The Zapatistas in the Solidarity House in Stockholm. Photo: Miriam Steinbach.

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The indigenous movement The Zapatistas are sailing in the reverse footsteps of the colonizers

A delegation from the indigenous Mayan people of Mexico sails in the reverse footsteps of the Spanish colonizers across the Atlantic and embarks on their world tour. Dressed in traditional Mayan clothing, mouth guards and protective visors, they are undeniably a strong symbol both for the resistance of indigenous peoples and for the times we live in. But the journey is not only symbolic, but aims to bring together organizations fighting for social and environmental sustainability worldwide.

After sailing in the opposite direction from the Spanish conquistadores, a group arrived on July 21 this year Zapatister on the shores of Spain. A delegation of seven people landed, some wearing traditional Mayan clothing and all wearing both a mouth guard and a visor.

500 years ago, in the summer of 1521, Hernán Cortés and his conquistadors invaded and conquered the Aztec city of Tenochtitlán. They then laid the foundations for Spanish colonization, the construction of present-day Mexico and the subsequent exploitation of people and nature. But the Zapatista "invasion" of Europe is meant to celebrate 500 years of indigenous peoples' resistance, rather than to draw attention to the European conquest of Mexico. The Zapatistas believe that the world that was apparently lost to the highest degree is still alive. As they themselves put it: "We were not conquered - we will not give up!". 

According to the Zapatistas' own declaration "A mountain on the open sea”Sailing is not meant to seek difference or superiority. Nor are the Zapatistas looking for an excuse for the Spanish conquest. The declaration states instead: "We need to find out what we are doing ”-“ We travel to find what makes us equal ”. The intentions are thus to build bridges - not to create conflict. But the Zapatistas still play with the idea of ​​a reverse process of conquest and declared: "This country, which its natives today call 'Europe'" - for Slumil K'ajxemk'op, which in the Mayan language Tzotzil means "country that does not submit". 

With the trip, which is planned to span five continents, delegations of a total of more than 150 people want to talk to and listen to local battles for social and environmental justice. 

The Zapatistas themselves, as they are called Zapatista Army for National Liberation, is made up of Mayan indigenous peoples and smallholders from the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. Since the armed uprising against the Mexican government in 1994, parts of it have been independently controlled by five autonomous municipalities governed from the bottom up, completely without state support. Here, the movement and the residents together run, among other things, all education, healthcare and their own legal system.

The movement itself is clear that it does not seek to take any power from the Mexican state, but that the goal is a recognition of the culture of indigenous peoples and the enabling of another world. This is believed to be threatened by, among other things, trade agreements that benefit large-scale, industrial agriculture and therefore disadvantage local farmers. Not only is agriculture an important part of the livelihood of the majority of the inhabitants of Chiapas, but also an incredibly important part of the culture of the indigenous peoples.

At the time of the 1994 uprising, it was also said that women and their demands were at the center of their political agenda through the so-called Women's Revolutionary Law, ten demands concerning, for example, political and economic inclusion, family planning and sexual violence. Efforts to include people with all different identities have been ongoing and the first delegation to set sail for Europe this summer consisted of four women, two men and one non-binary (Marijose - who "renamed" Europe).

The Zapatistas visited Stockholm for five days, where, among other things, Färnebo Folkhögskola received the delegation together with various civil society organizations. Photo: Miriam Steinbach.

So now they want to talk about stories, experiences and strategies with other groups that are fighting against displacement, environmental degradation and for social rights. Among other things, the Zapatistas visited communities in Swedish Sápmi to talk about the destruction of habitats and the effects of climate change as a threat to the survival of the Sami and Zapatistas. But before that, they also visited Stockholm for five days, where, among other things, Färnebo Folk High School received the delegation together with the Latin American groups, Colectiva Feminista-Maíz, Chile Despertó and the Solidarity Association K'inal.

Färnebo Folk High School works with folkbildning and focuses on global issues, justice and change. The school has a long history of solidarity work with the Zapatistas and at the end of August this year arranged a weekend course on the movement entitled "What can we learn from the Zapatistas today?". When the Zapatistas visited Sweden, Färnebo was one of the organizations that received the delegation during the days in Stockholm. 

- Every day had a new theme, you could say. On day one, for example, the Zapatistas met with movements on the Kurdish and Palestinian issues, such as Rojava Committees and Samiduon Stockholm, but also refugee movements such as No human is illegal. The following days they met, among other things Fridays for future, Skogsupproret and Union center for the undocumented, says Viktor Eckert, teacher at Färnebo Folkhögskola.

On Saturday, the Zapatists spent a day with Färnebo Folk High School and the other organizations at the culture house Solidaritethuset in Stockholm. Carmen Blanco Valer is also a teacher at Färnebo Folk High School. She says that, among other things, they had discussions about colonialism and patriarchy during the day in the House of Solidarity. 

- The Zapatistas said that they notice how we fight for very specific issues here and how it divides us. But we also tried to decolonize our method by activating the body and different kinds of crafts. And so we danced Cumbia, she says.

Listening and talking with local organizations was thus in focus during the Zapatistars' visit to Sweden. Viktor Eckert believes that the Zapatistas can above all function, and have functioned, as a source of inspiration for Swedish movements.

- The history of the movement shows that there is another way of doing things, of organizing society and of relating to this human-nature dualism. There really is a self-confidence and creativity that is unique, he says.

Miriam Steinbach is a communicator at Färnebo. She adds:

- At the same time, they are careful to state that there is not just one answer and that different movements can have different strategies. That is exactly what their motto also says - "a world that holds many worlds". 

According to the organization IWGIA In the UK, for example, meetings are planned Extinction rebellion and in greece, the delegation will, among other things, meet with organizations assisting asian and african refugee refugees. 

The list of organizations is long and the journey, which after Europe carries off to Asia, is even longer. As the Zapatistas mean to see and hear ”a socially ill world, divided into millions of people who are strangers to each other”. By actively listening and sharing experiences with each other, the Zapatistas hope to sow a seed of resistance and inspire change and a socially and environmentally sustainable development from below. 

During the meeting in the Solidarity House, the delegation was asked what we in this world can do to support the fight for indigenous peoples' rights, the climate and a socially just world. Carmen Blanco Valer says that the Zapatistas believe that we must change where we are. We must take responsibility and counteract the exploitation of the other parts of the world that to some extent benefits us here. After all, we live in the center of the system that bears the ultimate responsibility for this. It is incredibly important, says Carmen Blanco Valer, because it concerns our home and the land on which we all humans live.

- It is, just as this trip is also called by the Zapatistas, about one defense of life, she says. 

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