Anybody who comes across CIRA has stumbled upon a treasure

I’ve always been drawn to this term ‘anarchy’, ever since I was an adolescent. Not that I am a real anarchist, since I only found out the real meaning of the word a few years ago. In the valleys where I grew up the very mention of the word triggers thoughts of just one person - Mareco Camenisch, the celebrated libertarian who has vented his spleen on all who use nature and human beings for purely commercial and selfish ends. Regarded as an anarcho-ecologist, Camenisch, as far as an adolescent like me was concerned, was the very embodiment of the romantic hero, the rebel, the idealist who, whilst remaining true to his beliefs, faces up to the consequences of his actions. A rather dim view has been taken of the actions carried out by this fellow by most of the inhabitants of the Val Poschiavo. How come? Essentially because anybody who dares to question the established order, religion and tradition is looked upon as a potential danger to the public and judged accordingly. I am not trying to justify his deeds and motives (which are in any case set out in the book that tells his story, Achtung Banditen), but when I read of the sentence he got I was stunned as to how the courts react differently depending on the offences committed; in Camenisch’s case, for instance, a dynamite attack on an electricity pylon earns him a ten year prison term; but in other cases where a human life was taken, there are such things as extenuating circumstances (mental illness and the like).

In short, anybody attacking the state or questioning its efficacy or impartiality comes in for much tougher treatment than somebody who harms his neighbour. When I heard of the final, absolute sentences handed down on that greybearded, cultivated idealist, I was seized with an urge to go to bat for him even though I was in no position to make an informed assessment of what he had done. Was that out of some contrariness on my part? Or, as Fabrizio De André once said, was it a matter of the need to ‘walk doggedly against the traffic flow’? Only later and thanks to the CIRA was I to discover the answers I was looking for.

The day I stumbled upon the existence in Lausanne of a research centre devoted to Anarchy, that day was day one of a new phase in my life. For weeks I searched for the courage to contact that place, legendary even though I had yet to learn of it. Back in those days, at night I used to dream about anarchists hell bent on carrying out bloody outrages against king, tsar, princes or millionaires! I realise now that I was in thrall to prejudices that conjured up from my unconscious images far removed from reality.

Access to the CIRA library is via a garden: a sort of earthly paradise filled with shrubs, flowers and a series of vegetables that mirror the love of the person who tends them. Beaumont actually is an island of happiness in the midst of a sea populated by sharks and barracuda. Anyone who has had the privilege of visiting this spot knows how hard it is to break free of its spell.

Within a few months of making the acquaintance of Marianne and the ‘regulars’ at Beaumont 24, I discovered that I could discharge my remaining months of civilian service at the library and then be free and clear. I filled out the application and a few weeks later received a positive response. Over that time I was able to get some grasp of the numbers of books, newspapers, reviews, pamphlets, manifestoes and audio-visual materials stored at CIRA; it would take years to look through them all! The days I spent reading, chatting and musing to myself on those premises amounted, for me, to a necessary purification process, stripping me of stale notions and the condition I had been undergoing since childhood. For me a window had been opened on to an attractive world filled with promise. Reading after reading reminded me that the libertarian outlook on life is a positive response to the increasingly difficult problems with which we are confronted in this life.

The CIRA also allows greenhorns (like myself) to made a gradual approach to complex matters viewed from a strictly libertarian angle. For every aspect of human knowledge there is an undogmatic, anarchist viewpoint. Matters relating to ecology, pedagogy, geography, history, religion, politics, anti-militarism and others can now be tackled from a variety of angles.

The library is facing rather delicate times. If the CIRA is to stay on at Beaumont, we need to offer a tangible contribution, not merely in words but also financially.

The goal is ambitious but do-able, because our ‘fans’ are so many and so sound. Of necessity; after all, we are anarchists!

From: CIRA Bulletin No 63. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.