειο/Skolio, which is a former school, so we know where to stay there at several places, will visit a community garden, worker self-organized factory Vio.Me., which now produce organic cleaning products, we’ll then go to Halkidiki where there is a big anti-goldmine struggle, we’ll join an activist camp, then we’ll pass through Thessaloníki again for a day or two for a direct democracy festival and then will go further south to a project for building with natural materials and across the island of Evia, there are like two or three eco-communities that we’re going to visit. Two more just outside of Athens, in Athens with the squats we will basically have our final days with meeting people around there and having also discussions among us how to continue over the next years, actually the Athens program is not 100% fixed, because there are so many possibilities there that we’ll see more spontaneously what we can do in those 3 days we have, and some people might stay longer to experience more of the city.
What does DIY mean to you?
Do-it-yourself (DIY) to me basically means to be able to do a lot of things without needing money, like one of the best things I’ve learned during the last few years was like repairing my own bike, and this DIY BikeKitchen in Vienna, where some collective got all the space and tools you need, it’s opened every week so you can go and repair your own bike. This is one of the projects I’m mostly engaged with but with the Biketour you learn a lot more, like building rocket stoves with stuff from the dumpster, camping somewhere in the wild at places that you don’t know before and learning how to spontaneously do things and put things together. It’s also like a very nice way to exchange with people, because it’s more open than to even go somewhere to buy things that are produced organically, so there are much different ways to build the economy and things going on.
Let’s summarize Ecotopia Biketour in a few sentences and tell us the slogan of the Biketour…
In 2014 we took the slogan of “Sovereignty vs. Exploitation” after a long discussion in Spring, it’s really about this sharing and learning from each other. You are traveling but the slow speed and learning a lot from exchange with the group, and really having connection with social and environmental political struggles that are going on in every place it’s obviously a very different way of traveling that you do normally. And often it connects people for a longer time even to a place where you’ve met people and you really liked it, then people from the Biketour might come back.