Netting Fortress Europe

By Florian Schneider, 13 January 2004

Florian Schneider on the protests which accompanied the EU's latest attempts to clamp down on European immigration.


Early morning, 15th October 1999: Before the EU heads of government and their foreign ministers come together for the first meeting of the EU summit in Tampere, Finland, the European action day has already started successfully – Frankfurt airport has been blocked by large bunches of air balloons, wrapped in aluminium foil. With these 150 meter high 'agitators' hanging in the entry and exit ports of the runways, activists protest against the everyday reality of deportations at Frankfurt airport. Frankfurt airport is a central part of the Federal Republic of Germany's deportation machinery. More than 10,000 refugees and migrants are deported from here every year. Kola Bankole, who died because of an overdose of tranquillisers in 1994, and Aamir Ageeb, who was killed last May, had to pay for their resistance to deportation with their lives.

The Frankfurt airport blockade launched a series of actions and pickets that took place simultaneously all over Europe on October 15th and 16th. The European Council Summit in Tampere was the first conference of EU presidents specifically devoted to so-called “Justice and Home Affairs”. Heads of government were trying to institutionalise the appalling border regime on a European level. But the show of power of Fortress Europe prompted protest: Antiracist groups from different countries used the EU summit in Tampere as an opportunity to organise protest in a decentralised but coordinated grassroots way. In dozens of European cities, actions against Fortress Europe took place: In Berlin, Paris and Milan airports were blocked by pickets; in Koblenz (FRG) and Krosno Odrzanskie, near Zielona Gora (Poland), the headquarters of the border police were the target of demonstrations. In many cities in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Switzerland and Italy small demonstrations or gatherings gave the antiracist movement a European outlook.

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A week before the summit a small group of media activists from six different countries started their work in Kiasma, Helsinki's Museum of Contemporary Art. Invited by the temp media lab (, “cross the border” opened a website ( dedicated to the action day. The aim was to collect and publish on the Net all available information about the ongoing activities against Fortress Europe and for the freedom of movement. Typically enough, it was not the site's content but its layout which prompted some really official protest. On the morning of October 16th Yrjoe Laensipuro, head of the Finnish Foreign Ministry's Department for Press and Culture and responsible for the press department for the EU summit in Tampere, threatened the museum director with a police intervention to remove the “cross the border” website. According to Laensipuro, the use of exactly the same frameset as the official Finnish EU Presidency site was a breach of copyright laws. Only the fact that the site was already physically located on the Dutch server stopped him.

Of course, this increased the popularity of a site which attracted more and more reports and pictures shot with digital cameras which were uploaded, in some cases, even during the demonstrations. In Finland, the online and offline counteractivities, rounded off by one of the biggest demonstrations Finland has ever seen, were considered a great success because the public debate had been influenced in step with the deliberations of the EU heads of state. A lasting and long-term effect is also expected from the European action map. This project is basically a first attempt to represent the Europe-wide grassroots activities in a decentralised but nevertheless effective and coordinated way. Besides all its difficulties and all the problems of translation and synchronisation, it may have revealed a new dimension of networking, activism and concrete media work.

Florian Schneider<>