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Border PoliticsSocial Movements, Collective Identities, and Globalization$

Nancy A. Naples and Jennifer Bickham Mendez

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9781479898992

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479898992.001.0001

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Networks, Place, and Barriers to Cross-Border Organizing

Networks, Place, and Barriers to Cross-Border Organizing

“No Border” Camping in Transcarpathia, Ukraine

(p.293) 11 Networks, Place, and Barriers to Cross-Border Organizing
Border Politics

Renata Blumberg

Raphi Rechitsky

NYU Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter focuses on border politics on the redrawn border of the Ukraine and the EU to interrogate how transnational social movements that seek to challenge territorial borders can also actively construct internal social borders. It analyzes the case of No Border Camp, a convergence of over three hundred activists from countries around the world, to protest unjust immigration enforcement and the militarization of European borders. Activists involved in these transnational initiatives confronted tensions that emerged around “borders of difference” and power disparities, which limited the impact of the movement's antiauthoritarian practices. While differences of language and region were pronounced and impacted network-building within the camp, collaborative efforts to advocate for more just border enforcement were also hindered by varied understandings of appropriate antiauthoritarian organizing strategies. Although the mobilization was successful in achieving some goals, global economic inequalities as well as activists' divergent relationships to and imaginaries of place inhibited the implementation of anticapitalist, antinationalist politics. In this case, organizing across borders of identity or nationality affirmed differences, rather than blurring or transcending them. Despite activists' rejection of liberal rights discourses that are foundational to nation-states, they confronted tensions emerging from national origin as well as the geopolitical power relations among countries.

Keywords:   border politics, Ukraine, European Union, transnational social movements, social borders, territorial borders, No Border Camp


Just months before much of the western border of the former Soviet Union became the external border of the European Union’s (EUs) Schengen area, hundreds of activists came together in a No Border Camp (NBC) in the Ukrainian borderlands of Transcarpathia to organize against the expansion of “Fortress Europe.”1 The 2008 enlargement of the Schengen area to include several of the new EU member states of Eastern Europe marked the culmination of a gradual process of tightening border control between Ukraine and its neighbors to the West. With this development, residents of the new EU member states were granted greater mobility within the EU, while non-EU residents began to face greater restrictions on movement from Ukraine to the EU. To enforce this division, the Ukrainian borderlands have become increasingly controlled and militarized, impacting Ukrainian residents as well as migrants who travel to the EU through Ukraine from the former Soviet Union and other countries in the Global South. Ukraine has become both a transit zone for asylum seekers, as well as a sending region for migrant labor. This has earned Ukraine distinctions such as “Europe’s Mexico” for labor migration and “the Morocco of the East” for transit migration (Crossing Borders 2007; Duvell 2008).

The 2007 NBC in the Transcarpathia region of Ukraine served as a space for transnational mobilization against this new migration regime. This convergence, one of many in the loosely associated No (p.294) Border Network (NBN), was planned to provide a forum for networking between Western and Eastern European activists; to reach out to local communities through workshops, public events, and popular education; and to mobilize activists from former-Soviet countries around migration-related issues (see Box 11.1 for text from the camp’s original call-out). In an impressive response, over three hundred activists and migrants from about fifteen different countries gathered together at the camp for a week of self-organized social and cultural activities, workshops and actions. However, divisions and tensions emerged during the course of the camp, inhibiting No Border network-building. Despite the fact that many of the camp’s individual activities were successful, many participants perceived borders within the spaces of the No Border Camp. Tensions around language, nation, and region created distinct spaces within the camp and affected the ability of participants to network and develop strategies. Such tensions and conflicts led to the creation of internal borders that impacted cooperation at the camp and hindered collaboration after the camp was over.

Although differences in language and national and regional origin created distinct spaces within the camp, more contentious issues arose around the camp’s relationship to the Transcarpathia region and the question of appropriate antiauthoritarian organizing strategies. In the following sections we describe the ways in which these borders and divisions emerged and played out at the NBC. One of the first sets of tensions related to the location of the camp and the relationship between camp participants, local officials, and organizations. As the camp got under way, other differences affected camp participants. We go on to describe the construction of borders between language groups, country of origin, and along a divide between East and West. However, these borders were not exclusively responsible for the tensions at the camp. Differences regarding the meaning of antiauthoritarian practice emerged over the course of the camp. We also describe how camp participants had to contend with issues that affected them in an extremely immediate and tangible way, as they confronted potential threats to their own safety and security and the prospect of clashes with a potentially violent opposition. We describe how this crisis brought to the fore different understandings and relationships to the local site of the camp and the implications these held for campers’ development of (p.295) an antiauthoritarian political practice. In the final sections of the chapter we draw connections with the scholarly literature in geography and feminist studies in order to explain why borders and divisions arose.

As our research demonstrates, intertwined social and spatial differences produced borders and divisions even within a movement that is united by a transnational political culture (Gordon 2008). In fact, this case study suggests that expectations for unity and an initial obviation of difference may hasten the formation of internal borders. We end our analysis with a call for closer engagement between feminist and anarchist theory and practice. With the intensification and rising sophistication of state border controls in the EU and with their disproportionate impact on marginalized populations, there is an urgent need to facilitate feminist-inspired border crossings which, we suggest, are tantamount to fostering a pan-European migrant rights and No Border movement.

Difference in Social Movement Networks and Spatial Praxis

The No Border Network has emerged in parallel with other transnational social movements mobilizing to challenge and create alternatives to neoliberal globalization (Bandy and Smith 2005; Della Porta and Tarrow 2005; Nicholls 2007). Most emblematically, social forums (both at the national and international scale) unite global justice and anticapitalist movements guided by the ideal that “another world is possible” (Böhm, Sullivan, and Reyes 2005; Smith et al. 2012). While these movements have been animated by a commitment to create those possible other worlds here and now, they have not been without their own tensions and conflicts. Indeed, social forums have become spaces of reflection and learning for social movements (Smith et. al. 2012, especially part III). Feminist voices such as the World March of Women have been among the most prominent in elucidating critiques, arguing that even within the World Social Forum (WSF) the struggle against capitalism continues to be prioritized, while other struggles are sidelined (Hewitt and Karides 2012).

These critiques have called attention to the WSF’s organizational architecture, while also encouraging the enactment of alternative organizational formations. Since the 1990s, organizational formations based (p.296) on network structures have grown because they mirror social movement ideals. In contrast to institutionalized and hierarchical social movement organizations, networks assume a decentralized and horizontal structure in which multiple groups converge in loose association (Routledge 2003). As a result, networks have emerged as an instantiation of the commitment toward making more egalitarian and inclusive “other” worlds. For example, scholars have argued that the methods at work in organizing feminist transnational networks express the ideals of global feminism (Moghadam 2005). Furthermore, the emergence of transnational advocacy networks has brought about change in part by opening spaces for “nontraditional international actors to mobilize information strategically to help create new issues and categories and to persuade, pressure, and gain leverage over much more powerful organizations and governments” (Keck and Sikkink 1998, 2). Early research on transnational advocacy networks (or social movement networks) focused on the extent to which networks could incite broader changes (Keck and Sikkink 1998).

More recent research has analyzed the processes and practices that constitute these networks (Diani and McAdam 2003; Rodrigues 2003), such as how commitments toward “horizontality” conflict with “verticality” at social forums (Böhm 2005). In contrast to the social forums, Jeffrey Juris (2008) argues that more explicitly antiauthoritarian networks, such as the No Border Network (NBN) and People’s Global Action (PGA), can be understood according to coherent “cultural logics of networking” that are based on the free circulation of ideas, self-directed practice, horizontal connections, and decision-making through consensus. Horizontal networking is a crucial part of a transnational anarchist political culture (Gordon 2008), a movement which some have argued is today’s source of “creative energy for radical politics” (Graeber 2002, 61). The network form has come to be understood as an appropriate organizational architecture by these anarchist and antiauthoritarian organizers not only because it avoids the creation of vertical power hierarchies within movements, but also because “networks have more generally emerged as a broader cultural ideal, a model of and model for new forms of directly democratic politics at local, regional, and global scales” (Juris 2005, 257). Significantly, network formations allow participating actors to converge around broader goals (p.297) but also pursue strategies and tactics autonomously (Juris 2008). Thus, networks serve to connect various particular struggles, but not necessarily to unify them under a single policy imperative.

This connectivity has been facilitated by the various technologies that constitute the information age. These technologies have been critical in enabling transnational network formation, mirroring the spatial architecture of the Internet. However, Paul Routledge admits that these very technologies also pose problems: “Global media such as the Internet create gatekeepers, and codes of access and interpretation that may easily restrict the articulation and circulation of minority voices—for example, of women and indigenous peoples—through this technology” (2003, 344). Access to technology is only one dimension of networks that demonstrates the existence of complex and uneven power relations. Despite efforts to address multiple inequalities and counter marginalizing practices, these still persist and are even reproduced within the spaces of social movement networks and their convergences. As a result, Routledge concludes that networks like PGA must be seen as spaces of resistance, but also spaces of domination formed through entangled and differential power relations. Juris also concedes that his formulation of the cultural politics of networking is idealized, and in practice these logics are “unevenly distributed and always exist in dynamic tension with competing logics, often generating a complex ‘cultural politics of networking’ within concrete spheres” (Juris 2009, 214–215). Because social movements operate in complex cultural fields, there are often struggles within networks over ideology, strategies and tactics, and political culture. Thus, while the idealized network logics that Juris delineates may help us understand one dimension of networked politics, they fail to reveal how and why cultural logics become frustrated or impeded. Similarly, pointing out that domination occurs within spaces of resistance does not necessarily demonstrate how and why domination is not only reproduced but may even be patterned.

Feminist Geography and Social Movements

Feminist and geographical approaches to the study of social movements provide theoretical tools for understanding the power relations at work in network formation. Understanding how complex social and cultural (p.298) fields influence movement building has long been a focus of feminist scholarship and activism (Bickham Mendez 2002; Mohanty 2003; Thayer 2009). With much difficulty and critical reflection, feminist movements in the United States have learned that without understanding how women are differently positioned in society, movements struggling on behalf of women risk exclusively representing the interests of privileged women (Mohanty 2003). Thus, achieving desired transformations involves navigating axes of difference such as race, class, ability, nation, and sexuality. These social divisions are not fixed, but are constantly remade, performed and created (McDowell 2008). Feminist scholarship problematizes essentialist understandings of social differences, while still highlighting how differences come to matter in understanding and confronting oppression.

Activist networks are also constituted across borders by differentially positioned actors, a practice that is inherently spatial (Sziarto and Leitner 2010). Although the concept of positionality was developed originally by feminist theorists, geographers have expanded upon the notion to underscore that subjects are situated simultaneously within social and spatial relations of power (Sheppard 2002; Sziarto and Leitner 2010). Moreover, spatialities, such as place, are not just produced and defined by states and capital; social movements also play a role in producing places (Conway 2008). Doreen Massey (2005) understands place as heterogeneous and contested, in contrast to other conceptualizations that represent place as enclosed, static, and reactive. According to Massey, places are forged through multiple trajectories, a “here” “where spatial narratives meet up or form configurations, conjunctures of trajectories which have their own temporalities” and “where the successions of meetings, the accumulation of weavings and encounters build up a history” (2005, 139). This understanding of place has important political implications in the context of globalization, a context in which “place” is assumed to lose its coherence and distinctiveness. For example, a defensive view of place positions space and place in a binary, with place being penetrated by a globalizing space. In contrast, Massey’s politics would require a negotiation of the stories and trajectories that forge interconnected places, as well as an acknowledgment of the power-geometries that differentiate places.

(p.299) In her study of women’s movements in Brazil, Millie Thayer (2009) utilizes Massey’s conception of place to highlight how globalization is constituted locally through interconnected flows of power and solidarity. Significantly, her analysis reveals that power relations between different women’s movements mirrored global economic inequalities, complicating but not completely hindering mutual solidarity. Jennifer Bickham Mendez (2002) also argues that transnational linkages may reproduce North-South neocolonial relationships, even as local groups transform and appropriate transnational discourses. Taking a combined geographic and feminist perspective involves understanding the process of transnational organizing as a spatial praxis (Conway 2008), confronted by multiple and shifting borders (Naples 2009), and embedded within power relations (Bickham Mendez 2002). In this chapter, we elucidate how activists were actively engaged in the process of constructing borders within the camp that corresponded with various differences, causing tensions and conflict. We define borders as sites “at and through which socio-spatial differences are communicated” (Van Houtum 2005, 672). Building borders at the camp occurred even as participants tried to challenge international boundaries. Processes of border construction do not occur exclusively along axes of social difference; borders can be drawn along political, theoretical, and institutional lines (Naples 2009). However, border construction is a relational process, occurring when groups or individuals delineate divisions between “us” and “them,” or the “self” and the “other.” These relations also have a spatial element, involving interconnections of people across space, and between different people who together make places. For the NBC, the relationship with the Transcarpathian region was of critical importance. Bordering Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Poland (less than 30 kilometers away), it has also been a contested borderland (Ivakhiv 2006). In the following section we describe Transcarpathia’s history before moving on to a description of the No Border movement.

“No Border” in the Transcarpathian Borderlands

Transcarpathia refers to the scenic territory directly east of the Carpathian Mountains in the western region of Ukraine. Transcarpathia is ethnically diverse, with Russian, Ukrainian, Rusyn, Romanian, Hungarian, (p.300) and Slovak-speaking residents (Dickinson 2010). Because of this diversity, Transcarpathia defies the political geography of Ukraine, with its “Ukrainian” west and “Russian” east. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the loosening of border controls in the 1990s, the region experienced transformations associated with the establishment of cross-border economic linkages with its western neighbors through new subcontracting manufacturing networks as well as trade (Kalantaridis 2000; Smith et al. 2008). These linkages have not lead to widespread prosperity; 47 percent of Transcarpathia’s residents still live under the national poverty line (Uehling 2004). As a result, Transcarpathia has also become an important migrant sending region (Blank 2004; Uehling 2004). The militarization of Transcarpathia’s border with the new EU member states has impeded freedom of mobility and threatened cross-border livelihood strategies, while also creating a profitable market for human smugglers heading toward Western Europe.

By providing substantial financial support, the EU has actively enrolled the Ukrainian state as a manager of this migration regime (ECRE 2008). Cooperation with the EU has led to the establishment of screening centers and temporary accommodation centers, which are actually prison-like detention facilities. Thus, while the EU prides itself on its adherence to ideals of tolerance and multiculturalism, it is able to do so in part by externalization, outsourcing militarization and control policies beyond its borders. The UNHCR has reported the unlawful refoulement of refugees to Ukraine by the border guards of EU member states (see Border Monitoring Project Ukraine 2009). Instead of granting access to asylum procedures within the EU member state, border guards regularly deport refugees back to Ukraine, where they end up in detention centers and face inhumane treatment (Border Monitoring Project Ukraine 2009). This migration regime is making Ukraine a “buffer zone,” entrusted with the “remote control” of Europe’s unwanted (Zimmer 2008; Zolberg 2008).

While a variety of NGOs, migrant rights campaigns, and movements have existed for decades in Europe, the No Border Network (NBN) was established in 1999 with an innovative impetus to challenge human rights abuses and restrictive migration policies using a radically different approach. Originally inspired by the struggles of undocumented migrants like the French Sans-Papiers movement (McNevin 2006), (p.301) the NBN brought together different autonomous groups from various Western European countries in a loose transnational network working for migrant rights and the freedom of movement. Instead of focusing on political lobbying, the NBN seeks the immediate abolition of borders using a diversity of tactics and direct action measures. Its antinationalist and anticapitalist rhetoric rejects liberal rights discourses embedded in the constitutions of nation-states. Instead, it advocates for the universal freedom of movement (Kopp and Schneider 2003). Its slogans, including “no one is illegal” and “no border, no nation, stop deportation,” evoke a challenging and confrontational imaginary. Rather than being an expression of naïve idealism, “to say that no human is illegal is to call into question the entire architecture of sovereignty, all its borders, locks and doors, internal hierarchies, etc.” (Nyers 2003, 1089). Through networking, the NBN harnesses strength in its campaigns. The NBN also articulates a sophisticated understanding of state borders, emphasizing how new border technologies have reterritorialized the border, necessitating new cross-border forms of organizing. The NBN’s strategy has included calling for international days of action, exposing the role of private airline companies in handling and profiting from deportations, and employing a variety of direct action tactics such as blockades and direct actions at migrant detention centers.

Many of these actions have taken place at No Border Camps (NBCs), which are usually situated near international borders as well as migrant detention centers. Since 2000, NBCs have been organized annually in various places all over Europe. The 2007 NBC was the first to be organized in the former Soviet Union. The young Russian and Ukrainian camp organizers chose to establish the camp in a strategic location in Transcarpathia, outside the city of Uzhgorod, near the Slovak and Hungarian borders. From its inception, the camp was meant to articulate several critiques simultaneously: those imposed by Fortress Europe’s ever-expanding borders and control mechanisms, but also local problems associated with migration such as racism and the criminalization of transit migrants. Months before the camp, organizers were well underway with preparatory work, and a call was circulated electronically. In addition to the goals presented in Box 11.1, organizers indicated that the camp would not be a space for confrontational action, but for networking, communication, and popular education.

(p.302) The Ukrainian camp was a unique space, created by the convergence of activists from over fifteen different countries. Despite their diverse origins, these activists shared many qualities. A large majority of the participants were young, probably under the age of 30. Characteristic of the contemporary anarchist movement, most shared subcultural connections with punk and other underground music-based scenes as well as an inclination toward antiauthoritarian or horizontal organizing (Gordon 2008). Anarchist movements, like Food Not Bombs (Heynen 2010), that have proliferated globally were also present at the camp. Food Not Bombs (FNB) from regional cities like Minsk, Belarus, prepared food while also organizing information-sharing events for all attending FNB groups. Everything from (p.303) workshop themes to the political slogans used at demonstrations mirrored discourses of the NBN and the anarchist and alter-globalization movement more broadly.

The camp itself was organized on a do-it-yourself basis, without financial support from governments, major international nongovernmental organizations, or corporate sponsors, and with all participants welcome to contribute to the workshops and get involved in consensus-based decision-making. The week was filled with social and cultural activities organized by participants on an ad-hoc basis: workshops, demonstrations, and direct actions about migration and border controls, but also about related struggles from housing rights movements and squatting, to LGBT struggles in the former Soviet Union. While the majority of events took place within the camp space, the NBC also involved film screenings, concerts, and demonstrations at detention facilities to express solidarity with detained migrants, as well as tours of border villages and monitoring expeditions to the border.

Data and Methods

As engaged scholar-activists, we participated in the camp and its activities, including demonstrations and workshops, food preparation and logistics, and recreational activities (Rechitsky et al. 2009). Rechitsky conducted participant observation while providing limited assistance with preparation and interpreting during the event. In addition, he conducted three on-site and posthoc unstructured interviews with organizers, and two informal interviews with former camp participants. We supplemented this data with three reflections written by camp participants and organizers, as well as other accounts of the camp circulated over the Internet.

While each of us was involved in participant observation at the NBC to different extents, we also share a commitment to furthering No Border organizing and egalitarian antiauthoritarian imaginaries. To this end, we have been involved in similar antiauthoritarian and immigrant rights initiatives in Europe and the United States. However, our involvement at the NBC has been facilitated by our position as bicultural, white, American scholars and activists with Eastern European immigrant backgrounds. Together, we are proficient and fluent in a number (p.304) of languages used at the camp, including English, Russian, Ukrainian, and others. We recognize this as a key advantage and privilege in navigating across borders, as well as analyzing different perspectives on the camp’s internal dynamics.

Borders of Place, Difference, and Political Practice at the NBC

Place at the NBC: Building a Camp in Transcarpathia

Since its inception, the NBC’s relationship with the Transcarpathia region was contentious. Organizers came from different Russian and Ukrainian cities, and none had close connections with Transcarpathia. Despite the logistical difficulties, Transcarpathia was chosen as the site of the camp, in part because of its political and territorial importance for migration. As was common at other NBCs, outreach to the local community was an important part of the camp’s goals and articulated clearly in the camp’s call-to-action. However, early in the organizing process, some activists pointed out that one of the official aims of the camp was quite problematic and paternalistic (refer to Box 11.1, point 3). The notion of improving local people’s attitudes was based on assumptions that borderland residents were necessarily racist and antimigrant. Despite these criticisms, the call was not amended, and efforts were made to establish contacts with Transcarpathian NGOs to further the camp’s outreach goals. As a result of these collaborations, a forum and film festival were planned in the city of Uzhgorod during the time of the camp.

However, these arrangements still did not satisfy the desires of some camp organizers to undertake meaningful outreach. This became evident when one week before the camp’s official start date, an opportunity arose to move the location of the camp. The director of Uzhgorod University retracted his commitment to provide electricity and water at the campsite, a remote riverside property of the university that had been a student resort in the Soviet era (and was now unused and in a state of disrepair). By this point, organizers had worked on-site for a week to set up camp accommodations and make final preparations for events in the city of Uzhgorod. Other camp-builders from Eastern Europe had worked with camp organizers hauling materials and making do-it-yourself toilets, showers, and (p.305) cooking ovens with minimal resources. Thus, considerable efforts had already been made to make the abandoned student resort accommodating. But the retraction also provided an opportunity to move the campsite to a village field, a move that would enable greater contact with local residents.

Over the next few days, organizers explored this possibility by meeting with local officials to discuss the availability and cost of logistics such as electricity, water, and toilets at the alternative village site. During evening campfires, organizers and camp builders deliberated about whether to relocate the camp. While the originally intended site of the camp did not have electricity to support multimedia workshops, its remote location offered the privacy necessary to hold workshops, foster relationships and incubate future collaborations. On the other hand, the village field location would have provided more opportunities for communication with local residents. Although a decision was finally made to move the camp, organizers reversed it due to time constraints.

This first question regarding place, whether to keep the camp in its originally-intended location or to relocate it, also reflected a moment of tension between the different goals of the camp as well as between camp organizers and builders: What kind of relationships should the camp have with the local residents? Was the camp to be a safe space for an activist community, isolated from the local community, or a socially engaged political space, and in direct contact with the local community? The question of the place that is Transcarpathia would reemerge over the course of the camp’s duration, but other tensions and divisions also arose as the camp got underway.

Language, Nation, and Region

Camp participants came from over fifteen countries, but Russian and English were the two languages that dominated during formal and informal meetings and discussions. For workshops and meetings, camp organizers tried to ensure attendance by using translators to create a bilingual environment. The reasons for this seemed self-evident: while activists coming from Western Europe were most likely to be proficient in English, those from the former Soviet states shared Russian as a common language and—it was assumed—tended to be less proficient (p.306) in English. However, consistent bilingualism was difficult to maintain. Not only were the few qualified translators already overworked, but sometimes translation seemed to interrupt the flow of discussion, and the need to stop for translation was also easy to overlook. In one workshop on ecocommunities in Russia, a fast-paced dialog between the Russian-speaking presenter and some audience members was consistently interrupted by a request for “translation please!” by one participant who needed English translation. Other times, translation was not seen as necessary. Over time, English became the primary and dominant language at most of the migration-related workshops central to the goals of the camp, with few Russian-speakers encouraged to attend these sessions. This signals that despite efforts to ensure the availability of translation, camp activities became divided along language lines.

This separation into distinct linguistic spaces created “quite [an] iron curtain,” according to one participant. One organizer also spoke of an “invisible border between Russian and English speaking participants,” observing that this tension “somehow disturbed the whole atmosphere of the camp” (Abolishing the Borders 2007, 15). Another organizer emphasized that divisions appeared also according to nationality: “Russian speakers were hanging out (and drinking) mostly with Russian speakers, German ‘no border people’ were busy with their issues. British guys were doing their own stuff.” Most broadly, some reports and individual participants continuously referred to an East-West regional divide that inhibited communication and understanding (Weinmann 2007). Although these divisions inhibited network-building, no major discussions or conflicts occurred over borders of language, nation, and region.

Defining Antiauthoritarian Political Practice

Major conflicts at the camp emerged around the appropriate practice of antiauthoritarian politics. Camp participants confronted several incidents in which their taken-for-granted assumptions about what constituted appropriate antiauthoritarian politics were questioned and debated, even long after the camp ended. For example, an extended debate revolved around whether camp participants should give food to the local police who were stationed nearby to protect the camp. Anticop graffiti was sprayed around the camp in both English and Russian, (p.307) attesting to the fact that language barriers were not the source of conflict here. Indeed, as one participant noted, the “borders within” that inhibited networking were much more than just about language:

Despite the fact that we were there collectively to protest the external border, I feel we managed to erect unnecessary borders within our own group, that is, borders of understanding amongst ourselves. There was a strong friction between different groups of people who ate different things, a sense of elitism or disdain in some cases, as well as between people who sanctioned or committed to different paths of struggle, whether they were violent or nonviolent for example.

Conflicting paths of struggle posed a particular problem during the last few days of the camp. Participants had become notably restless. Having spent several days learning about the injustices of migration management, there was a strong sentiment to collectively and publicly condemn this regime and to express solidarity with the migrants housed in detention centers. Demonstrations were planned, but organizers reiterated their request that camp participants refrain from confrontational actions during the planned protest march through the city of Uzhgorod. Since this demonstration was legally sanctioned, the organizer who filed the permit was at risk of facing repercussions should protesters engage in confrontational or illegal activities. Despite these requests, during the protest march through Uzhgorod one activist took down an EU flag from an administrative building and then proceeded to burn it. When the issue was brought up during a subsequent camp meeting, conflict emerged. The activist allegedly responsible for the incident stood up and defended his actions, expressing his condemnation of the state. Some support was voiced for the position that no one has the right to dictate to others what kind of actions they should or should not undertake. Others disagreed, pointing out that activists needed to understand that risks were involved for certain people, and that those risks should be considered. No resolution was reached, but a few camp participants did note the ironic symbolism of the action. The activist who had pulled down the flag was from Western Europe. He was privileged because of his affiliation with the EU, but yet he stood up for his right to burn the EU flag in Ukraine. He would also soon leave the country, and the (p.308) consequences of his actions would be faced by one of the organizers, someone with less privilege and freedom to traverse EU borders.

More generally, this incident reveals that activist relations to place influenced how political borders were constructed: organizers from Ukraine who work on migrant-related issues and who had taken the responsibility to organize the march had different positions than transient activists. Ultimately, no understanding between the two positions could be reached. In light of this, we suggest that border construction based on political practice must be understood in relationship to place, here, specifically, the region of Transcarpathia.

The Spatial Politics of Protecting the Camp

During the final days of the camp, participants had to contend with decisions regarding the safety and security of those in the camp, an issue that brought them face-to-face with activists’ own engagement in active border construction. A few weeks earlier in Krasnodar, Russia, an ecological camp was attacked by a neo-Nazi group. Several of the participants were beaten, and one was killed. As a result of the possibility that the NBC might also become a target, the local Amnesty International chapter made a public request that the camp be protected. The stationing of a police officer at the entrance of the camp predictably roused the ire of some camp participants, but a more serious crisis occurred when threats of fascist attacks arose during the last days of the camp. A football club with a strong fascist fan-base was holding a match in Uzhgorod, causing anxieties about attacks on camp participants of “non-Slavic appearance” and nontraditional dress in the city. In addition, rumors about undercover police agents engaged in surveillance of the camp fomented threats of another security risk: an impending attack by local nationalist paramilitary groups. In response, some Russian NBC activists took very militant stances to protect the camp, but rumors spread about how western Ukrainian nationalist groups were not as violent as the “real” Russian fascists, and that the crisis was exaggerated. Still, others—especially Western activists less familiar with fascist violence in Eastern Europe—could not comprehend the scale of the potential danger. Ultimately, contradictory decisions about how to “defend” the camp caused confusion. Reflecting on the crisis, one participant later wrote:

(p.309) In response to being approached by a local and asked “who are the coordinators here?” someone replied, “we are all coordinators.” This was an interesting comment that made me think: Is this true? Or is it just our ideal? Did each one of us know the logistics of the lay-out and the geography and the local language and culture, the set-up of the camp and its connections with the town, the finances behind it, the places where the food came from, etc. … to call him/herself a coordinator? I felt this was not true, though somehow we believed it to be true. To speak for myself, if something suddenly were to happen with the core organizers of the camp and the rest of us all sat down to deal with what to do next, I would feel ill-equipped to make informed and grounded suggestions.

The crisis forced participants like this one to realize that campers possessed different degrees of knowledge of the region, indeed, different relationships with the region. As a result, she came to question a common tenet of antiauthoritarian practice. Throughout the planning process and the time of the camp, divisions were constructed between the campers and local residents and the region in general. But when crisis erupted, conflicts arose over how to understand and navigate these borders. Some participants did not feel informed enough to take active roles in coordinating a defense of the camp. Relatedly, despite the success of the events held in Uzhgorod, several activists felt unsatisfied about the lack of direct engagement between camp participants and local communities.

But more importantly, different understandings of and relationships to place caused tension because they called into question a basic principle of antiauthoritarian organizing: that all camp participants were also equally capable coordinators. Thus, the horizontality of network-building encountered a major obstacle when confronted with the complexity of place and different activists’ relationships and understandings of the place of the camp.


Much recent research has attempted to document and analyze the contours of the contemporary anarchist movement (see Amster et al. 2009), including the NBN specifically (Juris 2008). While providing important contributions, this research has paid less attention to the (p.310) differences and constructed divisions within the movement that may inhibit anarchist-inspired network-building. In our analysis, we have pointed out that stated shared goals and principles and the commonalities of an anarchist political culture were insufficient to obviate the borders produced and reproduced at the camp. The “cultural politics of networking” (Juris 2009) that helps shape anarchist political culture existed as an ideal at the camp, but a contentious ideal, subject to multiple interpretations and actions. Differences of language, nation, and region inhibited network-building, but diverse understandings of anti-authoritarian practices caused more divisive conflicts.

The emergence of divisions among NBC participants was not unique to the Ukrainian camp. Indeed, scholars of the No Border movement have pointed out that “language barriers, highly differentiated regional labor markets and a variety of national political cultures, policies, practices and institutions make it difficult to transform dozens, if not hundreds, of local initiatives into a truly European movement” (Euskirchen, Lebuhn, and Ray 2009, 7). Similarly, in a reflection upon the largest NBC in Strasbourg, Kopp and Schneider (2003) state that:

During the ten days in Strasbourg the two to three thousand participants from over twenty countries in Europe were predominantly concerned with themselves and their own differences without managing from the start to shift the focus; i.e. to abandon the leveling out of these differences and to use them rather as a starting point for a new political capacity to act which goes beyond borders and innumerable differences, or on the contrary even thrives on these (n.p.).

At the NBC in Ukraine, an East-West border emerged, as some Western European participants attributed problems at the camp to opaque decision-making procedures and one controlling camp coordinator (Weinmann 2007). Unanticipated differences and resulting tensions around language, nation, and region produced a feeling of an “iron curtain.”

Transnational networks, like the NBN, are constituted by practices, often guided by certain horizontal logics. But activist networks are also forged in material places by different socially, spatially, and culturally positioned actors. Tensions surrounding diverging ideas about political practices emerged but were not confronted in a reflexive, analytical way (p.311) by those involved. Borders were presented as a problem for organizers and participants alike, rather than as an opportunity for recognition, engagement and respect.

In order to grasp why borders arose, the concept of sociospatial positionality is particularly useful. Power is not only a social attribute—power relations are also forged between places, such as the EU and Ukraine. Activist movements mirror these power relations, as struggles develop in particular places around relevant issues for those places. Most of the participating Western Europeans were shaped by experiences in No Border activism, which is related to their position as residents and citizens of the EU and important migrant destinations. These activists brought with them certain political imaginaries and investments in No Border politics. In contrast, non-EU citizens of the former Soviet Union did not share these political imaginaries or political investments. Economic disadvantages and visa restrictions prevented them from attending previous NBCs in the EU, where most border camps in the region have taken place prior to this path-breaking 2007 initiative. Moreover, many of the Eastern European activists came from places where international migration was not such a prominent socioeconomic phenomenon. While No Border organizing appealed to them, the idea of a camp as a gathering of grassroots groups and the possibility to meet regional and international activists were sufficient reasons to attend. In addition, the workshops were not solely focused on migration-related issues, as demonstrated by the diversity of programming. Thus, the iron curtain that descended upon the camp may have resulted partially from language barriers, but it also arose due to differences in goals and motivations, which are themselves formed from the positionalities of the activists and their relationships with struggles in other places. As one camp organizer states: “During the camp, we ran into several conflicts. People judged according to situation and a country where they live” (Abolishing the Borders 2007, 14).

Over the course of the camp it became apparent that participants brought together different ideas of process, strategies, and what it means to be committed to antiauthoritarian practices. This has also been documented at other NBCs, such as the largest one, which brought together over 2000 participants, held in Strasbourg in 2002 (Lang and Schneider 2003). According to Lang and Schneider (2003), (p.312) the senseless destruction and violence during initial demonstrations at the Strasbourg NBC caused police to react more harshly to subsequent creative demonstrations of marching bands and street theatre. At the Strasbourg NBC, as well as the one in Ukraine, activists were committed to different practices, which resulted in tensions and conflicts.

In this case, the concept of intersectionality is useful for understanding the dynamics at this and other NBCs. An intersectional (Collins 2000) approach to the dynamics at the camp reveals that multiple oppressions intersect to produce diverse modes of liberatory practice. Certain practices which are deemed to signify antiauthoritarian practice may be liberatory for some while oppressive for others, such as women and marginalized groups. For example, protest tactics have gendered dimensions. Kolářová (2009) argues that “the alter-globalization struggle is a clash of two masculinities: dominant strong and powerful masculinity represented by the rulers of the world and the policemen, compared to the rebellious heroic masculinity of the protesters” (99).

An element of heroic masculinity was certainly at work at the NBC demonstration in Uzhgorod, represented by the “brave” act of burning the EU flag. Additionally, reports from the NBC tended to emphasize demonstrations and public actions, while neglecting less heroic practices like the significant labor that went into providing for or feeding the camp. This tendency was also a feature of yet another NBC, in which a protest demonstration was propelled by a “defiant, ego-based urge to confirm our own identities and ability to act” (Alldred 2003, 155). Feminist analysis reveals how oppositional movements, and their practices, forms of representation, and discourses may reproduce hegemonic masculinities (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005).

Our analysis demonstrates that activist practices should not be seen as disconnected from place. The political practices of camp participants were at once embedded in and partially constituted Transcarpathia as a place. At the NBC in Ukraine, the camp’s ambiguous relationship to place was a source of tension. For Ukrainian camp organizers, Transcarpathia was a “tricky” region to be approached with caution, because it defied the political geography of Ukraine, with its Russian east and Ukrainian west. Other camp participants, such as those from Western Europe, saw Transcarpathia first and foremost as the newest frontier of Fortress Europe, to be contested and challenged. Thus, different spatial (p.313) imaginaries of the region, and by implication the camp’s potential relationship with the region, underpinned the tensions around place at the camp.

Divergent spatial conceptualizations of Transcarpathia held implications for political practice. For example, during the protest march, camp organizers urged caution and others sought to undertake more confrontational actions such as burning the EU flag. Similarly, some activists wanted the camp to be an enclosed and safe space, while others desired closer interaction with local residents. Organizers emphasized the unknown nature of the region and sought to contain the camp or carefully manage interactions between the camp and the local communities. Other participants understood this region as a victim of EU expansion, a spatial imaginary that ignores the importance of cross-border trade and its benefits for regional livelihoods. Despite these many distinctions, activists all seemed to imagine Transcarpathia as enclosed and contained.

A relational understanding of place underscores that places are not fixed or static, not closed and cohesive entities, but are produced through changing and often conflicting social relations and practices. Like any other place, Transcarpathia is heterogenous, porous, dynamic, and open to change. Therefore, the different spatial imaginaries of Transcarpathia present at the camp were partial. At the same time, they were significant because they helped to produce Transcarpathia as a place for the camp participants during and even after the camp had ended.

Different understandings of the Transcarpathia region underlay the political orientations and approaches that participants took to social justice issues in this borderland. The NBN has been vocal in attributing political agency to migrants, rather than rendering them as victims in need of care. In contrast, the rhetoric employed by western European organizers emphasizing the expansion of Fortress Europe has reproduced the same penetrating discourses of globalization that render place (in this case Transcarpathia) as a victim, and, by implication, foster a defensive politics. A relational understanding of place would allow for the recognition of the diversity and complexity of Transcarpathia, as well as the on-going interconnections that produce it as a specific place. Transcarpathia is not only a newly militarized borderland; it is also a site of everyday livelihood struggles for residents, who are long-term (p.314) and seasonal migrants, cross-border traders, and even border guards. In the remainder of this section, we explore the potentials of a relational understanding of place and feminist interventions for antiauthoritarian No Border politics.

Understanding borderlands in a geographically relational manner opens up political possibilities for a No Border politics of place intertwined with the politics of network-building. The 2007 No Border camp was an unusual occurrence and attracted significant public and media attention. In fact, it was the largest protest camp to take place in post-Soviet space. In addition, for the week during which it was held it was part of the place of Transcarpathia, even if camp participants held ambivalent positions about the region.

Activist cartography is one way to enact a politics of place that contests dominant representations, while engaging in a politics of place. Places are not stable, but forged by connectivities that are usually not represented on traditional maps. Activist cartographers have shown that maps work to create territories and social worlds, and therefore that mapping enables existing spaces to be challenged and transformed and alternative spaces to be prefigured (Cobarrubias 2009). In one example of activist cartography, Cobarrubias writes that the “the act of de-inscribing and re-inscribing multiple ‘Europes’ challenges the boundings of Europe that are currently afoot” (2009, 17). Multiple maps of Europe not only suggest that Europe isn’t a stable territorial frame, but also reveal the simultaneous plurality of Europes in space. Transcarpathia can also be mapped in different ways by residents, cross-border traders, transit migrants, and NBC participants, and the maps can provide a forum to understand the multiple sociospatial trajectories that form Transcarpathia. Alternately visualizing the connectivities that make up Transcarpathia, such as migration but also remittance and capital flows, can help discover and establish new solidarities, such as with different border regions. NBCs have the possibility—albeit small and fleeting—to constitute place in a specific direction that empowers marginalized groups and places.

This requires navigating not only the relationship between the camp and the region, but also the borders that emerged between camp participants. Feminist scholarship provides concepts, such as “reflexivity” and “translation work,” to enable border-crossings in transnational (p.315) networks like the NBN where questions of difference have surfaced but have not been productively dealt with. Reflexivity involves self-critical reflection, and also taking into account how researcher (and activist) identities and positionalities are shaped by material, institutional and geopolitical locations (Nagar and Geiger 2007). Considering the masculinist responses to the possibility of far-right violence at the camp, for example, we may build on activist research critiquing “disaster masculinity” in collective action (Luft 2008) by analyzing it as a case of gendered responses to perceived violent opposition.

In addition, reflexive analysis must also consider activist practice across space, by taking into account the implications of “importing political tactics to a (geo-political) space” (Alldred 2003, 156). Translation work involves “first, modeling democratic practice in everyday organizing—in other words, seeking opportunities to organize with others as equals and, second, identifying ways to link the issues and analysis generated from one campaign or social movement to another in order to strengthen praxis” (Naples 2009, 10). Translation work also should be considered as a spatial praxis, which for transnational feminist practice necessitates “paying close attention to the specificity of place and context, whilst building connections across struggles in different places” (Pratt and Yeoh 2003, 163). These connections can be drawn along contour lines to produce countertopographies, which not only elucidate how similar processes, like border control and militarization, connect different people and places, but also mobilize alternative abstractions (Katz 2001). No Border is one such possible abstraction.

Conclusion: Toward a Feminist Politics of Borders

In the time since the camp ended, some changes have been made to visa policies, thereby slightly easing travel to work in the EU. However, many Ukrainian migrants still find themselves in precarious positions, living and working illegally in the European Union. Six months after the camp, soon after Ukraine’s neighbors’ accession to the Schengen area, over seven hundred Ukrainians blockaded international highways at the Polish border as well as the Polish consulate in Lviv, demanding visa-free travel to their western neighbors. Despite some changes in border enforcement practices, Transcarpathia remains a volatile (p.316) transit region. Asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors from third countries who successfully cross into Hungary or Slovakia are illegally handed over by EU authorities to Ukrainian border guards. Thus detention centers and camps remain full with the appearance of fewer apprehensions at the Ukrainian border. Although the notorious Pavshino detention camp was finally closed in December 2008, at least four European-funded detention centers have opened in its place.

Although solidarity campaigns for freedom of movement continue to be forged across the borders of Europe, the sophistication of migration management is growing at territorial borders and migrant destinations, which have seen waves of anti-immigrant politics. Struggles for the universal freedom of movement are needed to confront these escalations by building transnational communities of resistance that make a better world possible. Yet as this chapter has demonstrated, this task is not an easy one. Transnational social movement networking cannot be reduced to merely an organizational model, distilled to a cultural logic of networking, but must be understood as a process involving socially and spatially positioned actors across external borders. As such, this case has demonstrated the complex linkages and ironies of border construction as discussed throughout this volume.

We have argued that the border regime as an object of protest and internal borders within movements are closely related. Even within a conscious anarchist movement culture, borders based on language, nation and region still emerged within the movement. Reflecting on the mobilization, one organizer said, “I think there was miscommunication and the lack of comprehension because of cultural differences or different level of activists [sic] experiences in different countries” (Abolishing the Borders 2007, 15). In other words, English-language dominance and the hegemony of western activist culture made it difficult for organizers to develop place-based solutions to emerging organizational challenges. This organizer’s reflection also points to our second finding, which reveals that activists in this transnational convergence brought together various ideas of what it means to be committed to antiauthoritarian practice. We have argued that these borders of political practice became a source of division because activists assumed there would and should be consensus. And the effects of these borders were heightened by activists’ different relationships (p.317) to the region of the camp, which produced different spatial imaginaries that guided their actions. While camp organizers were cautious, relying on a spatial imaginary that emphasized Transcarpathia as a complicated borderland, Western European activists saw the region as a victim of EU expansion policies of militarization. Both of these imaginaries employed an enclosed and static notion of place, thereby helping to create borders of place which could not be easily navigated. In other words, organizers’ conscious awareness of the external dimension of borders is necessary but not always sufficient for movements to overcome constitutive internal borders that may come to challenge cross-border network-building.

A politics of place, along with antiauthoritarian and feminist principles, could foster network-building for abolitionist movements struggling against emerging migration regimes as well as the prison industrial complex (Loyd, Mitchelson, and Burridge 2012). The dilemmas facing antiauthoritarian spatial and cultural modes of organization should not be viewed as limits to a globalization from below, or as insurmountable obstacles to cross-border collaborations. Instead, they are challenges to be learned from and consciously and consistently confronted. Movement network-building is a process (Smith et. al. 2012). In light of this, a praxis that could take on an increasingly transnational regime of migration control would actively involve recognizing the variable social and spatial locations of actors within the social movements that seek to resist it.

This is a task well suited for collaboration between feminist scholars and activists. Despite the fact that feminist scholars have played an active role in studying transnational social movements and networks, less attention has been paid to antiauthoritarian and anarchist movements. The mutually beneficial dialogues between contemporary feminist and anarchist perspectives have started only recently (see Eschle 2004). At the same time, many practices that are purported to be new, such as nonhierarchical organizing, have long been central to feminist praxis. As Desai (2007) notes: “In addition to this transnational political perspective, transnational feminists were among the first to develop networks on the basis of nonhierarchical, informal structures and participatory processes, to share experiences and strategize for political actions at multiple levels” (798). These experiences should be harnessed (p.318) to renew a feminist and antiauthoritarian No Border politics, in which translation work and reflexivity are utilized to build bridges and engage solidarities across difference.


Since the time of this writing, tumultuous events have rocked Ukraine. During the winter of 2013–2014 the Euromaidan movement for EU trade policies turned into a national revolution that toppled the pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovich. The Russian military invaded Crimea, a strategic peninsula on the opposite side of the country where our research took place. While Russia justifies its actions by pointing to the hypocrisy of US and NATO foreign policies, the western media has glossed over the complexities of the popular and nationalist Euromaidan movement, especially the central role played by its far-right contingents in the protests in the streets. What alternative could a feminist and antiauthoritarian No Border movement present for an already-fractured Ukraine? The visibility of nationalist slogans and far-right groups in Euromaidan, as well as their cross-border organizing with European groups, poses a challenge to the antinationalist vision of the No Border movement across Europe. Still, the same antiauthoritarian leftist groups that are the subject of this chapter have provided an overlooked alternative to the far right in Ukraine’s revolutionary political arena. Together with an antiauthoritarian perspective, a transnational feminist politics that is sensitive to the ongoing production of scattered hegemonies and intersectionality has the potential to explain the complexities of Euromaidan and its opponents and other dynamics of border politics in the region.

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(1.) The authors may be contacted at blum0135@umn.edu and rechi009@umn.edu. We would like to thank Jennifer Bickham Mendez, Nancy Naples, Helga Leitner, Eric Sheppard, Ron Aminzade, Olga Oksyutina, and Peter Gelderloos, as well as the participants of the 2007 No Border Camp, for commenting on this chapter. A special thank you goes out to Jennifer Bickham Mendez and Nancy Naples for their thoughtful feedback throughout the process, starting at our presentation of this paper at the 2009 preconference of the section on the Political Economy of the World System of the American Sociological Association. All errors remain our own.